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Posts Tagged ‘Smelly Kelly and his Super Senses’

Before I introduce today’s guest blogger, I want to apologize for my delay in choosing the winner of free access to all my webinars. I had to take some time off after the sudden death of my youngest brother. Because of the delay, I’ve decided to offer the giveaway prize to two faithful blog followers. Char Dixon and Tara Cerven. Congratulations and thank you for taking time to comment on my post. I’ll be in touch. 

kid-lit writing wisdom

Today, Beth Anderson shares her kid-lit writing wisdom gained from life and nonfiction writing experiences along with writing her latest picture book CLOAKED IN COURAGE: UNCOVERING DEBORAH SAMPSON, PATRIOT SOLDIER. Beth is also giving away a copy of CLOAKED IN COURAGE. To enter the drawing comment on this post, please state that you would like to be entered in the drawing, and please help Beth out by sharing the post link in social media.  The deadline for the drawing is February 20. A big thank you to Beth. And now for her . . .

Words of Wisdom

 

Digging Deep to Uncover Deborah Sampson

 By Beth Anderson

When Alayne asked if I’d do a Writing Wisdom post for CLOAKED IN COURAGE: UNCOVERING DEBORAH SAMPSON, PATRIOT SOLDIER, I was feeling terribly lacking in the wisdom department. But if wisdom is knowledge gleaned from life experience, no problem!  I learn more with every manuscript attempt, and I’m happy to share some of what this book taught me.

Beth's CLOAKED IN COURAGE Screen Shot 2022-10-20 at 4.51.42 PM

Deborah Sampson’s story is a lot about capableness. She was more capable than society expected, and I suspect early on she learned she was more capable than she thought. The strengths and self-knowledge she gained from life’s challenges pushed her forward, past fear, and into uncharted territory—serving as a man in the Continental Army!

Beth's CLOAKED IN COURAGE FINAL FC cover hi res copyYou can’t judge a book by its cover.

(Well, in the case of CLOAKED IN COURAGE, please do because the cover is amazing! 😊 )

But let’s take this in the sense of the character. Years back, I ran across Deborah Sampson and read just the basics. The story didn’t grab me. Though interesting, she came across as lacking integrity.

[In the meantime, I researched and wrote Tad Lincoln’s Restless Wriggle. At first look, he appeared to be a spoiled, undisciplined troublemaker of a child. What I learned from that manuscript led me back to Sampson.]

WISDOM TIP Dig for motivation, risk, and stakes.

In 2019, an article came out about a found diary that mentioned Sampson’s failed attempt at enlisting. This was intriguing. It made me think about motivation, risk, and stakes. I dug in. WHY would she do what she did? As always, it wasn’t as simple as it first appeared. Understanding her was impossible until I understood the risk. That cracked open the door to her character. And the driving question of the book became: What makes us who we are? And the more specific idea for Deborah that emerged was her ability to see possibility in challenges throughout her life.

Wisdom: Dig for motivation, risk, and stakes. (A lesson I need to revisit over and over!)

There are unexpected experts out there!

WISDOM TIP Dig for motivation, risk, and stakes. (3)Researching Sampson, I hit all the usuals – books, scholarly articles, Library of Congress, National Archives, museums, official records, historical societies, and local libraries. I was fortunate to find an expert through a historical society, and another expert on the war online. But with CLOAKED IN COURAGE, I had one different kind of source—a woman who does a historical interpretive performance of Deborah Sampson. (The connection came from a person I consulted when I researched REVOLUTIONARY PRUDENCE WRIGHT.) Judith Kalaora, founder of History At Play, was a tremendous resource. She answered many of my questions, and she shared resources I hadn’t encountered. All that took me deeper and wider. But it was her re-enactment of Sampson that helped bring this historical figure to life in my mind. Seeing the pieces of clothing and equipment involved, and hearing someone give voice to her affected me differently than text sources and reinvigorated my efforts.

Wisdom: Search past the usual sources; consider different modes of input. While print is indispensable, finding real live experts is huge.

Research widely into all aspects of setting.

This bit of wisdom has broadened and deepened with every manuscript. Setting is basically time and place, right? But if you think about it, there’s a lot to explore in a time and place, many factors that impact a person and events. I devoted a section to setting in the back matter piece “The Challenge of Being a History Detective” because so many aspects of setting affected motivation, stakes, and risk; as well as providing answers to questions like, “how did she manage to hide her gender in the close quarters of the Continental Army for seventeen months?”

Beth's CLOAKED IN COURAGE sampson young servant

The area that really opened up Sampson’s story was digging into media of the time. She was an avid reader, so…what would have been available to her? Gulliver’s Travels, Robinson Crusoe, Almanacs—ok, tales of adventure and information about the world could make her long for more than indentured servitude. Chapbooks, especially one called “The World Turned Upside Down”— cheap, readily available stories for common people show attitudes. And then…wait for it…varied versions of Joan of Arc’s story and Hannah Snell’s story—two women who dressed as men and held their own in a man’s world! Oh my! It turns out that ballads, poems, and stories of “warrior women” had been all the rage for a century! Eureka! Plenty of inspiration for young Deborah Sampson! That information was crucial because it allowed me to understand what she did in the context of her time.

If you’re interested in more on this, check out my blog post “Mining for Heart: Setting as a Window into Character” here: https://bethandersonwriter.com/2022/11/11/mining-for-heart-setting-a-window-into-character/

Wisdom: Research widely, into all aspects of setting—ten times wider than you think you need for the parameters of your story.

And lastly,

Patience!

WISDOM TIP Dig for motivation, risk, and stakes. (2)My initial draft of Sampson’s story was a dud, dead in the water. I didn’t know how to make it meaningful. So it sat a while. Then the pandemic hit. And anxiety. After a couple months, I knew I had to try to work on something, so I took it out again. I turned off the alerts on my computer and dug in again.  I reread my research, went wider and deeper. (That’s when I found Judith.) With more information and richer understanding, the story came together. It still took more than thirty revisions.

Wisdom: Hang in there and keep researching as you write. Like Deborah, you too can discover your capableness in the challenges!

About Beth

Beth Anderson hi res squareBeth Anderson, a former educator, has always marveled at the power of books. Driven by curiosity and a love for words, she writes untold tales, hoping to inspire kids to laugh, ponder, and question. She’s the award-winning author of CLOAKED IN COURAGE, FRANZ’S PHANTASMAGORICAL MACHINE, REVOLUTIONARY PRUDENCE WRIGHT, TAD LINCOLN’S RESTLESS WRIGGLE, “SMELLY” KELLY AND HIS SUPER SENSES, LIZZIE DEMANDS A SEAT!, and AN INCONVENIENT ALPHABET. Beth has more historical picture books on the way. To learn more about Beth and her books click here

 

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Untold stories will remain untold if we can only tell those with a complete historical record. (1)

A big thank you to Beth Anderson for sharing her wisdom with us. In this fabulous guest post, she walks us through how she found the theme and heart in two of her true-story picture books.

REVOLUTIONARY PRUDENCE WRIGHT (Illustrated by Susan Reagan 2/1/22) and FRANZ’S PHANTASMAGORICAL MACHINE (Illustrated by Caroline Hamel 5/3/22)

prudence and franz together

WRITING TRUE STORIES WITH THEME AND HEART

by Beth Anderson

One of the topics that Alayne wanted to explore on her blog is theme, the big universal ideas we find in stories. When I explore a person or event for a potential story, I look for themes that kids can relate to—themes are “connect-ers.” As I write, more emerge, and I need to choose my focus. For me, themes are the easy part. But it’s the “heart”—that golden nugget I’m after—that’s the hard part. It’s a unique angle, frame, or lens that filters the story through me to find special meaning. That’s the piece that will make my story different than someone else’s and resonate at the end for the reader.

With REVOLUTIONARY PRUDENCE WRIGHT (2/1/22) and FRANZ’S PHANTASMAGORICAL MACHINE (5/3/22), important themes naturally sprang from the stories as I researched. But with both, I had a problem. Limited information. And then the decision—do I abandon the story because I can’t verify or obtain all the details I need? This decision really rests on the potential “heart”—the thread that makes the story matter.

I discovered so much goodness with theme and character in both stories that I didn’t want to let them go. Untold stories will remain untold if we can only tell those with a complete historical record. I believe the heart is the vital part of any narrative, whether purely nonfiction or not. So if I can find a heart that rises above any missing details, I go after it and let the story be historical fiction. For me, what matters most is the story.

In REVOLUTIONARY PRUDENCE WRIGHT, I found a number of minor themes, but the most prominent theme is that of gender equality. You see it set up in the epigraph, before the story even starts.

These are the times that try men’s [and women’s] souls.”  – Thomas Paine

intro quote

That theme appears in the opening spread with Prudence as a child, expands when the women resist British rule with boycotts as weapons, and is reinforced by the women taking on the men’s work when they march off to Concord. Gender equality is also reflected in choices Susan Reagan, the illustrator, made. An early spread shows the men voting at the town meeting with a chorus of “Ayes,” and later, when Prudence rallies the women, we see their chorus of “Ayes.”

quilt min women

Though that theme is strong, it’s not the heart. My path to the heart started with examining “choices.” As I narrowed that idea, it moved toward rising above roles and breaking traditions to see possibility and one’s own capableness and agency. Personal independence requires throwing off confining expectations imposed by society—self-determination. I realized the most important take away from her story is, literally, the power of her story, a microcosm of the larger one of gaining independence. I’d seen that her story continues to inspire people today, despite the missing proofs. While passing down Prudence’s lantern makes me say “wow!” and contributes to the reality of her as a real person, it’s her story that makes that artifact significant and her story that carries forward her conviction and courage to empower others.

One look at the cover of FRANZ’S PHANTASMAGORICAL MACHINE tells you it’s a very different story than PRUDENCE’s. But actually, it’s another story that deals with seeing possibility. My immediate connection to Franz Gsellmann’s story was that I was also a child who loved to “tinker, putter, and build.” I wanted to see inside objects, create, and figure out how things worked. To this day, I can’t help but ask, “What’s going on in there?”—the question that echoes through the book.

The twin themes that carry FRANZ’S story are joy in creativity and the power of curiosity and wonder. Clearly, I love epigraphs, because this book has one, too, setting up theme.

The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science.”  -Albert Einstein

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FRANZ was one of my early stories on this writing journey, and I hadn’t learned about the importance of finding the unique heart, vital idea, so what?, or take-away when I started it. But somehow, a heart idea was lurking in my mind all along. I revised this story over several years as I learned more about craft. The heart thread emerged as a question, so appropriate for a story about curiosity.

In FRANZ’S story, I was fascinated by the intersection of science/technology and art. As all sorts of questions popped in my head, the heart of the story, the driving question, took shape. While I don’t want to provide any spoilers, I’ll share this much: Does a machine have to produce a physical object? Is the value of an effort or idea in fulfilling expectations?

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While themes are universals, the heart is personal. It’s the job of the writer to select one or two themes, and then to define and support them with word choices, imagery, and focus. Theme is not the same as “heart,” but the two ideas are connected. Each enhances the other. I see theme as up front and out there, and heart as more stealthy, blossoming at the end.

My first choice is to bring heart to a strictly nonfiction story. But if I can’t have both, I’ll let the uncertainty of a few details be explained in back matter and go for the heart. In my experience as a reader and a writer, all the verifiable details in the world can’t make up for a story without heart.

Beth Anderson hi res squareBeth Anderson, a former English as a Second Language teacher, has always marveled at the power of books. With linguistics and reading degrees, a fascination with language, and a penchant for untold tales, she strives for accidental learning in the midst of a great story. Beth lives in Loveland, Colorado where she laughs, ponders, and questions; and hopes to inspire kids to do the same. She’s the award-winning author of TAD LINCOLN’S RESTLESS WRIGGLE (10/2021), “SMELLY” KELLY AND HIS SUPER SENSES, LIZZIE DEMANDS A SEAT!, and AN INCONVENIENT ALPHABET. Beth has more historical gems on the way. Learn more about Beth at bethandersonwriter.com Signed copies of Beth’s books can be found here.

 

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