Today, I’m kicking off a series of blog posts that will introduce you to some of the amazing young people who are profiled in my upcoming book, BE A CHANGEMAKER: HOW TO START SOMETHING THAT MATTERS (Beyond Words/Simon Pulse, September 2014). Each of the 18 chapters in the book includes a short piece about how one or more young people changed the world and their experiences with the chapter topic, in particular. I was able to interview most of them in person, via Skype, by phone, or by email, and I have so much more great stuff about them than would fit in the book–sort of like out-takes, only better! I hope you’ll enjoy “meeting” them here and reading more about them and their work.
Being today is Earth Day, it seemed only fitting that I start with Charles Orgbon III. Charles is a 17-year-old from Atlanta, GA. His passions are protecting the environment and empowering youth, and he’s been combining the two with ever-increasing success for the last five years.
I had such a great time talking to Charles on the phone, and I feel blessed that we’ve stayed in contact since. Charles is not only generous and communicative, but also well-read: anyone who can accurately quote both Ghandi and Stephen Covey in a one-hour, off-the-cuff phone interview is a winner in my book!
Charles’ journey started when he was 12 years old and needed to complete a service requirement for his middle school. He noticed there was a problem with litter on the campus, so he picked it up. Soon, he began recruiting other students to join him in what he called the Earth Savers’ Club. That grew, too, and soon Charles wanted to empower other students in other schools in other cities around the world to do the same thing he had. Eventually, he launched a website to share his experiences. Today, that organization has become GreeningForward.org, whose mission is “to establish, engage, and empower a diverse global green movement powered by young people.”
One of my favorite quotes from Charles (that didn’t make it into the book) is one that I think everyone can benefit from at times:
“Sometimes you just have to accept ‘I’m lost,’ because that’s what reminds you where you came from in the first place.”
Charles will graduate from high school this summer and head off to the University of Georgia. I wish him the best, and I can’t wait to see what he’ll accomplish next!
I hope you’ll join me in wishing Charles–and all of his friends at Greening Forward–a very happy Earth Day!
If you’d like to read more about Charles and other young people like him who are putting their passions into action to make a positive difference in the world, please pre-order the book at Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, IndieBound, Powell’s, or Beyond Words, or Secret Garden Books. Ordering from Secret Garden Books can get you a signed copy if you allow an extra week or two for delivery and indicate how you’d like it personalized in the “other notes about your order” field.
I have a confession to make. Normally I read every book before I post about it here, but–just this once–I was going to cheat. As much as I’ve been dying to read PURE GRIT by Mary Cronk Farrell, my to-do list is huge right now: writing new books (I’m currently working on EIGHT separate manuscripts and/or proposals!), promoting BE A CHANGEMAKER, volunteer projects (SCBWI Western Washington conference anyone? There are still a few spaces!), critiques (three full-length novels await!), family, pets, home… and let’s not forget, TAXES! To top it off, I was still recovering from the flu when I came down with this most recent cold. I’m months behind on a few things, with many other deadlines looming dead ahead. So, I sat down planning to just skim it for the time being, write the post, and come back later when I had time to settle in, read it in more detail, and take it all in.
Several hours later, I was surprised to notice the time! I hadn’t checked Twitter or Facebook or even email all day, despite the “helpful” little alerts coming from my phone. I hadn’t even eaten lunch. Instead, I’d spent the better part of the day reading PURE GRIT, in detail, from cover to cover. I simply could. not. put. it. down. An engrossing blend of fact and storytelling, PURE GRIT tells the harrowing tale of U.S. Army and Navy nurses who endured first battle, then internment in the Philippines during WWII. Despite increasingly deplorable conditions, these female POWs continued to help others during their years in the prison camps. Amazingly, every single one of them eventually made it home alive.
I urge you all to devote an afternoon to reading this beautifully done book ASAP, but first, I’m delighted to introduce you to the author, Mary Cronk Farrell, who graciously agreed to answer a few questions for me.
LT: Welcome, Mary! Wow, what a powerful book. I learned some valuable lessons and insights from reading it. Other than the facts involved, what did you learn from the process of writing this book?
MCF: This book taught me a number of things. First, do not attempt a huge project like this unless you have a tremendous amount of passion for it. Something has to carry you through to the end and beyond. Something has to keep you going when you are crying at the keyboard. I could not have done it had I not been so deeply inspired by the courage, compassion and resilience of these women.
MCF: I also learned how important it is to write a good proposal for a non-fiction book. From the beginning I wanted to tell the story as simply as I could because I thought it would be most powerful that way. The key was hammering out the narrative arc while putting together the proposal. That was very intense, but once I had that down, the rest was just a matter of putting down one bit of the story after another. My first draft came in too long. My editor told me to cut it in half! I think I managed to cut a bit more than one third.
LT: I am blown away by the amount of research you must have had to do for this book. How did you manage it all? What kind of system do you have? Did it evolve over the course of the project?
MCF: Ha! That is a great question! I would not call it an organizational system at all. And I wish I could say that it evolved into something better over the course of the project. I can only hope that my system will evolve into something better for my next book.
MCF: I used a lot of books for my research. As I read through them I attached sticky notes to the pages where I found a detail I might want to use. Some books had scores, maybe hundreds, several to a page. Later I went back and scratched an identifying word on some of the sticky notes so I could find subjects more quickly. Then I had pages of interview and research notes on my computer, including a lot of links to information I found online. Pages listing people and organizations that I had talked to or hoped to talk to, or thought I probably should talk to. Then pages of people I was trying to locate and whatever information I had found or ruled out. Then there was the file box of articles from inter-library loan, pages copied from books from inter-library loan, notes in pencil from the National Archives, as well as photos and documents copied from the National Archives. And I must mention the notes scribbled on pieces of paper that happened to be handy when the phone rang. Then there were the e-mails…tons of e-mails, some going back five years. I kept them all to try and remember who I had talked to about what aspect of the story. Many were dead ends, but I wanted a record of whom I had contacted and about what. Probably the most amazing thing about this book is that I managed to get it into any semblance of order from the chaos of my research!
LT: Ha! That sounds frighteningly similar to my process. Did you do all the photo research for the book too? Can you tell me about that part of the process?
MCF: The photo research was like a treasure hunt. I wanted to use unusual photos which either had never been published, or had only rarely been published. Whenever I interviewed someone, one of the first questions was—Do you have any photos of the nurses? When I started the project in 2007 there were a few photos from this time-frame in the Philippines on the internet. Each year I found more collections of photos had been uploaded. I found a lot of photos through Google image search, and many in the LIFE/Getty archives. I found other photos at the National Archives and many through personal collections and museums such as the MacArthur Memorial Museum. When I submitted the final manuscript, I submitted over 300 photographs, and I feared my editor would have a heart attack when he got them. But then he had suggestions for other photos which might add to the story and eventually, I submitted about 400 total. The final book features about 100, including maps.
MCF: Because PURE GRIT unfolds in the early 1940s, the most difficult aspect of the photo research was finding photos of size and resolution suitable for publication. It broke my heart that one photo of a child the nurses cared for in the camp hospital could not be used because I couldn’t get a high-resolution copy. One wonderful surprise came after I turned in the first draft of the manuscript when I discovered film of the nurses in captivity that had been shot by the Japanese. I was able to take a couple still photos from this film and include them in the book.
LT: What was the hardest part of the research and/or writing for you? How did you deal with that?
MCF: The hardest part for me was immersing myself in the details of war and POW camp conditions, the brutality, the suffering, the loss of so many, many, many lives. Sometimes I broke down in tears in the middle of writing. What helped me get through it was my conviction to tell the story honestly, and knowing I couldn’t do that if I were to sugarcoat it for myself. I called to mind something I heard Libba Bray say at a conference. “Don’t be afraid to go to the dark places…a book should cost you something to write.”
LT: That’s great advice, and it’s something I try to remind myself while I’m writing, too.
LT: I’ve always said that I will know I’ve made it when I receive one letter from one child saying that something I wrote made a positive difference in his or her life. How do you define success?
MCF: For this particular project, my goal was to portray the POW nurses as honestly and accurately as possible and honor them for their service, sacrifice and, well, their pure grit. And I wanted to write their story in such a way that people would be drawn to it and want to read it.
LT: Do you feel like you’ve achieved it?
MCF: When I began hearing from the relatives of the nurses I’d interviewed for the book, and other sources close to the topic, I knew I had succeeded in my first aim. They are happy with the book and supporting it fully. Judging by the comments I’m getting from readers, I have succeeded in the second as well. I’m truly grateful for the many people who generously shared their stories and their knowledge so that I could write PURE GRIT, and also to those family members and friends who supported me through the long and arduous process. I could not have done it without them.
LT: Well, I’d say you succeeded. I was certainly drawn to it! And the last sentence of the book, right after you explain how the nurses got through all of the hardships by simply continuing day-to-day and helping others around them, will stick with me for a long time: “This may be the deceptively facile recipe for courage, and possibly it is even evidence that each of us carries the capacity for such grit, should it be demanded of us.”
LT: I hope it isn’t demanded of us, but if it is, I sincerely hope you’re right about possessing it. Thank you so much, Mary!
(This review is based on a copy I purchased at my local indie bookstore for my own home library.)
[Note: This was originally published on Emu's Debuts, but it seemed to resonate with people, so I decided to reblog it here in case you missed it. Sorry if you're seeing it twice!]
Lately, I’ve become somewhat obsessed with the idea of cycles in our lives. Cycles in nature—life cycles, the water cycle, seasons, etc.—keep our physical world in balance. Man-made cycles keep the government running (usually), prevent mechanical failures and medical mistakes (hopefully), even wash our clothes and dishes for us. If you’re an author, you’re probably familiar with the creativity cycle (see below). And as I’ve mentioned before, one of my all-time favorite Emu’s Debuts post was Melanie Crowder’s The Run/Rest Cycle, about sustaining balance as a writer. As creative types, we often have some leeway about how we choose to spend our time each day, so having a cycle in mind can help us manage our activities and maintain balance in our personal and professional lives.
One cycle I’ve personally followed for a long time is a year-end review plus goal-setting and planning for the upcoming year. It’s not so much a resolution as a chance to reflect on what I’ve accomplished in the last year, what I hope to achieve in the coming year, and how I plan to make it happen. I don’t necessarily follow this plan, or even look at it throughout the year (cough, cough), but I feel like the act of pausing to reflect on the past combined with setting goals for the future helps me feel more centered and guides my intentions.
This year, though, as I tried to plan for 2014, I got a little stuck trying to figure out how to balance the creative cycle, the production cycle (draft, revise as necessary, submit!), and all of the marketing tasks that a debut author ought to be thinking about (make swag! give talks! do blog tours! press releases! curriculum guides! all the things! and more!). Can I be creative AND treat this as a business? Can I keep working on new projects while promoting the books that are coming out? Can I do either of those activities justice if I’m also doing the other? It was starting to make me feel like I’d need to develop a dual personality (or perhaps create a clone) to even survive the coming year, let alone achieve my goals for it.
When I brought up this dilemma to another creative friend of mine, he mentioned how a co-worker of his seems to cycle through various types of activities, choosing one for a given day and focusing on just that particular activity. Apparently, the co-worker knows he can get a little obsessive about things sometimes, so to maintain balance he consciously cycles between days filled with either programming, researching, or interacting with colleagues, all of which are necessary to his position.
I’ve been thinking about how this might apply to me, and I think I’ve formed some guidelines for a sort of cycle:
Create—I must keep making new things, or my career will stall. And let’s not even talk about how grumpy and depressed I’ll become if I don’t have a new project to think about!
Consume—I want to read more, observe more, experience more. These are the things that feed our souls, and our art. Yes, consuming other people’s creativity feels like leisure time, but it should still be built into our daily routines in a conscious and thoughtful way.
Connect—I need to dedicate time to interact with readers, writers, friends, and family. Despite the fact that I’m an extreme introvert, I crave connection. It keeps me sane, and at the same time is the key to successfully promoting my work in the world.
So, how to work that into an actual “plan” for the year ahead? I’m still not entirely sure. I probably can’t commit to doing each of the three pieces every day. Maybe making sure they each get their due at least once per week will work for me. Or, maybe just asking myself, “Which of the three have I been neglecting lately?” whenever I am deciding what to work on next. My main goal for the year will be trying to find a system that reliably incorporates all three.
In any case, being aware of the need for dedicating time to creating, consuming, and connecting seems like a good place to start. With three upcoming releases to look forward to, this year is bound to be more heavily focused on connecting than on creating and consuming, so the challenge will be to make sure to include the other two whenever possible and not be exclusively focused on promotion.
In case any of you are wondering, I thought I’d conclude with a few of my favorite questions to ask myself at this time of year:
What were my goals and plans for this past year?
What did I actually accomplish? (Note: I usually can’t say I did all—or even most—of the things from the answer to the first question, but answering this question always makes me feel better, because I realize that even though I didn’t necessarily achieve my initial goals, I did do a lot of good stuff instead!)
What did I learn this year?
What do I most want to learn next year?
How will I go about doing that?
What are my goals and plans for next year?
What one word can I use as my theme for the coming year?
Do any of you do any kind of year-end self-review or forward-looking career planning? What do your processes look like? What tricks have you discovered for balancing life, creativity, and business? Are you aware of any cycles that help you things in balance? I’d love to hear your thoughts!
FYI, the Emus are taking a little holiday hiatus, so this will be the last post of 2013. Season’s greetings to all, and a happy new year! See you in 2014.
I haven’t posted here for way too long, but 2013 turned out to be quite a year. I did manage to squeeze in a few posts over at Emu’s Debuts, so I thought I’d share them here as a sort of roundup (and to partially explain where I’ve been since the last post)…
In July, I had the amazing experience of attending my second Erin Murphy Literary Agency client retreat, this time in Big Sky Montana. Words can’t really describe how wonderful these retreats are, but I posted a bit about it here.
Aside from that trip, I spent the summer writing, researching, writing, interviewing, writing, revising, writing, revising, revising, and revising to deliver the final manuscript for BE A CHANGEMAKER. I wrote a bit about the process here.
Despite the mad race to the finish line, I feel really good about how it all came together. And here‘s a post about how it felt to get to THE END.
Then there was the dreaded author photo, which actually turned out to be sort of fun (and decent enough to share with the world, thank goodness!).
Other news and highlights from the year?
I got to see an early study for a scene from the picture-book biography of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah, illustrated by Sean Qualls.
The above book also FINALLY has a title, EMMANUEL’S DREAM!
I also got to see preliminary sketches for MY DOG IS THE BEST (sorry, I can’t share them here, but Paul Schmid‘s illustrations are ADORABLE!).
I finished another fiction picture book manuscript and it will soon be going out on submission (fingers crossed!).
As most of you know, I’m under a pressing deadline to deliver the completed manuscript for CHANGEMAKERS by August 1st. I have three chapters left to write, plus a plethora of bits and pieces scattered about and piles of notes to myself about things I still want to go back and fix… and only three weeks left to wrap everything up. So, what did I spend my day doing today? Making a new email subscription campaign, of course. (Gah! What?)
My brain seems to like having a burst of writing activity one day, followed by a burst of something–anything–else the next. I had an extremely productive day yesterday, so I pretty much accepted that today was going to be spent revising, tightening, expanding, twiddling, etc. Since I wasn’t in “flow” today, there was time for doing the dishes, putting away laundry, and catching up on some web browsing.
I happened to come across this article about the 10 biggest Internet marketing mistakes made by artists and creatives. I’ve been wanting to set up more of a newsletter for my email subscribers for a while now, so I’d already done some research on it and was planning on switching to using MailChimp instead of Feedburner… someday. Well, Mark’s article spurred me into action today. After all, I’m a tech savvy gal… how hard could it be, right?
Well, it took longer than I thought it would to get all the pieces to fit together (a few hours), but I think I have everything all converted now. I think it looks more professional and it certainly gives me more options, so although my timing might not have been ideal, I think it was worth it. If you were subscribed to my old Feedburner feed, I’ve moved you to the new MailChimp one. I hope you’ll like it better, but you can always unsubscribe if you’re not happy with it (MailChimp makes it easy for you!). From now on, any new subscriptions will go straight to the MailChimp list. (If you’d like to subscribe, just look for the MailChimp subscription form on the right-hand column just below my bio.)
Please let me know what you think! And, of course, let me know if you see any problems. Note that I might not fix them until August, though. After all, that deadline is still looming!
and this went up on the Erin Murphy Literary Agency’s news page this morning:
Yes, she’s a busy and multi-talented lady, that Laurie Thompson! Her first book was acquired last summer by Schwartz & Wade, a picture book biography of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah, which is being illustrated by Sean Qualls. Then just a few months ago saw a second deal for a teen handbook of social entrepreneurship, which is due out from Beyond Words/Simon Pulse in Fall 2014, and which Laurie is busily writing and researching as we speak.
But that’s not at all! This week I am thrilled to announce a brand new deal, for Laurie Thompson’s adorable picture book MY DOG IS THE BEST: a little boy’s effusive praise of his best friend and all the amazing feats that dog can do (while sleeping on the couch). It’s sweet and warm and guaranteed to make you smile. Even better, an illustrator has already been attached to the project, the talented Paul Schmid!
MY DOG IS THE BEST was acquired by Janine O’Malley at FSG, and it’s going to make a giant picture book splash for sure. Huge congratulations, Laurie!
Wow, have I neglected this blog in recent weeks (okay, months), or what? I’ve been feverishly focusing on knocking out the CHANGEMAKERS book, which also meant I was feverishly focusing on finding a method to the madness of knocking out the CHANGEMAKERS book. I wrote a bit about my struggles over on the Emu’s Debuts blog.
Thanks to the support of my fellow EMu’s following that post, I’ve since hit a pretty good stride and am feeling much more comfortable about my ability to finish the book without letting it kill me. I’ve got a dandy collection of spreadsheets to track my progress by word count, by chapter, and by research. I’ve got some reward systems in place (i.e. Lindt’s A Touch of Sea Salt bars).
So, things are flowing much more smoothly now with the writing part, and I am thrilled that the interviews are rolling in as well. I can’t wait to share what some of the stories about what these venture teams are doing! I’ve known I wanted to write this book for years, but now that I am actually doing it, I’m having even more fun than I thought I would. Hearing these teenagers talk about their ideas, their goals, their success stories: WOW! It is so inspiring, and on so many different levels. Whenever I start to think maybe I can’t do this, that this book is too ambitious or the deadline is too short, I just think about what some of them have done. If they are changing the world at the age of 18, or 15, or 10, surely I can write one little book, right? And if my little book can help just one more teen pull off even a tiny fraction of what these kids are already accomplishing, then I know all of my efforts will have been worth it.
After the book is done, I hope I will be able to share with you here some snippets of the interviews and outtakes from the profiles I’m working on, because these young people will blow you away, and in the best possible kind of way. I hope my readers will be as affected by learning about these teens’ ventures as I have been.
When we watch the TV news or read the newspaper headlines, it’s easy to get discouraged about the state of the world. But writing this book is the complete opposite experience. It’s hard to get discouraged about where the world is heading when there are so many young people like the ones I am writing about out there.
And now, back to work! Please forgive me if I’m a little quiet for the next few months.
Although we recently spent a week in Disneyland, last week was definitely the bigger roller coaster ride for me: I had surgery on Tuesday, then my second book deal was announced on Thursday! There’s nothing like good publishing news to cheer up a writer who is feeling down, and nothing like a book selling on proposal–with a short deadline–to make her want to recover as quickly as possible.
And here’s the fabulous write-up my amazing agent put up on the agency website:
Quick show of hands: Who here has ever dreamed of changing the world? Okay, now one more: Who’s actually sat down and put together a specific plan for changing the world, complete with guidelines, practical tips, and hands-on experience from those who have gone before and actually done it?
Let me introduce you to Laurie Thompson. Last year, Laurie’s first picture book was signed on by Schwartz & Wade. This week, Laurie has accepted a publication offer for her newest book, a non-fiction manual for teens and preteens, tentatively titled CHANGEMAKERS. Focusing on the experiences of teens and young people who have made a concrete difference in their own neighborhoods, countries, and across the world, CHANGEMAKERS will be the definitive guide for kids who want to make a difference but don’t know how to get started. And I have a feeling the rest of us non-kids will enjoy it too!
This book was enthusiastically signed on by Nicole Geiger at Beyond Words Publishing/Simon Pulse, and is slated for publication in Fall 2014. Huge congratulations, Laurie!
Even though this is my second book deal, it looks like it will actually be my publishing debut. My first book, a picture book, isn’t scheduled to launch until spring 2015, but this one is scheduled to come out in fall 2014. Since this one sold on proposal, however, I have a lot of work to do in a short amount of time if that is going to happen. So, please forgive me if I’m even quieter than usual for the next few months. As soon as I am recovered enough, I’ll be back on my treadmill pounding out words!
Did you (or any children in your life) ever wonder how soap works, why onions make you cry, or how bad it is for you to breathe in hairspray? 11-year-old Alexa Coelho did, so she pulled together these and almost 200 other questions about her favorite subject, chemistry, and asked science writer Simon Quellen Field to write up the answers. This book is the result.
Alexa did a great job of coming up with a huge collection of specific, relevant questions that today’s kids (and adults) are sure to be interested in, and Simon did an equally great job answering them in clear, easy-to-understand explanations. It’s fun to read straight through or to use as a reference whenever you come across something interesting that you want to know more about. The book also has some nice nonfiction features like a detailed table of contents, special sections with hands-on projects for young chemists (and often an adult helper), and a glossary of terms.
Unfortunately, there are a few things missing here. First, I would really love to see an index in a book like this. It’s nearly impossible to find the answer to the titular question, for example. I only found reference to it in a different question about why hair conditioner is white, which, obviously, isn’t in the food section. Second, I would have liked to have seen some advice about where to find the ingredients for some of the projects. Have you purchased any muriatic acid lately? Finally, I wish it had clearly stuck to chemistry questions, or at least acknowledged when it was departing from them. Some, such as “Why is the sky blue?”, stray pretty far afield into other areas of science.
Still, I think the goodness here far outweighs the flaws, and middle-school scientists all the way through curious adults will learn a lot about science while enjoying this book.
It’s STEM Friday! Check out the STEM Friday blog for more STEM book reviews.
(STEM is Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics)
Disclaimer: I received a review copy from the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review.