Author Kirsten Larson on Dual Narratives
Welcome to my blog, Blissfully Bookish! I’m excited to introduce my next guest; she’s not only ultra talented, but also extremely generous and helpful in the kidlit community. Please welcome Kirsten Larson! She’s here to discuss her latest nonfiction picture book THE FIRE OF STARS illustrated by Katherine Roy and published by Chronicle.
Please describe the journey to publication for The Fire of Stars: The Life and Brilliance of the Woman Who Discovered What Stars Are Made Of.
This book began in August 2014 – almost nine years ago! I researched and wrote my first draft of the story that month, sharing it with my critique group a few months later. It was the second book my agent and I sold together, but the third to be released. It took a lot of time to get just-the-right illustrator, Katherine Roy, on board. And then there were delays due to COVID. It was 5.5 years from sale to book release. We all know how publishing – and its timelines work!
Where did you draw the book’s inspiration?
I first learned about Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin during an episode of Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s TV show Cosmos titled “Sisters of the Sun,” which focused on the women working at the Harvard College Observatory. There were already picture books about two of the women featured. When I learned about Cecilia, who boldly turned the world of astronomy upside down with her discoveries about what stars – and our universe – are made of, how could I not write about her?
The dual narrative of chronicling Cecilia Payne’s life along with the birth of a star is genius! Did you toy with different nonfiction structures before landing on this one?
I wrote this book long before I became a real student of text structures. We almost went out on submission with a typical, three-act narrative before I considered parallel structure. I was inspired when I read Hannah Holt’s query letter for THE DIAMOND AND THE BOY in this blog post. Her book wasn’t even out until the following year, so I couldn’t use it as a mentor text. But the idea of shared phrase that tells two stories — that was my moment of inspiration. I decided to try telling two stories at the same time with the same line of text on every spread. And it was HARD!
Please paste a short and compelling excerpt from your book.
Wrapped in a blanket of sparkling space,
an unformed star waits for its bright future to begin.
Cecilia kicks and cries.
Until her mother
sets her down
so Cecilia can feel with her own tiny toes
the cold and crackly snow,
which isn’t soft and warm like she expected.
It’s the first time Cecilia learns things aren’t always as they seem.
I love how you talk about the “kitchen sink” first draft, can you tell readers more about this process?
I always call my first drafts “the kitchen sink draft.” Often, they are almost like outlines: clunky and full of facts and details that don’t belong in the final draft. But I have to get those things out of my system so I feel free to tell the story in interesting and inventive ways. In my subsequent drafts, I open a blank page and write without referring to my research at all, making little notes in places I need to come back and verify details.
Please share your favorite books from 2022 that have inspired you.
BLUE: A History of the Color as Deep as the Sea and as Wide as the Sky by Nana Ekua Brew-Hammond illustrated by Daniel Minter is absolutely brilliant. It’s literally the history of the color blue but steeped in culture and not shying from the color’s ties to slavery. Writing broad history that spans centuries is so hard, but Brew-Hammond’s text is so lyrical and lovely.
Another favorite was Sibert-honor book CHOOSING BRAVE: How Mamie Till-Mobley and Emmett Till Sparked the Civil Rights Movement, written by Angela Joy, illustrated by Janelle Washington. So many picture book biographies are so dense with text, but this one is poetic and powerful. And the illustration style – SWOON!
What is the best piece of advice you would give to other writers?
Play with your drafts! Get that kitchen sink draft on the page and set it aside. Then open a blank page and try out new structures, experiment with a different voice. And read, read, read for inspiration.
And a bonus question just for kicks! If you could meet a fictional character from one of your favorite books, who would it be?
I’ll say Wonder Woman, and I’m sure you can guess why. She was my childhood hero, and my sister and I used to dress up in our Wonder Woman Underoos. You’ll find that picture in the back matter of my picture book, A TRUE WONDER: The Comic Book Hero Who Changed Everything illustrated by Katy Wu.
Kirsten used to work with rocket scientists at NASA. Now she writes books for curious kids. Kirsten is the author of the picture books: 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, illustrated by Katy Wu (Clarion, 2021), THE FIRE OF STARS: The Life and Brilliance of the Woman Who Discovered What Stars Are Made Of, illustrated by Katherine Roy (Chronicle, February 2023), and THIS IS HOW YOU KNOW, illustrated by Cornelia Li (Little, Brown 2024). She also is the author of the middle grade, graphic nonfiction, THE LIGHT OF RESISTANCE, illustrated by Barbara McClintock, (Roaring Brook, 2023), along with 25 nonfiction books for the school and library market. Kirsten lives near Los Angeles with her husband, lhasa-poo, and two curious kids. Her house is filled with LEGOs, laughter, and lots of books!.
My website it www.kirstenwlarson.com and I’m @kirstenwlarson on Twitter/Instagram/Pinterest.
THE FIRE OF STARS is available for purchase wherever books are sold. Find all the buy links on my webpage for the book: www.kirstenwlarson.com/the-fire-of-stars/
This entry was posted in Children's literature, Education, Inspiration & motivation, Publishing industry, Resources for writers, Uncategorized, Writing, Writing tips and tagged author, blog, books, Children's literature, giveaway, nonfiction, publishing, writing.
5 thoughts on “Author Kirsten Larson on Dual Narratives”
April 17, 2023 at 10:55 am
I’ve been excited about this since I first saw the cover! Congratulations! I can’t wait to see it! 🌠
April 13, 2023 at 1:04 pm
This book is truly brilliant. I hope it wins LOTS of awards. Congrats to Kirsten and Katherine on creating this stunning picture book!
April 13, 2023 at 10:52 am
Inspiring! I’m excited to read this.
April 13, 2023 at 5:48 am
What a fabulous story. Both of them!
April 12, 2023 at 11:05 pm
Great post! I love the excerpt you selected! Looks like a must read! 🙂