Monday, March 30, 2015

Six Reasons Why Nonfiction Writing is Easier Than Writing Fiction by Pat Miller

Well, maybe not easier. But I've written both, and I discovered a number of things that make nonfiction more writer-friendly. Here are six of them:

1. Curiosity comes first. When you observe a baby, you see someone motivated by curiosity. Once his basic needs are met, it’s what drives him. Where’s that sound? What’s that red thing? Who is looking at me? Curiosity leads them to put everything in their mouths, to roll and crawl and observe. Imagination kicks in years later when they are capable of thinking things like, “I wonder if there are unicorns on the moon.”

As a writer, I find that my curiosity is easily aroused. Were the Dodge brothers really as competitive as the car commercial implies? Do some people have more taste buds than others? Who discovered aspirin? What say you, Imagination? *crickets*

2. The ideas are already "out there". Whereas fiction writers have to nourish the tender sprout of inspiration, nonfiction writers need pruning shears to shape the lush growth of information that is readily available.

It's part of human nature to preserve things for posterity. From hoarders to curators, mankind saves things, and saves words. You can find books, letters  and journals from prior centuries. There are billions of  historical photographs, census records, deeds, and obituaries to access from your home computer. There's the realia from bygone days--spoons to carriages, bonnets to armor, skeletons, sculpture, homes. You can see and touch what it is you write about.

3. Experts are eager to help do the work. You don’t have to know what you are talking about. Part of research is to find someone who does. Whether you are interested in the life cycle of the pika or the invention of indoor plumbing, there is likely an expert delighted to share her information with you. Medieval dress, nineteenth century medicine, Inuit burial customs--someone is passionate about it.

When I was researching the mariner who invented the hole in the doughnut, I got help from librarians, maritime history professors, docents at a maritime museum, and newspaper archivists. Don’t forget interest groups, re-enactors, documentaries, and restored homes, shops, and battlefields. You aren't alone with the blank page. Visiting these places and experts leads to a bonus for nonfiction writers--tax write offs!

4. Experiences and experiments count! Did you try parasailing on your honeymoon? Have you spent three consecutive days in the Smithsonian aviation museum? Do you have a passion for throwing pots, windsurfing, or making doll furniture? You can write about your interests. Keep a journal on your Nile trip, follow up on something you heard about DNA and tracing ancestors, or interview kindergartners about their opinions. It’s all fertile ground in which to grow a true book.

5. Mentor texts often have “cheat sheets”. If I don’t know where to begin my research on a topic, I find a book on the subject in my children’s library. Not only is there useful content, but the author leans in and whispers to me, “Look in the back—I left you a road map.”

Here she may have included a list of books and sites she used to write the book. Write those down! She may thank her experts in her acknowledgement page. Could I start with one of them? Her list of photo credits may lead me to resources for my own work. No need to ask who can help. Your competition is often willing to help!

6. Editors are begging for nonfiction. Even if you are able to create a wonderful fiction story, you face formidable odds. Many worthy fiction titles go unpublished simply because of the numbers of competing manuscripts. But thanks to the insatiable curiosity of children, Common Core demands, and curriculum topics, publishers are clamoring for quality nonfiction of every stripe. According to Peggy Thomas, co-author of Anatomy of Nonfiction, you are eight times more likely to be published in nonfiction than fiction. Besides the trade market, there is the huge educational market.

Even if you consider yourself a fiction or poetry writer, try your hand at an engaging biography (no need to invent the characters!) or some poetic science. Exercise your curiosity as well as your creativity when you sit down to write. It’s easy!

Pat Miller is author of two dozen books for school librarians, hundreds of professional articles, six books for kids, and is organizer of NF 4 NF: Nonfiction Conference for Children's Writers coming in September, 2015. Find out more about the conference

Friday, March 27, 2015

Wordless Spreads in Picture Books ~ by Patricia Toht

And now, for a few words (well, more than a few) about wordless spreads in picture books...

In my newest PB manuscript, I'm choosing to ignore two strong suggestions for picture book writers:

1) DON'T write in rhyme!
2) DON'T include illustrator notes!

I'm a published poet, so I feel I have some justification for writing a rhymed text. But what about those illustrator notes? As Deborah Underwood once said, "It's not the illustrator's job to tell you what to write -- just as it's not your job to tell her [or him] what to draw." I agree, whole-heartedly! So...why the notes?

Long-time readers of the GROG may recall my fondness for making picture book dummies by laying out my text in spreads that mimic a finished book. When I did so with the new book, I discovered a spot where I could cut lots of text by letting an illustrator go crazy with a wordless spread.

Before hitting the "submit" button, I thought it wise to study up on picture books that contained just one or two wordless spreads, to see if my suggestion made sense. I knew of several books to consider, and a shout out to members of PiBoIdMo bolstered my list.
A few of the books I studied.
I discovered some interesting things:

From my sampling (16 books), a wordless spread was more likely to occur in the second half of a book.

Wordless spreads were as likely to occur in books authored and illustrated by different people as those by author/illustrators. 

In many of the books, the spread served as a pause or slowing of pace, a chance for the reader to reflect. 

The spreads served other functions and conveyed varied messages (sometimes more than one, which is why the percentages below add up to way more than 100%!).

• 50% were humorous (many LOL). A majority of these happened in the second half of the book.
I love the "naked centerfold" in Peter Brown's MR. TIGER GOES WILD!
 • 50% demonstrated change, either within the character or in his/her situation.

• 33% portrayed setting out on a journey or adventure
The zoo animals hop aboard a bus in
by Philip and Erin Stead
• 33% showed a difference in size or scale. This contrast between two characters, or between a character and the surroundings, elicited a variety of emotions from fear to loneliness to sweetness to wonder.

• 25% portrayed the culmination of a quest/resolution of a problem.

• One book introduced the main conflict through a wordless spread early on (pages 10 & 11).
Watch out, Billy Twitters! A blue whale is coming your way!
by Mac Barnett and Adam Rex
• The spreads were all worth their weight in wordless gold-- with the illustrations doing the work of many, many words.

Tara Lazar mentioned that her upcoming book, I THOUGHT THIS WAS A BEAR BOOK, contains a wordless spread. I asked her about it.

Me: Where does it occur?
Tara: The wordless spread is in the second-to-last spread in the book, right before you make the final page turn.

Me: What's its purpose?
Tara: It restores a sense of calm to the reader and conveys that everything has been settled. (Or has it????) It gives the bears some time to return home.

Me: Did you request the wordless spread?
Tara: This wordless spread was not in the original manuscript. It was suggested by my editor and illustrator after we made changes to the resolution. It helps with the pacing and sets up the final guffaw.

In the end, I feel a bit bold to suggest the wordless spread, but I feel it's the best vehicle to show lots of activity and a passage of time. Reassuringly, my sleuthing uncovered QUEEN VICTORIA'S BATHING MACHINE by Gloria Whelan and Nancy Carpenter. 

Like my manuscript, this story
1) is written in rhyme
2) is rooted in history
3) contains a wordless spread at the same spot that I am considering 
4) shows the resolution to a problem

And so I am emboldened to go where manuscripts are suggested not to go -- to submission, WITH illustrator notes! Wish me luck!

Thank you to Tara Lazar! (Visit Tara here.) Thanks also to PiBoIdMo members for your suggestions!

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Middle Grade Book Launch + Give Away! Some Kind of Magic, Adrian Fogelin

Some Kind of Wonderful: ADRIAN FOGELIN
posted by Jan Godown Annino

One of my favorite editors is Adrian Fogelin.   
And she is a favorite children’s author.
And, favorite librarian to her neighborhood.

Her new novel is SOME KIND OF MAGIC.  I am pleased to
speak with her any old time, but especially in March - Women’s History Month.

It follows the path of Adrian’s connected characters, children who students met in the award-winning CROSSING JORDAN, a story where two girls, one black, one white, unexpectedly become neighbors in North Florida.
This time around there is big role for a little guy, Cody, who is six! The story centers on a genial group of neighborhood pals who are determined to enjoy summer, because the end of it brings big changes - high school. 

Adrian’s linked novels visit the daily joys & turmoils of present-day girls & boys who come from small homes.
Extravagant collections of clothes or electronics won’t be in their closets.
This is an overlooked community where not every family has money for a car or other luxuries that many of us consider necessities.

Families are loving & good. Kids create great fun shooting hoops & challenging each other to races.
All ages of children visit together along the street. They get by in a diverse neighborhood. The kids also make their share of drama.
You are in for page-turning times with SOME KIND OF MAGIC.
And you'll love Jemmie & Cass, the girls, but also the boys on their block.

The number seven is a memorable trope in the fedora-centric SOME KIND OF MAGIC, which is seven scoops of wonderful.
So Group Blog asked Adrian for seven plus seven – to name 7 things in each of seven topics:

Adrian Fogelin’s 7’s

1 Words you love-

Neighborhood, whir, spindly, pooch, rustle, cockeyed, wobble.

2 Sites/towns/countries you’ve been to & would return to-

The dark upstairs hall in our house in Pearl River, New York where I used to scare my sister with ghost stories.
My dad’s vegetable garden, late afternoon, picking sun-warmed tomatoes for dinner, and carrying them inside in the hammock of my T-shirt.

The roof of the boathouse, Partridge Lake, New Hampshire, side-by-side with my sister, legs swinging, watching the boys from the other side of the lake show off their water skiing skills for our benefit.

Standing by the hand pump at my grandmother’s, the West Shore Railroad at the foot of the property, the house built by my great grandfather looking dignified if shabby and in need of a coat of paint, my grandmother cooking a roast inside.

The deck of our live-aboard wooden boat in Islamorada on a sunny day—on rainy days she leaked topsides.

My husband and I in our fishing boat, the Abraxas, the boat up on plane, the wind plastering our shirts to our chests as we race toward the horizon.

The stage at the Monticello Opera House playing guitar and singing for a live audience and the resident ghosts.  

3 Books YA readers will devour

The Fault in Our Stars
London Calling
Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants
To Kill a Mockingbird
The Outsiders
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

4 And the same for Middle Grade readers

Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key
Freak The Mighty
Island of the Blue Dolphins
Maniac Magee
The Great Gilly Hopkins

5 Ditto please, in picture books

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day
And To Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street
The Gruffalo
Shark vs Train/Chew vs Choo
Good Night Moon
Dad, Jackie and Me

6 Songs you love to sing/play/perform in your musical group, HOT TAMALE

Tough question! When it comes to cover songs I love to sing
1. “Somebody To Love” an old Jefferson Airplane hit I first sang in the gym at Princeton High in 1968.

2. Any Hank Williams song (that counts as one, right?) I used to think they were corny and they are, but I now appreciate corny.

3, 4. Almost any Motown number. Growing up in the Northeast, Motown was a steady influence until The Beatles obliterated that sound. “Mama Said” and “It’s in His Kiss” are probably my favorites to perform.

Among our originals:

5. “No Never Mind.” I’ve lived in the south a long time now and the idea that it don’t make no never mind appeals to me. The message in the song? Just relax.

6. “Old Tar Road” is a new song I like because my guitar part sounds like rain falling and I get to wail out my supposed heartache.

7. “The Other Side” was written for my parents, especially my father who waited to join my mother on the other side for nearly twelve years. The fact they are together makes missing both of them easier.

7 Recipes/treats/meals you like to make for your grandson

When it comes to my grandson, Matthew, AKA The Beezer, he is a hands-on boy and we make treats together.

1. We bake bread. Matthew likes to spray the ingredients out of the bowl when he stirs and punch the dough hard when it rises.

2.We sight-see the refrigerator and consider eating prosciutto (he is a sophisticated Beezer.) I am important because I can cut the package open with scissors.

3. He serves me plastic hot dogs that pop into plastic buns. I ask him to pass the mustard.

4. He scrambles a cheesy egg and we beep the microwave. I hold him up and we watch the egg wiggle in the bowl.

5. We pretend-eat rocks and say what good meatballs they are.

6. I pay for his happy meal and we try to figure out the toy that comes with it—it looks like a TV on legs with a face.

7. I tell him he should eat fewer sugary things. That means he only gets to eat one cookie.

Wow! – what a peek into your world, Adrian.
And we haven’t even talked about your visual arts accomplishments. 
Adrian created spiffy sketches for her middle grade pen-pal novel featuring the Florida Keys, SORTA SISTERS, which is one of my favorites of her many books.
 copyright Adrian Fogelin, all rights reserved

And did I mention that she is a top-notch manuscript editor?
In seven languages - thank you, gracias, grazie, merci, thangka si  (Javanese), tack (Swedish) & go raibh maith agat (Irish)!*
*appreciations to Google translate…

SOME KIND OF MAGIC launches not only today on this blog but at other places, such as an annual event of booklove, AUTHORS IN APALACH, a scenic oyster & shrimp village in North Florida where Adrian recently convened a panel of children’s writers. I was fortunate to be on that panel & a bonus was that my hubby & her hubby, went fishin'.
It was entirely magical that her first book sale was to a student from the ABC School in Apalachicola.

To win a signed copy of SOME KIND OF MAGIC, provided by the publisher, Peachtree Publishers, leave a comment below at THIS blog (not the publisher site) please. 
If you like to comment but don't want a prize, easy peasy, just say so.

To the WINNER - expect to hear after the release month of April. So, yes, if you are reading this near the bottom of April there is still time to win!
It helps if the comment name provides a clear link on how to easily reach you.
Again THANK YOU, Peachtree Publishers.

IMPORTANT Connections
Visit with author, artist, editor, neighborhood librarian, musician, singer Adrian at her author website
Adrian Fogelin essays & poetry appear at slow dance journal
Her acoustic music act is with Craig Reeder, as the duo - HOT TAMALE that site leads you to a listen.
Her publisher site is listed here just above the Peachtree Publishers animals banner.