Today, Suzanne is going to talk to us about how she writes historical fiction for young readers.
1. Can you tell us about how you became a children’s writer?
Many years ago, I was a classroom teacher during the day, and in my spare time I started submitting short stories and nonfiction articles to a variety of children’s magazines. I also joined SCBWI – the Society of Children’s Books Authors and Illustrators – and became very active in my region. In fact, it wasn’t long before I became the SCBWI advisor for my region. Not long after that, I was offered a contract for my first children’s book, a travel guide for kids called Kidding Around Kansas City. A year or so after that book was released I quit my teaching job so I could become a full time children’s author, freelance writer, and eventually a writing coach.
Well, the first thing I always do when I get a contract for a new book is to go to the library and find every book I CAN about the subject or time period that I’ll be writing about. In this case, I found every book I could about the Japanese-Amercian internment camps of WWII. Once I did some preliminary research, I searched more extensively for all sorts of primary source documents and other materials including photos, books, journals or diaries, videos, etc.
3. Why do you think this book resonates with readers?
I hope young readers identify with Harry, the main character, who faces discrimination and racial prejudice, yet doesn’t let it stop him from working toward his dream of becoming a professional baseball player. I think Harry’s deep connection to his family and his relationships with his friends also resonate with young readers.
4. The Locket is about a young girl fighting for the rights of factory workers. Why do you think her story is so important for today’s readers?
Well, for one thing, sweatshops are still around today. And people are still often treated unfairly because of their race, religion, income level, and background. Plus, I think it’s always important to show young readers they are never too young to stick up for themselves to do whatever it takes to stay safe at home and at work or school.
5. With the World Wide Web, we have access to all sorts of information with a touch of a button. Your writing seems to take you to various parts of the world. Do you visit these places or do you base your writing on research?
Sometimes I visit the places I write about. For example, I wrote a book about Mexico and another book about the ancient Maya. I did travel to Mexico a couple of times–specifically to the Yucatan Peninsula–and I was able to use information from my travels for these books. I also wrote a book about the Philippines, and although I have never been there, at one time I lived on Guam, which has a large filipino population. I used some of what I learned about filipino culture on Guam in my book about the Philippines.
Many times, though, I base my books solely on research done via the Internet, at local libraries, museums, and through primary sources whenever possible.
I try to use as many government sources as possible since those are usually reliable. I also look for the sites of legitimate organizations–like the Anti-Saloon League, for example. I used that as a source for my book about Prohibition. I don’t rely on the sites of private individuals no matter how interesting they might be.
7. How do you make events that happened so long ago interesting to today’s readers?
Well, the best way to do that is to create characters readers today will care about. I try to give my characters qualities that today’s readers can identify with. For example, most young boys today can identify with Harry’s love of sports and his desire to become a professional athlete. They might also be able to identify with his family who wanted something different for Harry than what he wanted for himself. I think readers can also identify with Galena and the love she had for her older sister, Anna. I try to give my characters a combination of traits that make them admirable yet vulnerable and prone to making mistakes just like most people are today.
As much as I love to write, I also still love to teach, and coaching is a lot like teaching. The Working Writer’s Coach gives me a chance to help other writers learn to write and reach their dreams of becoming published.
9. What advice can you give to writers interested in writing historical fiction?
Be sure you do enough research so you can bring the story to life in ways that are true to your characters and also true to the times in which these characters lived. But, above all else, make sure you have a compelling story.
More about Suzanne and her work is available at her website http://www.suzannelieurance.com/