Monday, December 1, 2014

Happy Birthday to Birthdayographies! Interview with Anne Bustard

December 1- Happy Birthday to Birthdayographies!

Psst...please ignore the wacky formatting of this post. Try as I may, I can't seem to fix it.) 

Wow, how time flies! Today, December 1st, marks the anniversary, er, birthday, of my blog, Birthdayographies. It's been quite a year! In the past twelve months, I have added almost two hundred birthdays with respective picture book titles, bringing the posted or scheduled number to 540. Whew! Search functionality continues to evolve and improve, and the site is growing into a substantial tool for teachers, librarians, students, and writers. Birthdayographies is a work-in-progress squeezed into small patches of available time-pretty much like any writing project. I am immensely proud of the growth and the response from followers. There have been flubs and missteps, of course, and, very soon, the blog will transfer to a new blog platform to accommodate the volume and growing need for flexibility.

Now, with a year under my belt, I can't think of a better way to celebrate this first milestone than by inviting Anne Bustard to the Birthdayographies party. You may recall that Anne was the originator of the biography/birthday blog idea. How lucky for me that, in 2013, she offered me the treasures of her blog, Anneographies. It was great for her, as her novel-writing blossomed. And great for me because I already had a spiral jam-packed with a list of p.b. biographies I read and studied. You can read my first Birthdayographies welcome post from December 1, 2013.

Anne Bustard is the author of the award-winning picture book biography Buddy: The Story of Buddy Holly (Paula Wiseman Books/Simon & Schuster BFYR). Her debut middle grade historical novel Anywhere But Paradise (Egmont USA), set in 1960 Hawaii, will be released in 2015. Born in Honolulu, Anne moved to Austin, Texas, to attend college, and stayed. And, Anne happens to be one of the nicest people on the planet.

Donna:  Hiya, Anne! Welcome to the Birthdayographies party! Without you, there wouldn't be a Birthdayographies.

Anne:   Happy First Birthday, Birthdayographies! Thanks for inviting me to visit today! And thank you, for championing this genre!

Donna:   Anne, in 2005, you launched your blog, Anneographies, featuring picture book biographies by subject’s birthday. What inspired this very original idea? 

Anne:   The idea for Anneographies sprang from my love of picture book biographies. I wanted to find a way to celebrate and share them every day, or at least, as many days of the year as possible.
As a former children’s only bookseller and then educator of pre-service teachers, highlighting new and backlist titles was important. But how? What format might resonate with potential visitors and me?

Well, I’m a calendar person. Word-a-day calendars, this-day-in-history calendars, websites that offer this-day facts—I’m in! So, it won’t surprise you to know that I keep a calendar dedicated to birthdays. Birthdays! That was it—the common denominator. And so the blog was born.

Donna:   Anneographies featured approximately 350 picture book biographies. How did you come up with so many titles to include? Who was your intended audience?

Anne:   Over the past fifteen-plus years, picture book biographies as well as collective biographies have flourished. I did my best to include as many as I could. I delighted in regular visits to libraries and bookstores. For me, it was a wonderful treasure hunt—with finds at every turn.

As to the audience, I imagined educators, librarians and parents using the blog as a resource.

Donna:  Why do you think picture book biographies are an important genre?

Anne:   Quite simply, these thirty-two to forty-eight page wonders of text and illustrations inspire and illuminate. Each one shines a spotlight on a life that has changed the world—a life that required some combination of sacrifice, struggle, determination, discouragement, hope, insight and achievement. Picture book biographies show readers what’s possible—which is just about anything.

Most often, they honor a person from the past, and in doing so, enrich young readers understanding of history. They invite readers to see the world from someone else’s perspective. And as natural springboards for further inquiry, they can lead readers to other books and resources.  Like all good literature, picture book biographies touch readers’ hearts and minds.

Donna:  What do you find are the biggest challenges to writing picture book biographies?

Anne:  I’ve only written one, so I’m certainly not an expert here. But I will say that commitment is critical. I have researched other possible subjects, but eventually I stopped. I wasn’t invested enough to see their stories through. I wasn’t passionate enough. I wasn’t in love.

Tracking down primary resources and verifying facts to the nth degree is a formidable challenge. On the other hand, uncovering a particularly elusive piece of information or making a surprising discovery is incredibly sweet.

Did I mention the writing? Drafting and revising umpteen times until each word sings is daunting. But possible!

Donna:  When your own focus turned to fiction, you very kindly offered the Anneographies content to your most picture-book-biography-obsessed writer friend. Me! I am still very honored. It has now been twelve months since the Anneographies content was transferred to Birthdayographies. The list of featured titles has grown to 540, with no end in sight. As the grande dame of the birthday/biography idea, how does it feel to watch your brainchild evolve on Birthdayographies?

Anne:   Wow! 540 titles! That’s fantastic! You’ve definitely taken the blog to another level. Congratulations on your amazingly strong year. You deserve all the birthday cake you can eat. I particularly love your inclusion of books from educational publishers. They are a brilliant addition.

Donna:   Okay, time to fill us in on what you’ve been up to since the Anneographies-Birthdayography switch on December 1, 2013. What have you been working on? Is there any news you’d like to share? How can readers find you?

Anne:   A few days after the switch, I learned a book contract for my debut middle grade historical novel was in the works! I was, and still am, beyond thrilled! I’ve spent the last year double-triple checking historical facts and revising. Anywhere But Paradise will be published on April 14, 2015.

Readers can visit me anytime at

Many thanks to Anne for joining us on Birthdayographies. Stay tuned, dear readers, for more books, more birthdays, and more ways to share the wonder of picture book biographies. As always, if you have suggestions, I'd love to hear from you. And, if you find Birthdayographies helpful, I hope you'll share it with teachers, students, librarians, and writer friends.

Thank you for your support!

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Patience: Measuring Publishing Time by Shoe Size

I have a new post up on the Emu's Debus blog about dealing with impatience and how my forthcoming book has grown alongside my youngest son.  Check it out, y'all.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Two Causes Worth Supporting: We Need Diverse Books and Never Counted Out

Writers and Illustrators in the kidlit world are special people, don't you think? Our goal is to wrangle empowerment, entertainment, engagement, and hopefullness for children. Sometimes, remarkable things blossom from this community of children's writers and illustrators. Today, let's talk about two movements that we should all support:

We Need Diverse Books is a grassroots organization aiming to bring more books about diverse characters and more authors of color into disadvantaged classrooms. Additionally, they aim to support authors through grants and education while enlarging the conversation at conferences, etc. Check out the Indiegogo campaign site. Watch the brief video by well-known authors and consider donating toward the $100,000 goal. I just did!  And check out Elizabeth Bluemle's article on Publisher's Weekly's Shelftalker:

e.E. Charlton-Trujillo, author of three novels, including FAT ANGIE, began something remarkable, too. It started as a book tour, but blossomed into a movement when she heard of a 13-year-old boy who had contemplated suicide. She asked to meet with him and they changed each other's lives. Eunice, as I know her, saw it as a call to action. She packed everything she owned into a storage unit, rented a car, and drove across the country, talking with at-risk youth and bringing the power of pen on paper with her. In the process, she filmed a documentary about kids on the fringe and how art can give a voice to the voiceless. I had the pleasure of attending a screening of At Risk Summer at this weekend's Texas Book Festival. To say it was powerful would be an understatement. And this is just the beginning. Eunice's organization, Never Counted Out, now aims to bring authors and artists to wherever kids are who have been subjected to bullying, dysfunctional home life, a history of drugs or suicide attempts, homelessness, a lack of emotional support, hopelessness. She is changing lives! Learn more about the movement, the documentary, and how you can add your support here. 
 Learn more at Never Counted Out.
View the trailer for the documentary, At Risk Summer here.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Research- The Scavenger Hunt of Writers

Do you approach research as a chore or as a scavenger hunt? I easily get caught up in the awe of research. If someone had told my teenage self that I’d grow up to be a research addict, I would have spewed Orange Crush out my nose. Fast forward a decade or two to my early interest in nonfiction for the age-challenged and I would have hissed at the idea of doing the same level of research for a 32-page picture book as I would for a scholarly adult book. Yep, it’s true.

Next week, I’ll be pitching in at an Austin SCBWI workshop dedicated to research techniques for nonfiction and fiction writers. When it comes to research, whether you write for adults or children, nonfiction or fiction, the tools and processes are the same. I wish I’d had this type of workshop instruction long ago, before I spent several years chasing shiny (barely related) factoids down the literary equivalent of rabbit holes; before flailing around in the wrong dark places to find the information I really needed. I’ve learned a lot through the school of hard knocks, but I can't wait to soak in the wisdoms, tips, and shortcuts offered by our workshop faculty: award winning nonfiction author Cynthia Levinson, award winning novelist Greg Leitich Smith, librarian-extraordinaire Jeanette Larson, and author and Calkins Creek Books editor Carolyn Yoder. I have a feeling my research will become more efficient. There are a few spots left, so click here for more information about the Sept. 13, 2014 event.

Since I write primarily about dead people, ahem, I mean historical subjects, my research destinations might look a bit different than someone learning about dinosaurs, or habits of today's teens, or which baseball player did what and when, or how Julia Child's kitchen was outfitted. But, we're all on the search for information that aids us in developing our characters, settings, and plots.

Personally, any success I've had with research, I owe to:

The staff of my local library, first. Who could love books and the research trail more? When I’m stuck on where to search for obscure information, they’re always eager to jump onto the trail with me. They know just how to get a copy of that rare book or article, often through inter-library loan.

Online Databases, historic photos, EBay
Yes, I said EBay. I have Google alerts set up for each of my subjects. Every time my designated keywords pop up on the web, I am notified. EBay sellers occasionally list souvenirs, books, pamphlets, playbills, photos, pinbacks, etc, related to my subjects. I've become somewhat of a collector.
I searched high and low for a rope of this material and circumference. I found it on EBay. It's related to a manuscript that's under consideration right now. I can't tell you what the subject is, yet, but being able to handle this rope and visualize it made a big difference in the storytelling.

I fell in love with archived newspapers, but learned that yester-year’s reporters weren’t always the most reliable sources. I want to believe that there’s an overall higher standard of accuracy today, but those kinds of assumptions can be dangerous to researchers. When the spring 2016 release date for my book, En Garde! Abraham Lincoln’s Dueling Words gets closer, I’ll share some of the unique challenges I came across when dealing with politically-slanted newspapers from the 19th century.

One of the advantages to perusing newspapers from my subjects’ times is getting a sense of the era. Styles, prices, labor, entertainment, culture, it’s all right there in smudgy print. Even prices for slaves, which makes me cringe to read. (by the way, Blogger freezes when I try to post pics of ads for women's clothing. Bah!)

Oh, and I always stumble upon unexpected historical finds, too.

 Like Charles' Dickens' serialized story, GREAT EXPECTATIONS. And Sam Houston's famous speech at Nacogdoches (especially relevant to my Texas friends.)

And there's always humor to be found, too. A great deal more humor than today, in fact. Some of it is too edgy to post here.

Every interviewer is nervous. Really nervous! But I've found that most experts and people with firsthand experience are flattered to be consulted. They love that someone thinks their topic is worthy of a children's book. Usually, they are very generous with information.

Old fashioned microfilm can be a treasure, too. I squinted my way to a hard-earned headache at the Shelbyville, TN Library as part of my research for Step Right Up: The Story of Beautiful Jim Key (Lee and Low, fall 2015). As more and more of these films are digitized, use of the machines is becoming a lost art. Before a DVD version of a collection was available, I purchased my own microfilm copy, then struggled, along with a library assistant in a neighboring town, to figure out their dusty machine.

State and National Archives
I’ve donned white gloves to peruse fragile archive documents, including yellowed and musty scrapbooks from long ago eras. Friends, there is nothing quite like the smell of history and the nostalgia of touching the past. For my research at the Tennessee State Archives, I was not allowed to take anything into the room except a few sheets of paper and a pencil, so I have no photos to wax sentimental over.

Research for my current project took me to a Presidential Library. They have thousands of pages of documents related to my subject, which has nothing to do with the president. They encourage researchers to take photos of documents that they want copies of, so a camera or smart phone is allowed into the room. Now I just need to figure out how to catalog my 472 photos. Don’t think they’re willy-nilly about giving access to documents. I had to give a copy of my driver’s license, went through a one-on-one orientation with an incredibly helpful archivist, and followed strict protocol when ordering material. Every desk space in the room is monitored by the watchful eyes and monitors of staff who are passionate about preserving documents. It was an amazing experience. 

Left: Scrapbook from 1949 Europe.

Right: working my way through boxes of historical material. 

In Person
 Of course,  there's nothing better than visiting the scene of your historical research to get a feel for the place, but I know it's not always possible to make such trips. I've been known to ask friends to take photos for me if I know they're visiting an area relevant to a writing project.

To accommodate my needed research trip to Tennessee, where the story of Dr. William Key and Beautiful Jim Key began and ended, we planned a family vacation around it. I'm not ashamed to admit that I was more than a little teary-eyed when I visited the graves of both Doc and Jim. Yeah, it's that personal to me.

Yes, research is a scavenger hunt. Whether you write about dead guys or novels about contemporary life, research can be exhilirating, emotional, thrilling, even disappointing at times. It is always enlightening. Even when you're led down literary rabbit holes, they are full of wonder.