By Starrla Cray
DELANO, MN Famous children’s book author Lynne Jonell of Plymouth knew she wanted to be a writer since she was in third grade, but the path to get where she is today hasn’t been easy or effortless.
The passion, creativity, focus, and determination Jonell brings to her work are clear from her imaginative plots and attention to detail, to the long hours and sleepless nights she spends writing her masterpieces.
“There’s just a real joy in creation,” Jonell said.
Jonell will be speaking about her latest book, “The Secret of Zoom,” at the Delano Library Tuesday, Sept. 29 at 7 p.m.
During the event, the library will have a drawing to give away one of Jonell’s previous intermediate fiction novels, “Emmy and the Incredible Shrinking Rat,” which received the Minnesota book award for children’s literature in 2008.
Jonell will autograph the book, librarian Carol Plocher said. People who use their library card, or new patrons who sign up for a library card in September, will be able to enter the drawing.
Jonell started her career writing picture books for younger children, and has since moved to “magical fiction” for ages 8 to 12. Her books have received starred reviews in several magazines, and have been published in seven languages.
Jonell often speaks at schools and workshops, and she teaches at the Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis.
She enjoys sharing her ideas with others, and hopes her books can inspire young people the way reading inspired her own childhood. Jonell said she has had many children tell her how much they love her books.
“It’s very rewarding to have those children come up to me,” she said.
In her book, “The Secret of Zoom,” one of the characters, Christina, is named after a girl Jonell knows.
“She’s a young writer, too,” Jonell said.
Even though Jonell’s books are fiction, she does detailed research to ensure the stories are realistic.
“The Secret of Zoom,” for instance, has a garbage truck scene. In order to write convincingly, Jonell said she wanted to “get up close and personal with the garbage truck,” becoming familiar with the sights, sounds, and even the smells of the truck.
“One of the garbage men from Blackowiak Disposal in Mound, Todd Allen, very kindly allowed me to ride along on his route,” Jonell said.
Jonell’s husband half-jokingly made her promise not to get in the back of the truck with the garbage, she said.
“I sometimes go a little far in my research,” she laughed.
When she’s having trouble writing, Jonell said she likes to sit at Caribou Coffee, next to The Bookcase in Wayzata.
“I’ve gotten through many a writer’s block there,” she said.
During the day, Jonell said she usually “dashes around ideas,” and really gets into her writing at about 11 p.m.
When the adrenaline’s pumping, Jonell writes for hours on end.
“When I’m writing well, I can’t stop. Sometimes, I’ll be going to bed just as my husband’s getting up for work,” she laughed. “It’s a terrible way to live.”
Jonell finished writing another book, “Emmy and the Rats in the Belfry,” about a month ago.
“I was in kind of a state of brain freeze,” she said. “At that point, I’m in recovery.” After weeks of only sleeping four or five hours per day, Jonell said she went to the University of Minnesota Landscape Arboretum and stared at the water to relax.
“I think I did almost a week of that,” she said.
Now, she’s starting to get back into her writing again, with “Hamster Magic” coming out in the fall of 2010, and “Lawnmower Magic” publishing in spring of 2011. The new series, which will be published by Random House Publishing, is tentatively named “Eddylands Magic.”
With all her success, some might think becoming an author was easy for Jonell, but she claims otherwise.
“It takes a long time to get good enough to get published,” she said. For many years, Jonell said she would have made more money working at a minimum-wage job.
“Before I was published, it was a really hard time,” she said. A class Jonell took from author Jane Resh Thomas helped further her writing abilities.
“She is a wonderful teacher and writer,” Jonell said. When her two sons, now ages 21 and 23, were younger, Jonell focused on picture books.
The advantage of picture books, for Jonell, was that she could get into the story in a shorter period of time. When her boys were at home, she didn’t always have long blocks of time available.
“When I take a break from my novels, it takes me three weeks of grinding work to get back into it,” she said. Now that her children have grown up, she has more time for writing, as well as traveling to speaking events.
“My family inspired me, and guided the way my career went,” Jonell said.
She often bounces ideas off of her husband, Bill, who is an engineer.
“He helps me root my ideas in a base of science so it seems possible to happen,” she said.
In one of her books, for example, a professor invents a “charoscope.” When a drop of blood is seen through this device, one can detect aspects of a person’s character, such as hope, greed, or joy.
“It became a great metaphor for some of the character issues going on in the book,” she said.
Despite the success of her books, each new project brings its own set of challenges, and Jonell said she still has to fight off feelings of discouragement.
“I still want to give up almost every day,” she laughed.
She encourages other writers to keep at it, though, because hard work does pay off.
“If you’re getting rejection letters with suggestions for revision, it means your writing is very, very close,” she said.
For more information about Jonell and her books, go to www.lynnejonell.com.