The Backstory: Julia Lyon
Today The Backstory welcomes our first author of the year, Julia Lyon. Julia is here to share the story behind her debut nonfiction picture book, A DINOSAUR NAMED RUTH (Margaret K. McElderry Books/Simon & Schuster, 2021) with illustrations by Alexandra Bye. Read on to learn how a gas station statue helped lead to this amazing nonfiction book and for your chance to win a copy for yourself.
Welcome to The Backstory and thank you for joining us and sharing the inspiration behind A DINOSAUR NAMED RUTH.
First off, please tell us a little bit about your story.
A DINOSAUR NAMED RUTH is based on the true story of Ruth Mason, a pioneer girl from South Dakota, who found what every kid dreams of: dinosaur bones in her own backyard! The problem was that she didn’t know exactly what she’d found until she was almost 80 years old. This is the story of her discovery and persistence. She never stopped asking questions and was rewarded with an amazing answer.
Wow! What a great subject and themes. Ruth is a wonderful model for young kids to never give up and I am sure this book will help inspire a sense of wonder in each child who hears it. I can just imagine my own children digging up the yard looking for their own discoveries after learning about Ruth.
What’s the story behind the story? What was your inspiration? Where did the idea come from?
Funnily enough, before writing this book I was not a big dinosaur person and none of my kids were either. What I loved was true stories and noticed my kids did, too. My ah-ha moment came while driving around near my house. There’s a gas station with a dinosaur sculpture in front. And, you guessed it, I thought: I should write about someone who finds a dinosaur! I’m an aggressive library user (I bet you are, too!) and noticed there weren’t many books about female paleontologists – or so it seemed to me. So then I started searching for names and stumbled on Ruth Mason. The end result is that I’ve discovered dinosaurs and the people who find them are fascinating.
I love hearing how this topic came together for you as you investigated that initial idea and how in doing so, you found inspiration and this incredible subject.
How did you approach going from this seed of an idea to what is now A DINOSAUR NAMED RUTH? Was it something undeniable you had to write immediately or did you need to sit with this idea and let it grow for a while before it found its way to the page?
It seemed like a great idea from the start, but it took doing more research to convince me there was a book there. I requested documents from the South Dakota State Archives and did phone interviews that helped me better understand who Ruth was – and what impact the fossil discoveries had on her life. In fact, it was during one of the phone interviews that I had a gut feeling that this was a story I really wanted to tell. Just knowing how much joy the dinosaurs brought Ruth made me want to keep going.
The amount of research and detective work that goes into nonfiction writing is astounding. I am so impressed by nonfiction authors and the dedication they give to their topics in order to bring us these engaging and informative books.
Where do you tend to find your inspiration or your sparks for ideas?
All over. Newspaper articles. Magazines. The Library of Congress website. Random thoughts I have while running. My own kids and some of the whacky things that happened to me as a kid.
These are all great sources of inspiration!
What books have been the most inspirational/impactful on your writing?
That’s a hard one. There are so many great narrative nonfiction books out there. I will say that early on in the process of learning about nonfiction picture books, I fell in love with “Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World’s Most Famous Bear.” I cry almost every time I read it. I’m also drawn to fiction writers like Katherine Applegate who loosely base their stories on real news events as she did in “The One and Only Ivan.”
I'll be adding "Finding Winnie" to my to-be-read list, immediately.
What are the must-haves for your workspace? Tools? Inspiration? Reference materials?
A door I can shut. A spaceheater (at least right now). Some Irish jigs to listen to (if I need to block out the noise). LOTS of sticky notes. And a thesaurus. As my husband points out – our two cats are bonus companions.
I love your desk! And I can't help noticing the sweet notes and pictures from your little ones. Great sources of motivation right there!
Any inspirational words of advice for aspiring authors?
I’m a former newspaper reporter and book writing really reminds me of journalism. There’s always another story to write. I think the important thing is to focus on your best ones and keep revising, revising and revising!
Wonderful advice! I agree that revision is where the magic happens and where a good idea can transform into a great book.
Do you have any upcoming projects or news you would like to share with us?
I have two narrative nonfiction picture book manuscripts that are far along or in revision right now. Both feature surprising stories of kids (and animals!) defying expectations.
Those both sound wonderful. I wish you the best of luck as you finish up those revisions and I hope you find the perfect match for them.
Where can people connect more with you?
I’d love to connect with more writers, teachers and librarians! People can find me on Twitter @JuliaLyonAuthor, Instagram @julialyon.author and on my website at julialyon.com. I’d love to add you to my newsletter!
Readers connect with Julia via her website and social media to stay updated on her latest writing happenings.
And don't forget to check out Julia's debut nonfiction picture book, A DINOSAUR NAMED RUTH (Margaret K. McElderry Books/Simon & Schuster, 2021) with illustrations by Alexandra Bye. This is the perfect book to inspire wonder and curiosity about the natural world.
Julia thank you so much for joining us today and for giving us the inside scoop about A DINOSAUR NAMED RUTH.
Julia is generously offering a copy of A DINOSAUR NAMED RUTH to one lucky winner. (US only)
Ways to enter:
1. Retweet my tweet about this blog post. Additional entry for tagging friends!
2. Leave a comment on this post.
3. Post about this interview on FB/Instagram and tell me in the comments that you did.
Each method earns an extra entry!
ABOUT JULIA LYON
Julia Lyon is an award-winning former newspaper reporter who now writes hidden history for kids. Her debut nonfiction picture book, A Dinosaur Named Ruth, was published by Margaret K. McElderry Books/Simon & Schuster in November 2021. Before becoming a children’s book author, Julia worked in daily newspapers in Bend, Oregon and Salt Lake City, Utah for more than 10 years covering education, poverty, health and refugees. As a reporter, she spent many hours interviewing kids from around the world. A graduate of the Columbia Journalism School, she now loves using her investigative skills to dig up remnants of the past in newspapers, letters and unexpected sources -- while getting inspired for her next book.
ABOUT ANDREW HACKET
Andrew’s background of being surrounded by children, both at work and at home, has been a treasure trove of inspiration.
A nature lover, Andrew can be found exploring the woods of Massachusetts with his wife and three kids.
While often witty and imaginative, Andrew’s stories can also delve into the more serious and emotional topics that children can experience.
Andrew is represented by Dan Cramer of Page Turner Literary.