Why I Wrote Malcolm’s Story

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.

My first sketch of Malcolm . . . way back in 2008.
I often draw while I’m thinking of story ideas. This is my first sketch of Malcolm.

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?)

Central Junior High, now our district administration building; my inspiration for McKenna.
A sketch of "McKenna School."
A sketch I did of my McKenna School as I was thinking about the setting.
Inside the halls of Central.
The setting for Malcolm at Midnight
This was the high school before Central in Eau Claire. Why can’t schools look like this anymore?
The old high school in Duluth, MN. I was looking for an old school with a clock tower . . .
I needed a better tower, though! I found it in a visit to Duluth, MN. This is their old high school.

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.

Of course, that was just the first draft. There were many, MANY more to follow!

The first printout. I always print out my drafts, so I can read them all through in one sitting. I remember printing this and wondering how on earth I had written all that!
As I read through the printout, I make notes. Then I make a color-coded list of how I’m going to tackle the revision.
When revision go badly….the candy come out.
First pages of M@M
“First pages” of Malcolm at Midnight. This is one of the final drafts of Malcolm before it gets printed into a book.