Saturday, November 7, 2020

Authors Panel: Nonfiction Writing as a Personal "Journey"

Moderated by Melissa Stewart, the panelists for this session are Sarah Albee, Lesa Cline-Ransome, Laura Purdie Salas, and Paula Yoo.

top row, left to right: SCBWI's Lin Oliver who introduces the panel, interpreter LynneKelly, Laura Purdie Salas
middle row, left to right: Lesa Cline-Ransome, panel moderator Melissa Stewart, and Sarah Albee
lower row: Paula Yoo

Lin explains that the panelists were pulled from the soon-to-be-published anthology of 50 nonfiction authors* that was edited by Melissa Stewart, Nonfiction Writers Dig Deep: 50 Award-Winning Children’s Book Authors Share the Secret of Engaging Writing

Melissa starts out by saying that the panel is really "about the heart and soul of nonfiction writing."

Explaining the inspiration behind the book (and the panel), Melissa speaks of the moment she, Candace Fleming, and Deborah Heiligman were on a panel discussing what makes nonfiction engaging, and the insight that "Each of our books has a piece of our heart at its core."

Some highlights from the panelists:

Sarah Albee

Sarah talks about how her book topics are all over the map, and looking for the thread through her books like "Poison" and "Why'd They Wear That?" She tells us that social history is what fascinates her. "The history of ordinary people."

"I like to write about how stuff works."

Sarah says, "My brain goes straight from the plot line, like Juliet drinking the poison, to knowing how poison works on a molecular level."

Lesa Cline-Ransome

Lesa speaks of writing the missing pieces of history, growing up as one of the only African American families in her town and not getting the history. She considers the disservice this does, not just for the young woman she was, but for the white students who also missed that history. 

"I'm looking for ways to uncover parts of my subjects lives that reveal not just what they are, their accomplishments... but who they are."
She tells us about her "outside-in" research method, trying to gain an understanding of what happened outside of her subject's early years that played a role and would have affected their life choices. One example is that Lesa reads newspaper headlines from the time and place of her subjects' young lives.

Lesa uses examples from her own work, including "The Power of Her Pen: The Story of Groundbreaking Journalist Ethel L. Payne" and "Game Changers: The Story of Venus and Serena Williams" 

Lesa's advice: "I don't think anyone wants to read about perfect, flawless human beings."

Laura Purdie Salas

"I had a pretty unhappy childhood...feeling never good enough." It gave her the motivation to appreciate the little things. "I look at a lot of ordinary, every day things in my books, and try to share with my readers the awe and wonder of them." 

Like in her books, "A Leaf Can Be" and "If You Were The Moon."

Laura's advice: "Don't just focus on the facts... get your personal connection to a topic in there from the very start."

Paula Yoo

Paula tells us of starting writing in Kindergarten and getting her first rejection at age 5! With a masters in journalism, she wrote fiction and kept getting rejected until she wrote a YA novel based on her life, "Good Enough." Up until that book, she'd been writing from the POV of a white man or white woman. This was her epiphany, "Wait. My voice does matter."

This lead to her writing "Sixteen Years in Sixteen Seconds: The Sammy Lee Story," her first published picture book biography.

Paula tells us her motivation: "My Asian American education has been me on the internet. This is stuff that should have been taught in school."

She shares more about her own work, including her latest, "From a Whisper to a Rallying Cry: The Killing of Vincent Chin and the Trial that Galvanized the Asian American Movement."


*Full disclosure: I'm one of the fifty authors!

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