A passion for animals, the outdoors, and storytelling have been part of a Missouri author’s life for as long as she can remember.
Laurel Stevenson, who writes under the pen name Alysen Bayles, releases her second children’s book “Silly Sam From Galapagos Land” on Friday. The book explores the friendship between the feline Silly Sam and Myrtle the tortoise in the Galapagos Islands. This is Stevenson’s second book. His first, “Winston” was released in 2020.
Before moving to Kansas City a few years ago, Stevenson lived in Springfield for 25 years with her husband and two children. Stevenson was born and raised in Barre Mills, Wisconsin, a small town about two hours and 40 minutes from Minneapolis. It was here, on his family’s farm, that Stevenson’s love of creating stories about the outdoors blossomed.
Looking back on his childhood, Stevenson said his late mother instilled three things in him: integrity and a passion for animals and helping children.
Some of Stevenson’s fondest childhood memories are of her mother reading to her, which she cited as one of the reasons she writes children’s books today.
“I still remember… being very little and her reading books to me and having stacks of books pretty much my entire childhood and beyond,” she said.
Storytelling proved to be a part of Stevenson’s life, even after he left his family farm in Wisconsin.
After graduating from high school at age 16, Stevenson attended Drury University, studying business and corporate communications.
After graduating, Stevenson’s creative writing came to a halt, as she considered her next steps in higher education.
“It was at a time when master’s degrees in communications weren’t really recognized,” she said. “I was young at the time and hesitant to go down that road. (A professor at Drury) suggested I might look at law school because he knew I liked a challenge, like he and other teachers had experienced in class. So I said, ‘OK why not?'”
Stevenson moved to Columbia where she attended law school at the University of Missouri, focusing on legal and technical writing.
Throughout her 30-year career as a litigator, Stevenson worked in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, back in Wisconsin, and Springfield. In 2020, Stevenson left her litigation practice to take on a dedicated alternative dispute resolution position in Kansas City, where she currently resides.
While working in Springfield, Stevenson began representing large corporations and a corporation in multi-million dollar situations.
“That’s kind of what every trial lawyer might be, in a way,” Stevenson said. “I was incredibly grateful that people trusted me enough, but it was very, very stressful.”
Representing the clients she was already doing was proving difficult, but being a wife and a mother too, on top of all that.
“When I first came to Springfield, one of my first hearings…I was a pretty big pregnant woman, in other words at three months I looked like I had twins,” Stevenson said. “I showed up at (a judge’s) courtroom and he asked me, not so rudely, to leave because ‘a pregnant woman’s place was at home.’ sort of the beginning of my introduction to the stresses of litigation and being a lawyer, especially in Missouri.”
Stevenson only knew one way out: writing.
“The only way I knew to develop an outlet and try to be a decent lawyer and mother and wife was to take some of my original writing that I had done (at Drury),” she said.
Although she wrote for work, creative writing allowed Stevens a different kind of output; an outlet for stress. It not only allowed him a form of escape, but also a way to share stories from his own life.
One of the first works Stevenson made during this time was “Winston”. The dog in the book, who likes to befriend rabbits instead of chasing them, is based on one of Stevenson’s family dogs, Nipper.
Before Nipper, Stevenson, her husband and two children welcomed Bottles, their first family dog. Unfortunately, the family didn’t have bottles for a long time before he contracted a virus and had to be put down.
Shortly after, Stevenson’s mother announced that a dog and her puppies had been dumped on her farm. In another unfortunate situation, a neighbor shot and killed the mother and some of the puppies, leaving three wayward puppies. One of the remaining puppies was Nipper, the runt of the litter, whom the family brought home.
“What Nipper provided was a connection to my children after losing a beloved dog that we had for a very short time,” Stevenson said. “I had the opportunity to teach my children what happens when children and dogs are abused, so it was not an easy path to raise Nipper. Even to this day, she remains nervous because ‘She was clearly abused.”
Nipper was the inspiration for “Winston,” a story about “thriving with someone who is disadvantaged,” Stevenson said.
Since its release, “Winston” has been used in an English as a Second Language (ESL) class in Japan for elementary school students, which Stevenson said he finds very special.
Today, Stevenson is gearing up for the release of “Silly Sam From Galapagos Land,” which she started writing during the COVID-19 pandemic.
She said the book was inspired by both her mother and the impact of COVID-19 on tourism.
“The Galapagos, and many small places like this, survive on tourism,” Stevenson said. “I really wrote the book partly because of my mother’s passion for turtles and my interest in the Galapagos Islands and my hope that maybe somehow it will renew some interest for the Galapagos Islands.”
Stevenson said she recognizes that tourism also has negative consequences for communities, but hopes the book will provide “a good balance and draw attention to Galapagos in a good way”.
Stevenson has not yet scheduled a launch party or book signing, but hopes to do so in the near future at The vine shop in Hermann, where she held her first book signing event for “Winston.”
In addition to the release of “Silly Sam From Galapagos Land,” Stevenson is working on several other books that she hopes to see published soon, including her third children’s book, which will be structured as an easy reader for older children.
She is also writing her first novel “Blankets and Balloons”, a memoir “Tarnished Buckets” and a book of visual poetry “Snow Shadows”.