The Whole Megillah (TWM): You’ve now published four picture book biographies. What has driven your interest in writing about female scientists?
Laurie Wallmark (LW): There are two reasons I write about women in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math). First, ever since I was a little girl, I’ve loved math and science. I want to share that passion with children. Second, until recently, there were almost no biographies written about women in STEM. Because of this, children might believe that girls could not grow up and choose these professions. By highlighting women’s accomplishments, both girls and boys will come to realize this is not the case.
TWM: How did you come to know the story of Hedy Lamarr?
LW: I of course knew about Hedy as an actress for a long time, but I don’t remember how I learned how instrumental she was to the digital world we live in today.
TWM: How did you handle that she was Jewish?
LW: When you write picture books, because of the limited word count, you have to choose what part of the person’s story to include and what to leave out. I chose to concentrate on her scientific invention, while including her Hollywood life for context. Hedy left Europe before the Nazis invaded her homeland of Austria.
TWM: What was your greatest challenge in writing this book? The greatest satisfaction?
LW: My greatest challenge was not only explaining Hedy’s invention, frequency hopping, in words that children could understand, but also making it interesting to them. My greatest satisfaction is that I feel I succeeding in overcoming both of these challenges.
TWM: Please describe your research process.
LW: I did most of my research using books written about her. In addition, I was lucky that a documentary, Bombshell, come out while I was still researching her life. This documentary included many clips of interviews with her and people who knew her.
TWM: Please describe your writing process.
LW: For a picture book biography, I of course start with the research. When I feel I have a good handle on the person’s life, I brainstorm approaches I can take to tell her story. This leads to a detailed outline, which inevitably means I need to go back and do more research. After several rounds of research and outline, I “translate” my outline into a story. Many revisions later, often including more research, I run the manuscript by the people in my critique group. Eventually, it’s ready to go to my agent, where I receive more feedback for revision before it goes out on submission.
TWM: Do you get feedback from beta readers for a critique group?
LW: Absolutely! I’m in two critique groups plus I often will pass the manuscript by a beta reader.
TWM: Do you have any advice for picture book biographers?
LW: My best suggestion is to be really be interested in the person you’re writing about, because you’ll be spending a lot of time with her.
TWM: What’s next for you?
LW: I have another woman in STEM book coming out next year: Code Breaker, Spy Hunter: How Elizebeth Friedman Changed the Course of Two World Wars (Abrams). In addition, my first fiction picture book, Dino Pajama Party (Running Press Kids), also comes out in 2021.