Not Quite 20 Questions with Lisa
When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
The first thing I remember wanting to be was a shoe salesclerk—I loved going to the shoe store and getting my foot measured. But there were a lot of other jobs that sounded fun to me too, including spy, teacher, detective, and mad scientist!
How come you didn’t mention “writer” on that list?
Writers were my superheroes growing up because books were like magical traveling machines for me: they transported me on adventures outside my small town of Bemidji, Minnesota (also the home of Paul Bunyan and Babe). So even though I wrote a lot of things when I was young—poems, novels, songs, comic strips, and neighborhood newspapers—early on, I didn’t believe that an everyday kid like me could grow up and become a professional writer.
What was the first thing you ever had published?
In 5th grade, the Bemidji newspaper printed my letter to the editor (I was urging people to help save baby harp seals). Once I saw my name in print, I practiced signing my autograph over and over. I had become convinced that someday I would have my own book published!
What else did you like to do as a kid?
I loved to create imaginary adventures for all my neighborhood friends. We played “pirate ship” in the treehouse and “stuffed-animal emergency room” in the basement. We played “rock band” in the back yard and “pioneers” in the wooded lot. Plus, Bemidji has long, snowy winters, so I also enjoyed figure skating, hockey games, ice fishing, and building snow forts. When summer finally arrived, I thrilled over cannonballing into still-cold lakes, twirling my baton, doing crafts, and playing neighborhood games like Kick the Can.
What was your nickname growing up?
My brothers and cousins called me “Lisa Pizza.” The bad news is, that isn’t a true rhyme, so my inner poet didn’t like it! The good news is, pizza is still one of my favorite foods.
What was the first book you ever wrote?
Like many writers, I had to practice by writing many unpublished books before I ever had one published, so I don’t remember the name of the first one I wrote. But my first published book was a picture book called Not Enough Beds! It tells the story of too many relatives showing up for a family holiday and all the funny places they end up sleeping. Until I started meeting my readers, I had no idea just how many people have slept in bathtubs!
Of all the books you’ve written, which one is your favorite?
It’s impossible to choose, but I will say that writing my novel Turn Left at the Cow was one of my biggest accomplishments. Most of my books are shorter, so writing an entire novel was a really big deal for me. And mysteries have always been one of my favorite things to read, so it was exciting to write a mystery for kid readers. Finally, the setting was inspired by Green Lake in Minnesota, where my family has had a lake cabin since I was born. The book is my way of sharing that special place with my readers.
You’ve written a lot of nonfiction books too—what do you like most about writing them?
I’m thrilled to have an excuse to research and discover some of the amazing, intriguing things that make up the universe! After all, what other job allows you to spend your time learning about oddball topics like skyjacker D.B. Cooper, bigfoot, walking catfish, Halloween traditions, werewolves, chicken poop bingo, and how much a gray whale eats (more than 2,000 pounds per day during the summer)?
How many books have you had published in total?
That number changes regularly—I often have a book that’s somewhere in the publishing process but not yet a printed title—but I can safely say that I have more than 100 published books!
What’s your favorite thing to do?
Reading has been one of my favorite activities since my mom first read books to me when I was a little girl.
What else do you do for fun nowadays?
I love Game Nights with my friends and hanging out with my nephews and nieces.
But going on road trip adventures is one of my biggest treats. They often lead to something unexpected: attending the Sturgis (South Dakota) motorcycle rally by mistake, getting stuck in the middle of an alligator-infested Louisiana swamp, and treasure hunting for amethysts in a Canadian rock pile. And all those trips have helped me gather a fantastic collection of souvenir snow globes!
Where do you get your book ideas?
Listening to other people’s stories is a great source of inspiration—but I always make sure to add lots of my own imagination to make the stories my own. My travels and the research I do for nonfiction books often end up generating good book ideas too. Really, any time I’m exploring the world—whether in person or on my computer—I think of it as a “writing road trip”: the best souvenirs I collect are book ideas, not snow globes!
Where do you live now?
I make my home in the Twin Cities metro area in Minnesota, where I very much enjoy being part of an amazing community of writers, illustrators, readers, and other book fans.