Welcome to my book blog, Blissfully Bookish. For this Q & A, please welcome author an award winning author I admire greatly for her skilled NF writing, Patrician Newman. Read below to see her journey creating Planet Ocean, middle grade NF, with the lovely photographs of Annie Crawley, published by Millbrook Press/Lerner Publishing.
BUT first- YAY! Patricia is generously giving away a free manuscript critique (max. 10 pages) or a 20-minute virtual school visit. All you have to do is comment on this blog post. Contest ends March 19, 2021.
Please describe the journey to publication for Planet Ocean.
I first met Annie via telephone in 2010 or 2011. I had cold-called her to see if she’d like to be the photographer for a book I was proposing called Plastic, Ahoy! Annnie had been on the ship with the scientists and had the only photos available. She was thrilled someone else wanted to “talk trash” and jumped at the opportunity. We became friends and looked for other opportunities to work together.
In 2016, Annie and I were driving through a Colorado blizzard to visit a black-footed ferret conservation center that we featured in Zoo Scientists to the Rescue. During the long drive, we began discussing our next book – because well, I guess we’re over achievers. Annie’s underwater photography and her advocacy for the ocean seemed a natural fit for an ocean book.
While the ocean book idea percolated, I researched and wrote Eavesdropping on Elephants. And finally, in 2018 the timing was right to begin working together again. In November 2018, we submitted a proposal to Carol Hinz at Millbrook Press who had published our Plastic, Ahoy! and Zoo Scientists to the Rescue collaborations. By February 2019, we had an offer.
Then the fun began. I traveled to Annie’s hometown in Seattle where we interviewed several people for our Salish Sea chapter. Annie traveled to Indonesia and Utquiaġvik, Alaska for the Coral Triangle and Arctic chapters. In between trips, I interviewed Annie. We shared information via email, Dropbox, Google Drive, Facebook, text message, and phone.
In the meantime, I wrote. Fast and furiously. Our contract stipulated a September 2019 manuscript delivery deadline. While Carol and I revised the text, Annie and I began work on the videos for the QR codes. I wrote drafts of the scripts and Annie narrated and produced the videos.
When COVID-19 pushed our fall 2020 release date to spring 2021, we took the extra time to meticulously select photos for every page of Planet Ocean – even the QR code icons. Millbrook Press finalized the layout and sent the book to the printer in late 2020.
Throughout every step, Annie and I worked as a team, sharing ideas and more than a few laughs. Planet Ocean is our heart book.
Where did you draw the book’s inspiration?
Our ocean itself. The ocean makes me happy and I have several ocean memories that helped fuel this project. Scientists are just beginning to understand that the ocean soothes us and boosts our creativity.
Annie Crawley was another inspiration. She feels at home underwater and has gathered a staggering amount of ocean knowledge on her expeditions with scientists and explorers.
What is your writing process, and does it vary depending on the project?
I wouldn’t wish my process on anyone. It’s messy, especially at the beginning. I agonize throughout the first draft but find my stride during revision. Usually, I stop tinkering when Carol says the book must go to the printer.
Please paste a short and compelling excerpt from your book.
For the Salish Sea chapter of Planet Ocean, Annie and I interviewed Dana Wilson, a Lummi elder fisherman. I love this passage because it shows Dana’s deep connection to the sea.
While science marches on, members of the Lummi Nation mourn the lack of salmon. For centuries these Coast Salish people have called themselves the Salmon People because of their dependence on salmon fishing.
“We lived our lives around salmon,” says Dana. “We migrated with them. Salmon are who we are—our economy, our trade, our songs and dances. It’s how we always sustained ourselves.” According to Lummi culture, the salmon’s migration symbolizes the struggle that makes life worthwhile. The annual Lummi salmon ceremony used to give thanks for the abundance of salmon.
“At the ceremony I attended,” Annie says, “the Lummi prayed for the salmon’s return. For the first time in his life, Dana is not fishing for salmon because not enough of them are returning.”
How can aspiring NF writers make their writing more trade oriented and engage writers on a universal level?
Nonfiction writing is more than just the facts. Successful nonfiction authors start every project with a personal connection that comes from the heart. For narrative nonfiction, we tell stories that connect readers to their world in ways that resonate with them. You have only to read Planet Ocean to discover how invested Annie and I are with the ocean’s story as our story.
In expository nonfiction, we organize facts according to some unifying focus unique to us. For an example, Melissa Stewart’s Pipsqueaks, Slowpokes, and Stinkers: Celebrating Animal Underdogs morphed into an anti-bullying book. In a blog post Melissa says, “I’d have to revisit some painful parts of my childhood” to write this book.
I suggest budding nonfiction authors read Nonfiction Writers Dig Deep for inspiration. The book, edited by Melissa, features craft essays from fifty award-winning nonfiction authors.
Where do you see your career headed? Do you have other WIPs or projects in the pipeline you would like to mention?
Plastic, Ahoy! was my first foray into environmental nonfiction for children, and I think I’m going to say here. There are so many stories left to tell.
My next book releases in the fall of 2022. Illustrated by the talented Natasha Donovan, it tells a happy conservation story about a river.
Please share your favorite books that have inspired you and served as mentor texts.
I always have trouble with this question because I love so many books. Most recently, I used Jason Chin’s Grand Canyon and Ashley Spire’s The Most Magnificent Thing as mentor texts for two different projects I’m working on.
What is the best (one) piece of advice you would give to other writers?
Find a personal connection to your writing project. Your prose will be richer, and ideas will flow from your heart.
Patricia Newman’s books show young readers how their actions can ripple around the world. Using social and environmental injustice as inspiration, she empowers young readers to seek connections to the real world and to use their imaginations to act on behalf of their communities. A Robert F. Sibert Honor recipient, Patricia’s books have received starred reviews, ALA Notable recognition, Green Earth Book Awards, an Outstanding Science Trade Book Award, a Parents’ Choice Award; been honored as Junior Library Guild selections; and been included on Bank Street College’s Best Books lists.
One Texas librarian recently wrote, “Patricia is one of THE BEST nonfiction authors writing for our students in today’s market, and one of our MUST HAVE AUTHORS for every collection.”
Patricia frequently speaks at schools and conferences to share how children of any age can affect change. Her presentations are described as “phenomenal,” “fantastic,” “mesmerizing,” “passionate,” and “inspirational.”
Link to a 4-min video Patricia and Annie made about why your library needs Planet Ocean: https://youtu.be/OWMoEcABvL0
Support independent booksellers and buy Planet Ocean at Bookshop.org.
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