Lois Wickstrom lives in a world where imaginary playmates are real. She doesn’t remember being born, so she finds unbirthdays are more exciting than the official once-a-year date on the calendar. She’s taken so many science classes that she believes science is the solution to almost every problem, including the dilemmas in fairy tales.
She writes by herself. She writes with co-authors. She asks illustrators what they would like to draw. If she ever writes her autobiography, the title will be My Life as a Group Project.
Her mother used to get angry with her for daydreaming. Her little sister picked on her. So, she lived in books and wrote her own stories in which the bad-guys made sense, and the good-guys had a chance. As she has grown older, her imagination has grown weirder. Even she doesn’t know what she will write next.
1) First, I want to thank you for taking the time to do this interview with me! When did you know that writing is what you were called to do? What is it about being a writer that you love the most? What about being a writer frustrates you the most?
I remember writing my first story in fourth grade, when I was 9 years old. It was about people on Mars who wore star-shaped hats. The point of the story was that people on Mars weren’t at all like people on Earth, and that was a good thing.
2) Can you tell us a little about your book(s) and where our readers can find out more about them and you?
Most of my books are on my website: http://www.LookUnderRocks.com
My books fit into two main categories: 1) fiction based on science and 2) fantasy.
The science-based fiction books so far are broken down into five series.
First: Science Folktales. These adaptations of famous folktales give the protagonists different outcomes from the originals because they know some scientific principles. Goldilocks knows how to use the six simple machines and she repairs the Three Bears’ home better than she found it. Red Riding Hood knows fingerprint identification and recognizes local herbs. She can prove that the wolf in Grandma’s clothing isn’t her grandma, and she can use the flowers she picked for Grandma to make the wolf sick to his stomach so he throw-ups Grandma. Five of these tales currently are in print and three more are in progress.
Second: Loretta’s Insects. Loretta loves insects. She collects ladybugs for her garden. She protects the carpenter bees that eat her rose bushes because they pollinate her vegetables. She watches over a monarch caterpillar as it matures and metamorphoses. Three of these adventures are currently in print, and two more are in progress.
Third: Mermaid Science. This series is a mix of my fascination with imaginary playmates and love for science. Only Maia can see Trezzie, the mermaid. Maia and her best friend Fig do water experiments with Maia’s Mermaid Friend at the local lake. One is currently on pre-order. Two more are in progress.
Fourth: Dinosaur Friends. A tyrannosaur and an ankylosaurus are friends. They help each other escape a forest fire (including rescuing the tyrannosaur’s eggs) and they deal with an erupting volcano. Both these books are in progress. I don’t know if there will be more.
Fifth: Alex, the Inventor. Alex likes to invent ways to have fun with things she finds around the house. She makes a translator so she can talk to plants and builds a flying carpet.
The fantasy books include one more mermaid tale (same characters as the mermaid science books, but no science) and the Invisible Magic Wand series. In that series Caspian and his grandfather celebrate his UnBirthdays with truly unusual presents that require imagination and fantasy to work. These gifts result in a close friendship between Caspian and his grandfather and give readers ideas for play. Four are in print and two more are in progress. There may be more in the future.
Then there’s Dinopotamus, a cross between a dinosaur and a hippopotamus who can’t talk but who likes to go to school with the other children. He has three books.
And there’s Eee-ahh, the alien who lands in Shirl’s yard. She learns about Earth, and she takes Shirl with her on outer-space adventures, where she gets caught in misunderstandings with aliens.
Plus, there’s the Kingdom of Mir, which gets threatened by dragons and lions. Luckily Wynnie, the girl who asks too many questions always asks the right questions.
3) What projects are you currently working on?
I’m working on a middle-grade novel about three friends in a rock band who are looking for a hidden time capsule with the help of a dog that wags his tail in Morse code. They have to overcome the richest man in town, and a lot of skeptics, plus betrayal of one of their band members.
4) What has been your most significant achievement as a writer thus far? Where do you see yourself within your career in the next five years?
My co-author Jean Lorrah and I won the Gold Remi at Worldfest with our script Coal for Christmas. The script was optioned but has yet to raise enough money to be produced.
Five years? I gave up on putting a calendar to my life decades ago. Things never happen as I plan or on my schedule.
5) How have you dealt with rejection within your writing career?
I hate it. Every time I get one (a rejection letter that is), I wonder if I’m a no-talent nobody. But I send my work out again and again and if nobody wants it, I self-publish. I work with beta-readers and editors to make sure the work is truly the best it can be before I do that.
6) Do you have a schedule for when you write? Do you outline your novels? How long does it generally take you to finish a novel?
My schedule is flexible. I can usually make at least an hour available for writing every day, sometimes as many as four hours. But the time can vary. If somebody needs me – I go for the steady paycheck first – every time.
I do outline my novels. I never stick to the outline but having the outline with the major scenes helps me stick to the main story even if new scenes pop up and planned scenes wind up deleted.
Different novels take different amounts of time. Some take a year or more of research. Some are based on what I already know, but I may not have the plot worked out. So there may be one novel that takes ten years and another that only takes one year.
7) Do you believe that there is ever a point in life where it’s too late for an aspiring writer to become successful in this industry? Do you feel a late start would hinder their chances?
I think selling a piece of writing is always a matter of happenstance. Does the right reader see and appreciate the work? It’s never too late for that to happen. I do find that people of all ages vary in their willingness to work on their craft. So long as that willingness is there, so is the opportunity.
8) Are you an avid reader and have you always been? What’s the first book you ever read that really touched you emotionally and moved you? Who is your favorite author? What book are you currently reading?
I read at least one book a week. I read everything from picture books through books for adults. The first book I remember touching me emotionally was Black Beauty. This is surprising because I’ve never imagined myself owning a horse. My favorite author changes, but at the moment, it’s Philip Pullman. I’m currently reading Beyond Majority Rule by Michael J. Sheeran.
9) The Pandemic was a challenging time for some writers and creative individuals but also for others it was time that they needed to focus on their creative passions. Which side of that spectrum do you fall on? Are there any lessons or nuggets of wisdom that you gained during the Pandemic that help you within your writing career? Did the quarantine stifle your creativity or did it make you even more driven to get things done?
I’m not a social person. I liked the pandemic because it was an excuse not to travel. It was an excuse to meet over the phone or by zoom. I fix computers and I learned how to fix many computer problems without going to clients’ homes. The pandemic gave me more writing time per day than I normally get. I’m amazed how productive I have become.
10) What are your thoughts about how the publishing industry as it is being represented today? Do you lean more towards traditional publishing or self-publishing as a preference? Does being a hybrid author interest you?
I think the publishing industry has been adversely affected by the pandemic. People are banding together in cliques and discovering fewer books that are outside the ones their close associates are reading. I find it more difficult to sell my work because so many more people are competing for the same few markets (more people had time to write). So, I have become more involved in self-publishing. The few contacts I’ve had with hybrid publishers have made no sense to me. They just hold the client’s hand for things an author can do for him/herself. And charge money for the handholding. They do no publicity. I am looking for more sources for online publicity via people who are social, and who like my books or at least are willing to pretend they do.
11) I feel like writing is a remarkable tool to help people not only express themselves, but also to cope emotionally and mentally. I know for me I write to be and feel more authentic. What unique quality is there about you, about your art, that you feel represents your authenticity? How does writing help you to be more empowered in your purpose?
I’m a science junky. Writing lets me put the science that I love into stories, where it becomes more accessible to people who haven’t had the good fortune to live with scientists.
I also had imaginary playmates as a child. I saw them. I played with them. I talked with them. They told me stories. I attempt to convey that magical world in my fiction. Imaginary playmates are just as real as human playmates. In Mr. Barsin’s Toy Emporium, I tell a story of four children who have these enchanting friends, and who can see each other’s playmates.