Author Kirsten W. Larson on the Importance of Research

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Hello world!!

Welcome to my book blog, Blissfully Bookish. For this Q & A, please welcome one of the hardest working authors I know; Kirsten W. Larson. She’s been researching the field of nonfiction for years, and it definitely shows in her work. Check out her new picture book, A TRUE WONDER, illustrated by Katy Wu, and published by Clarion (HMH). See her journey below…

Please describe the journey to publication for this book.
A TRUE WONDER: The Comic Book Hero Who Changed Everything (Clarion) is the third picture book my agent and I sold together, but the second to be published. My editor, the amazing Jennifer Greene, had few edits, and got illustrator Katy Wu on board very quickly. It was less than two and a half years from contract to holding the book in my hands. That’s a record for me!

Where did you draw the book’s inspiration?
A big inspiration was the 2017 Wonder Woman movie starring Gal Godot and directed by Patty Jenkins. It was such an event for so many of us, and I loved the conversations it started about how much the character means to so many people. Because the movie was such a big deal, there was lots of press surrounding it, including a Smithsonian Magazine article by Harvard historian Dr. Jill Lepore, who wrote THE SECRET HISTORY OF WONDER WOMAN (2014). Dr. Lepore’s book started me down the research rabbit hole that led to this book.

What is your writing process, and does it vary depending on the project?
My writing process is pretty messy, and sometimes I feel I have to relearn how to write a book each and every time. In terms of research, I normally start with secondary sources if I can, and read widely about the subject I’m tackling. Secondary sources provide context and point the way to primary sources through endnotes and bibliographies. I always write a “kitchen sink draft,” which has all the names, dates, and details that probably won’t appear in the final draft. Then I can let all specifics go and be more creative with my structure, storytelling, and voice. And I almost always thumbnail my books, thinking carefully about what text and images will appear on each spread, where the key plot points fall, and what will drive the page turns.

Please paste a short and compelling excerpt from your book.
America, 1941
The comic book industry is dominated by white men.
When Wonder Woman arrived in America, she wasn’t the superhero most people had in mind. After all, she was a woman.
But that was the point. She had an important mission: To change minds about what women could do. And to change the world.
Her tale begins in towns across America…”

What would you say are some of the ways in which to make nonfiction, especially expository, more commercial and engaging for children?
That’s a big question! I think one key is to focus on topics kids care about, like airplanes, superheroes, or animals, for example. And then you have to deliver some kind of compelling takeaway that goes beyond the educational learning of the book. Add to that compelling voice, captivating page turns, and interesting structures, and you have something magical.

Do you have other WIPs or projects in the pipeline you would like to mention?
In August 2022, I have THE FIRE OF STARS: The Life and Brilliance of the Woman Who Discovered What Stars Are Made Of, illustrated by Katherine Roy (Chronicle Books), which is a parallel story of Cecilia Payne’s formation as a scientist told alongside the process of star formation. And then I have another lyrical STEM picture book on the way plus my first historical fiction graphic novel.

Please share your favorite books that have inspired you and served as mentor texts.
I think anything you read can inform your writing. For A TRUE WONDER, I studied picture books focused on important objects like PRIDE: The Story of Harvey Milk and the Rainbow Flag by Rob Sanders, as well as his book STONEWALL, and HER RIGHT FOOT by Dave Eggars about the Statue of Liberty.

What is the best piece of advice you would give to other writers?
Write down your original inspiration, what excites you about the story, and why you feel it’s important to share it with young readers. That’s your touchstone. In revision, you can come back to that story spark to make sure you’re telling the story you wanted to tell.

And a bonus question just for kicks! If you could be any animal, what would you be and why?
I’m a huge fan of sloths because most people get them so wrong. Rather than being lazy, they are perfectly adapted to their environment. By moving so little, they conserve energy and avoid predators. Not to mention, they basically are their own ecosystem.

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Kirsten used to work with rocket scientists at NASA. Now she writes books for curious kids. Kirsten is the author of WOOD, WIRE, WINGS: EMMA LILIAN TODD INVENTS AN AIRPLANE, illustrated by Tracy Subisak (Calkins Creek, 2020), A TRUE WONDER: The Comic Book Hero Who Changed Everything (Clarion, Fall 2021), illustrated by Katy Wu, and THE FIRE OF STARS: The Life and Brilliance of the Woman Who Discovered What Stars Are Made Of, illustrated by Katherine Roy (Chronicle, 2022), as well as 25 nonfiction books for the school and library market.

Social media: @kirstenwlarson
A TRUE WONDER is available wherever books are sold, but autographed copies can be purchased from Once Upon a Time.


3 thoughts on “Author Kirsten W. Larson on the Importance of Research

    S. K. Wenger said:
    December 2, 2021 at 8:11 pm

    Thank you for sharing your ideas of a compelling take-away and a touchstone! I’ll keep those in mind as I work on my own stories. Congratulations on a True Wonder and your other books!


    Jilanne Hoffmann said:
    November 5, 2021 at 2:35 pm

    I like that you allow yourself to include the kitchen sink and then pare it down. That initial draft that contains everything really frees up the mind to decide what’s most important.

    Liked by 1 person

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