But breaking up really IS hard to do.
of the song. My friend
, which I also like. Ok, maybe I'm spending too much time listening to Neil Sedaka.)
I mean, look at her. An early NYC policewoman. A detective. And we had spent so many, many months together.
The more time, energy, money, time, time, time, you invest in a topic, the more reluctant you are to let it go. I bought and read very many books.
I spent many hours looking for people who knew the person I had fallen in love with. After much detective work, I found her descendants. That was a great day! And then her great granddaughter became an enthusiastic helper, inviting me to come to her house, where I combed through boxes of clippings, notes, photos, memorabilia, and even recordings, hoping for the big break in the case.
I dug deep into the web, into online newspapers, books, footnotes of journal articles. I reached out to authors, researchers, professors, librarians... But I just couldn't get e
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.
I’m into my third month on a home exchange in London and time has raced by with breathtaking speed, even during the rainiest April in 100 years. I brought a lot of work-in-progress with me, but there is too much to do here! And in the midst of new places and culture blitzes creeps the question – is there a book here? Searching For That Next Book I drove north to Yorkshire for a school visit at the Driffield Infant School (ages 4-7, preK-2) and met adorable children, who acted out Katje the Windmill Cat in Yorkshire accents. On the drive home, listening to BBC Radio (great stuff!) I heard a documentary about an Elizabethan composer who could possibly feature in a sequel to my Shakespeare novel…. Long shot, that. David Hockney’s stupendous show of landscapes at the Royal Academy – what about a biography? Thankfully he’s still alive and kicking and reinventing himself every few years. His mother lived to be 101, and so he’s a mere stripling at 75, and we’ve got time for a few more Hockney incarnations. A biography would be out of date before it was published. Dickens is 200 this year. I heard a wonderful lecture by his great great granddaughter and biographer, Lucinda Hawksley. Too late for me to cash in on the bicentenary. I’ve spent lots of time and money attending Chelsea football matches, leaving no time to research the history of women’s football. BTW, Chelsea are the Champions of Europe!
Then a hol
These were all taken on 19th Street, within two-blocks of the Bright Star Restaurant in old downtown Bessemer, Alabama, after a lovely luncheon with Alabama teachers hosted by Scholastic Book Fairs, after the Alabama Library Expo in Birmingham. What do you think? Did someone save these stories? Are they lost forever?
Just finished a late breakfast in bed and took this photo. Not that I usually eat breakfast in bed, mind you, but Jim Williams is cheerily drilling into a wall in my house and I want to be out of the way. (If you follow that link, you can see a photo of my kitchen, front and center, opening his webpage. He does great work.). I need to pack and get on the road to Mississippi. I'm meeting Marianne at The Varsity. Ha!
But no lunch there. Instead, I'm having my ritual oatmeal and thinking about what lies behind and underneath. Underneath those cooked oats are blueberries and raspberries. Underneath the top bedcovers are many other winter bedcovers -- can you see the layers? That's how we do it around here, layers upon layers, and the heat stays way down at night.
And look at all those drawers and doors -- what's behind them, inside them? These are the sorts of questions on my mind as I turn my thoughts toward Mississippi and this weekend.
I wish I could convey the complexity of writing about 1964 Mississippi. So many folks who know about book two of the Sixties Trilogy ask me, "Have you read The Help
?" and I haven't. I won't, not while I'm working on a story that also takes place in the sixties in Mississippi. My story is for young readers, and they deserve no less than adults do. They deserve a story with as much clarity and truth -- and heart -- as I can muster.
And therein lies the challenge. Chapter One
of Bruce Watson's fine new book Freedom Summer
gives a good overall look at what Freedom Summer was. It's good reading for you, if you want to follow me along on the journey to book two's publication. It's good reading anyway.
I was eleven years old in 1964. I spent time in Mississippi that summer with my kinfolks. I had no idea of the revolution going on around us. I only knew that the pool had closed, and so had the roller skating rink, the Cool Dip, the movie theater, the Pine View Restaurant... and no one could explain to me why.
Thirty-five years later I published a picture book I called Freedom Summer
, about the summer I was eleven. Now, I'm writing a novel about (as Bruce Watson puts it) "The Savage Season that made Mississippi Burn and made America a Democracy."
There is so much nuance. There are so many layers, just like you see on my winter-made bed. There is so much love, anger, truth, ugliness, beauty, differing opinion, behind every obvious doorway. Just what WAS Freedom Summer?
The stories are not simple. Mindsets are misunderstood. Motivations were not always pure... or evil. And my heroine, Sunny, is plopped right down into the middle of the mess, in Greenwood, the headquarters of SNCC in 1964, where she must make decisions that will change her life and forever alter her history. Will she do it?
I can't write her story without understanding, from as many valid angles as possible, the mamy layers of Freedom Summer. So off I go again, to Gre
I don’t often quote the ancient Greeks, mostly because I don’t know what they said, but there’s one Herodotus line that has always stuck with me. Describing the difficult craft of writing compelling, fact-based history, he said: "Very few things happen at the right time, and the rest do not happen at all.” His solution, as he put it, was to “correct these defects,” by rearranging and inventing his way to a great story. Too bad non-fiction writers don’t have that luxury.
I’ve been wrestling with this problem recently, as I toss around ideas for possible book projects. It’s always fun to throw open my notebooks and let ideas I’ve jotted down over the years jump out and fight for attention. The bad part comes when I get excited about one of the stories, begin researching it, and realize I’m facing the old Herodotus dilemma.
Sometimes it’s a simple of matter of not knowing. Take pirates, for example. Everyone loves these thieving murderers (including my 4-year-old daughter), but there’s a serious shortage of primary sources, and hardly anything from the pirates’ own point of view. Even the best, most exhaustively researched adult pirate books are riddled with lines like, “Blackbeard may very well have said…” and “It was at this point that Bartholomew Roberts probably decided…” The most painful false lead of all involves an 11-year-old boy named John King. What we know is that in November 1716, somewhere in the Caribbean, King and his mother were on a ship that was boarded and plundered by the pirate Sam Bellamy. King declared he wanted to join Bellamy’s crew. His mom said no. The boy threatened to throw himself into the sea unless he was allowed to become a pirate. His mom let him go.
Shouldn’t this be the opening scene of an all-time great middle grade history book? The story has everything: a young protagonist, action, danger, glimpses into an exotic world, and, in the end, tragedy. In 2006 underwater archaeologists found the remains of Bellamy’s ship, which sank off the coast of Cape Cod in 1717. Among the wreckage were the bones of a boy of about 12. So King was on the ship for a year, and there’s no doubt his adventures during that year could pack a ripping non-fiction book. Only, we can’t know what those adventures were. With great reluctance, a writer of non-fiction has to pass on John King. Maybe put it on the list of historical fiction to write some day.
Then there’s the tantalizing tale of Elijah Nicholas Wilson, another adventure-seeking 11 year old. In the early 1850s, Wilson ran away from his frontier home (he was sick of herding sheep) to live with a Shoshone chief named Washakie and his family. He learned the lang
We’re getting ready to move again—no, not from Portland (we just got here, practically!), just from our itty-bitty downtown condo to a sweet, little (but a little big bigger) house across the river, in a neighborhood of antique stores, coffee shops, and a very lively branch of the Multnomah County Library. (Every time I go by, the place is hopping.)
We’re doing all those little repairs that one never seems to get around to for oneself (as in sheesh, why didn’t we fix that while we were living here to enjoy it???); we’re collecting boxes; the movers are scheduled.
Even though we culled through our belongings 1½ years ago, when we first moved from California to Oregon, and got rid of tons, I am still looking around now to see what we are holding onto that we really don’t want/need anymore.
Some stuff is easy to get rid of. A book I read and don’t plan to read again? Sure, no problem. Off it goes to the Friends of the Library booksale. Other stuff is harder to let go of, however: a gorgeous sweater that I have only worn a few times because it is too fussy to clean easily? Hmmm. I think it will be making the move with me.
Trying to decide what to get rid of and what to hang onto has even leaked into my writing life—literally. I have multiple files of partially-explored book ideas. And I’ve been going through them all, asking myself: keep or let go?
It’s been interesting to look back over these ideas, some that were generated over fifteen years ago, at the start of my career. I can recall the enthusiasm with which I dove right in, reading and collecting information. But for each of these projects, at some point, I hit a roadblock. And I set the idea aside, to think. And then didn’t pick it back up. These are the ideas that have accumulated in my drawer full of files.
The roadblock, in most cases, is whether the idea works as a picture book—the genre I’ve been exploring for most of my writing career.
For some ideas in my files, I’ve come to understand, there’s not enough there there to warrant a 32-page book. These ideas could successfully be turned into nonfiction articles, however, which often run as tight as 400 words and are enhanced by perhaps two or three illustrations.
Conversely, for other ideas in my files, I now see that there is too much there to cram into a picture book. These topics are too complex, too nuanced, too layered to be told in a 32-page illustrated book. And, most likely, they are not ideas that would interest the six-year-old who would pick the book up. These ideas would be better served in a middle-grade or young-adult nonfiction format, with multiple chapters to explore the idea in depth.
And finally, even for the ideas with just the right amount of there, there is still the issue of illustration potential. The lovely beginning-middle-end structure that works so well for the picture book format still needs a story that can be enhanced by a variety of compelling visual images—and for some of my fledgling ideas, that variety it lacking. They may be stories that could be told, but not necessarily stories that can truly be illustrated.
A drawer full of stalled ideas might seem like a failure of sorts, but I see it as an accomplishment. By exploring these ideas and trying to write them as picture books, I’ve learned a lot about what works for that genre, and what doesn’t. Learning how a dozen (or more!) ideas don’t work has helped me shape the ones that do.
So what am I keeping? The ideas that, after all these years, still speak to me. I do write articles on occasion, so the modest ones may still find a home; and I might one day decide to tackle a longer work.
And what am I letting go? The ideas for which I no longer have any passion. They deserve—and will be better served—by authors who do. And letting them go allows me to move, focused and energized, into
...all of New Orleans last week, posted here chronologically.They tell a story only I know, although you could write a fictional story using these photos, in this order. Or, mix up the order. Or, choose only ONE photo and write a story. Choose three. Which three would you choose? What stories could you tell?
5 Comments on twelve pretty pictures..., last added: 5/23/2011
By: Susan E. Goodman
Blog: I.N.K.: Interesting Non fiction for Kids
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I have had a great gig this year: author-in-residence at the Michael J. Perkins School in South Boston, a small elementary school set right in the middle of Old Colony Housing Project. Old Colony is being renovated and I was hired to work with the Perkins kids on a blog about being in the middle of a construction zone. I described more about the situation in last October's post.
As the end of the school year approaches, it's natural to look back and access the experience. Having done school visits for many years, I have always been in awe of classroom teachers. Now, I bow down to them. To see what they do every day, day after day, is amazing. To see the pressure to fulfill a state's curriculum--teach X from October 12 to November 3rd and then segue to unit Y on the 4th. To understand more fully how my coming to the classroom with extras means extra resources and richness but extra work squeezing to fit everything in, however worthy it all is.
But some great things happened this year, from K to 5. Some of the highlights:
When the kindergarteners read Mike Mulligan and his Steam Engine, they wondered what the workers on the site had named their machines. They were amazed--maybe a little horrified--when they realized those excavators and dump trucks were just called "it" or "they." That's when the Name That Crane campaign was born--the two kindergarten classes each nominated names, ran campaigns and voted for the name to call the huge crane that lifted the steel (they also learned the democratic process in the bargain, which made the See How They Run author very happy). Voting Day was very exciting, take a look.
Here are the kindergarteners at the naming ceremony--with the Big Giraffe, the newly dubbed 400-ton crane in the background. (A fine name, but I was personally rooting for Mr. Lifty! That's democracy for ya--besides I didn't get a vote.)
For National Poetry Month, one first grade class experimented with acrostic poems, which use the letters in a topic word to begin each line. Then all the lines of the poem relate to this topic. Given what was going on outside their class window, they used the word, CONSTRUCT. This poem above was one of my favorites.
One second grade class is collaborating on a book about the day in the life of a construction worker and what these men and women must do to stay safe. For one week, they spent an hour a day observing the construction site and writing down what they saw.