There’s an old Elton John song titled, Sorry Seems to be the Hardest Word. Well, I wonder if he’d mind if I changed the title to, Structure Seems to be the Hardest Word.
Structure is a lot like voice; it needs to be present, yet it must be invisible and unforced. Without it, the writing may fall down just like a kindergartner’s block tower.… more
At a meeting at the Dallas Public Library one day, a retired chief executive explained to me his vision for a permanent display on a soon-to-be-renovated floor honoring the men who built up the city’s downtown after World War II.
I looked at him skeptically. “What about the women?”
“There aren’t any,” he snapped back.… more
My book Pinocchio Rex and Other Tyrannosaurs, is chockful of text features, including this fun infographic:
The process of designing it began with a VERY rough sketch by me.
Let’s face the facts. My drawing skills leave a lot of be desired, but this sketch was enough to give the talented folks in the HarperCollins art department an idea of what I had in mind — a grouping of visual elements that work together to show that the tyrannosaur family lived on Earth for 100 million years, and while it’s final members were gigantic, fearsome predators, they’re earliest ancestors were about the same size as us.… more
I admit it. I am a history nerd.
Like all biographers, I am fascinated by the past. I love learning about the world of long ago: what people wore, what they ate, the jobs they had, the wars they fought. And nothing thrills me more when I am researching than to discover a firsthand account, a personal writing … a primary source.… more
“What’s it like to work with an editor?”is a question I often get from teachers, students, and aspiring authors and it’s one that takes some time to fully answer. In the best situations, an editor’s relationship to her author is like a coach’s relationship to an athlete: knowing her author’s personality, talent, and potential, she encourages her strengths, while tactfully pushing her toward improving on her weaknesses.… more
It’s mid-January, I have this Nonfictionary deadline, and all I can think about is President Trump’s latest vulgarity.
His recent word choice about certain countries jumped from my phone like an electrical charge, literally and physically jolting me backwards. For the rest of the day and beyond, my soul hurt and my spirit sagged.
But it was just a word.… more
Enter the freshman chemistry tutor dressed in torn jeans and a flannel shirt. His job? To get me through entry level chemistry at Iowa State University. My first college plan was to major in Hotel and Restaurant Management because my father owned a company that did business with these types of institutions. So, what the heck, I didn’t know what else to study so I declared that my major way back in the fall of 1977.… more
It is cold up here in the north country, so lately my thoughts have turned to creating a steaming pot of soup. For soup, you have to hit the highlights; the chicken, onions, a carrot or two. If you toss in too many ingredients, nothing will stand out and the result will be a muddled mess.… more
As a reporter and editor for decades, I often heard people accuse my colleagues and me of “bias,” of having a particular slant on a story — usually a point of view that the accuser disputed. It was a common charge, especially if the issue was controversial.
But in truth, reporters are no different than anyone else.… more
For me, writing nonfiction is a fun adventure. A game to play. A puzzle to solve. A challenge to overcome.
But many students don’t feel the same way. According to them, research is boring. Making a writing plan is a waste of time. And revision is more than frustrating. It’s downright painful.
Why do young writers have a point of view that’s so completely different from mine?… more
Don’t be alarmed by the ghoulishness of my title. Trying to resurrect the life of someone who turned to dust centuries ago is a challenge, especially if the person left behind no personal writings such as letters or diaries. But it can be done. In preparation for writing Samurai Rising: The Epic Life of Minamoto Yoshitsune, I read all the academic and primary sources I could find about late-twelfth-century Japan.… more
I long for the good ol’ days when everyone agreed that facts were true and fiction was make-believe and made-up facts were lies.
Several years ago, the disseminating of current events entered the truthiness zone — only to emerge in today’s surreal “alternate facts” parallel universe.
It is understandably difficult for many people — and especially young people — to know how to discern factual information from that which is merely purporting to be true.… more
Five Steps to a Successful Nonfiction Interview
I love flowers but no one would ever call my thumb green. Each spring however, I drag the pots to the front step, fill them with soil, plant red geraniums surrounded by marigolds, and water when nature forgets. And when the school buses rumble down the street, I am delighted to empty the pots for another season.… more
Teachers often feel frustrated when the revisions students make to their writing aren’t improvements. And so they ask me how to help the children make their manuscripts better.
I wish I had an easy answer for these teachers and for their students, but here’s the truth: Revision is messy. It’s fraught with detours. Even experienced writers struggle with the process, and sometimes our efforts are complete and utter failures.… more