Wednesday, November 24, 2010

My nonfiction writer’s list of things I am thankful for.

Like everyone else, tomorrow I will gather round a Thanksgiving table and celebrate my appreciation for family and friends.  But today I lift up a few things that make my job as a nonfiction writer easier and enjoyable.  What would you add to the list?
  • The spark of another new idea
  • The perfect kid-friendly analogy to show a complex concept
  • Nonfiction-reading boys
  • A dynamite quote that lifts me off my seat
  • A thorough bibliography in the back of a book
  • Experts who love to talk
  • Fifteen cent notebooks at a back-to-school sale
  • Finding the perfect“Oh Wow” fact
  • A new ream of paper
  • Eeking that last page out of the printer before the ink cartridge croaks
  • The smell of an old reference book
  • Librarians
  • My critique group - Irreverent only begins to describe them
  • An enthusiastic husband who doesn’t mind slamming chicken bones in the car door for an experiment.
  • oh, yeah - and the next book contract.





Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Finding the Right Voice

For quite a while I have been struggling to find the right voice to tell someone else's story.  As a writer I have my own voice, my own vocabulary, my own style. But when you write a biography, you want to give the reader a flavor of who the person was. One way to do that is to find a voice that reflects the character and and can convey the conflicts that occured.  Of course, you are not going to write in Early American dialect if you are writing about Paul Revere, but your prose might be clipped and quick like his race across the countryside. 

Jonah Winter, for example, captured artist Frida Kalo's bold fierceness with short bursts of text in Frida. 
Carole Boston Weatherford uses a first person narrative to tell the story of polar explorer in I, Matthew Henson. It seems to be the perfect vehicle to show the contrast of the world he lived in and the world he dreamed of -- "I did not take a job as a stock boy at a men's story to work my way up the ladder to clerk.  I yearned for wind at my back."

Using voice as a vehicle to tell the story allows you to be more lyrical than straight forward prose, however, it might constrain you too.  It is harder to weave in facts that a student, teacher, librarian or reviewer might be looking for.  You might need to create an author's note or give more info in the back matter.

It is a delicate balancing act, and I am still falling off the rope as I play around with voice.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Two Great Articles in PW Children's Bookshelf

In today's issue of the PW Children's Bookshelf, Antonia Saxon had a lovely article about the Rochester Children's Book Festival that I participated in last weekend.  Check it out.

And Jean Fritz turns 95! Margaret Firth, Jean's editor, recounts the author's career and her many, many outstanding nonfiction books for children. Along with my mother, Margery Facklam, Jean Fritz has also been my role model for nonfiction writing.  Here is the link --

Happy Reading!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Stuff This Old Dog Has Learned

I have never been particularly computer savy or overly excited about new technology.  However, walk me by a stationary story and I will salivate. So I was pleasantly surprised to see the title "I Hate Twitter" gleaming on the powerpoint screen, especially since the speaker was young, svelt, energetic author/illustrator Katie Davis.  If she hated Twitter, then my disdain was not as prehistoric as I thought. 

But it was false advertising.  Katie Davis tweets!  And loves it!!  And she was about to teach the members of the Rochester Area Children's Writers and Illustrators how social media can benefit them. 

I may be skeptical, but I am all for learning new ways to help my career and make me a better writer.  That's why I started this blog.  I wanted to find out if I could say something pithy every week. (Not once a day. I do have a life.)  So I listened intently as Katie led us through the process of signing up, logging on, and finding friends to tweet to. 

Believe it or not, I went home that night and tweeted.  Actually, I couldn't sleep so I got myself up out of bed and slogged down the stairs and figured it out in the middle of the night.  And if you know me, you'll know that I prize sleep well above taxing my brain in the early morning hours.  Katie Davis gave a compelling and humorous arguement for Twitter.  And this old dog learned a new trick. 

I learned that I should purchase domain names of my book titles to link to my website. 

I learned that if I begin to Twitter now, I can build up a list of people with similar interests, so when the book comes out, I can spread the word through them, reaching a wider audience very quickly.

I learned that my tweets should be helpful to others rather than self promotion (at least until my book comes out).

I learned that I can navigate a twitter page on no sleep and half a glass of wine. 

I learned that by the time the wine glass is empty, so is my enthusiasm for Twitter. 

However, I will tweet again.  Look for me.  I'm Pegtwrite.

Thank you Katie.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

In Their Own Words

For those of you who are too young to receive the AARP newsletter, I am passing on a link they featured where you can hear first person narratives.  Once only accessible by visitors at Ellis Island, the website,, has now posted 1,700 taped interviews with immigrants who went through Ellis Island between 1892 and 1954.  Each interview lasts 30 - 40 minutes and discusses what the person remembers of their homeland, why they emigrated, what they remember of the trip, and what happened when they landed in the U.S. I logged on out of curiosity, and got hooked on each person's story, imagining them as a stranger walking down the street and peeking into their private history until they felt like an old aunt or uncle at the dinner table.  Check it out.