Candace Fleming writes nonfiction and fiction (more than 40 books!). Most of her nonfiction is historical YA, but she has recently taking a foray into science picture book nonfiction.
How is writing nonfiction different from writing fiction?
Candace says, "I always think of everything I write in terms of cake. As a writer it's my job to create a cake that all of you want to gobble up in three minutes. When I write fiction I get to buy all the ingredients I want to put in a cake that I pick out myself, like coconut and chocolate chips and maple syrup. When I write nonfiction the goal is exactly the same, but I didn't get to go to the grocery store, I have to use the ingredients my partner Eric brings home, like flax seed and pepto bismol, and find a way to make that into a gobble-able cake."
The biggest part of nonfiction is figuring out how to take all the research you do and turn it into a compelling story for readers. Candace says you do three years of research and travel, if you can, because it's the amount of research that determines the variety of ingredients available to your 'cake'.
"You don't want me to tell you everything I learned in three years, you want me to tell you a story. And it's a story the way I see it. [Anyone up here on this panel] could take that same research and make a completely different book."
How do you pick your stories?
"... My book needs a Vital Idea. I'm not going to write this book just because it's a cool piece of history, there has to be something more, something bigger, something that connects to readers."
"The vital idea of the giant squid book is mystery. We know more about dinosaurs than we do about giant squid yet there are still 100,000 of them swimming around us today."
"When I know the vital idea, then I know what's going to go into my book. Only after I do enough research do I know what my story is truly about."
"I xerox everything, I tab everything I research for three years, that whole time I'm searching for my vital idea." And with that vital idea figured out finally, Candace will go back and re-review this research with vital idea goggles on. She tells us she has 60 pages of research on faberge eggs, but you won't find one mention of those eggs in her Romanov book.
What's Candace working on now?
"I'm in the throes of a book I'm working on, a biography on Charles Lindbergh. We think about him as being the first to conquer transatlantic flight, but he had a secret research facility about wanting to conquer death, to replace organs like you replace airplane parts..."
And Charles Lindbergh was America First, he wanted us to join the Nazis, he was on the board of the eugenics society until 1974 at his death and just recently we discovered he had three other families in Germany! Candace thinks a lot of where we are in America today politically and racially was propogated from exactly the sort of mindset and culture that a person like Lindbergh represented.