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Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: Jeanette Ingold, Most Recent at Top [Help]
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1. Little and Big Detail


Springtime is my favorite season, and wildflowers are a major attraction here in beautiful western Montana.  The parade has begun, starting with buttercups in March and continuing through a roadside trio of larkspur, star flower, and biscuit root—purple, white, and yellow, a combo that would make a beautiful flag.
I’m celebrating the season by taking a class in wildflower journalling, both because I love the flowers and because I am not fundamentally a detail person.  A class like this, where I’m sketching the plants to document them, forces me to switch into the often neglected detail mode.  And I know, as a writer, that details are critical in bringing my writing to life.  Details help the reader ‘see’ what you’re writing about and can jump start a movie in the brain that will carry your reader seamlessly through your work.  This principle can be used to lead a reader through a sequence of ideas or information to a conclusion every bit as well as to carry the reader along through an exciting fiction story.

While pondering these thoughts as I climbed a trail up the mountain we live on, I noticed delicate yellow-flowered Arnica plants blooming in the dappled shade I leaned over and focused in on a single plant with my camera to document it for my wildflower project.  Further up the slope, I saw an image that epitomized Arnica’s habitat preference—an oval of tall pines created a shady spot decorated by a patch of Arnica, its borders sketched by the shade of the trees.  I suddenly realized that two kinds of detail exist, small detail and big detail.  Small detail would encompass the minute features of each plant, while big detail consisted of larger but still specific features such as the way the plants are growing in the shady patch among the pines.

When we writers wish to create images for our readers, we may move from small detail to big detail, or vice versa, depending on where we’re going with our words.  Here’s the masterful nonfiction introduction from my friend Jeanette Ingold’s Montana Book Award Honor Book novel, “The Big Burn” that moves through many small details, then widens to the big picture:

The wildfires had been burning for weeks.
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2. Getting Involved with Learning


I’m sitting at a table in a condo in Whitefish, MT, not far from the Canadian border, on a writing retreat with two writer buddies, Peggy Christian and Jeanette Ingold. Jeanette writes YA contemporary and historical fiction (most recently “Paper Daughter”, about a Chinese American girl whose internship on a Seattle newspaper launches her into a mystery from the past) , and Peggy has written fiction for young people in the past (“The Bookstore Mouse”) and is now developing a blog (Backwoodsandbeyond.com).


At breakfast we pondered Vicki Cobb’s question for us nonfiction Ink Thinkers—what does our writing bring to the table that’s special, that makes us unique, that enriches the material we write about in a special way? As we talked, I realized that it isn’t just us nonfiction writers who uniquely help ‘educate’ our readers about the world—all good writers do the same thing, perhaps sometimes in different ways.


Historical fiction like Jeanette’s (she always aims to make sure that her information is 100% historically accurate) is a particularly obvious example—when Jeanette drops her characters down into a real situation, such as the terrible firestorm that engulfed the mountain west in 1910, in her book, “The Big Burn,” readers come away with an understanding of this event that’s seared into their memories. The characters may be made-up people, but their experiences of the fire are those of real people who went through that terrible time.


What does my nonfiction book, “Fire: Friend or Foe,” give readers that they couldn’t glean from Jeanette’s story? My work may cover some of the same territory, but it offers a broader view of the role of fire in the world. I can step back from a story like the 1910 fires to provide a greater context for that event, and I can help explain the various factors involved when wildfires rage, as well as provide a modern perspective on that fire’s role in shaping America’s attitudes and policies during the 20th century and into the 21st.


Perhaps h

3 Comments on Getting Involved with Learning, last added: 4/2/2012
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3. See you in Orlando (?)

This is Thirtieth Street Station, Philadelphia, 'round midnight, snapped with my raspberry-colored SONY digital that is a lot happier taking wide angles than it will ever be deployed in an up-close shot.  I'll be taking that camera with me on my quick jaunt to the ALAN conference, in Orlando, and I'll also be taking my love of this city as I talk about Dangerous Neighbors on an historical fiction panel also featuring Susan Campbell Bartoletti and Jeanette Ingold.

(And once I see dear fellow Egmont USA author James Lecesne there's no telling what I'll be talking about!)

Maybe I'll find some of you there.  I hope so.

2 Comments on See you in Orlando (?), last added: 11/21/2010
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