Today I am so excited to feature my author friend TERESA ROBESON who will tell us something about her new PB Two Bicycles In Beijing (Albert Whitman & Company 2020). Here’s Teresa:
There are times when a happy confluence of somewhat random thoughts and ideas in my brain end up creating something wonderful. Two Bicycles In Beijing was the end result of one of those circumstances.
My father took my family on a trip to China back in 2013. It was something my parents had wanted to do for a while since the last time we went was in 1987 before I was married with kids of my own. They were eager to visit our ancestral homeland again with our expanded family to share our heritage with my kids who are half-Chinese, and my white American husband who had never been.
Sadly, my mom passed away before we could take this trip, but we still had a memorable time. We toured four cities—Shanghai, Beijing, Xi’an, and Hong Kong. Each of those places had their own unique character and attractions. Perhaps it was because we spent the most time in Beijing, and because it’s the capital of modern China, but my mind kept going back to our time there after our vacation. So that is the first random reoccurring thought.
Another involves one of my favorite photos that I took in Beijing. It features a row of bicycles parked outside of a building, and flanked by colorful flowers and lanterns. I love it so much, I used it online as a header on social media for a while.
At some point, I had also come across an article about all the bicycles that are in China, in particular Beijing. It really stuck with me as I think about environmental issues a lot with my husband being a climatologist who studies pollution and climate change.
With all these things flitting through my mind, it was only natural that a story involving bikes, and set in Beijing, would suggest itself. I wanted it to be a friendship story because that is a common theme in books, especially kids’ books, and I still, at the age of 55, wrestle with the concept of friendship. I think I had imagined the main characters to be human with bikes being involved, but somewhere along the way, I decided that it would be fun to have bikes take the center stage since they are so important in China.
With China being such a huge country, going from one city to another requires transportation with mechanical power. But within cities and towns, bicycles are the perfect way to travel: they don’t cost much, and you don’t need to rely on someone else’s schedule, like you would with buses or trains. Yet, despite their simple design and inexpensiveness, bikes can help you traverse distances faster and with less effort than on foot. With the addition of a basket or an attached seat, you can also carry cargo that you might not otherwise be able to on foot. It’s no wonder that bicycles are so popular and important in Beijing: what else can give you such speed and independence so inexpensively?
And when you’re that reliant on your bike, you might start to see it as more than a useful tool…perhaps you might even see it as a friend? *smile*
Here is Darlene’s review of this unique story:
A lovely tale of friendship between two bicycles made together in a factory, side-by-side in a store until one day when they are separated. Each is bought by someone different. Will the red bicycle find her yellow friend? The story take us on a ride to the sites and sounds of the bustling city of Beijing past all the yellow that brightens the countryside. The soft and joyful illustrations are the perfect accompaniment to this story. Told from the point of view of Lunzi…the yellow bicycle who goes out in search of her red friend Huangche…this tale will delight anyone who’s ever loved a bicycle.
Darlene will be giving away a copy of this book to one lucky winner drawn at random. To enter, leave a comment about your favorite bicycle experience. If you share this post on social media, she will give you a second chance to win. The winner will be announced on this blog sometime in May.
TERESA ROBESON was born in Hong Kong, raised in Canada, and now writes and creates from her mini-homestead in southern Indiana, where she lives with her scientist husband. Visit her online at:
Thanks to the generosity of my guest blogger Vivian Kirkfield, I am thrilled to announce the winner of her give-away. Drum roll please…for Charlotte Sheer. Charlotte will choose between a signed copy of MAKING THEIR VOICES HEARD or a PB critique compliments of Vivian. Please let Vivian know which prize you choose.
Congratulations, Charlotte and thanks to all who participated.
Today it is my pleasure to share the blog with fellow children’s book author BROOKE VAN SICKLE who recently published a PB titled PIRATES STUCK AT “C”. She is here to share her own process for writing picture books. She has tons of free material and some great links to get you started in writing for children.
Millions of people say they want to write a kid’s book, but not everyone does. There’s a lot of work and patience that goes into writing, and tons of rejection, after you’ve created your story, which causes many people to give up. But if you can make it through all that, it’s so worth it!
To help prepare you, here are 6 easy steps you can start today, in order to have a completed kid’s book to share with others this year.
How to Write a Kid’s Book that Attracts Readers:
I firmly believe that every book deserves a place on a child’s bookshelf if you can write it well enough. And the writing part may not be as hard as you think! You don’t have to be a master writer or someone with a big degree in creative writing. (Let out that breath you’ve been holding!) You simply have to be willing to put in the work. This is what you need to do to write a book that sells:
Six Steps to Write a Kid’s Book Well:
1 – Decide what kind of book you’re going to write.
All picture books are children’s books, but not all kid’s books are picture books. In fact, there are 6 main categories of children’s books! (If you’re unsure of what those are, here’s a helpful article with the full list to help you.)
The best way to decide on the type of book you intend to write is to think about the age of your reader. Who is going to read your book? About how old are they?
2 – Once you have an idea, make sure it’s saleable.
An important step for writing a kid’s book is to make sure it’s going to sell. (No one wants to spend over a year on something only to get stuck trying to publish it!) There are a few things I do on this step:
- Search your topic idea to see what already exists
- Read books that are similar to your idea
- Research and read top-selling books in your genre that have been published in the last 3-5 years.
Doing this research will help you find comp books to use later in a query letter, let you know if your idea already exists to know if you should change it or find a new idea, and help you understand what’s been selling or is popular already with readers and publishers. All of which are important when you decide to sell your manuscript!
3 – Join SCBWI (The Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators) and find a writing group.
I would never have been able to publish a kid’s book without the help of all my writing friends and SCBWI. You need other writers not just to read your work and offer critiques, but to also encourage you as you begin your journey. It can be a long and hard process, but with others who are going through it, it will also be some of the most fun you’ll ever have. Plus, you’ll have a group of supporters to celebrate with you when you finally get to hold your published book!
4 – Outline your story.
There are a lot of pantsers out there that would disagree with me on this step, but I think outlining is VITAL to writing any book. (You can’t find your destination without the direction for where you want to go!) Even if you change your mind later, or decide that you want to go in a different direction, it’s better to have a plan going in. At least outline who your characters are, what’s going to happen, and how you expect it to end before you begin writing.
5 – Write your first draft.
This is the exciting part! You know what kind of story you want to write and you’ve done your research. You’re ready. So start writing!!
6 – Edit your draft and write again and again until you get it right.
Sorry, the first draft you write won’t be the only draft. In fact, it may take you 30 or 50 versions to get it right! And then your agent or editor may have even more edits!!
I’ve mentored some writers that get discouraged with editing or don’t think they need to edit their stories at all, but I would caution against that. No one gets it right on their first time. So don’t be afraid to listen to good critiques and to try again.
Your goal should always be to write the best story you can!
If you want to get started writing a kid’s book, get my “How to Write a Kid’s Book” guide here. It’s free and has everything you need to start writing your book idea today! And if you want to dive deeper, visit journeytokidlit.com for more articles to writing and publishing tips for children’s book writers.
Brooke Van Sickle is a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators (SCBWI) and Regional Webmaster for the Iowa-SCBWI region. She’s also a member of the Independent Book Publishers Association (IBPA) and Midwest Independent Publishers Association (MiPa).
PIRATES STUCK AT “C”, published by BiblioKid Publishing, is Brooke Van Sickle’s debut picture book. She also has 2 more books expected in 2020. When not writing her own books, Brooke teaches other aspiring writers how to write and publish kids’ books at www.journeytokidlit.com.
Learn more about her on her website www.brookevansickle.com and connect with her on social @journeytokidlit.
Brooke will return next month with a post about PIRATES STUCK AT “C” and a give-away.
The Joke Machine: A Creative Writing Tool That’s Disguised as a Joke Book by Theresa Julian
So, two guys walk into a bar…
Wait, that’s not how I meant to start. I meant to start by telling you that I’m the author of The Joke Machine, a new non-fiction book that teaches middle graders how to create their own jokes and become funnier. I’m nervous because my spellcheck mysteriously switched into Hungarian and I can’t tell if words are misspelled.
Spelling words wrong is something I do knot want to do. I know the importance of proper spelling, it’s something my feather taught me. If I mix up even two letters, this whole post is urined.
Now you’re probably wondering, is she kidding about the spellchecker? The urined post? And most importantly, what happened to the guys who walked into a bar? Well, the answers are yes, yes, and two guys walked into a bar – the third one ducked.
Apologies for a long introduction, I just wanted to make you laugh.
Making someone laugh is one of the best feelings in the world. Growing up as a shy child, I always wished I was funny. As an adult, I started wondering if being funny is something you’re born with, or if it’s something you can learn. I started doing research and concluded it’s something you can learn, and I was going to learn it!
I figured out that the basis of humor is surprise. It’s leading a thought one way, and then turning it in an unexpected direction. It’s the quick twist that surprises us and makes us laugh.
I worked with that concept and came up with a few lines that – remarkably – were funny! Encouraged, I started studying humorous lines. I tried to figure out what made each one funny, and being a word-loving nerd, I put the quotes into categories such as ones that use contrast, comparison, exaggeration, etc. I started seeing patterns and my book, The Joke Machine, was born!
One of the things I’m proudest of is that the book teaches a difficult, almost mysterious subject using basic tenets of English, such as contrast, comparison, literalness, etc. It teaches in a fun, funny, kid-friendly way, that keeps kids laughing and turning the pages.
Now I’m going to tell you a secret. Lean in, because I’m going to whisper this so kids don’t hear. Though The Joke Machine explains how kids can become funnier, it’s also a book that teaches them how to express themselves more creatively and how to become better, more confident writers.
The Joke Machine teaches basics, such as using similes, metaphors, homonyms, homophones, etc., to punch up sentences, but the real message is deeper. The real message is reaching past the plain “vanilla” and expressing yourself more creatively, confidently, and humorously.
For example, The Joke Machine teaches middle graders to create humor by comparing two things that don’t ordinarily go together, by using irony to call out an unusual situation, and by using literalness to respond to someone’s actual words instead of their meaning.
The book explains how to fancy-schmancy it up by using specific details, too. It shows how to change “my shoes smell bad” into “my shoes that smell like they’ve been in my gym locker since second grade”. The book encourages kids to play with words, punch up puns, twist common catchphrases, exaggerate and understate facts, and even invent words that their friends will understand just by their sound.
Finally, The Joke Machine teaches middle graders to be more confident writers because being funny is about teasing out your message, having the courage to say something and then pull it back. It’s presenting a thought, then twisting, bending and reversing it. It’s like starting with “two guys walk into a bar” and then admitting that’s not what you want to talk about – but now that I have your attention, stick with me. It’s about thinking outside of the box, playing with a message, and holding your reader’s attention, all the way down to the very last line.
Theresa Julian writes humorous children’s fiction, nonfiction, screenplays and teleplays. In addition to The Joke Machine, Theresa has sold dozens of humorous stories to Amazon Rapids which have been consistently listed on the Popular and Funny rows on the Amazon app. She is also the author of a humorous ‘tween TV pilot and two screenplays that have all won or placed in multiple national writing competitions. Theresa is a graduate of Boston College and has a Master of Arts in Corporate Communications. When she’s not writing, Theresa likes to run, eat chocolate, and lip sync to her favorite songs even though she never knows the lyrics. She always wished she had a superpower, but makes a really mean eggplant parmigiana so…maybe that counts?
Theresa will give a signed copy of her book to one lucky winner. Share your favorite one- liner joke and Darlene will put your name in a hat for the drawing. Share this post on Twitter, or FB and receive a second entry. The winner will be announced on this blog. Good Luck!
Asking Effective Questions in Life As Well As Writing.
by Barbara Messinger
Most of my life I was interested in science and became an RN. I had no real desire to write but that changed when I took a job in pediatric home care and saw firsthand the joy books brought to my patient’s limited world. I was taken in by children’s literature in a big way and gained a strong desire to write picture books (and eventually chapter books), I began learning the craft of writing. And for the first few years I experienced all the frustrations that can go along with the writing process.
One of the key things writers learn along the way is interviewing your main character even if you don’t use the information in your book. It speaks to the importance of questioning. So if we are the main character in our own lives how do we question ourselves. I looked back at the first part of my writing journey and the questions I asked myself. I realized plenty of them were more disempowering than empowering. For example, Why aren’t I further along in this process? Why am I not getting this?
In nurse’s training there was a brief session on Therapeutic Communication. We learned not to ask the patient ‘why’ questions. Why questions put people on the defensive. When we ask ourselves those kind of questions we keep ourselves stuck where we are.
So I became more conscious and deliberate about asking myself empowering questions. (Which usually begin with how or what) My all time favorite question:
How can I let go of my limited thinking? (about anything really)
How can I let go of my limited thinking about my writing?
How can I let go of my limited thinking about the publication industry?
Or instead of why can’t I seem to get this, I started asking myself:
What is the nature of showing rather than telling?
What is the nature of an emotionally engaging character? A compelling character?
There are an infinite number of possible answers and information that can come to you when you inquire in a way that leaves your subconscious mind wide open to answers.
We live in a fast pace culture that expects answers immediately and I’m not promising you’ll get published any faster if you practice asking empowering questions. I’m still working toward publication. But I can promise it will be a more enriching experience that expands your mind rather than contracts it. Try making up your own empowering questions. Maybe you’ll be surprised by some of the answers you get.
Barbara Messinger transitioned from a nursing career to children’s writing after moving into pediatric nursing care. She saw firsthand the positive effects reading books aloud had on her patients. She enjoys her membership and camaraderie of the SCBWI-NJ. A lifelong shore resident you’ll most likely find her swimming, scuba diving, biking, practicing yoga and, yes, writing somewhere near a beach.
To conclude this year’s series of posts on writing authentically in historical fiction, I am posting this entry that ran on the blog tour I did in 2014 for the launch of my first book WHEELS OF CHANGE. To celebrate the FIFTH ANNIVERSARY of the book’s debut, I am giving away a signed copy of the book, and – if a teacher wins – a free classroom SKYPE visit for the 2019-2020 school year. Leave a comment at the end of the post and let me know what grade you teach. Curriculum guides and other goodies will be included with the book.
Authenticity in Historical Fiction
To create authenticity or believability in historical fiction is just like setting a scene in any kind of writing. The writer needs to pay attention to details. As a reader, I’m more likely to immerse myself in a story universe that is believable and accurate. If I want readers of WHEELS OF CHANGE to follow Emily Soper’s adventures, they have to be grounded in the reality of 1908 Washington DC.
What was life like in the Nation’s Capital 100 years ago?
It was very rural for one thing. With the exception of Pennsylvania Avenue, the area around the train station, and a few streets bordering 7th Street – the main street of commerce – there was only gas lighting and no electricity. Indoor plumbing was still a novelty. Many roads were unpaved or had cobblestones. There were farms and wooded areas surrounding the government buildings. Most people still rode in horse-drawn wagons, carriages, or buggies. Many goods were still made by hand. Incorporating these details into the story grounds it and fixes the time and place.
Character is another way to create an authentic story. When a story takes place in another era, the writer has to be sure to use language and sentence structure that rings true. In 1908, children spoke in a more formal style, like their parents. Very little slang was used. Children addressed other adults as Mr. or Mrs. and often used “sir” or ‘ma’am” when speaking to their parents.
A character’s actions and behavior was different than it is today. Expectations for males and females were much more divided and specific. Boys had more freedom to explore and be adventurous. They were expected to roughhouse and get into trouble now and then. Girls on the other hand, were expected to be lady-like and exhibit proper behavior at all times. They were encouraged to excel at the “domestic arts” such as sewing, cooking, housekeeping, and child rearing.
Here are some of the “Rules of Etiquette” young people were expected to follow at the turn of the Twentieth Century.
General Rules of Etiquette for Ladies and Gentlemen
13 Mannerisms to be avoided by all:
- Whispering or pointing in company.
- Giving attention to only one person when more are present.
- Contradicting parents, friends, or strangers.
- Laughing loudly.
- Making noise with hands and feet.
- Leaning on the shoulder or chair of another.
- Throwing things instead of handing them.
- Crowding or bumping elbows.
- Contempt in looks, words, or actions.
- Drawing attention to self with dress.
- Lending a borrowed book.
- Reading when there is company, or when others are speaking.
- Laughing at the mistakes of others.
Manners appropriate for all:
- To be gentle and patient with others.
- To remember that while speech is wonderful, it is sometimes better to be silent.
- Speak with a gentle tone and never in anger.
- Learn to deny yourself and put others first.
- Give applause only by clapping hands – not by kicking or stamping feet.
- Rise to one’s feet when an older person or dignitary enters the room.
All this makes me wonder: How many of these rules do any of us consider important today?
Today it is my pleasure to help Kathleen Burkinshaw – the award-winning author of THE LAST CHERRY BLOSSON – celebrate the book’s third anniversary. In this post she discusses the research involved in the sequel she is writing for the book. Here’s Kathleen:
I’ve always loved reading history books and researching a topic to find unexpected or lesser known facts on a subject, long before my first book published. I also tend to get so caught up in research, especially when I find out something that leads me down a totally different path than I could have imagined (I can’t be alone here 😊). So, I have to be sure I’m not using it as a way to avoid actually writing my story and being creative.
For example, I have been working on the sequel to The Last Cherry Blossom (TLCB) for a while now. Health issues have gotten in my way and then because I hadn’t written in a while, insecurity settled in. So, I spent a lot of time looking for, purchasing, and reading books on life in Tokyo during the American Occupation, since the sequel takes place a few years after the end of WWII. I wanted to involve headlines and propaganda posters as my chapter headings like I had in TLCB. I was ecstatic when I found out I could subscribe to a resource that included the STARS and STRIPES newspaper edition that reported from the Pacific region.
But I couldn’t help but feel that my research was missing something, just not sure what that ‘something’ could be. Since, I couldn’t quite figure that out, I began writing more scenes for the sequel. As I did, some of my insecurity lifted and I realized the importance of balancing my research time with making time to write creatively. It didn’t work well for me to have an all or nothing approach.
However, I kept getting stuck in some of my descriptions and the direction I wanted my story to take. I have mentioned before that while writing TLCB, I found my sources in unexpected places. One in particular was my family’s visit to Hiroshima, honoring my mother at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Hall for Atomic Bomb Victims, a few months after she passed away. Being there in person, I discovered the beauty that my Mom often spoke about growing up in Hiroshima before the bombing. I used this discovery in re-writing my descriptions of Hiroshima for my final edits.
Well, this time, a resource found me believe it, or not! It began with a speaking engagement for a local book club. After the event, a lovely woman introduced herself to me and told me of her recent visit to Japan. Coincidence, yes, but the incredible part is coming next! Interestingly enough, she had a friend (who lives in Maryland), Mr. Pittell, that served in the US Air Force and had been stationed at Miho Air Base (now Miho-Yonago Airport) in Japan during the later Occupation years(1953-54). He recently sent her copies of photos that he took during that time. She asked if I might be interested in seeing them. My eyes immediately lit up and I said a resounding, YES!!
She received his permission to show the pictures to me, and we met at a local coffee shop. Not only were there pictures, but he also had written a few descriptive paragraphs about them. He loved photography and these photos were a treasure trove for me! I had the opportunity to see literal snapshots in time capturing the essence of everyday life in the town and neighboring towns to Miho Air Force Base (about a 3-hour drive north of Hiroshima).
Most pictures were in black and white, but he did have some pictures in color. I was thrilled to be able to see how young women dressed during this time and to imagine my mom dressing like that as well. Unfortunately, I have no pictures of her early teen years in Tokyo. I only have a few of her and my Dad when they first married and were on their honeymoon at Lake Yamanaka (she was in her mid-20s by then).
Mr. Pittell kindly let me keep his copies for a while to use as a guide for descriptions in my book. This was the ‘something’ I was missing. I now had a better idea of what the towns, the soldiers, and the Japanese people looked like during the first years of the American Occupation. These pictures also inspired another tangent to my story line for the sequel. On top of that, I now have a wonderful new friend in the woman who shared these pictures with me.
You just never know where you will find your resources or where they might find you! I mean, what are the odds of meeting a woman who just received pictures from a soldier stationed in Japan during Occupation time?! 😊 I’m a firm believer that connections matter whether through emotions bared through your writing so that your voice or other voices can be heard; or in actually meeting someone and making that face to face good ol’ fashioned, in-person connection.
Once I finally complete my sequel, I hope that readers will feel the authenticity in and connect with my descriptions gifted to me by someone I didn’t even know!
Here is one of the incredible pictures that Mr. Pittell had taken:
August also happens to be TLCB’s 3rd Blooming Anniversary and to celebrate, I have a Rafflecopter giveaway going on now through August 31st. Two winners will be chosen at random and win what is shown in the picture below along with a complimentary 45-minute Skype visit for teachers, librarians, and home school students. Below is the link to my TLCB Rafflecopter Giveaway. Thank you and Good Luck!
Today it is my pleasure to bring readers another installment in my posts on historical research. In this 6th article, YA and MG novelist and fellow Kid Lit Author’s Club member, Dianne K Salerni, will talk about researching historical characters. Here’s Dianne:
The very best thing about writing a book with real, historical characters is that you get to skip the process of building their personality from scratch: their strengths and weaknesses and emotional wounds. Historical characters tell you who they are through their letters and other writings. When I wrote about the romance of spirit medium Maggie Fox and Arctic explorer Elisha Kent Kane in We Hear the Dead, I had years of their love letters to draw upon.
Researching my upcoming novel, The Roosevelt Ghosts, I had not only letters to guide me, but also the autobiography of Eleanor Roosevelt (who was born a Roosevelt long before she married her fifth cousin, Franklin). Eleanor’s first cousin Alice, daughter of Theodore Roosevelt, was so much a fixture of Washington D.C. for her 96 years that she was known as “the other Washington Monument” and left untold writings and interviews behind.
Eleanor’s primary emotional wound isn’t hard to identify. She spells it out pretty plainly in her autobiography: My mother was always a little troubled about my lack of beauty, and I knew it, as a child senses those things. I can remember standing in the door, often with a finger in my mouth, and I can see the look in her eyes and hear the tone of her voice as she said, “Come in, Granny.” If a visitor was there, she might turn and say, “She is such a funny child, so old-fashioned that we always call her Granny.” I wanted to sink through the floor in shame.
It is reported in multiple sources that Eleanor’s mother, Anna Hall Roosevelt, spoke quite harshly to her young daughter. You have no looks, so see to it that you have manners.
Eleanor was orphaned at the age of eight, losing her mother and one of her brothers to diphtheria and her father to the effects of alcoholism. Thereafter, she lived with her oppressive maternal grandmother, who ran an austere household and dressed Eleanor in made-over garments that left her sadly out of place among her peers. Her cousin, Corinne Robinson, commented (in regards to a dance when they were both young teens): No one, young or old, wore very short skirts in those days, even for sports, but her grandmother bought her a dress that could have been for a five-year-old. A friend of Corinne’s remarked, more bluntly, that Eleanor was a living freak.
Teens are cruel, but so, apparently are adults. Edith Roosevelt, Theodore’s second wife and Alice’s step-mother was as snide as they come. Eleanor has been here too – poor little soul; she is very plain. Her mouth and teeth seem to have no future. She was also a master of the side-slander. I got Alice a beautiful dress at Stern’s, dark large plaid with navy blue velour, but how much do you think it cost? Forty-two dollars. Alice is a child who needs good clothes and would look quite forlorn as Eleanor in makeshifts.
Only Alice defended Eleanor’s physical appearance: She was always making herself out to be an ugly duckling, but she was really rather attractive. Tall, rather coltish-looking, with masses of pale, gold hair rippling to below her waist, and really lovely blue eyes. It’s true that her chin went in a bit, which wouldn’t have been noticeable if only her hateful grandmother had fixed her teeth.
Alice, meanwhile, had her own emotional wounds. Her mother died shortly after her birth, and her father abandoned her to the care of an aunt while he ran off to the Dakotas to assuage his grief. Theodore refused to call his daughter by the name she shared with her mother, and when he married Edith, his childhood sweetheart, Alice felt that she became even more of a burden. My father obviously didn’t want the symbol of his infidelity around. His two infidelities, in fact: infidelity to my stepmother by marrying my mother first, and to my mother by going back to my stepmother after she died.
It was no wonder that Alice acted out in response to this domestic drama. As she got older and attempted, more and more dramatically, to capture her father’s attention, she alienated everyone in her immediate family.
Edith referred to her as a guttersnipe. One of Edith’s friends described her like a young wild animal that had been put into good clothes. Alice’s own half-sister, Ethel, said she was a hellion, …capable of doing almost anything to anyone at any time. When Alice was sent away, at age fourteen, to live with her aunt in New York because her family in Washington couldn’t stand her, Edith made sure Alice knew where she stood, remarking that Alice’s first letter home was so sweet, the family thought it must have been done by (your cousin) Helen.
Ultimately, I had little character-building to do at all. It was only left to me to construct the ghost that would bring these two cousins, similarly-rejected but with opposite personalities, together.
DIANNE K. SALERNI is the author of the The Eighth Day fantasy series and historical novels, The Caged Graves, a Junior Library Guild Selection, and We Hear the Dead. Her next book, The Roosevelt Ghosts, featuring young cousins Eleanor and Alice Roosevelt and a vengeful ghost, will be released in the fall of 2020 by Holiday House.
- The Roosevelt Ghosts (Holiday House) ~ coming Fall 2020
- The Eighth Day (HarperCollins) ~Minnesota Young Readers Award Nominee 2017-2018, Young Hoosiers Book Award Nominee 2017-2018, Virginia Readers Choice Nominee 2016-2017, Tome Society It List 2016-2017
- The Caged Graves (Clarion/HMH) ~Pennsylvania Young Readers Choice Nominee 2016-2017
- The Inquisitor’s Mark (HarperCollins)
- The Morrigan’s Curse (HarperCollins)
- We Hear the Dead (Sourcebooks)
Welcome to part three of an ongoing series of posts about how authors conduct research for their books. Today it is my pleasure to have ROSI HOLLINBECK talk about her research for an MG she is writing.
If you write historical fiction, you know research will be a big part of what you do if you are going to do it well. Research is actually one of the things I like best about writing historical fiction. It is so much fun to learn about everyday life in a particular period I haven’t experienced and to find fun bits of history to drop into my story and make it come to life. But where to begin and how to go about doing the research is the dilemma. All writers need to develop methods that will work for them and help them dig for the historical gold.
One thing editors never want to see in a bibliography is the word Wikipedia. After all, just about anyone can get into a Wikipedia article and add to it or change what is there, so they can be a bit unreliable. That said, Wikipedia is where I always begin. Not because I think I will be able to take facts from the articles and use them, but because when you scroll all the way to the end of the article, you will find a pretty comprehensive bibliography. That is the place to begin. Look through the list and find good adult books by respected authors, the more recent the better. I once wrote an article on spec for a children’s magazine for which I used a book that had been printed in the 1970s. I later heard the editor who had turned the article down speak to a group, and she complained that she had no articles on that particular topic in her inventory and really wanted some. I spoke to her after and mentioned I had sent such an article. She remembered it and told me the sources I had used were too old. The main source I had used was an excellent adult book with the same focus as the article. I hopped on line and found the author of that book had revised and published a much later edition. I polished up the article and listed the later edition. This time the editor took the article to acquisitions!
This doesn’t mean you should never look at older sources. I am working on something right now where I am using books published in the 1920s, but one is the published diaries of my subject and the other is a book written by the subject’s sister about her famous brother. Diaries, letters, and biographical writings by family members are terrific sources no matter how long ago they were published. Also, even though I said to look for good adult books, don’t overlook good children’s nonfiction books as they might well have good bibliographies that will lead you to other sources. If you use a book you don’t own, copy the title page, the copyright page, and every page on which you found pertinent information and file those.
Look for newspaper and magazine articles in the Wikipedia list. You can access most articles through on-line services where you can not only read the articles but print copies out for your records. It is a lot easier to go back to an article you have printed out and filed than to go back to the on-line service and look it up again. You want to keep records of every source you use. You will need to have that information when you try to sell your book or article. There are some good on-line services that are free. The Library of Congress: https://loc.gov/ is a good place to start. Some of the on-line services are quite expensive, but you will probably be able to access them through a library. My public library has some services I can use from home by putting in my card number. Some I have had to use at the library of a local university. Make friends with the librarians. They love to help people find things and will lead you to discover even more and better information.
Check the bibliographies of any source you use. These might lead you to better, more specific sources. If you run across a section in a book that is very specific to what you want, check the end notes to see where that author got their information.
If there are people still around from the time period about which you are writing, contact them and see if you can interview them. If your story is set in Medieval England, you are out of luck, but if your story is about surviving the Dustbowl in Oklahoma, you might just be able to talk to someone who did. Don’t be shy. Ask if you can chat about old times. Chances are you will find a real treasure. Make sure to ask if you can record your conversation. While you are talking to them, ask if they have any family diaries or letters that might help in your research. It never hurts to ask, and you never know what you will uncover.
Ask a college professor who specializes in the area of your subject or write to an author who has written about your subject. Most of these folks love to talk about their special subject and can fill you in with lots of information and lead you to other sources that will be helpful to you.
You can get some great sources cheaply. My historical novel is set in 1926. I was able to buy some helpful CDs on line. One is a 1925 Sears catalogue. Did you know Sears sold food? I was able to find out the prices clothing, food, hardware, tools, camping gear, etc. from that. My character is a boy scout and refers to his Boy Scout Manual many times. Since he is pretty poor, he doesn’t have a new one. I was able to get a 1914 scout manual on a CD for a few dollars. I bought a 1926 Farmer’s Almanac that even helped me get the phases of the moon correct in several scenes. And the 1925 Columbian Atlas I found on Amazon helped me get the routes of roads and trains right. If your character talks about the 1926 World Series, as mine does, you had better know who was in it, who won the games, and what the scores were. It’s all on line. Trust me. If you don’t get those details right, someone will complain!
There are many books available on the craft of writing and some have good sections on research. My go-to book when it comes to research is Anatomy of Nonfiction: Writing True Stories for Children by Margery Facklam and Peggy Thomas. It has two chapters on research that are chock full of great tips. It’s a very accessible book and will help you be a better writer whether you are writing fiction or nonfiction.
Don’t forget to get back to your writing! Sometimes I have so much fun doing the research that I get lost in Research Land and forget to work on my own writing for days and days.
Rosi Hollinbeck writes mostly for children — fiction, non-fiction, and poetry. Her work has been published in Highlights, Highlights High Five, and Humpty Dumpty magazines, The Noyo River Review, and some anthologies. She has a middle-grade historical novel, a contemporary YA novel, and some picture book manuscripts out on submission. She also writes book reviews specializing in children’s books for the San Francisco Book Review, the Manhattan Book Review, the Tulsa Book Review and for her own blog which you can find at https://rosihollinbeck.com/blog/.