Monday, December 21, 2009

A Merry Christmas for Nonfiction Writers

Every year my mother would give at least one BC, a Before Christmas present. Sometimes it was a pair of PJs to wear on Christmas Eve, or an extra present that needed to be given early in order to even out the gifts on Christmas morning. One year my BC was a shiny pair of Maryjanes that I wore to the midnight service like Cinderella with her glass slippers.

This year all nonfiction writers got a BC. ALA Young Adult Library Services announced the creation of a new award for young adult nonfiction. What a wonderful and much-needed opportunity to highlight high quality exciting true stories that otherwise might linger unnoticed by the general public. If you are like me and are not on the list this year you might wonder why it is a BC for all. It is a gift because shining a light on these titles will also compel publishers to pay more attention to the design and production of nonfiction, and that will benefit all of us. And someday you may be on the list and that will make for a very happy New Year indeed!

The first finalists are:

"Almost Astronauts: 13 Women Who Dared to Dream," by Tanya Lee Stone, published by Candlewick Press.

"Charles and Emma: The Darwins' Leap of Faith," by Deborah Heiligman, published by Henry Holt. (a personal favorite - the committee looked beyond the lack of visual design and took note of Heiligman's voice, writing and research.)

"Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice," by Phillip Hoose, published by Farrar Straus Giroux.

"The Great and Only Barnum: The Tremendous and Stupendous Life of the Showman P.T. Barnum," by Candace Fleming, published by Random House.

"Written in Bone: Buried Lives of Jamestown and Colonial Maryland," by Sally M. Walker, published by Carolrhoda Books.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Ice Fishing

Finally, it is snowing like a proper Christmas season. It had been so hard to get into the holiday mood with the dog tracking in mud several times a day. Now Lily just shakes off a few flakes and hops on the couch where I sit still fishing for a good story. But it is more like ice fishing. It is cold and nothing is biting.

This is a hard time to be without a distinct project. It is easy to get distracted by cookie baking and Christmas shopping. Perhaps it would be best to call it quits, enjoy the holiday and toss in my hook after the first of the year. It will give my brain a chance to mull over the half-formed ideas I already have. So if you see me out shoveling just remember that I'm still working. If I'm at the market -- still working. Walking the dog -- working. Napping -- working very hard.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Gone Fishing

Back to the pond again. After handing in the revisions for my Roger Tory Peterson biography I am ready to go fishing for a new book idea. This is one of my favorite times when I can read in the middle of the day without feeling guilty that I'm not writing or washing the dishes. I drag out all of those scraps of paper holding hastily scribbled ideas and revisit previously past over subjects to see if they have fermented enough in the compost pile of my brain.

I tend to find that ideas need to sit in the dark like wilted lettuce, orange rinds, coffee grounds and egg shells. Under the layers of everyday thought they mesh and meld. An occasional stir now and then and soon new workable ideas surface. I see a different approach to an old subject that I hadn't seen before, or several bits combine to form an entirely new project.

Now is the time that I remember a librarian I met at the Rochester Children's book festival who rattled off several names of people kids learn about but there are no children's biographies about them. Do any have good stories to tell? I recall a radio show that mentioned Darwinian ideas long before Darwin, and watching on TV as an octopus uses a halved coconut like an undersea hovercraft. I throw out my hook and reel in a dozen books about forgotten aviation pioneers, women's rights activists, and nineteen century scientists. Will anything bite? I hope so. Something usually does, but they also might just end up in my mental compost pile until they are so ripe I can smell them. Then I have something new to write about.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Western/Central NY SCBWI conference

Hurray! I just received the flier for the W/C New York SCBWI conference that will be held January 9th. It features Clara McClafferty, a nonfiction writer!! I am so thrilled. Before I opened the brochure, I wasn't planning to go. I had already traveled to Columbus, Ohio in October for their SCBWI conference. But now I know that there will be someone there who will address the kind of writing that I do. I am so proud that nonfiction will be on the main stage. I will be there with bells on. Join me!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

A true story inside everyone

A new month and a new attempt to write here more often. Today I met with my critique group in Rochester, NY. While most of us are reading our fiction works for critique it is clear that we are also doing lots of research for those projects and could definitely write a nonfiction piece using that research. Will we? Who knows, but the opportunity is there.

Even if you are not a nonfiction writer, do you have a nonfiction article or book inside of you? What research did you do for your latest fictional project? Kids love to know the story behind the story. Let them know more about the historical event that you used as a backdrop for your historical fiction. Write a how-to about that little known craft that you had to look up to make your story accurate. Or write about your writing process that led you to publish the story you are so proud of.

There is a nonfiction story inside everyone. You just have to write it.