Tag Archives: nonfiction

George Fletcher: The People’s Champion

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George Fletcher — Art by Wendy Myers
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George Fletcher on Long Tom

Hold onto your hats, cowgirls and cowboys! The exciting story of saddle bronc rider, George Fletcher, is out today! I am so happy to introduce OREGON READS ALOUD, a beautiful anthology of 25 stories by Oregon authors and illustrated by Oregon artists. I love this book and I love SMART: Start Making a Reader Today and I love horses and I love George Fletcher! It’s a win all the way around. Grab a copy and snuggle up on the couch with your favorite little person for OREGON READS ALOUD!

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Fav books, the writing life, and my literary masterpiece, Anatomy of a Bruise

I was happy to be featured on the Lerner Books blog today! Lerner is the publisher of my current nonfiction, Sneaker Century: A History of Athletic Shoes as well as The Way Back from Broken (coming October 2015). You can view the post here or read on below.
What was your favorite book you read growing up?
Hands down, it was The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C. S. Lewis. I’ve probably read it thirty times. Oh, how I love Reepicheep! Close on the heels of this book comes My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George. I always wanted my own Frightful.
What are some of your favorite childrens/young adult books that youve read recently? 
Okay for Now  by Gary Schmidt, El Deafo by Cece Bell, Rollergirl by Victoria Jamieson, Nation by Terry Pratchett, and Ill Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson.
Who are your favorite contemporary fellow authors?
I can’t believe you are making me choose! That is a very cruel thing to do to a reader!
Right now I’m still gushing over Gary Schmidt. I admire the subtle ways he allows his characters to reveal deep emotional truths. A. S. King does this too. The writing of both Jandy Nelson and Laini Taylor has a pell-mell, technicolor intensity that I love. Nancy Farmer is a bomb story-teller, and she can do anything from survival stories in Africa to Vikings to alternate reality drug dealers.
Why did you start writing?
Before I was a writer, I was an evolutionary biologist. These might seem like really different jobs, but at the core, they are the same. I’m an observer. I want to understand how the world works and what makes people tick. Doing science and writing books are both ways to do this.
What are the hardest/easiest parts of writing for you?
The hardest part is when I let myself get emotionally invested in all the parts of the writing business that are out of my control: reviews, book sales, contracts, awards, etc. The easiest part is committing myself whole-heartedly to the story. That is what matters most.
How do you gather ideas for your books?
Ideas are easy. They are everywhere for the gathering. The trick is getting enough ideas to glom together into a book. Anything that interests me gets added to a list in my GTD software (The Hit List) called “Book Ideas.” Right now it has 28 entries including horse genetics, bronc-rider George Fletcher, and something called The Doom Dimension. For the current book, several of these ideas developed a magnetic attraction and BOOM! Suddenly there was enough bubbling out of the explosion to make a whole novel.
Do you have a writing routine?
As soon as my kids get on the bus, I’m at my desk. I take 15 minutes or so to glance at my email and check in on Twitter (@amberjkeyser) then I open Scrivener and get to work. When drafting, I try to hit 1,000 words before I take a break. When revising I try to work for at least three hours. Break time usually means a walk in the forest with our new puppy, Gilda. After lunch, I buckle down for another two hours.
How do you deal with self-doubt or writing blocks?
When the writing gets tough and I’m agonizing over every word, I have to ask myself what kind of “stuck” am I experiencing. Am I struggling because my batteries are depleted and I need to take care of myself? Or is it hard because writing is painful and I need to keep trying? When it is the former, I go for a run in the forest. Otherwise, I stay at my desk and remind myself that even if what I write isn’t great, I will fix it in revision.
Sneaker Century and The Way Back from Broken are really different books. How do you manage to write both nonfiction and fiction?
For me, writing any book requires the same things: free-flowing nonlinear creativity, deep research into the core elements of the story, detailed to-do lists on how to execute the plan for the book, and disciplined, grind-it-out time in front of the computer. They may occur in different proportions, but the ingredients are always the consistent. No matter the book, I have the same tasks: find the right structure to tell the story, create a voice that makes you want to read on, and bring the world to life with details you can sink your teeth into.
Do your kids influence your writing? If so, how?
Sometimes I write about very difficult subjects. You might assume that I would steer away from the edge for fear of what my children will think, but the opposite is true. They need me to be brave, incisive, and above all, deeply honest.
Tell us something we don’t know about you!
My very first book, penned in 2nd or 3rd grade, was called Anatomy of a Bruise. I remember one particular illustration that I was very proud of. It depicted the inevitable consequences of an apple falling off a table and smacking the ground. Another showed a time lapse series of a bruise healing from purple to greenish-yellow to gone. Also, I crocheted the cover with orange and turquoise yarn. Clearly, I was a yarn bomber way ahead of my time!

Double knot those laces!

IMG_1533I’m getting really excited for the publication of my nonfiction book SNEAKER CENTURY: A HISTORY OF ATHLETIC SHOES (Twenty-First Century Books, January 2015). It was fun book to write and it will be fun to see it in the hands of readers. The book earned a nice review from Kirkus and another from Booklist. Here’s one from School Library Journal that leaves me grinning ear to ear. I’m glad to be able to share it with you.

Trainers. Tennies. Kicks. No matter what they’re called, athletic shoes have played an important role in American culture and the global economy during the past century, and this insightful look at the history of sneakers traces the shoes, from their humble origins in the Industrial Revolution to their current status as part of a multibillion dollar industry. While the text acknowledges the crucial role shoes play in athletic performance—a fact of which most readers are likely well aware—it does not dwell upon it. Instead, Keyser peppers the narrative with lesser-known human interest stories, such as the sibling rivalry between shoe manufacturers Adi and Rudolf Dassler that spawned Adidas and Puma. Equally fascinating is Keyser’s examination of the role youth culture has played in the athletic shoe industry (and vice versa) as well as her look at the seamier side of shoe manufacturing, including the extreme disparity between foreign labor costs and the price of the final product. While not comprehensive, the text provides readers with a solid understanding of sneaker culture. The graphics complement the text without overshadowing it, though there’s a lot of white space on some pages. Readers of all stripes will appreciate the role sneakers play in our lives. A fun and informative addition.

–Audrey Sumser

Olympic endorsements, rap music, Air Jordans, jogging in the 70s — Discuss!

?????As the release date for my newest nonfiction title SNEAKER CENTURY approaches, reviews are starting to come in.

Nerve-wracking? Yes.
Exhilarating? Also Yes.

It’s exciting to know that real live humans will be reading my book soon. I had a ton of fun writing this one. It’s nice to know that Kirkus thought it was good (other than the personal trauma of the 1970s jogging boom, which I totally understand). If you are a blogger, reviewer, teacher, librarian, or bookseller, I can send you a pre-approved link to the digital ARC on NetGalley. Just drop me a quick note.

Anyway… here’s what Kirkus had to say!

A comprehensive look at the rise of sneakers in American culture. Exploring a narrow field that nevertheless yields plenty of interest, the author shines a light on several aspects of sneaker culture. Topics range from the footwear’s early development in the early 19th century to its rise in popularity that coincides with the rise of the American teenager. The book’s layout augments the text with colorful infographics and various small sidebars that, while not necessary to the historical narrative, are well worth highlighting on their own. Discussions of the shoe’s rise to fame in the 1950s and resurgence in the 1980s (both thanks to popular figures like James Dean, Steve McQueen, Run-D.M.C. and Michael Jordan) are the best bits. A portion regarding Olympic runners and shady endorsement dealings makes for another amusing section. A discussion of the global economics of shoe manufacturing arrives a bit too late in the book to capture readers’ interest, and it doesn’t help that this section is much less elaborate than all those that came before it. Another lesser moment is a look back at the 1970s fad of “jogging,” something no one wants to be reminded of. An illuminating and amusing look at a subject with much more history than one might expect. (Nonfiction. 12-16)

Poets, Virgins, LSD & More on the Writing Process Blog Tour

1980 Amber reading
10 Year Old Me, Weird Already

One of the best things about being a writer is getting to know other writers. We’re a quirky bunch, I tell you! So when poet Drew Myron and novelist Rosanne Parry invited me to join an online conversation about writing process, I jumped on board. Who wouldn’t want to listen to a bunch of writers spill the inner workings of their wordy brains?

In a series of blog posts like this one, we’ll each answer four questions about our writing process. You’ll get to see behind the scenes and discover some new books along the way.

Once you get a taste of Drew’s evocative, tender language, I know you’ll crave more. Visit her writing process post here and a link to her books here.

Rosanne is a master of middle grade fiction. She creates deftly-drawn characters who never let you go. Her writing process interview will post to her blog on the 17th, and her books, including the amazing WRITTEN IN STONE are here.

And on to my personal variety of writer-geekdom…

What are you working on?

I’m working on a project that scares me. And that’s good. It’s pushing me way out of my comfort zone in topic—it’s a young adult anthology of essays by women about losing their virginity—and in process because I’m acting as an editor for the contributors, something I have never done before.

But in spite of my jitters about how such an edgy book will be received, I am more convinced every day of its importance. I hope that the book will empower readers to take charge of their own sexuality, whether that means saying no or saying yes. If young women don’t, someone else will take charge of it for them.

THE V-WORD will be published in 2016 by Beyond Words, an imprint of Simon & Schuster.

How does your work differ from other writers in your genre?

The only book on the shelves that I think is comparable to this one is LOSING IT, an anthology of short stories by YA writers. It’s a brilliant collection and you should read it, but it’s fiction. THE V-WORD is 100% true, and you’ll be astounded by the raw honesty of these talented writers. Every day I’m grateful that I have the opportunity to bring these stories to the readers who need them.

Why do you write?

Because I am stubborn and complicated and I like stories of all kinds.

What is your writing process?

My nonfiction books are usually sold on proposal so I do a lot of research up front. I need to have a very good sense of the story I am trying to tell and the shape it will take before any writing begins. The key to nonfiction is finding the right structure to carry the focal theme through to the end. After the book is under contract, the editor and I will refine the structure and outline together. With all that groundwork done, I start writing and add in research as needed.

For fiction, most of the pre-writing I do is around finding the voice of the main character. Once I have a sense of who this person is, then I generate a rough outline of the plot. The details sort themselves out as I proceed with drafting, my favorite part. After the first draft, comes the scissor-stage where I cut the thing apart and tape it back together. I have come to accept that there will always be radical and painful change.

But like I said, I’m stubborn.

________

Now I invite you to visit the blog of Kiersi Burkhart, who most famously described me as “stubborn as fuck.” She’s a fun and feisty writer of middle grade and YA fiction as well as a contributor to THE V-WORD. 

While you’re on the move, I encourage you to visit Ruth Feldman, writer of historical YA time travel novels. Ever wondered about the connections between free speech, LSD and medieval Paris? Look no farther than THE NINTH DAY.

BEYOND MAGENTA and the power of story-telling

This book…

Oh. Sigh. Wow!  I loved it so much.

It reminded me yet again of the power of telling our true stories.  The young people who tell their stories in BEYOND MAGENTA by Susan Kuklin captured me, not with their fancy prose, but with the deep truth of their own personal experiences.  I want to hug every single one of them for being brave enough to be themselves in the world.  That’s hard for all of us sometimes and double hard for those who don’t fit easily into any of society’s little boxes.  And I want to thank them for letting me in. Bravo to photographer and author Susan Kuklin for making this book happen.

I am lucky to live a life full of stories.  I’m grateful to those who surround me with powerful true narratives especially Antonio Sacre and Lawrence Huff and The Moth and Story Corp and all the memorists whose books I’ve devoured and the documentarians who film our obsessions and to Laurie Halse Anderson for making YA a force for healing through SPEAK and her work with RAINN.

Take a moment today to honor stories—tell one on Facebook, buy Susan’s book, donate to RAINN in honor of sexual assault awareness month, or listen to someone’s truth.

This is how we rewrite the world.

Give me a sailor and let me run away to sea

This is the thing about writing…  I get to fall in love over and over again.   And not just over shiny story ideas.  I know writers gush about that a lot, but I tend to make an idea prove itself to me before I commit.

(Run with that, Dr. Freud.)

No, I fall in love with the deep substance of the story and–especially with nonfiction–the subjects.

Last week, I spent three days in Astoria, Oregon, doing research for a new book project on the pilots who work the Columbia River bar.

I interviewed two pilots, toured the boat basin and climbed aboard both of the pilot transport boats (Chinook and Columbia), and checked out their shiny new helicopter at the airport.  And, in a completely unexpected turn, one of the pilots offered to let me ride along as they transferred a pilot to an inbound bulk carrier ship.

AMAZING!!!

The two bar pilots I interviewed held me rapt.  I could have listened to them talk for hours.  And if you had been there and heard the way they talked about the sea and the ships and the life of a sailor, you would’ve fallen in love too.  And if you had been on Chinook, zooming across the most dangerous river to ocean crossing in the world, you would have lusted for the power of her engines, the grace of her handling, and the perfection of her lines.

You would fall in love too.

 

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

This book is an absolute must-read!

I don’t care if you say that nonfiction is not your thing.  This book is your thing. Rebecca Skloot has written riveting story of both family and science.  You won’t be able to put this book down.  I promise.  Now get thee hence to a bookstore and BUY it because part of the proceeds go to help the family of Henrietta Lacks. Her cells changed the face of medicine and science and yet her family lives in deep poverty.  They deserve better.

And Rebecca Skloot deserves every one of the hundreds of accolades for this book.  She worked her butt off for ten years, risked her own safety, and pushed far beyond her own comfort zone to research and write this book.  She is a master storyteller!

 

Tom Thumb: A Man in Minature

I love nonfiction!

Here’s a book you won’t want to miss. Not just a book about smallness, it’s a big story of a remarkable man, who happened to be small.  He also happened to make a hell of a good thing out of a less than rosy set of circumstances.  Thanks, to George Sullivan, for telling the story of Tom Thumb: A Man in Miniature with skill and respect.

If you want to read a killer review/analysis of the book, check out the blog of the divine nonfiction writer, Laurie Thompson.

Get Low & The Importance of Telling Our Stories

Recently I watched Get Low starring Robert Duvall, Sissy Spacek,Bill Murray, and the adorable Lucas Black.

IMBD says: A movie spun out of equal parts folk tale, fable and real-life legend about the mysterious, 1930s Tennessee hermit who famously threw his own rollicking funeral party… while he was still alive.

So this guy, Felix Bush, experiences this terrible tragedy and feels responsible.  In order to punish himself, he sequesters himself away from all human contact.  Until, at the end of his life, he realizes that he must tell his story to purge his soul.  And, as the preacher says, find “peace from the burdens of his head and heart.”

I believe that we all have important stories to tell and that in the telling, we become stronger, better people.  If there is one thing I want young readers and writers to know, it is that their stories are valuable beyond measure and well worth telling.

I second the mission of StoryCorps: To provide Americans of all backgrounds and beliefs with the opportunity to record, share, and preserve the stories of our lives.