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. 


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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.

www.sandrawarren.com    




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.

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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
www.arliebooks.com
www.sandrawarren.com
http://twitter.com/SandraWarrenNC
https://www.facebook.com/SWarren.Author/
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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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