FAMOUS LAST WORDS:
1: If you are fortunate enough to get a book published it will be reviewed.
2: It might be reviewed by a 'major' reviewer (you know, the folks who sprinkle stars around), or by a national, regional, or local newspaper or magazine, by bloggers, or by family and friends around the kitchen table.
3: Sooner or later, someone will say something about your book that doesn't sit well with you.
Number 3 happened to me a few weeks ago.
I was feeling a little anxious and aimless, so I decided to visit children's literature blogland. I generally do this by visiting Betsy Bird's Fuse #8 blog at the SLJ site. She has a list of favorite bloggers (including our own INK) and I roam around to see what people are chatting about. So there I was visiting and reading this blog and that blog and another, when...pow...there was a blogger reviewing my newest baby THE GIANT and How He Humbugged America, which is about the 1869 Cardiff Giant hoax.
Now if I remember correctly the blogger had very nice things to say about the book (I would provide a link but I can't recall who the blogger was, a situation I blame on the very wonderful pain killers I was taking at the time). But toward the end of her thoughtful review she hesitated a beat and said that she couldn't see any young reader caring about the book's subject.
What! I kind of sputtered. But, but, but...why wouldn't kids be interested?!? There was more, but you get the idea. I take reviews personally. But why wouldn't I? I take the research and writing very personally. It always takes a few minutes for me to calm down, but eventually I do. Which is when I begin to blame myself for whatever a reviewer has criticized and I think back on the decisions I made about the book in question. I this case, I began thinking about why I decided to do THE GIANT in the first place.
Way back a few years ago, I began wondering if it would be possible to do something for young readers about Bernie Madoff and his fifty billion dollar ponzi scheme. I quickly rejected the idea, mainly because all of the details of his fraud weren't in (and still aren't). I'm leery of "ripped from the headlines" ideas. Yes, they have an instant recognition factor, but usually only part of the story has been unearthed, so the result wouldn't be a truly satisfying or complete book. It would be more of a glorified magazine article (and probably not worth the price of a book). I then thought about doing something on Charles Pozi himself, but realized that neither he nor Madoff were very interesting guys and their schemes involved a lot of paper shuffling and ledger entries and not much that was either active or visual. Then I remembered the Cardiff Giant.
Here was a story filled with unusual, colorful characters. George Hull, who conceived the idea of carving a giant, lifelike human, was a serial fraudster (he not only came up with a second 'discovered' ancient human years after the Cardiff Giant, but he hired a man to write his biography, took that text and gave it to another person to clean up, and took that version and gave it to a third person, never bothering to pay anyone for their work). P.T. Barnum tries to buy the Giant, fails in his bid, then has his own immitation Giant made and exhibited (and actually outdrew the original CD in NYC); Barnum was sued by the original CG owners, but the case was heard by a drunken judge who refused to rule against Barnum's Giant unless the original appeared in court to testify. It don't get much better than that.
There's also action (making the giant, transporting him secretly from Chicago to NY State, burying and digging him up, exhibiting him and moving him around in his retirement years until he winds up in a leaky shed), and some decent visuals as well, both photos and drawings.
And themes and story lines. Why the Giant captured so many people's imaginations that it literally knocked the upcoming 1869 November elections from the front pages of the newspapers, how people clamored to buy shares in the giant, how shareholders continued to insist the Giant was real even after they knew it was a fake, how educated individuals and scientists were fooled into believing the Giant was authentic, to name just a few. Oh, yes, and how men put a 'fig' leaf over the Giant's private parts to shield women from naughty thoughts and how women were the one's to insist that was nonsence and insisted it be removed. A lot is going on in this relatively short-lived piece of US history, some of it downright silly and some very serious.
Still, I had to admit that the blog-reviewer had a point. THE GIANT probably doesn't have instant and obvious curb appeal. It will need strong reviews (and, happily, has gotten a number already) and skillful selling by teachers and librarians. When I finally sat back and thought about it, I came to the conclusion that I wanted to do the Cardiff Giant's story (and in fact wrote it without a contract or publisher lined-up) because it grabbed my attention, made me chuckle as well as think, and seemed like a complex story that kids could understand and follow and get involved in. I guess in the end it was personal.
I write nonfiction nearly every day. I'm a journalism teacher, after all, and I freelance for regional publications. When I grab a book, I usually read fiction because, well, I am not exactly sure why. Maybe I want a break from reality. Maybe I want to sink my teeth into a juicy mystery. Maybe I need a break from what I write.
But lately, I catch myself reading more and more nonfiction, studying stories and what does or does not make each article click.
My research (scientific it isn't) finds that the best nonfiction storytelling (no, that is not an oxymoron) weaves traditional storytelling devices with facts and figures, evidence and experts. It takes readers on a journey. It breaks boundaries.
It leaves readers thirsting for more.
I'm also partial to multiple pieces on this list featured on Byliner. It features rich examples of what's hot in nonfiction writing craft. I've been known to read one of these gems for pleasure and then reread it, dissect it, and find adaptable qualities to bring to my writing repertoire.
What elements of nonfiction capture your attention?
by LuAnn Schindler. Read more of her work at her website.
There is a time to begin finishing every book. Sometimes it feels as though that phase may never come. But it does. And there is work to be done. Careful, meticulous, try-not-to-miss-any-detail kind of work. That is what I am doing now for my forthcoming COURAGE HAS NO COLOR. The process for a nonfiction book includes a lot of details that may surprise some people. Here are some of the things I do as the author to tie up any loose ends as we head into this final phase:
Make sure I have ordered every photo at a high-enough resolution to reproduce well in the book (tricky with archival WWII photos, and I do this with the help of the brill designer on the book).
Write the photo credits, making sure to check them against the most final layouts so all page references are credit, and cross-reference them against my photo source charts that I create.
Tally up my photo costs and make sure I haven’t gone over budget. And if I have, come up with a solution as to how to deal with this issue.
Compile all the source notes for any quote in the book. (This is a biggie—I think the source notes in Courage are ten manuscript pages, single spaced!)
Make sure that the Bibliography I created while writing the book is complete and up-to-date (i.e. I haven’t forgotten to include any books or articles or documentaries I may have used in the last few months).
Check all the captions I have written against the information in the text to make sure I haven’t inadvertently contradicted myself with any facts; in other words, check and re-check my research. Do this process again, checking any official information I may or may not have received with each photo. Note: sometimes my research turns up errors in official information and I get to correct it--very satisfying!
Re-read the acknowledgments and make sure I haven’t left any out. These omissions generally fall into two categories—people who have contributed something in the last stretch of the process so it’s new information and people who deserve such a big thank-you I assumed they were already in there!
Go over the layout issues with my editor and designer for tweaking of things like half and full title page, dedication, headers or footers, and any back matter issues that arise.
And last but not least—read through the text again in hopes of catching a glaring typo that has been hiding in plain sight this whole time! (Note: I just found one of those, so this is a really important step.)
All of these things actually come before I will have a chance to carefully read the final layouts—these steps are to ensure that everything MAKES it into the final layouts! There is a certain satisfaction that comes from tying up all the loose ends and seeing a manuscript transform into a BOOK.
|Looking at a Mahony drawing|
|Sarah and I|
As teacher friends ask for suggestions to add to their reading lists, this seems like a good time to re-post this past favorite:
In a recent thought-provoking Washington Post article, journalist and author Joy Hakim wrote the following: “As they [education historians] document the tale, it was decades ago that we gave up teaching history as an idea-centered discipline played out by a succession of characters—heroes and villains—whose actions led to results that can be analyzed. That kind of story-based history is engaging. We replaced it with litanies of facts.”
She was talking about the state of textbooks, as well as the lack of integration of standard curriculum with the stories of science and social studies that, without, leave gaping holes in education. That’s where we nonfiction writers today come in.
As depressing and infuriating as much of Hakim’s article was to me, I also felt myself saying “but we do that—those stories are being written!” And so, with the intention of offering a tiny bit of assistance to all those who teach and/or otherwise influence the education of young minds, I decided to begin compiling a recommended reading list of stories for older readers—true stories; i.e., nonfiction (or veritas, truthiness or True Dat!)—that will surely supplement and complement and enhance the experience of anyone taking social studies and science classes using textbooks.
Please—I mean this—please, add to this beginning of a list. Let’s make it grow. I will incorporate your comments and update the list accordingly. Next time, I’ll make a picture book list!
History and Science Through Story:
Armstrong, Jennifer. The American Story: 100 True Tales from American History
Aronson, Marc and Budhos, Marina. Sugar Changed the World: A Story of Magic, Spice, Slavery, Freedom, and Science
Aronson, Marc. Witch-Hunt: Mysteries of the Salem Witch Trials
Bartoletti, Susan Campbell. Hitler Youth: Growing up in Hitler’s Shadow
Burns, Loree Griffin. Tracking Trash: Flotsam, Jetsam, and the Science of Ocean Motion
Cobb, Vicki. What's the Big Idea?: Amazing Science Questions for the Curious Kid.
Colman, Penny. Where the Action Was: Women War Correspondents in World War II
Deem, James. Bodies from the Ice: Melting Glaciers and Rediscovery of the Past
Delano, Marfe Ferguson. Earth in the Hot Seat: Bulletins from a Warming World
Freedman, Russell. Who Was First?: Discovering the Americas
Giblin, James Cross. The Many Rides of Paul Revere
Hakim, Joy. The Story of Science: Aristotle Leads the Way
Harness, Cheryl. The Ground-Breaking, Chance-Taking Life of George Washington Carver and Science and Invention in America
Heiligman, Deborah. Charles & Emma: The Darwins’ Leap of Faith
Hoose, Phillip. Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice
Jackson, Ellen and Bishop Nic. Mysterious Universe: Supernovae, Dark Energy and Black Holes
Jackson, Donna M. The Wildlife Detectives: How Forensic Scientists Fight Crimes Against Nature
Murphy, Jim. An American Plague: The True and Terrifying Story of the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1793
Nelson, Kadir. We are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball
Partridge, Elizabeth. Marching for Freedom: Walk Together Children and Don’t You Grow Weary
Sis, Peter. The Wall: Growing up Behind the Iron Curtain
Stone, Tanya Lee. Almost Astronauts: Thirteen Women Who Dared to Dream
Thimmesh, Catherine. Team Moon: How 400,000 People Landed Apollo 11 On the Moon
Walker, Sally. Written In Bone: Buried Lives of Jamestown and Colonial Maryland
Weatherford, Carole Boston. Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her
Today while writing my current book, I'm reminded of my History of Design professor, Pat Allred --- who made design history come alive. And, in doing so, gave me a life long love of design history.
So, here's a reposting of my piece from February of this year titled Making Nonfiction Interesting for Kids.
I teach, therefore, I question. Introduction to Writing Creative Nonfiction. Tuesdays and Fridays from 11:00-12:15. I teach, therefore, I question.
I question, and encourage my students to question—everything about the process of writing. Why we do it, how we do it, what it is we do when we do it.
We are making a list, as they learn, of what creative nonfiction actually means. It is simpler to make a list of what it is not.
It is creative writing in which nothing is made up.
It is creative writing in which NOTHING is made up.
It is creative writing in which NOTHING is MADE UP.
Can there be dialogue? Yes—but only if it is not made up.
Can there be metaphor? Simile? Yes, and yes.
Can we employ fiction techniques. Yes. Please.
Just don’t make stuff up. If there is something in quotation marks, know where it came from. Don’t put words in anyone’s mouth. If you did that to me, I would be ticked off. Wouldn’t you?
Do you disagree with any of this? PLEASE: discuss.
If it were up to me, you'd listen to this song while reading this post.
So. It's been a very, very long time since I broke up with a sweetheart, given that I've been married for almost 30 years. (In my culture, you get married at 11.) And I don't intend to ever break up with him. But there comes a time in every writer's life when she has to break up with a topic. Actually, many times. Usually the break-up comes early on in the project. At least for me. I work on something for a short time and realize that there's just no there there, or that it's not for me. Or someone or something else pulls at me, grabs my attention. ("Oh you over there, come hither...")
But sometimes, it seems, you go out with someone for a very long time before you realize he or she was not your bashert. This has just happened to me. It was a long relationship, but it was going nowhere. It just took me a very long time to realize that because I thought... I was sure...though I had niggling doubts...that I was in love.
The best novels in the world of fiction tend to be page turners that tell a gripping story. You can’t put them down until you finish the last page, you can’t stop thinking about them after you’re done, and you become so entangled in their various webs that you can remember entire story arcs and even small details for a very long time.
The best books in the world of nonfiction are equally fascinating. Their details are memorable and the ideas they present are truly compelling. With some notable exceptions, though, they aren’t gripping page turners like novels and their story arcs (if any) can be pretty tenuous because the real world is so messy and unpredictable. The result? Readers might put nonfiction books down for a few days without staying awake at night wondering what happens next.
So when I sat down to write my latest book, I wondered if I could combine the best of both worlds by shaping it into a gripping YA novel; every word would be true AND the book would be a page turner with a story line that you couldn’t put down. That’s exactly what I’ve tried to do with Witches! The Absolutely True Tale of Disaster in Salem. If I could pull it off, it seemed to me that this terrifying episode in America’s history had just the right ingredients for cooking up a thriller, a mystery, and a literary mind-bender all rolled into one.
After all, the things that happened during the Salem Witch Trials were too jaw-dropping to ignore. Who wouldn't wonder why a four year old girl, a heroic minister from afar, a beloved grandmother, and three dogs were demonized and accused of being witches?
I can't imagine anyone has any time right now to read a long blog post. So I thought I'd take the opportunity to share with you some wonderful pieces I've read lately. Most of them are on a theme--nonfiction storytelling. I hope you take a minute or two between shopping, cooking, last-minute writing deadlines, last-minute paper-grading, etc., to sit down and treat yourself.
First, here is a lovely piece by Henning Mankell, whose books about the Swedish detective Kurt Wallander I love. It's called THE ART OF LISTENING. I adored this piece and if I could wrap it up and put it in a box and deliver it to each and every one of you I would. Well, maybe I just did.
Next is a piece that was in Friday's New York Times that might not have made it to other parts of the country. It's about a theater group that pairs teenagers with people over 60. It's inspiring for nonfiction writers and lovers, and a great idea for other communities. Sort of a twist on StoryCorps (always a good place to visit!). This one is called TRUSTING SOMEONE OVER 60. (Don't let the headline deter you.)
Another piece that walloped me from the Times was this one, WHAT WASN'T PASSED ON. I won't say anything more about it so you can experience it for yourself.
Last week Jim Murphy wrote a great post about Recharging Batteries, and I referred in the comments to an article about the novelist Richard Ford that I loved. Read both when you can!
And because I can't help myself, I'm leaving you with my potato latke recipe. Happy Hanukkah, Merry Christmas, and here's to a wonderful New Year -- 2012. That number seems like science fiction.
Like so many New Yorker subscribers, I am always months behind. They pile up week by week, screaming their silent rebuke. Sometimes I hide them in a corner; rarely, I become defiant and throw them out without a glance of what I might miss. Keeping up with this magazine is the best (only?) reason I can think of for computing to a job on the subway instead of just carrying my coffee upstairs in my pjs.
I’m glad the November 14, 2011 issue didn’t end up unseen and in the recycling. Yesterday I read an article by John McPhee, one of the greatest nonfiction writers around. In “Progression,” he discussed the evolution of many of his ideas, when he lets his subject matter dictate the structure of his piece, and the few times (just two in a very full career) he chose a structure and searched for a subject to fit it.Many of us here have written about such matters already, but I find the topic endlessly fascinating. I thought I might pluck a few points from the article that could hopefully spur some conversation in the comments section from my fellow bloggers and some of our readers.
1. McPhee said he once listed all the pieces he had written in decades and realized that 90 percent of them were related to subjects he had been interested in before he went to college.
Is that true for you? I’m not sure it is for me. I really liked biology, but I’d never have predicted I would write so much about science. Is that because I was a young girl at a time when females considered other types of careers? Or is it that I didn’t understand then that there is a poetry in pure science that is as lyric as Shakespeare?
2. McPhee said that his readers aren’t shy with suggestions, then noted these ideas are often closer to the readers’ passions than his own. Yet he did end up using two of their proposals.
Anybody here ever turn an suggested idea from a reader or a kid into a book?
3. McPhee mentioned that “new pieces can shoot up from other pieces, pursuing connections that run through the ground like rhizomes.”
I bet so many of us have written books or articles this way. I’ve already talked about one of mine in an earlier post (http://inkrethink.blogspot.com/2011/02/on-and-on-and-on.html). Have you met a minor character while researching one story who demanded a book of his or her own? Or turned an idea on its ear for another go-round?
4. And finally, what about McPhee’s ultimately successful attempt to tame a potentially disastrous idea: trying to find the right subject to fit within a pre-set structure. His result turned out to be the classic Encounters with tDisplay Comments Add a Comment
A week ago our six month old puppy, Page, decided that 4 AM was the perfect time to go outside and play. After an appropriate amount of grumbling on my part, I got up and let her out into the backyard. On the way downstairs, I noticed a large heart-shaped pillow, bright red and covered with lots of smaller white hearts. It was our sixteen year old son's Valentine's Day "card" to his Mom from last year.*
I stood on the back porch as Page dashed around madly making giant figure eights. She's a Beagle mix, golden haired with white spots, but has very, very long legs. She looked like a miniture greyhound as she sprinted around and around and around. Then I thought about that red heart pillow. Our son is a person of giant emotions -- frequaently loud in all ways (our neighbors are wonderfully tolerant when he plays electric guitar), always hugging friends hello and goodbye, compressing more words per second in his rap songs then can be imagined, never settling for a simple story line or answer in his songs when something complex, contradictory and dark is demanding to be heard. There is wonderful freedom in his approach to life and art -- often reckless (he says what he feels in the moment and doesn't look back or forward), but just as often making a moving and thoughtful emotional comment that has real impact. *
Of course, we also want to have all of that rich emotion in our nonfiction writing, though we operate in a world of rules -- space limitations, monitored by a series of gatekeepers (from editors, to reviewers, to teachers, librarians and parents) between our books and our readers, plus our need and drive to be as accuarate as possible. This isn't a complaint about the system we work in; but it's a reality that can sometimes make us hesitate when we're writing and sometimes/usually leads us to question what our inner soul is telling us to say: If I say it this way, it will be much more passionate or active or whatever, but will it be as accurate or clear?*
I know some writers who go with the flow, put down on paper whatever their head is telling them, and either leave it to their editors to make suggestions for revisions or go back later themselves. I envy them. Unfortunately, I am a compulsive self-editor. I think over, question, revise and re-revise every phrase, every sentence, every paragraph as I write them. Then I rework the section and question it all over again. And my earliest books reflected this labor. Over the years I've come up with little gimmicks to maintain a more spontaneous feeling. Nothing genius, mind you. Just ways to stay relaxed in my head. For instance, when I write, I tell myself that I should imagine I'm talking to one reader who happens to be sitting across the desk from me, which means writing in a conversational, informal way. If I feel a section is sounding too much like a freshman college lecture, I stop and do something else (wash dishes, water plants, take Page out) and come back later, hopefully with a fresh eye and approach. And I always read over a manuscript several times with a slightly different mode of attack. I'll make believe I'm the nastiest editor alive and write all sorts of challenging comments and suggestions in the margins; I'll read it with a young reader in mind who might not be familiar with the subject; and I'll just read it start to finish in one shot to be sure it flows along smoothly, noting whenever something (an odd phrasing, an overly long sentence, etc.) makes me stop reading. *
These are just little tricks -- mind games really -- and sometimes they work. Just as watching Page doing crazy laps in the dark night for ten or twenty minutes can free up the brain and get it ready for another day's work. I hope you all have a wonderful Valentine's Day and that (if you work) your thoughts and words are passionate, free flowing, and exactly what you want to say.
Recently, I’ve been thinking way back to my senior year in college. That year, while fulfilling the last electives to graduate, I took the most interesting classes of my college experience – History of Design, Art and Environment and History of the Home. I just unearthed my class notebooks and those were the actual titles. Until now, I haven’t had to use what I learned in those classes, except for help in Jeopardy or Trivial Pursuit*, of course.
As I think back, Pat Allred, my professor for History of Design, did a fabulous job making the information interesting and relatable. With each design time period –Victorian, Bauhaus, Moderne, etc, she first explained the historical facts of the time. Then, she went through each design discipline and related it to the time period and the other areas – Graphic, Furniture, Architecture, etc. I totally got it.
Then, as I was writing my senior paper on Doll Design, I was able to use what I learned from Professor Allred and mix the evolution of dolls within a historical timeline combining how children were perceived through the years, manufacturing processes, social and fashion trends. For the entire three hours of class time, she had slides to illustrate what she was teaching. As I said above, I found my notebook complete with extensive outline, notes, bibliography and copies of every slide – an absolute goldmine.
As I begin the research and writing on my new book, I’m aiming to make the information interesting and relatable. All that architecture and design history fodder is finally going to be of use as I research and write biographies for 22 women architects, landscape architects and engineers. I’m so inspired and passionate about these women, but how can I make the information interesting and engaging for kids? With any luck, I can incorporate what I learned in Professor Allred’s classes as I write and inspire future architects and engineers.
Isn’t it amazing that all these years later, I am finally using what I learned in that class?
Anyone else have a similar experience with clearing off the cobwebs and making use of material stored way back in the back of your brain?
*Once, in an intense game of Trivial Pursuit, I won by knowing about the Dionne Quintuplets. They were the first quintuplets that survived through infancy – and were made into a doll line. Gotta love design history.
I’m stumped. Here I sit pondering which words of wisdom I should expound upon in today’s blog, only I can’t think of any. All traces of wisdom I may have possessed at one time or another have rolled out of my left ear, scrammed outta the conga line, and headed off to the beach.
NOOO!!! It’s already paragraph #2, and still I’m stumped! Should I write about strange-but-true factoids, like the factoid that says manhole covers are round because if they were rectangular or square, they would fall into the manhole? Nah. Then I’d have to think up a lot more strange factoids. Besides, does anybody care about manhole covers? Not really.
Should I write about adding humor to nonfiction books for kids? Nah. I do love the idea of adding humor to my books; everything is so much more memorable when it’s funny. Except that today, I can’t think of a single funny thing to say in a book.
If I make a lot of paragraphs, there will be more spaces in this blog and it will take up a lot of room.
There. I just made another paragraph.
Look, I did it again!! :-) Now I’ll probably get kicked out of the blog! :-( All my faithful readers will accuse me of snorting something strange and my reputation will be toast. Maybe I can just use a lot of exclamation points and take up even more space!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Or I could just find a humongous piece of art and plug it in because it could swallow up entire paragraphs worth of space, like this:
OR IF IT'S NOT TOO OBVIOUS, I CAN JUST USE REALLY BIG TYPE.
Oh. I guess that was a little too obvious.
Maybe I can say that quotes are a good thing to use in your books. That would actually be true, and then I could go look up a bunch of cool quotes. That could take up a whole lot of space too. OK, why not. Here’s a quote from Will Rogers (1879-1935):
“It’s awful hard to get people interested in corruption unless they can get some of it.”
(I added the dates after Will Rogers' name to take up space.)
9 Comments on STUMPED, last added: 3/7/2012
Recently, I was watching Page do laps in the backyard (at 5 AM!) when I started thinking about how most of my book projects have begun. Usually in odd, strange ways.*
Once (and this was years ago) I was in the Newark Library doing research when I spotted an open book on a table. It was there in the morning, at noon, and in the afternoon and I never saw anyone actually reading it. It looked kind of lonely and since the library was (is) understaffed and underfunded, I decided to reshelf the book. So I picked it up and headed into the dusty stacks and hunted until I found the exact spot where it belonged (there was even a perfect space between two other books just waiting for this volume to return). Which was when I finally looked at the book.*
Turned out to be the Civil War memoir of a young soldier, Elisha Stockwell, Jr. When I glanced at the introduction I found out he was 15 when he enlisted. I almost immediately thought, gee, I didn't know kids that young actually fought in the war. Mind you, this was at least eight years before the Ken Burns' documentary let us see and hear Civil War soldiers old and young, so it was a revelation to me. And then that little light in my brain lit up and I thought, well, maybe young readers would like to know about this, too.*
So I took the memoir home and read it and loved it. Maybe there's a book idea here, I wondered. But to be sure, I had to do research. Lots of it. I began what turned out to be an endless quest for information: about the Civil War, about what a soldier's life was like, and about what young soldiers experienced. And here is where a confession is necessary. I was never a big fan of the Civil War. I read a little about it, but never really delved very deeply into it. History texts always seemed to be about the important players (military and political) and whenever these individuals wrote about the war their writing always seemed pompous and stilted and distant. And the battles were always described in dry, technical terms. But reading Stockwell's memoir and discovering other underage soldiers who left written accounts of their time in the war was an eye-opener. What they described was immediate and emotional and vivid and very often humorous. And it made me want to know more.*
It took about eight years, but eventually The Boys' War was published (during the same week that the Ken Burns' CW documentary first appeared. Talk about riding long coattails!). Other books had unusual beginnings as well. The Last Dinosaur was born out of my reading an article (obit, really) about a species of bird that was the last of its kind and held in captivity for years while scientists searched for a mate. Very sad. Inside the Alamo came about because a friend sent me an article that suggested that Davy Crockett had tried to escape the Alamo massacre by dressing as a woman (Not true, but it would have made for some interesting headlines). All of these titles (and others I've done) have something in common; when I began my research, I really didn't feel I knew enough about the subjects to write a book.*
So each required that I, in effect, create and give myself an intense and lengthy course on the particular subject. And I never stopped researching even when I began the actual writing, or even after I submitted the ms. Or even when the text went off to the printer. I kept trying to learn more; I needed to know more -- in part because I wanted the most up-to-date information or take on the subject, but mostly because I loved the subjects. And that love never dissapated as I dug deeper into the subject and learned more and more about it.*
I think this passion for learning about a subject gets passed along to the readers in the resulting text. Listen to this, I hope my writing is saying, it's a weird story but really cool and not too many people know about it. I want to take readers along on the voyage of discovery, of coming across an unusual character, an extraordinar
Last week, while perusing the internet and listservs, I came across this video/lecture by Lee Gutkind on creative nonfiction.
Lee Gutkind talks about Creative Nonfiction Writing for Scientists
I've been sharing some of the facts that Lee Gutking mentions to anyone who would listen - husband, friends, children, writer friends, the dog, etc. Here are the points that he made - in speaking about creative nonfiction for adults that struck a cord with me as a writer for children:
1) "Creative nonfiction is the fastest growing genre in the publishing industry, right now. Creative nonfiction is the fastest growing genre in the creative academic world, as well."
2) Research, in the past 4 to 5 years, shows that people remember facts that are presented to them and many more facts for a longer period of time when those facts are embedded in a story.
3) People are persuaded in a much more successful way, when the information is presented in a story.
4) We remember our life stories in chapters.
I was fascinated (and curious) by this information and how it relates to children and learning. It appears to me that creative nonfiction books for children have an amazing potential for education. Though creative nonfiction is used in the schools right now, it seems that there is maybe a huge untapped potential to help our children learn - backed by research and data.
I've also been sharing, to anyone who will listen, how Gutkind presented Organ Donation in his book, Many Sleepless Nights: The World of Organ Transplantation. It's toward the end of the video if you get a chance to listen.
So, if you are reading this, guess I have once again managed to get someone to listen to my "aha" moment about creative nonfiction. Love to hear your comments.
Oh. Hello, remaining freakazoids.
Check out these blockbuster award-winning best-selling top-flight PICTURE BOOKS for short people: Don’t let the Pigeon Drive the Bus is funny. So are Knuffle Bunny, The Stinky Cheese Man and other Fairly Stupid Tales, The Stupids Step Out, The Beast of Monsieur Racine, I Want My Hat Back, and Everything on It. Those 3 miniature females named Olivia, Madeline, and Eloise are funny too. And Click, Clack, Moo, Joseph had a Little Overcoat, Frog and Toad are Friends, It Could Always be Worse, and everything Dr. Seuss ever wrote in his entire life are even funnier.