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Host of PBS Series, America: From the Ground Up
The Writing Process: from Inspiration to Publication
Have you ever wondered how a book is made?
How and what do authors think while they write?
Scroll below to read about my process, from inspiration to publication.
My teachers always told me, "Write about what you know!" They were right! I have found it so much easier to write about things I have experienced. I draw inspiration from events, people, animals and places from my life experiences. For example, I drew inspiration from reading the book (and watching the movie) "Nim's Island." You might do a comparison of "Crystal Brave: Earthquake at the Taum Sauk" and "Nim's Island" and see if you can find similarities.
I grew up on a farm and had many animal friends that strongly influenced my writing. This is my dad's quarter horse, but that's me riding her.
I spent a lot of time searching the internet thinking about the setting for the story. I knew I wanted to have an archaeological "find" in the story, and I knew I wanted the story to take place in Missouri.
As a teacher, I researched the history and geology of Missouri and enjoyed studying the Mississippian era and the amazing CAHOKIA MOUNDS in St. Louis. The picture to the left depicts how the Cahokia Mounds might have looked in 1150 ce. Credit: Courtesy of Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site; painting by Michael Hampshire
In studying the geology of Missouri, I had learned that the highest altitude in Missouri is the Taum Sauk Mountain. So, I studied the terrain from St. Louis to the Taum Sauk and found Mastadon Park and Elephant Rocks State Park, both very important landmarks in our state. To the right is the museum at Mastodon State Historic Site. Below is a display showing how the mastodon bones were found there.
There were numerous other things I had to research, such as the story of Sauk-Ton-Qua and the Piankashaw and Osage tribes.
Below is Rock Creek, near Mastodon State Historic Site. Do you remember what happened there in Crystal Brave: Earthquake at the Taum Sauk?
Did you know writers sometimes have to do geography and math?! I mapped and calculated the distances between all of the places Crystal went, and how long it would take her to walk on foot (2-3 mph), ride on a walking horse (4 mph), ride on a trotting horse (8 mph) and ride on a cantering horse (about 18 mph).
As a teacher, I also knew that upper elementary and middle school students were very interested in natural disasters. As I was looking at the map of Southeast Missouri it came to me. New Madrid. Earthquake! Can you find the New Madrid seismic zone on the map above? What other areas of the United States have high hazard seismic zones?
The details are so important in making a book come alive, so I wanted to know the territory well. I used Google maps and Google images a lot, but a particular web site helped me out enormously---Trails.com! I could actually watch videos of people walking down Mina Sauk Trail! But there is nothing like actually visiting the place you are writing about, so I took a trip to the places of the story.
Click HERE for more pictures from the settings of Crystal Brave: Earthquake at the Taum Sauk and Crystal Brave: Treasures of the Current.
In my research binder I have lots of sticky notes, lists and a timeline to refer to during writing. The entire story took place over just a couple of weeks, and most of the story took place over three days. I have lists of types of wildlife she might see as a reminder to make the story more interesting by describing Crystal's surroundings.
Crystal - fear of heights
Will - reasonably daring
yeah - "yes" casual
yay - Super!
yah - slang, sarcastic, whatever!
yea - only used in voting
The best way I have found to outline a story is to think about the HERO'S JOURNEY, a model for story writing by Christopher Vogler.
A good example is to think about a popular story such as Star Wars or Cinderella, and make sure you have a an event and a character in your story for each important event and character in that story.
In the Hero's Journey, there is a HERO (Luke Skywalker) living in an ORDINARY WORLD (his home on Tatooine) who has a CALL TO ADVENTURE (leaving his home to become a Jedi knight and fight for the Rebel Alliance). Usually the hero has a mentor or two to help him along the way (Obi-Wan Kenobi, Yoda) who gives him a gift (light saber). The hero faces TESTS and challenges to his inner self and hopefully receives a REWARD if he succeeds in the challenges. The story usually ends back in the ORDINARY WORLD with the hero changed.
You can dowload the image to the left and use it to develop your story.
The characters of the HERO'S JOURNEY are also helpful in developing a character list that only includes characters essential to the story.
To use Star Wars as an example again, the HERO (Luke Skywalker) is called to adventure by a HERALD (R2D2) and sent to a MENTOR (also Obi-Wan, Yoda in The Empire Strikes Back). The THRESHOLD GUARD (Tuscan Raiders) tries to keep the hero from embarking on the quest. The hero has ALLIES or HELPERS (Han Solo, R2D2, C3PO, Princess Leia, Chewbacca) to help with the quest.
The SHADOW (Emperor, Dark Side) is the enemy/villain/antogonist of the hero and the SHAPESHIFTER (Darth Vader) seeks to confuse and intimidate the hero along the journey. The TRICKSTERS (droids) and the TEMPTER (Darth Vader) challenge the hero and test his skills to prepare him to conquer his ENEMIES (Dark Side of the Force).
You can dowload the image to the right and use it to develop your characters.
I carry a binder with me everywhere that contains my notes and a draft of my manuscript. When I am waiting for an appointment or one of my kids is at a lesson, I can work on my book. I usually write a chapter, then read and edit the story from the beginning to make sure the story is flowing naturally.
As I write, I try to spell everything correctly and use proper grammar and punctuation, but sometimes I miss something. While I reread, I often notice these mistakes and correct them, so by the time the book is done, I have a very clean manuscript. Spell-check on my computer is very helpful. I also use an on-line dictionary and thesaurus to check meanings and think of replacements for overused words.
When I have the book as good as I can get it, I send it off to my editors to read. COPY EDITORS read the book to see if it is a good story and that it flows and makes sense. They will check for accuracy in history or facts in the book, although the author is mostly responsible for the integrity of the book.
PROOF READERS check the story for flow and meaning, but also spend a lot of time checking for spelling, grammar and punctuation mistakes. They check to be sure the chapter titles and page numbers are aligned correctly, and that every part of the book that is required is there, such as the title page or table of contents.
After the copy editors and proof-readers work on the book, it comes back to me and I make the corrections and read it again. Sometimes it may go back to the editors one more time.
Publishing & Marketing
Publishing is a very exciting part of writing! The BOOK DESIGN, the COVER DESIGN and the TYPE OF BINDING are all decisions that are made at the very end. After decisions are made, a sample is printed called a GALLEY. The galley of Crystal Brave: Earthquake at the Taum Sauk is shown to the right. The author and editors inspect the galley very closely for errors and when it is approved, it is printed for readers.
To the left is a video clip of the photographer, Ron McGinnis, taking the cover photo. Holly Johnson is riding Whitney, a horse owned by my friend, Jan Davis. Whitney is also the beautiful mare with me on the back of the book.
As you can see, the photos were taken during the day with a clear blue sky.
We added the title, author name, a BLURB (a reviewer comment about the book), and a seismographic image.
I was very excited to get my own copy of Crystal Brave: Earthquake at the Taum Sauk.
We contact libraries, bookstores and schools to let them know our books are available to buy or that I can come for a book talk or signing.
Can you find Crystal Brave: Earthquake at the Taum Sauk?
One of my favorite things about being an author is meeting my readers. In this picture, I am playing a Crystal Brave trivia game with students at Study Middle School.
Thank you for taking the time to read about my writing process!