Thursday, December 23, 2010

Interview with author (and CCBR reviewer) Lori Z. Scott!

Merry Christmas to all our wonderful CCBR readers! This month, I'm pleased to feature author and CCBR reviewer Lori Z. Scott - author of the Meghan Rose series. Award-winning author Lori Scott has a husband (Jim) and two children (Michael and Meghan Rose). Lori teaches second grade at Richmond Elementary, but she used to teach first grade, just like her books' Mrs. Arnold! Unlike Mrs. Arnold, however, Lori buys cereal for the prizes and reads the comic section of the newspaper first. To entertain kids, sometimes Lori writes her name forward and backward at the same time or recites "Jabberwocky," a silly poem by Lewis Carroll.

CCBR: Lori, we're so excited to celebrate the publication of the new books in your series! How did it feel when you found out the Meghan Rose series would actually be published?

Lori Z. Scott: I wasn’t home when the editor, Robin Stanley from Standard, called with the good news. She left a message on my answering machine. When I listened to it, I felt - BLAM! SHOCKED! - like I had walked into a huge surprise birthday party just for me. Plus I think I screamed like a girl. (But then, I AM a girl, so I guess that’s not too unusual.)

CCBR: Tell us a little bit about Meghan. How old is she? What makes her unique? What inspired her character?

Lori: Seven-year-old Meghan is one of the bounciest girls in first grade. She is creative, quirky, outspoken, full of energy…and loves God. Like most young children, she asks perplexing questions, like "Why isn’t gravy purple?" Plus she shares wise thoughts, like the fact that monkey bread doesn’t actually have any monkeys in it.

As a former first grade teacher (and current second grade teacher), I already had a wealth of experience to draw on when I created the character. Even so, one child inspired me most … my own then-first-grade daughter, Meghan! Initially, the fictional character was a mixture of about 80 percent of the “real Meghan” antics, 10 percent of my own eccentric musings, and 10 percent total fiction. Now that my girl is a teenager, the percentages run more like 40, 50, and 10.

Even though Meghan is the main character, one of her best buddies is a boy. I have had parents email me specifically to tell me that their SONS love the books.

CCBR: Are there lessons you try to teach through the Meghan Rose series? What are some examples?

Lori: I want my stories to do more than entertain. I also want to them to hold a strong take-away value. Plus I want readers to laugh. As the good Dr. Seuss once said in reference to all kinds of silliness, “These things are fun, and fun is good.” I agree. So each book has a message that is subtle but still clearly evident. None are preachy. (I hate preachy, but love amusing.) The books run heavy on the humor and very, VERY light on the lesson…yet neither quality is lost on the child.

As for examples, Meghan Rose On Stage talks about discovering talents, but it’s ultimately about friendship. Meghan Rose Has Ants in Her Pants explores the idea of patience - a difficult area for most kids to deal with. Meghan Rose All Dressed Up tackles inner beauty while Meghan Rose Has a Secret addresses the power of words. The two newest releases, Meghan Rose Takes the Cake and Meghan Rose Knows it All, target generosity and humility.

CCBR: What advice would you give parents to help them initiate conversations about those lessons with their children?

Lori: That’s a good question. I remember reading Where the Red Fern Grows with my daughter and wanting to talk about death since that topic came up the end of the book. But since I wasn’t prepared for the discussion, I didn’t fully take advantage of that teachable moment. (Instead we both just bawled our way through the last few chapters.)

With that in mind, at the end of each book I included discussion questions for parents or teachers to help them initiate those conversations. For some parents, this is their favorite part of the book.

In addition to what I’ve provided, I advise parents form a connection with their child by sharing stories from their own lives, and then see where it goes from there.

CCBR: When did you first discover your desire to write books? How did you get started? What was your favorite book as a child?

Lori: I always enjoyed writing. I wrote for my high school newspaper and yearbook, wrote sappy teenage poetry, and sketched the Adventures of Super Cat in my science notebook. But teaching was my main calling, and that’s what I did for nine years after graduating from college. Interestingly enough, when I took one of those interest and ability tests in high school that determine your best career options, my results came back with teacher ranked on top… and writing second. Then I had kids, and quit teaching for a new job that wasn’t listed on the career survey: being a mom.

It was during that teaching hiatus that I rediscovered my love of writing. It started with contests. I saw a flyer for an amateur science fiction/ fantasy writing contest. Almost on a whim, I entered…and got second place. Encouraged by my success, I tried MOPS International story writing contest…and WON! After that, I tried and won several other small writing contests. Then I joined a writer’s group, learned more about the publishing industry, and started publishing magazine articles, devotions, poems, puzzles, and short stories. Eventually my path led me to the Write-To-Publish conference where I landed a contract for the Meghan Rose series.

Now I juggle all three passions - teaching, writing, and being a mom. And, well, I have a few gray hairs but I’m still alive!

As for favorite books… well, it’s hard to pick just one. There are many authors I admire. Even today, I adore picture books and well-written YA novels. That said, I remember the first book that held me spellbound was Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak. Many of the Dr. Seuss books also fascinated me. And in fifth grade, I simply fell in love with J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit.

CCBR: How long does it take you to write a book? What is your writing process like?

Lori: I’ve discovered that the writing process varies greatly from one author to another. In my case, the training ground for writing children’s chapter books came in the form of writing short stories for magazines. Usually magazines provide a theme or topic. Authors take those few words and ideas and build a story from there. When I transitioned from magazines to chapter books, I kept a similar writing approach. I treated each chapter like it was a short story for a magazine.

Often, however, even though I start down a carefully planned story path, I stray. Simply put, the characters come to life and carry me off course, thereby transforming my original plot. Luckily, I’m not above taking a story in a whole new and unanticipated direction. Sometimes the ending even surprises me!

CCBR: What is the purpose behind your books/writing? Why did you decide to write children's books?

Lori: It’s a long story. I’ll try to be brief.

When my daughter was in first grade, her teacher started reading the Junie B. Jones books in class. Since Meghan liked them, I picked up a few copies.

Well, I enjoyed the humor in those books, but when Meghan started acting and talking like Junie B., I started editing out those grammar slips, name calling, and bad attitudes found in the books, I thought there had to be an alternative choice - a book that was just as funny, but also had a character I wouldn’t mind my child emulating. I scoured the Christian bookstores. At that time, I couldn’t find any fiction appropriate for her age group, only devotional books and Bible stories.

Still, I kept going back and asking about chapter books for K, 1, and 2 grade children. Again and again I walked away empty handed. Finally, my daughter got fed up with my hunting. She said, “Mom, you’re a writer. If you can’t find the book you want, write it yourself!” So I did. I wrote the first book just for her and put in everything she wanted - an interesting story filled with giggles and characters worth rooting for - and everything I wanted - good moral values (but with nothing preachy about the story).

In retrospect, I see how God prepared me for writing this particular series. Through teaching, I had worked extensively with kids in the K-2 age group. I understood the challenges they faced, the jokes they enjoyed, the way they talked and acted, and how they played. That knowledge, paired with my writing experiences, not only equipped me for writing chapter books, but also gave that writing authenticity.

CCBR: How does your faith influence what/how you write?

Lori: Faith influences everything. Writers pour all they are, all they believe, and all they hope to be into their stories. The same is true for teachers. And parents. And everyday people. It doesn’t matter what you do… faith and life go hand in hand. How you chose to share that faith can come in the form of written words, or a beautiful dance, or in a shared meal, or simply a smile.

CCBR: Are there more books in store from you? Can you give us an insider's preview of what might be coming down the road?

Lori: There are two more books due to be released in March 2011. They are called Meghan Rose Is Out of This World (about honesty) and Meghan Rose is Tickled Pinkish Orange (about joy). This past summer, I wrote a first draft for a Christmas story and hope to draft either an Easter or Valentine story this upcoming year. If Meghan continues to connect with readers, I think those stories might be next in line.

CCBR: Where can our readers go to find out more about you and your books?

Lori: I have a website that highlights the first four books. I hope to update it soon to include the newer titles. You can find it at You can also find the books many places online, like Amazon, CBD, Barnes and Noble, Books-A-Million, and Mardel. Many bookstores carry them. If your local one doesn’t, they can easily order if for you. Just make sure they spell “Meghan” correctly!

CCBR: Thank you so much, Lori, for joining us in this month's Insider Column and for sharing about your writing, your books, and your faith.

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Annette W. said...

I used to teach first grade and though Junie B Jones may have got children reading...I agree that it wasn't all good.

I am so thankful for these books! I recently won them from your giveaway here and can't wait to share them with my daughter Meghan...who sounds a lot like Meghan Rose.

Beth Reinke said...

Really enjoyed reading this interview and learning about Lori and the background of the Meghan Rose series.

Continued blessings and success with your books, Lori!