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.
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