One Writer’s Journey

February 6, 2019

Dig Deep: Writing for the Kid You Were

My first grade class. I’m in the middle row, third from the end.

When you choose writing projects, do you think about the kid you were and what fascinated you?  I have to admit that when I’ve remembered to do this it has paid off.

I was a horse crazy kid.  Horse.  Crazy.  I didn’t have one and no amount of begging was going to get me lessons but if there was a horse in the vicinity that’s where I was.  I learned to ride from a family friend on a Tennessee Walker that was so big I couldn’t dream of reaching the stirrups.

What does this have to do with my writing life? My first regular gig was with Young Equestrian Magazine. When the editor put out a call for manuscripts, I sent her a query for a bio of Marguerite Henry.  Like every horse-mad girl, I had read all of Henry’s books.  I got the gig.

My grandad taught me to fossil hunt.  With him, I’d walk West Texas trails flipping rocks with the toe of my shoe.  He taught me to never grab a rock with my hand.  Rocks provide shade for desert reptiles.  I collected a wide variety of crinoids fossils and learned to observe animals and how they adapted to the high desert.

These enthusiasms led to The Evolution of Reptiles and The Evolution of Mammals.  But this tendency to question and observe also made nonfiction in general a natural fit.  From his childhood in the South, I learned to question authority.  If they said X, I knew there had to be a reason, someone who was served by believing this.  I’d have to gather the facts and make up my own damn mind. That’s more or less a direct quote.

What were the things you loved as a child?  Plants?  Animals?  Pretend play?  Chances are that any and all of the things you loved still draw children in today.  Write for the child you were.


January 28, 2019

Author’s Copies: Fossils, Fossils and more Fossils

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:31 am
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Saturday, we came home from bald eagle watching to find a package on the porch.  We were expecting a book for the teen’s birthday but this was way too heavy.  It turned out to be not one book but four – my author’s copies, 2 each, of Evolution of Reptiles and Evolution of Mammals.

When my editor contacted me to see if I wanted to write for this series, for me it wasn’t a question of if. Instead it was a question of how many will you let me do.  Behind me in the photo are some of our many fossils.

Way back when the teen was in first grade or so, he took a geology and fossils class at the community college he is now attending.  Every other kid walked out of class one day carrying a fossil the size of a coaster.  Maybe the size of a saucer.  Not my kid.  He came out lugging this fossil (top right).  That’s a cookbook stand that it is sitting on.  It is about a foot across.  When Jr came out carrying this, the professor was right behind him.  “He could pick something smaller if this one’s not okay.”  That was his first real fossil.

Then they went on a hunt through a creek bed.  He managed to fall, soaking himself and coating himself in mud, shoulders to ankles.  But he came out of it with two fossils.  He took the class again and found two more.  All in all, he has an ammonite, a trilobite (both bottom left), a mastodon tooth and part of a turtle shell (both bottom right).

Me? I used to go fossil hunting with my dad and grandad.  I have a wine glass full of crinoids fossils.

And I needed this love of the topic because these were two really hard books to write.  So much new information has been found since I was in college.  Not that I’m complaining.  Working on these books gave me a great opportunity to update my own knowledge.

Now I’m off to finish working on a proposal for a wildlife series.  These two books will help show the editor my enthusiasm for the project.



September 12, 2018

STEM Titles Coming Soon

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:08 am
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It really is a toss-up whether I prefer to write about social sciences and history or science.  I think that’s why anthropology was the ideal field of study for me.  So when my editor contacted me and asked if I wanted to do a title in a series of evolution, it wasn’t a matter of yes or no. Instead I asked how many I could do.  Evolution of Mammals and Evolution of Reptiles will come out in January.

They were difficult titles to outline.  Imagine trying to fit all of mammalian evolution into 15,000 words.  I ended up going through different mammalian groups and looking at various traits.  I wanted to cover some animals just because they are popular (dogs and horses) but then there were some that are just fascinating (whales).  Others fell by the wayside as I started trying to find sources because there simply wasn’t enough to create a descent chapter.

Researching these books was also a lesson in why you need to make sure your research is up-to-date.  Where various animals fit into the complex family tree that includes all species has changed as our knowledge has grown.  Every once in a while I’d look something up and get a big surprise.

But this is also why it is great to work with a good editor.  As much as I read, my editor has read things I hadn’t.  “I think you need to include this.” Writing rock solid nonfiction is definitely a team effort.

Whenever someone asks me to name my favorite title that I’ve worked on, I laugh.  They tend to change over time.  Right now?  I’d have to say these two books on Evolution.  Science and history.  What could be better?


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