The idea for Lisa McCourt’s first book, I Love You, Stinky Face (Scholastic, 1997), popped into her head while she mixed up a batch of egg salad in her kitchen. Within 48 hours she had a complete book to submit to her publisher.
At the time, McCourt ran her own book packaging business located in Boca Raton. As a packager, she was hired by publishers to find authors to write books on specific subjects, assign artists to create the illustrations, and design the books so the publisher received each book as a complete package, ready to print.
Unconditional love was a popular theme in the market place at the time, but many of the books already published were too sentimental for McCourt’s taste. She’d never written a children’s book, but she’d edited them for ten years, first for Troll in New York City and later for the now-defunct Cool Kids Press in Boca Raton.
McCourt never knew she wanted to write for children until she wrote I Love You, Stinky Face. She studied English and writing at Drew University in New Jersey with the intention of being an editor. Since her egg salad inspiration, McCourt is the author of 29 books that have sold over 2 million copies!
When asked about her writing process, McCourt laughs: “Usually, I spend hours totally frustrated, coming up with nothing or writing a few lines and hating it. I’ve even made egg salad since then, and nothing!” But in McCourt’s experience, when a book idea gels, it pours out virtually complete. “I think every book is probably my last,” she quips. “I say to myself, ‘That was a good run and I’ll never think of another thing again.’”
But those who’ve read McCourt’s books don’t believe her. Her imagination seems boundless. She’s written several heartfelt stories in the Chicken Soup for Little Souls series, and nonfiction books on a variety of topics, including the rain forest, raptors, space travel, and bizarre sea creatures. As the mother of a six-year old and a two-year old, McCourt has also written two parenting guides: 101 Ways to Raise a Happy Baby(McGraw-Hill, 1999) and 101 Ways to Raise a Happy Toddler (McGraw-Hill, 2000). She also writes a monthly column for The Boca Raton Observer.
When McCourt works on a nonfiction project, she jokes that, “I do as much research as I possibly can to put off the moment when I have to write!” Conversely, her fiction is often based on her own life and requires no research. McCourt was pregnant with her first child when she wrote I Love You, Stinky Face, but as the boy character developed through the series, he took on her son’s voice. The father in Goodnight Princess Pruney Toes(Scholastic, 2001) is her husband who loves to play silly games with their children. “We’re pretty goofy in my house, and that lends itself to story ideas.”
McCourt describes her house as the “hang-out house,” where neighborhood friends congregate to play. She likes to listen to them talk and pays attention to what they say. Many of the children in her neighborhood appear in Happy Halloween, Stinky Face(Scholastic, 2005). When her son is at school, McCourt volunteers for lunch duty. “It’s messy and loud, but I get to clown around with the kids and talk to them in a relaxed atmosphere.”
Changing directions, McCourt’s newest project is a middle-grade novel. She describes the longer format as “meatier” because it allows her to develop her character more fully. According to McCourt, “The main character is a funnier, better me when I was 10.” At that age, McCourt remembers being a Woody Allen-style worry-wart. She had bitter debates with herself when confronted with something important in her life. “I had mock plays between me and the enemy me. Looking back, it laid the groundwork for my character’s voices today.”
In spite of sales in the millions, McCourt doesn’t feel she’s made it as an author yet. “I’m still looking for the book that defines me as an author. . .It’s still out there beyond my reach.” While she searches, her readers will gladly pour through the books she’s already created for them like favorite gifts.