Taking a Story From Non-fiction to Historical Fiction

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

The success of my book, We Bought A WWII Bomber: The Untold Story of a Michigan High School, a B-17 Bomber & The Blue Ridge Parkway, took me by surprise. Even though I wrote it to tell the alumni from the high school that I attended, what happened to the bomber they bought by instigating sales of War Bonds and Stamps of over $300,000 during WWII, I never could have imagined the story would resonate throughout the country as a symbol of the patriotism that permeated the country during that Great War, nor did I realize at the time it was the only book written about the "Buy a Bomber" or "Buy a Plane" funding program.

Because the book was written for students who are now adults in their senior years, I didn't occur to me to tag the story as a middle grade or young adult non-fiction, when in fact, the extraordinary accomplishment attributed to these adults was instigated when one of them was an eighth grader and achieved when they were in junior and senior high. It seemed only logical that the next step would be to write a middle-grade historical fiction version of the story.

Where to begin?

I began with looking at the facts I wanted to incorporate.

Two separate communities in two different States and in two different decades make up the true story.
1. First there was the 1943 Grand Rapids, Michigan story of the junior high and senior high students at South High School who raised the $300,000 to buy the bomber.
2. Second there was the 2015 discovery of the crash in Meadows of Dan.

I wanted to make sure the story of how the students instigated $300,000 in War Bond sales, was told in as much detail as possible, as well as the part that unfolded decades later connecting the bomber to a small mountain community in Virginia along the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Where and how to connect the two was the big question?

Here's how I turned my Non-fiction into Historical Fiction.

I chose an Advanced History, middle-school classroom in Patrick County, Virginia as the setting. (Fictitious.)  Patrick County is where Meadows of Dan resides. (Fact.) To carry on long established tradition, these students must study and create a poster as well as give a presentation on a specific era in history. This years project centers around WWII. All is well until the teacher assigns the school's math whiz, a young boy, United States War Bonds and Defense Stamps, and assigns WWII aircraft to a girl. That sets up a secondary plot as the two students are at odds with each other and the teacher because of their unwanted topics. 

In the story, the young man, a model airplane builder and lover of WWII aircraft, won't be happy until he discovers the Grand Rapids, Michigan story of the South High students and the "Buy a Bomber," program. He will do the research I had to do when discovering the facts of that story.

Meanwhile, the girl learns, by chance, that her great, great aunt was a WASP (Women's Airforce Service Pilot) and that there had been a crash of a B-17 bomber in their own town of Meadows of Dan, in 1944. The Virginia part of the story will unfold for the girl like it did for me through my research. 

The big question then was, how to make the stories come together?

I decided that each Advanced History student had to give a report, first to the other eighth grade classrooms and then to parents at an evening event. The boy presents first. He tells the Grand Rapids story and shows the model airplane he's built; an exact replica down to painting the identification numbers on the tail and the name chosen by the students, The Spirit of South High, on the fuselage 

Meanwhile, the girl gives her report about her great, great aunt and the story of the unknown crash of a B-17 bomber that landed near the old mill in Meadows of Dan on The Blue Ridge Parkway. In the summary of her report, she mentions the tail numbers of that bomber.

At that exact moment that the boy realizes they've been reporting on the same bomber! Chaos breaks out as both students realize their reports are about to make history; he's solved a 72-year mystery for the students at the Michigan high school, and she's unearthed the story of a crash that even the Patrick County Historical Society knew nothing about. (Back to facts again.)

Turning my non-fiction into a middle-grade historical fiction novel was as much fun, or more, as uncovering the facts for the non-fiction book. I can't wait to share it with you. Look for, She Started It, to come out this fall.

It's time to think about turning your favorite non-fiction into Historical Fiction. 

Leave a comment by June 20th and I'll send you a copy of the non-fiction, We Bought A WWII Bomber from which She Started It was adapted. 

Sandra Warren is the author of books for children and adults. Check out her other publications on her website.


Seeking a Publisher? Don't Overlook The Smaller Presses

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

     The manuscript you've been working on for eons is finally finished. Beta readers have critiqued it. You've revised it multiple times and are ready to send it out to publishers. Now what do you do? Do you submit to agents or directly to publishers? Where do you begin?
     Every author dreams of being picked up by their number one agent, you know, the one with all the connections to the major publishing houses; the one who represents your favorite author; the one who can get you a huge advance and a book tour throughout the United States. Yes, that one. It could happen for you and I sincerely hope it does, but if you are like most authors, rejection will be your experience. Along the way you'll need to be persistent, do a great deal of research and submit multiple times before finding that perfect manuscript to publisher match.
     On the way to finding that perfect match, don't overlook the thousands of mid-sized and small presses out there. It might be the best choice when first starting out. Years ago, after my fourth rejection from major publishing houses, I turned to a small press and found success.

 If I Were A Road was followed by If I Were A Table and then The Great Bridge Lowering. The year was 1980 and 1981. All three books are still being used in classrooms. This year, 2018, If I Were A Table was updated with more modern illustrations. It's the same great book with a different look ready for another thirty plus years. That same small publisher went on to publish five more of my manuscripts.

Unless you've created a classic, it's safe to say it would be unusual to have three books on the market for over thirty years with a major publisher.

Small to mid-sized publishers often accept unagented manuscripts. No agent necessary. Their submission guidelines, however, will be similar to larger publishing houses so it's important to study those guidelines and follow them completely.

That means knowing:
     1. Proper manuscript format.
     2. The components of a proper Book Proposal.
     3. Details of a great synopsis?
     4. The difference between a Cover Letter and a Query Letter.
     5. Whether to send a partial manuscript or full manuscript.
     6. Whether to email or snail mail the manuscript.

After you've isolated several publishers you feel are right for your manuscript, it's time to look further. study their list of published books. Note how many they publish a year? Email a couple of their authors and ask what it's like to have them for a publisher? Are they, the editor/publisher easy to work with? Do they respond to questions? Are royalties paid on time?

One concern not only with small publishers but all publishers is their viability to stay in business. Do your homework before you submit. It's easier to do it prior to acceptance than after. Once you hear "yes" from a publisher, you will be too excited, relieved and happy to even think about checking them out or turning them down.

After you've isolated several publishers you feel are right for your manuscript, it's time to look further:
1. Study their list of published books.
2. Note how many books they publish a year.
3. Email a couple of their authors and ask what it's like to have them for a publisher? Are they, the editor/publisher, easy to work with? Do they respond to questions? Are royalties paid on time? Ask what the pros and cons are with working with the publisher? Would they choose that publisher again?
4. Note how many years each publisher has been in business.
5. Do they pay an advance? (Many small publishers do not. That's not necessarily a bad thing.)
6. What kind of marketing do they do...catalog, Internet, bookstore, conferences? 

Throughout the 30 plus years the three books mentioned above have been on the market, they were cancelled from one small publisher and then picked up by another who several years later went through Chapter 11 reorganization and opened up with a new name. That publisher has been going strong ever since.

Don't give up on your dreams. Do your homework and be persistent. A small publisher may not be what you imagined when you envisioned seeing your name on a book, but one could be your ticket to years of success as a published author.

Leave a comment before June 10th and I'll put your name in a hat to win a copy of either Spivey's Web or We Bought A WWII Bomber. 

Check out more from Sandra Warren at
Instagram: sandrawarren_author



Between Authors & Illustrators

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

This past weekend I was proud to announce the publication of SPIVEY'S WEB, a picture book with a Christmas twist at the end. More than a holiday book, Spivey's Web is about developing your talents against all odds and having the courage to forge a new path, because when you do, you just might be surprised with what wondrous things might result.  

 Writer's are like Spivey. They begin with a concept that's original and develop it until it's ready for production. Then, they go through the hoops to find the perfect publisher. And some end up self-publishing because they believe so strongly in what they've created despite rejection. They write because they have to write. And like Spivey, they won't be happy doing what everyone else is doing. 

Spivey's Web germinated in my brain about 15 years ago. It's been so long I'm not sure where the idea came from, but it was an idea that wouldn't let go. I wasn't sure if  it would ever get published until I met Susan Fitzgerald, a Fine artist by reputation, who had a dream of illustrating a children's book. 

I was reading a recent blog post written by author Marion Dane Bauer in which she talked about the illustrator of her new picture book, Winter Dance. What she had to say about the unique relationship between authors and illustrators couldn't have been said better. 

"The writer has to come up with the idea, and the idea is key, of course.  But without the artist’s bringing another whole world of ideas to the page, the story would be only half born."
                                                                               Marion Dane Bauer
                                                                   Just Thinking: Riding Piggy Back

Spivey's Web was half born until Susan Fitzgerald worked her magic bringing Spivey, her friend Marintha and all the other characters to life. I couldn't be more pleased!

Thank you Susan Fitzgerald and ALL ILLUSTRATORS everywhere! The work you do interpreting our words is an awesome task. We never know where your creative endeavors will take our story. You make it fun to be a writer! 

Spivey's Web is available on Amazon - just in time for Christmas! 
Buy it Now: https://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=Books+Spivey%27s+Web

Sandra Warren is the author of Arlie the Alligator and other books for children and adults!


Learning NEW Technology: The Ugh! Then The Ahhhhh!

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Is there anything more frustrating than trying to learn a NEW piece of software, something you either need to use or just want because a trusted source recommended it? Unless you're young and grew up in the technology age, your mind is just not programmed for this kind of understanding. Well...I guess I should speak for myself. I really have to work at it to make it happen. And the learning curve is always rather bumpy.

Last summer, blogger guru, writer and friend, Carol Baldwin asked me and one of my critique partners if we would learn WIKI, a collaborative website that allows you to communicate directly sharing files and conversations, even class assignments and homework. At the time, Carol was preparing a presentation for a September, Society of Children's Book Writers & Illustrators
(SCBWI-C) conference and she wanted to be able to use our experiences as new WIKI users.

"It's really easy," Carol insisted, "once you get the hang of it."

Well, isn't that true of everything?

With a certain amount of reluctance, I agreed to participate. Timing was perfect because I was in the process of working with critique partner, Gretchen Griffith, to combine a presentation related to my We Bought A WWII Bomber book, with new research she had just completed involving the City of Lenoir, North Carolina's WWII contribution to the war effort. The Historical Society of Lenoir had offered us a meeting date and we were excited to be working together on the project.

Our first WIKI lesson involved learning to share messages back and forth. Unlike Dropbox, at least what we knew of Dropbox, WIKI allowed us instant back and forth as if we were talking face-to-face. As soon as I saved a comment, Gretchen was able to see my comment and give an immediate response. Our initial discussion centered on where her research would fit into my PowerPoint presentation slides and what visuals would we use.

Next we had to learn to share the PowerPoint slides. It didn't take but a few minutes, with Carol's expert guidance, to post, insert and even change my slides to accommodate Gretchen's work. Later it involved tweaking those changes and even the PowerPoint slides for consistency.

To our surprise, WIKI was working well, almost better than if we were sitting side-by-side, making the decisions and initiating the changes. The best part was we were able to do all this without one of us making the hour long trek to the others home, and fitting our time working together within a specific schedule. We were able to do it all at our convenience each sitting in our own home office.

For our project, Gretchen and I just touched the surface of all WIKI has to offer. Carol utilizes it to a much great extent when teaching writing classes, to keep track of students, their work and grades as well as a direct avenue to read, correct and critique assignments. She, as the administrator, can critique one-on-one or allow the entire class to see and critique each others work.

WIKI can also be used when sharing work in a critique group. Each critique partner can view, read and insert their suggestions for a given body of work.

So if you're looking for a way to share information, teach a class or collaborate on a project, you might give WIKI a try.

Thank you Carol for forcing me out of my comfort zone to learn a new program.

Favorite WIKI resources posted by Carol Baldwin following her SCBWIC presentation:

Check out Carol's amazing blog:

Sandra Warren
We Bought A WWII Bomber: The Untold Story of a Michigan High School, a B-17 Bomber & The Blue Ridge Parkway. 

Oh The Places You'll Go...One Author's Reality

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Life as an author is never what you expect, at least that's been my experience.

Years ago, when I first dreamt of becoming a published author, I had visions of television interviews and paid book tours, stops in big cities and long lines circling book stores anxiously awaiting my arrival. That does happen and has for one or two of the many authors I know. But the vast majority of authors, myself included, experience a different reality; one that involves ingenuity and creative marketing strategies to keep their books in circulation and in the forefront of prospective book buyers.

                             Never give up an opportunity to promote your work! 

In my 25+ years as a published author, I've had the pleasure of speaking and exhibiting my books in a number of very different venues from book stores to libraries, historical museums, aviation museums, senior communities, schools, book clubs, colleges, book fairs, Spring, Summer and Fall Festivals, Holiday Bazaars, churches, a luxury resort and even a coffee shop or two. The quirkiest place and the one where I sold the most books ever, was a Donut Den in Wyoming, Michigan!

                Think outside the box when identifying interest groups for your book! 

In search of an audience, I've shared my books and writing journey with multiple organizations including veterans groups, church groups, all the typical community groups like Rotary, Kiwanis and  Ruritan, historical societies, senior groups, elementary, middle school and high school students, life-long learning groups, retired nurses and even to members of an aeronautical historical society. Audiences have included all age groups from preschool to great-grannies with attendance numbers from two to in excess of two hundred.

       Always give the same presentation for two as you would two hundred! 

One of my most memorable speaking engagements involved a female business owner friend of mine. She invited me to be the luncheon speaker to her "little business group." I didn't realize what I'd gotten myself into until we were riding up the elevator in a very swanky office building, crowded with gentlemen wearing three-piece suits and wing-tipped shoes. My friends "little business group," turned out to include all the movers and shakers in a major city, a group in which she was one of two female business members. I quickly revised the speech I had prepared and talked about the similarities between being an author and a small business owner. Afterward, all I could think of was, thank goodness I wore a suit that day!

              Promoting a book is the job of the Writer not the publisher or agent! 

When you have a book published, it's up to you, the author, not the agent or editor, to do everything in your power to see that your book remains in circulation. The only way to do that is to get out there and promote your work and yourself.

                An author without a box of books in their trunk isn't doing their job! 
Being an author has taken me places I never would have imagined, throughout the United States, from Florida to Alaska, London, England and British Columbia. I can't wait to see where it leads next.
                        No one can promote your book better than you can! 

Where is the quirkiest place you've promoted your work?

*             *             *             *
Leave a comment before Dec. 1st and I'll send one lucky winner a copy of my new picture book, Spivey's Web which is due out mid-December.

Contact Sandra Warren at one of the following:

A Picture Is Worth A Thousand Words--Or Is It?

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

A tremendous post came through on my Facebook page the other day about the discovery and processing of 31 Rolls of undeveloped film taken by a soldier during WWII. The film was processed as part of The Rescued Film Project and the results are amazing. Thirty-one rolls full of stunning historical photographs that no one has ever seen before.

As I sat watching a few of the photographs pass by on screen, I couldn't help thinking how much more poignant they would be with explanations of who, what, where, when and maybe even why? I wanted to know who the young soldier was who appeared in so many of the photos; what country were they in and where were they headed as they gathered at the train station in a city that did not look like any I'd ever seen in the United States? How long had they been away from home?  As extraordinary as the pictures were, I wanted to know more. I couldn't help thinking how much more significant the find would be with explanations. I longed for the words. The text. The verbiage.

This brought up the familiar saying, "A picture is worth a thousand words." Like the saying itself, it's origin sparks discussion. One source called it an "Old English Idiom." Another attributed it to Frederick R. Barnard, who mentioned it in an article about the effectiveness of graphics in advertising, in the early 20th Century. Mr. Barnard claimed it came from a Japanese philosopher.

The saying, like the age-old question, "which came first the chicken or the egg?" is one to which there is no right answer. I would agree that in some aspects of the art world, the saying might hold true, but for me, as a writer, the absence of words in the WWII photographs was a disappointment. The images touched my heart, moved me in unexpected ways and made me want to know more.

Ironically, as I sat down with my husband later that evening to watch one of the Netflix movies that had come in the mail, I was shocked and delighted to find a title, picked at random, I might add, called, Words and Pictures. Filmed in 2013, the film, featuring Clive Owen and Juliette Binoche as instructors at a prep school, is about a debate they sparked in their students to answer the question, "A picture is worth a thousand words...or is it?"

I can't answer that question. I'm not sure anyone can. But I challenge everyone of you, especially all my writer friends, to rent Words and Pictures. Those of you who love words will delight in the battle between the two instructors to find multi-syllable words. The romance that emerges is also interesting. In my opinion, this film is well worth time taken out of your busy day. A must see for writers everywhere.

Is a picture worth a thousand words? What do you think?

The Rescued Film Project

Word and Pictures Trailer

Sandra Warren has published works in multiple genres. Her latest book, We Bought A WWII Bomber peaked her interest in the initial Facebook posting referred to in this post.

We Bought A WWII Bomber Book Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zUmxqhIpadI


The Memoir Challenge: Write One!

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Today, I challenge every writer, no matter the genre normally preferred, to capture just one memoir albeit your personal journey, stories from an elderly relative or that of an antique, a local building or pillar of the community. Why? Because we're losing our history, that's why.

In this throw-away world where media moguls promote multiple tips on how to organize and clear out the clutter, everything from grandmother's hats from a bygone era to family heirlooms are being tossed, given away or sold. And unfortunately, by the time today's young adults grow tired of the interior designed cookie cutter look of their pristine environments, and figure out the importance of their own personal history, it will be too late.

Writers are in a unique position to preserve and protect familial stories. And they should.

Since the publication of We Bought A WWII Bomber, I have been inundated with folks sharing wonderful stories from their elderly relatives. When I ask if someone has written them down or recorded them, I usually get a blank stare followed by, "well I guess I should." Trust me, if you don't do it, you'll never remember them nor will they be there for your children and their children. This came home to me many years ago, after my mother passed away. She had been the one person--every family has them--who knew who was related to whom and the details of family stories real or imagined. She was always there so I never thought much about that history. After she passed, there was no one to ask. The stories were gone.

Today, I was informed of the passing of 100-year old Maj.Arval Streadbeck, the WWII Captain of the B-17 bomber who was the focus of the story of the "Buy a Bomber" program. Then Capt. Streadbeck, ordered his crew of six to bail in dense fog not knowing what was under them. Because of his orders, his crew survived and lived to continue to serve their country when seven other bombers that crashed that same day produced different results. Fortunately, I was able to use his expertise and insight into the crash shortly after meeting him in 2015. Mentally sharp at 99-years of age, he edited the chapter on the crash and wrote the most wonderful foreword for the book. Now his legacy will live on for his many grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Even though I had only known him for less than two years and through a few telephone calls, his passing has left me profoundly sad. His story will live on, not only in the pages of this book, but also in an historical marker that will be placed near the crash site.

None of this would have been possible if someone hadn't decided to tell this story.

So whose story can you tell? Surly there are family stories that need to be captured. And who better to do it than YOU a writer? It shouldn't matter if you never publish it. How many wonderful stories or starts to stories are sitting in your files right now? I'm guessing quite a few. So why not add some more but this time, take them from real life, your life or the life of a family member; something important that tells your history as only you can do it. Unless your history is something extraordinary, it's unlikely that a traditional publisher would want it. But so what? You can always do a photo book or self-publish it via one of the print-on-demand (POD) online publishing houses, places willing to help you publish a book for little or no cost, or you could just file it on your computer, but I encourage you to print it off and store the copy with important papers just in case no one can figure out your passwords or technology changes to the point where stored information is inaccessible at a later date.

So get out that digital recorder and start capturing those stories. You never know when something in your history might make history itself.

Have you written your memoir yet? If every writer wrote just one memoir, think of all the history that would be preserved!


Memoirs written by Sandra Warren:

We Bought A WWII Bomber: The Untold Story of a Michigan High School, a B-17 Bomber & The Blue Ridge Parkway. 
Book Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zUmxqhIpadI

Hidden Casualties: Battles On The Home Front, By Sara Raye with Sandra Warren, Amazon: http://tinyurl.com/jgg2t6v 

When Duty Called: Even Grandma Had To Go, By Dianah Kwiatkowski as told to Sandra Warren 
Amazon: http://tinyurl.com/hyxuv62

Author of Arlie the Alligator and other books for children and adults!

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About Me

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Hi! I’m Sandra Warren, a writer with very eclectic writing tastes. I’ve been fortunate to have publications in multiple genres including children’s, gifted education, parenting, how to, poetry, journal, educational activity guides and biography as well as audio and video production. I'm a city gal recently transplanted to the mountains of NC where glorious mountain vistas inspire latest renderings.

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