Laurie Friedman remembers saving up enough Frosted Flakes proof of purchase seals to get her own Tony the Tiger beach towel. When it arrived, she spread it in the garden under a big magnolia tree and wrote stories. “From the time I was in third grade, I wanted to be a writer,” she says. “I have everything I’ve ever written!” Boxes and boxes of stuff. But Friedman’s old stories and journals have come in handy. “I use things in my Mallory books that I wrote at that age,” she says. “Mallory’s journal sounds a lot like mine.”
Initially, Friedman tried writing a romance novel, but her agent didn’t think it was very good and suggested she try another genre. While casting about for an idea, Friedman had a crisis to deal with at home. Her two-year old son was terrified of his new big boy bed. Friedman’s daughter hit upon the perfect solution—they should all climb in the bed, leaving no room for Friedman’s son. The reverse psychology worked! As an added bonus, Friedman wrote A Big Bed for Jed (Dial, 2002) and started down the path as a children’s author.
Friedman wanted to try to write something longer for her next project. At the time, her family was moving to a different part of town, which meant a different school and different friends for her daughter who was beginning first grade. “You’ve ruined my life,” said Friedman’s daughter. As a mother, Friedman was crushed, but as a writer she hit upon a fantastic idea for her next book, Mallory on the Move.
Like Amber Brown and Junie B. Jones, Mallory is a spunky third grader whose real life adventures and missteps mimic those of her readers. “Mallory was not intended to be a series,” says Friedman. But when her editor asked her to write a sequel, Friedman couldn’t refuse. In the second Mallory book, Friedman borrows a situation from her niece whose mother was hired as a teacher at the same school. “I can’t believe I have to take my mother to school with me,” Friedman’s niece wailed. Outside, Friedman was sympathetic, but inside she rejoiced because she had the basis for Back to School, Mallory. With 16 Mallory books planned, Friedman says, “I’ve just finished number nine, and I love watching her grow. She’s always on my mind like she’s part of my family.”
Friedman says her best creative moments come when she’s sitting quietly—in temple or in a doctor’s office. She roots in her purse for a tiny scrap of paper (tiny scraps are unobtrusive) when an idea strikes. She compiles these fragments of ideas during her early morning walk around her Miami neighborhood with Ollie, her Bichon Frise. Generally, she reserves the morning for writing. “I’m a big believer in rewards,” says Friedman. With a goal of five new pages a day, she tells herself she’ll write two pages before she allows herself to have her cup of tea. Then she tells herself she must write two more pages before she visits her favorite websites and checks her email. After completing her last page of the day, Friedman allows herself to have lunch. “I love lunch!” she quips. When an entire manuscript is complete, Friedman reserves a special treat like a new shirt or a manicure.
Mallory will move to fourth grade in the last seven books of the series. In order to write realistic scenes, Friedman visits third and fourth grades in a local school. She asks them questions about talking on the phone, instant messaging, emailing, hairstyles, and friends.
When Friedman gets an idea for a new book, she dreams up a title while walking Ollie. “I love writing titles,” she says. “It’s like naming fingernail polish, finding the perfect couple of words.” After the title, she writes the beginning and ending of the book working from a rough outline. “If these parts work, I knows it’s a good idea,” she says. Then Friedman moves on to individual scenes, writing her favorites in no particular order. If chapters fall to the bottom of her list and she still doesn’t feel a spark of inspiration, she replaces them with better ideas. “If I don’t want to write them, no one wants to read them,” she says.
Friedman’s challenge to herself is to hone her storytelling craft by staying abreast of the children’s publishing industry. When she reads a children’s book she likes, she reads it over and over to figure out how the author did what she did. Even now, with more than a dozen books to her name, Friedman continues to study her craft at a weekly critique session led by an experienced writing teacher. “I love what I’m doing,” says Friedman, “and look forward to new challenges.”