For Computer-Assisted Reporting, we were given an assignment to “cold call/e-mail” somebody outside of our area code. It didn’t necessarily have to be somebody we didn’t know, but it couldn’t be somebody we knew well. I thought of a very helpful person who I contacted last year as a source for a feature being written in The Fulcrum. Lee Wardlaw is a children’s author and has written a number of great books. I e-mailed her and she was kind enough to reply with some great answers. Here is the final product.
Tales of a children’s author
by Sarah Leavitt
Lee Wardlaw says that the best part of being a children’s author is her ability to create characters—characters that she thinks would be fun to meet in real life. Wardlaw has been writing books for children for as long as she can remember.
Her first foray into writing began as a result of a second grade end-of-year art festival. While the other children in her class created some type of artwork that could be put on display, Wardlaw sat down and wrote her first story.
“The main character was a girl just like me—skinny, brownish hair, crooked smile—only shorter…She was one-inch tall,” Wardlaw told me. “I modelled her after Tinkerbell (from Peter Pan) and Thumbelina (from the story by Hans Christian Anderson).”
While Wardlaw admits that it wasn’t her best work, she attributes the project as the founding force of her life as an author. After that moment, she could be always be found with a notebook and pen in hand.
Her quirkiness and love for stories has become a staple of her personality. When asked where she was born, Wardlaw refused to give a plain answer.
“[I was born at the] Smoky Hill Air Force Base in Salina, Kansas—smack dab in the middle of the U.S.A. (And no, I did not know Dorothy, Toto or Auntie Em,)” she answered. “We moved to Erie, Pennsylvania before my first birthday (travelling by car, not tornado!)”
That answer epitomizes Wardlaw’s personality and her love for all things imagined.
A lot of the time, she turns to her own life for inspiration.
“Most ideas for my books come from my own life,” she said. “Corey’s Fire is based on my family’s experiences after our house burned down in a wild fire…The idea for Dinosaur Pizza came from my elementary school days, when at lunch no one wanted to share my BMPCs (bologna-and-mustard-and-potato-chip sandwiches.”
She admits, however, that she does get some of her ideas in an unconventional way—by eavesdropping on her 13-year-old son, Patterson, and his friends. Patterson also serves as Wardlaw’s multifaceted assistant.
“I read my novels to him aloud, as I finish writing each chapter,” she said. “If he laughs or cringes in the right spots, I know I’m on the right track. If he rolls his eyes or starts wandering out of the room, I know I need to do some revisions.”
While writing for children is her ultimate passion, she also loves to teach them. She graduated from the California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo, California with a degree in education. After graduating, she was an elementary school teacher for five years before devoting herself to writing full-time. Now, she also spends some of her time travelling to conferences and workshops to speak to parents, librarians, teachers, and writers.
This fall, Wardlaw has decided to return to university to get her master’s degree in education. She will specialize in the Montessori method. That won’t stop her from writing though. She has three books coming out within the next year: Won-Ton: A Cat Tale Told in Haiku, 101 Ways to Bug Your Friends, and Red,White & Boom!
Clearly, writing is Wardlaw’s calling.