Even though I’ve never had a rat as a pet, there’s a lot of me in this book. I often say that Malcolm began as a bedtime story for my then-first grader. But the truth is, I used him as a story “guinea pig” (pun intended!). I tested my ideas out on him to see what made him laugh or ask what happened next, then, while he slept, I’d head down to my laptop and write them down.
Because my kids are growing up in my own hometown, I also snuck in a few things that only we would know about. The city where it’s set is called “Clearwater,” which is the English translation of our town, Eau Claire. Our local pet store became the Pet Emporium. And McKenna School is based on our current school district administration building, which we would drive by on our way to the public library every week. (Before it was the administration building, it was a junior high school. I attended seventh grade summer band there before our new school was built; I’ll never forget walking up four flights of crumbling stairs to the dusty, cluttered top floor…sound familiar?)
But the truth is, Malcolm really became a book due to a grant from the SCBWI. I had talked myself into abandoning Malcolm (who would want a story about a talking rat, written in the 2nd person, with FOOTNOTES??)–when it won a work-in-progress runner-up grant from SCBWI. It was just the boost of confidence I needed to pull out the story and finally finish it.