Saturday, June 27, 2015

Nonfiction Ideas Found Down on the Farm

I had the great pleasure of delivering the keynote speech at the National Agriculture in the Classroom conference in Louisville, KY.  Being the only writer among hundreds of teachers and program coordinators, I was in a prime position to reap a bushel full of fresh writing ideas that have instant appeal to a specific market as well as a general audience.

I had never heard of an agricultural literary market until my book, Farmer George Plants a Nation, won a few awards from state Farm Bureaus in 2008. That's when I learned about Ag in the Classroom and the enormous network of people in each state who promote the importance of agriculture to children and the wider community.

To help get the word out about how vital agriculture is to every part of our lives these people need great books. That's where you come in. The catch is that these books need to be accurate. No Ol' McDonald in overalls sitting on a stool milking a single cow.  They want to see modern carousels with cows milked round the clock -- accurate portrayals of modern farms.

Julia Recko of the American Farm Bureau Federation said there was a need for books on poultry. Not my cup of tea. But if you can accurately create a positive story about the workings of a poultry farm, then you've got an audience waiting.  Although the meat industry may be a little difficult to represent - can't have Larry the Lamb narrate his life from pasture to plate --  there are hundreds of other farm products that have fascinating stories behind them.  You just have to look. Ask around. Visit a local farm. Think about cranberry bogs,  aquaculture... Take a popular food and trace it back to the soil. Find a new slant on salad greens.

Some good representative titles include: Weaving a Rainbow by George Ella Lyon, Who Grew My Soup by Tom Darbyshire,  and Extra Cheese Please! by Cris Peterson.

Or go the historical route as I did. Find a true story that highlights an agricultural innovation, the origins of a favorite food, or shows how farming has shaped our culture.

Check out your state's ag in the classroom website and become familiar with the kinds of books they use.  Are there subjects they don't have that you could research?  Look at the lessons they offer  teachers. What kinds of books would go along with those lessons?

When searching for your next nonfiction idea, consider an agricultural story, and you, too, will get to meet the fine people who make up Ag in the Classroom.



Friday, May 22, 2015

A Conference That Can Really Make a Difference

What: NF 4 NF Nonfiction for New Folks Writer’s Conference
When: September 17 – 20, 2015
Where: Rosenberg, Texas

If you are looking for a writing conference that focuses solely on nonfiction, is sure to boost your writing to the next level, and will connect you with dozens of other like-minded writers, then you've found it. Nonfiction 4 New Folks is the creation of author Pat Miller who knows what a writer needs - encouraging mentors, an intimate setting so you don't get lost in the crowd, and tons of useful information.

There is an awesome faculty line-up -- Melissa Stewart, Candace Fleming, Karen Blumenthal, and Nancy Sanders. and I will be there too!

The conference is limited to just 40 attendees so there will be a lot of opportunities to ask questions and get the help you need.

The schedule is jam-packed with opportunity to hone your craft and learn all about writing nonfiction. I’ll be talking about research techniques and how to write for magazines.

Sign up now and get a manuscript critique. Slots are filling up fast!




CLICK HERE to register today!

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Social Anxiety

If you are like me and haven't had company to the house in months, or you cringe at the thought of going out on a Tuesday night, then check out this article by A. K. Whitney, on The Write Life. She talks about freelancers who go feral when they work from home. It rang a few bells for me. At my first school talk this Spring, I had to work extra hard to act professional and not like the stumbling cave dweller that I felt like inside. My favorite line of Whitney's is, " Remember, only you can prevent your friends from feralizing."

What does it say about me that the first thing I do when I creep out of my feral winter cave is dig in the dirt??? But it works. When I garden in the front yard neighbors stop by, and I get to see the baby's new tooth, hear the scoop on someone's carpal tunnel, and learn where their kids are going to college.

How about you? How do you de-feralize?

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

How to Be Your Own Primary Research Source

A month ago I made a rash decision. To shave my head to raise money for Roswell Park Cancer Institute. "Bald For Bucks" sounded fun at the time (my husband was going to do it too), and I definitely wanted to "pay it forward" for the great care he received and continues to receive at Roswell. It seemed like the least I could do.

Now, I'm two days away from getting buzzed and I'm anxious. Not that I'd back out or anything. I'm ready. So what am I nervous about?  Those are the feelings I want to get down on paper before the clippers strip me of these emotions and I'm faced with new ones.

As a nonfiction writer, the greatest primary source you have is yourself. You may be going to do something foolish like I am, or maybe you witnessed sea turtles hatching, or you have great knitting tips for beginners.  All of your experiences are viable and valuable research materials -- especially if you document it. Being able to pull out a journal and read -- "Sunday, July 7 -- We climbed the guano-covered steps up to the cave entrance and the Buddha inside. Bats flapped overhead.... It smelled of old wine." -- is like finding gold. It's been three years since I was in that cave. I didn't remember what it smelled like and would not have been able to write about it accurately if I hadn't have written it down.

When you want to write about a personal experience, and you know a head of time, it is just as important to nail down your BEFORE as it is the event itself or what comes after. You can rely on memory, but as I just proved, memory doesn't capture everything. So, that is what I'm doing today. What is my before experience with hair?

I've never been in love with my hair. It's poker straight, and the length rises and falls to the whim of my hairdresser who I love, but (Sorry Tim) has good days and bad. Now that it is graying, I find myself contemplating color, although I swore I never would. A buzz cut should be, and in some respects is a welcome challenge. I already went out and bought two scarves. One is black so I can wear it to perform in a choral concert without the lights glinting off my naked bean like a giant spotlight announcing that the 2016 Hondas are in.

My big concern is that I don't want anyone to think I am mocking them, or diminishing the agony of cancer and chemo and its effects. Will people ask me if I have cancer?  What will they say when I tell them no?

In a way this is me getting as ugly as I can -- 54, overweight (although I'm working on it), and bald. Can I, will I, still love myself? Did I before? Hell, I'm still trying to wrangle woolly eyebrows!

The best I can hope for is that this experience will be freeing.  At the very least?  It gives me something to write about.


Lesson -- Write it down! What you did, what it looked like, what it smelled like, felt like, tasted like, and especially how you felt about it.

**If you want to donate to Bald for Bucks click here.

Thank You!!




Sunday, April 19, 2015

Only ONE! -- What's Up With That?

A few months ago I gave myself the gift of Publishers Weekly. It's my attempt at being more professional, more in touch with the business. 

It always comes before noon, and I manage to plow through most of it over lunch. PW has interesting articles on things like translating Polish poetry, and, of course, they have reviews of the newest books.

I usually scan the adult fiction section pausing briefly at the starred reviews. The nonfiction reviews, on the other hand, I read thoroughly circling the ones I'd like to purchase but probably won't, hopeful that I'll be able to interloan them in a few months. In the last issue, PW reviewed 38 nonfiction titles. I circled 3 -- Spectacle: The Astonishing Life of Ota Benga; Stalin's Daughter; and The Strange Case of the Rickety Cossack: and Other Cautionary Tales from Human Evolution.

The section that causes lunchtime to run over into writing time (or nap time, if I'm being honest) is the Children's/YA reviews. In the last few weeks that consists of   about three pages of picture books, more than a dozen mid-grade and YA titles, and one book of nonfiction.

One.

ONE! What's up with that?

Now, I didn't stop to find the stats on how many fiction and nonfiction books are published each year by the hundreds of publishing companies in America, but I'm pretty sure that out of all those houses, large and small, there was more than one nonfiction title worthy of a PW review. But I could be wrong.

I sent off a query to PW, not expecting a response, but got an email back the very next day. John Sellers, the Children's Reviews Editor said, "While it is true that we often only have one nonfiction title in a given issue, that's not a hard and fast rule -- some weeks we have more, some weeks we have none." I could stop there and make it sound like PW is snubbing NF, but it's not true. Sellers went on to remind me that some NF titles often get featured in "boxed roundups of animal-themed books, picture-book biographies, science/history titles, concept books and so on." I still wondered about mid-grade and YA NF.

"As far as longer, "novel-length" nonfiction, we review a good amount of what we receive," said Sellers. " But we receive far more YA and MG fiction than we do nonfiction books for those ages."

Huh! I would hope that publishers send their nonfiction as well as their fiction for review.

I have a thought. If you have a mid-grade or YA trade book coming out soon (PW doesn't usually review for the institutional market), ask your editor if they'll send review copies to PW. Let's see if we can beef up the stats.

Thanks John, for explaining!








Monday, April 13, 2015

Happy Birthday Thomas!

Today is Thomas Jefferson's birthday, Celebrate with a Nonfiction Minute!
Learn how he became a smuggler and grew America's economy.

This Nonfiction Minute is a preview of my newest book Thomas Jefferson Grows a Nation to be released in the fall.


Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Melissa Stewart on Expository Nonfiction

Check out Melissa Stewart's article about Expository Nonfiction (love the way she describes this name) at:
http://www.bookologymagazine.com/knock-knock/knock-knock-with-melissa-stewart-a-fresh-look-at-expository-nonfiction/