My Writer's Background
Steven L. Layne was born and raised in Crawfordsville, Indiana, where he was an avid reader from an early age. Mysteries were his favorites - he read everything from trade series mysteries to the renowned works of Agatha Christie. Steve won multiple awards for writing both prose and poetry through county and state competitions throughout his high school years.
"I had several excellent teachers who taught me the value of laboring over my writing, but one teacher in particular, Mrs. Warner, allowed the creative juices to flow. I wrote my first award-winning piece of prose in her class. She gave me a picture of a barren field, I can still see it in my mind, and I wrote a tomorrow's world story based on that image. It was about a post-tragedy civilization set on Earth."
Steve attended Judson College in Elgin, IL, where he earned degrees in both psychology and education and met the woman who would become his wife just a week after graduation. After working as a counselor on an inpatient psychiatric unit for several years, Steve began his teaching career.
His long-time love affair with books led him to pursue a Masters degree in reading while teaching fifth grade full time in Carpentersville, IL. Throughout those two years of study, Steve moved his teaching responsibilities to Oak Brook, IL. Upon completion of his Masters degree, Steve immediately launched himself into a doctoral program and graduated in 1996 from Northern Illinois University with a doctorate in reading education and an emphasis in children's literature. It was during his doctoral studies that Steve had his first opportunity to write again.
After completing all of the requirements for a professional writing course for educators, Steve requested permission to write a children's book. With his professor's approval, Steve began writing what would become, several years later, his first children's picture book, Thomas's Sheep and the Great Geography Test - an ABC adventure book for young readers. While doing a promotional appearance in California for this book in 1998, Steve's then-publicist suggested he consider writing the book that would eventually link his name with the rush of "Pre-Christmas" activities in schools for the rest of his life.
In the fall of 2001 Steve's second picture book, The Teachers' Night Before Christmas, premiered and was named a bestseller within two months as it criss-crossed the country delighting parents, teachers, and students alike. World Magazine called it Steve's "valentine to hardworking teachers," and the school children of the U.S. gave it their firm approval when it was named to the International Reading Association/Children's Book Council's prestigious "Children's Choices" List for 2002 - the nation's top 100 new books as selected by the children themselves!
Teachers' Night wasn't the only bestselling news of 2001 for Steve. While traveling out of the country in the summer of 2000, Steve had been working on a collection of poems for teachers. These literacy poems were about "the stuff of teachers' daily lives," and Steve thought they would resonate with classroom teachers - people he could relate to as he continued working in the public schools. The International Reading Association agreed with Steve - the poems would find an enthusiastic audience beginning with their members! So, in August of 2001, Life's Literacy Lessons: Poems for Teachers was released. This title quickly became another bestseller. In fact, this book (originally released in paperback) has the rare distinction of being released in a special hardcover edition in late 2002 due the requests of readers across the country.
Amidst all of his doctoral research, book writing, and negotiating with publishers, Steve moved from teaching elementary school to a position in the junior high. And there, in the ranks of sixth-, seventh-, and eighth-grade students, Steve found a new and very demanding audience. As he taught language arts all day, Steve was watching, carefully, his students' responses to books. He made a mental list of the literary elements that were present in the books most popular with the teenagers - especially the reluctant readers. This quiet research was making the way for Steve's first novel for young adults.
Steve completed the young adult thriller This Side of Paradise in 2000, relying on colleagues and friends to assist him with editing and piloting the manuscript with junior and senior high audiences as a read aloud. The word coming back from the schools was excellent; the book was generating great excitement among teens. Several publishers asked to see the book right away, but a sale was not destined to be. For one reason or another, all the publishers passed on the book. The story wasn't over, however, because teachers and kids, the most important audience, assured Steve the book was destined for success.
Urged on by family, students, and colleagues, Steve opened his own publishing house and released This Side of Paradise in late fall of 2001. To his supporters' delight, the book garnered reviews in several top review journals and sales took off. A second printing was called for within two months. Then, in late June of 2001, news came that would change the fate, and the publisher, of the book.
The Hal Clement Award, given annually for the best new science fiction novel published for young adults in the U.S. was awarded to This Side of Paradise. The novel had won out over several other finalists from major New York houses! Contract offers to buy the book came quickly, and the title was re-released in early 2003 with a brand-new dust jacket (the original dust jacket actually featured one of Steve's students on the cover) and national distribution by Pelican Publishing Company. Paradise was subsequently named to several book lists around the country including Missouri Library Association's "Best of the Best" for YA readers 2002, Indiana Library Federation's Read Aloud Books Too Good To Miss 2002-2003, and The Texas Lone Star List for 2003-2004. The books selection as one of the International Reading Associations Young Adult Choice Titles for 2003 was of tremendous significance to Steve as these 30 books are selected as best in the nation by U.S. teens themselves. Thus, a book that began in a middle-school classroom with one small group of kids was given the resounding approval of their peers all across the nation. Going to Milan anytime soon? Look for This Side of Paradise in Italian while youre there!
Steve's picture book, My Brother Dan's Delicious, was released in February of 2003. The illustrations by Chuck Galey are sensational and, in addition to brilliantly bringing Steve's hilarious story of hungry monsters and sibling rivalry to life, these drawings have their own story to tell - for those readers who are looking closely! The book is a favorite with young readers because of all the monsters hiding in the illustrations just waiting to be found - and sibling revenge is always a topic of great interest! This story also serves as a wonderful launch as the framework for persuasive writing is embedded into the story. My Brother Dan's Delicious was named an IRA/CBC Children's Choice Title in May of 2004
February of 2004 brought a special Valentines gift to dads across America - Steves gift book Verses for Dads Heart. Longtime friend and colleague Gail Greaves Klinger produced the artwork that brought Steves verses farther than they could have ever gone alone. Together these two friends produced a one-of-a-kind book that required three separate print runs in the first three months the book was released! The book seems sure to be popping up in stores for years to come as a seasonal favorite for dads.
Steve's hobbies include reading, writing, teaching, singing, tennis, volleyball, and playing with his kids. His favorite foods are pizza from Giordanno's, the "very chocolate brownie" from Panera Bread, Honey Garlic Chicken from Gilberts Chop Suey, and Hot Chocolate (extra whipped cream) from Starbucks! Steve enjoys watching old movies to relax. The writers he enjoys reading include Neal Shusterman, Margaret Peterson Haddix, and Joan Bauer. Steve has been married for more than 25 years to his wife Debbie. In addition to their four fabulous children, Grayson, Victoria, Jackson, and Candace the Laynes have a terrific dog named Shelby. The Laynes reside in St. Charles, Illinois.
Dr. Steven L. Layne teaches courses in children's and young adult literature at Judson College in Elgin, IL, and serves as a national literacy consultant, motivational speaker, and featured author at schools, institutes, and conferences throughout the world.