I've proved I can write non-fiction, but how about that whole world of fiction out there?What would happen if...
I seem to need to reinvent myself every twenty years or so. Almost four years ago, I wrote here that I'd decided to try something new and was working on three possible historical fiction stories. I told my readers that I wasn't sure whether this would work out, but that the fun lies in the writing and in the finding out if this will be a new career path for me. Those of you have checked in periodically probably wondered what I was doing taking so long!
But I discovered that writing fiction is different from writing non-fiction and that it took some time to learn how to write in a character's voice instead of the neutral presentation of a historian! Having always preached to those who ask about writing that it is about persistence, I couldn't just give up. I persisted and now the first two of those fiction books are ready for you to read.
Published as Kindle books by amazon, you can read a selection there and decide whether it is worth the 99 cents each it will cost you to download them to your e-reader, computer or smartphone. I am excited about both Hannah's War and The Buckle and hope my readers will be too!
Book three is giving me more trouble, but what can you expect from a book which begins with a modern boy saying:
"I walked in the forum with Augustus Caesar today. We discussed the price of grain coming into the port at Ostia and whether something should be done to control the exorbitant cut being taken by the middlemen who arranged the unloading of the ships and the transport of the grain into the city. We stopped at the temple dedicated to his ancestors and Augustus, all humble and pious, made an offering to the gods. We separated before dinner as I felt I had taken up enough of his time.
I can't start the story this way, even though it is the truth. Everyone would say I had totally freaked. Okay how to make this all make sense. This story begins with my dad's assignment to spend three months in Rome--now there's a boring opening for what has turned into the weirdest experience in my 15 years of life. Scratch that one."
And his adventure only gets weirder from there!
My youngest son, Sean, likes to say that just once he would have liked us to go on a vacation where he didn't learn anything. That's a good place to start writing about myself--I am an intensely curious person and love the research part of being a non-fiction writer. In fact I often tell students when I visit schools that I would be happiest just doing the research!
I came to writing by way of genealogy so that tells you right away that I am interested in history. When my first child, Michael Patrick, was born in 1972, I started researching my family tree. When my daughter, Jennie, was born in 1975, I was offered a ninety-five year old christening dress that had first been worn by my great-grandmother. That dress kept me going on the genealogical research. And that research combined with a few other items, like a puppy, turned me into a writer.
I wrote my first book (or at least the first part of it) as part of a Children's Literature course I was taking at the University of Vermont as I worked on my Master's Degree in Education. With the book half written as the final project for the course (I did get an A!), I intended to put it aside. Except that we had this new puppy, named Darby. On weekday mornings everyone was willing to get up and play with Darby. On Saturdays and Sundays, however, it seemed that no one else could hear him crying for attention. So Darby and I developed a routine. I would get up and let him outside and then make coffee. Then he would come in and settle down in my lap while I worked on this manuscript until everyone else was ready to start the day.
It didn't take long to finish the book on these Saturday and Sunday mornings. The next job was to get it published and that took much longer. Many rejection letters later came the magic moment when I received my first acceptance letter. The book, Roots for Kids, was published in April 1989 and is still available in a reprint with Genealogical Publishing.
BECOMING AN AUTHOR
The same small press that had published Roots was trying to branch out into other children's books and that gave me the chance to write Cadets at War: The True Story of Teenage Heroism at the Battle of New Market, followed by Woman of Independence: The Life of Abigail Adams, Medical Practices in the Civil War and Mosby and his Rangers: Adventure of the Gray Ghost. But then Betterway was sold to a larger publisher that didn't want to continue publishing for young readers.
Right at the point where I was leaving my job as a school librarian, I lost my publisher, which was a good thing, because it made me move on to other publishers. My next two books came out with McElderry Books--To Hold this Ground: A Desperate Struggle at Gettysburg and Never Were Men So Brave: The Irish Brigade during the Civil War. To Hold this Ground earned me my first award, as an honor book for Maine's Lupine Award, and a New York Times review.
By now, writing history for middle and junior high students had become such a part of my life, that I could no longer imagine doing anything else! What has been wonderful over the years has been to be able to move into other areas of history that I love. Right now, for example, I am finishing research on a book about the Roman army, which will be the third of my 'soldiering' books. I am fortunate to still be able to select my own topics and to have worked now with a number of publishers.
Students sometimes ask how many more books I will write. I tell them that I have about twenty more topics that are in my current 'in research' file, but that even if I could get all those done, there are easily another fifty or so topics that I would really like to know more about that might or might not lead to books.
I suppose the real answer is that I will continue writing as long as there are stories that I think would be of interest to my readers. And given the fact that history has lost none of its fascination for me, I guess I'd better plan on writing for a long time to come!