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 August.

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

Leave a comment by August 1st (updated from 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.



Phyl said...

Oh my gosh, Sandra! I love the way you developed the plot and subplot in this book and so cleverly brought them together! Your blog description of this middle grade historical fiction version was so interesting, the book has to be spectacular! Phyl Syracuse

Sandra Warren said...

Thank you so much for your comment, Phyl! I wish you were still in the classroom. I'd come and talk to your students about it.

I'm hoping to have "She Started It All" on the market by the end of the summer.


Carol Baldwin said...

THIS IS SO COOOL!! Best wishes, Sandra. I love how you did this.

Joan Y. Edwards said...

Dear Sandra,
You have great ideas and are very resourceful! I am proud of you. I can’t wait for your new book. I have a copy of the first book. So don’t put my name in for the drawing.

Sandra Warren said...

Thanks for you comment, Carol. I appreciate it, especially coming from an excellent writer such as yourself.


Sandra Warren said...


You always have such wonderful things to say. I appreciate your support.

I'll keep your name in the HAT and if you win, I'll give you a choice of one of my other books.

Joan Y. Edwards said...

Okeedokee! That will be fine. Thanks for your kind words!

Love you

Gretchen Griffith said...

My copy of your book came today, Sandra. Can't wait to sit down with it!

Carol Baldwin said...

linking to this on my blog. But I think you should have a link here to buying the book too!

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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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