February may be a short month, but it is PACKED with tons of fun. Celebrating the rich depths of Black history, telling others how much they mean to us, and more. But as a month situated squarely in the depths of winter (in the Northern Hemisphere), February can seem rather gray and bleak. Plants, trees, and even some animals are sleeping. I love cozy fires, but I do start to miss the bloom and bustle of warmer months. Today’s First Stories guest is here to remind us of the amazing beauty of nature!
As a scientist by training, one of the things I LOVE is the natural world, so I am delighted to welcome Laura Zimmermann to discuss the beginnings of her writing journey.
AND we’ll chat about…her upcoming release – MUSHROOM RAIN! If you haven’t met Laura, allow me to introduce her below:
Laura K. Zimmermann is a college professor by day and children’s writer by night. She has published numerous academic articles as well as nonfiction stories in children’s magazines. MUSHROOM RAIN is her first picture book. When she’s not writing, Laura can be found teaching and conducting research at Shenandoah University or wandering through nature with her Goldendoodle, Tivy. You can find Laura online at laurakzimmermann.com and on Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest at @LauraK_PBwriter.
Thanks for agreeing to talk about your first story, Laura! Let’s get started…
Tell me about your “first story.” The one that really pushed you to consider publishing. What inspired you to write it? What was it about?
Laura: First of all, thank you for inviting me to share my writing journey, Heather. It has been a long time since I’ve visited EM’S FORT. It is a story about a preschool girl searching for a special place to make her family’s new house feel like home. The story was influenced heavily by my nieces—a lot of the interactions between the sisters in the story reflect imaginary worlds like the ones they created. EM’S FORT was the first book I finished and – with encouragement (i.e., repeated prodding) – from a friend is what I took to my first SCBWI conference—the first step on my path to publication.
Me: I love the idea of your nieces being a partial inspiration for this first story. My own children provided the initial push for me to truly start pursuing writing, specifically writing for kids. And they’ve given me TONS of good ideas along the way!
Friends are crucial in this business of publication, aren’t they? Initial prodding, continuing encouragement, insight and feedback – creatives need tons of support all along the way.
So, where is your story now?
Laura: As I suspect is true with many writers’ early work, EM’S FORT is safely tucked away on my hard drive.
Me: Ha! Yes, that does seem to be a common place for these first stories to reside. 🙂 Are there any themes in that story that you can see in your writing today?
Laura: I no longer write straight fiction, so much of my writing has moved in very different directions. But what has held true is my desire to capture children’s imagination.
Me: As a fellow (but, in my case, former) academic (I have my Master’s in Molecular Microbiology – I’ve always loved that alliteration! Ha!), I would love to have an “off-the-record” conversation with you about moving into non-fiction and other aspects of your writing journey. Maybe another time…
Looking back, what elements of that first story made it unmarketable? Did you receive feedback on that story? What did that feedback teach you?
Laura: The fact that there are many, many books about moving on the market would have made it a tough sell—EM’S FORT just didn’t stand out enough from the pack. I also still had a lot to learn.
Feedback has been a huge part of my writing journey. I signed up for critiques for that book and many others over the years. I learned a tremendous amount about how (and how not) to write picture books from very patient editors to whom I owe an apology for making them read my early “gems” and gratitude for their support in guiding me onto the path I’m on now. And there have been many others. I owe a debt to all of the authors, agents, and critique partners who have shaped my work over the years.
Me: Agreed. I owe SO much to the whole KidLit community for all the support and encouragement and generosity and outright kindness that they have shown. From critique partners to agents and many, many more people (like yourself!), I also am indebted to the writing community. I know I would have stopped writing regularly long ago without their support.
Why is that “first story” special to you? How was it important for your writing journey?
Laura: I will always have a soft spot for EM’S FORT because it reminds me of my nieces and the wonderful worlds their imaginations created. As for my writing journey, without EM’S FORT, it would have never begun.
Me: Well said. Even though our first stories may all be rough and may never be traditionally published, they mark the beginnings of a special chapter in the journey of a writer. Thanks for telling me about your first story!
I would also love to hear about your upcoming book release – MUSHROOM RAIN! Check out the GORGEOUS illustrations below!! What can you tell us about this book? How did you come up with the idea for this book? Does it relate at all to your “first story”?
Laura: I am so excited that everyone will get to see MUSHROOM RAIN soon!
As you can see from the art Heather has included here, my mushroom-loving artist, Jamie Green, did an amazing job taking my words to the next level. I owe much to Tara Lazar’s annual PiBoIdMo (now Story Storm) for helping me find this story. Hidden among the many ideas I came up with during these challenges was one pointing me in this direction. I just didn’t know it yet.
I was focused on biographies at the time and came across a story about Beatrix Potter’s research on, you guessed it, mushrooms! I had never really thought much about them, but Beatrix’s enthusiasm was contagious. I spent a tremendous amount of time learning about mycology for that book, which sadly didn’t sell. Then one day I came across an article about how spores serve as cloud seeds and MUSHROOM RAIN was born!
MUSHROOM RAIN is very different from EM’S FORT, but everything I write helps me learn more about how to write. Without a first story, I would have had nothing to build on.
Me: I love this story so much! The longer I keep writing, the more I realize how common it is to have an initial idea, even write the draft, revise, and then scrap…but then reinvent that same idea in a whole new form later. Laura, the words that you wrote for those spreads are lyrical and lovely, and Jamie Green’s art is stunning! Congratulations – what a gem of a book, and I can’t wait to read it!
If you would like to pre-order a copy, check with your local bookstore or follow the link here: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/mushroom-rain-laura-k-zimmermann/1139869524
MUSHROOM RAIN will sprout on bookshelves on March 15, 2022!
Thank you so much for joining me today, Laura!
Laura: Thank you for having me, Heather!
If you are loving these First Stories interviews, share on social media, share the link, or tell a friend (or all three!). Laura is offering a non-rhyming picture book manuscript critique! What a generous offer! To be entered in the drawing, please retweet the link to this article or share on social media AND post in the comments that you did so. The winner will be announced here and on Twitter on February 16.