My last book Cixi, The Dragon Empress was released in October 2011 by Goosebottom Books. It's part of their series The Thinking Girl's Treasury of Dastardly Dames. Goosebottom Books' first series was The Thinking Girl's Treasury of Real Princesses (Oct. 2010). I had a lot of fun researching Cixi and bringing her story to Life so when Goosebottom Books decided to add one book to each series and asked if I wanted to write one of them, I jumped at the chance.
Did you suggest a choice of females to write about or did they give you specifics?
The two choices were either a Native American or an African woman. In the last few years, I had become increasingly interested in writing subjects from a multicultural perspective and that would tap into my cultural roots, so I had chosen to write Cixi because I'm Chinese and I wanted to learn more about Chinese culture and history.
For the next book, I chose to write about the Native American woman because I have some Native American ancestry (my great-great-great grandmother on my mother's side was Duwamish/Suquamish) so for the new book, we researched different historical Native American figures to see who should be the next princess or dastardly dame. I have always loved the story of Sacajawea so eventually, we decided upon her biography and she became the next Real Princess.
Prior to Cixi, The Dragon Empress, I had written primarily fiction (my first picture book Otto's Rainy Day was published by Charlesbridge Publishing in 2000) except for magazine articles which were all non-fiction. I love the creative flow and freedom of fiction, but I love the structure and research of non-fiction, so I can't say that I really have a preference because they both appeal to me in different ways. I would have to say though that stories naturally come to me in fiction form and non-fiction requires a conscious shift in my thought process.
What are some of the best ways for a writer to get involved in writing for the children’s non-fiction market?
Tap into the children's magazine market. Children's magazines are published several times a year so if you're a naturally curious person and love research, there are many opportunities there for writers to get their foot in the door. It's also a good way for writers to build their resume. If you've been published in a well-respected children's magazine, it shows a publisher that you've worked with an editor before, know how to handle deadlines, and (hopefully) editorial revisions.
What magazines have published your stories?
My first children's article appeared in Highlights for Children (June 2010) and I have also had articles in Appleseeds (May 2011) and Faces (January 2012), which are part of the Cobblestone & Cricket magazine group, writing such diverse topics as therapy horses and a woman who saves endangered and abused Asian elephants in Thailand. Most of their magazines have monthly themes and you can access their guidelines at www.cobblestonepub.com/guides_editorial.html.
What are some of the similarities of writing fiction and non-fiction?
With both fiction and non-fiction, you have to write with a certain authenticity. Obviously with non-fiction, this is in the classic sense of historical accuracy and fact-checking. With fiction, your authenticity comes from giving your characters' traits and putting them in situations that are believable and that make sense in that character's world and time period. Sometimes, fiction also requires research especially if you're writing historical fiction, but even in contemporary fiction, if you make a reference to 8-track cassettes and you're writing young adult, you should check if kids these days even know what that is.
How do you start your research? How many different sources did you use for this book?
I usually start my research with looking for relevant books in the library. I love how everything is online now so I can search "Sacajawea" and see what books the library has on her and request the books before I have to make a trip to the library. It's so much faster and less time consuming than the old catalog index cards system. I also search for websites that have information about her. The internet is a great tool because the information is so much more immediate and can be updated frequently and quickly, and sometimes you find interesting things that happened recently that are not in the books.
For example, for Cixi, The Dragon Empress, I found that scientists in 2008 discovered that Emperor Guangxu's (Cixi's nephew who she was supposed to have poisoned) hair and clothing samples tested positive for arsenic 20 times that of a normal persons confirming that he had been poisoned, but by who is still the mystery. However, with the internet, you also have to be very careful because there's a lot of inaccurate information out there so I use a combination of both and I cross-check my internet facts with those in books I've read and vice versa.
How did you decide what specifics of your character’s life you would cover?
I found a terrific Shoshone website that had all kinds of wonderful information about her. I probably read about five books on Sacajawea and gleaned information from 8 or 9 websites although I looked at quite a bit more. Deciding what specifics to cover is definitely a challenge in writing biographies for kids because of the limited word count. I had to tell her story in 2,300 words or less. But in a sense, Sacajawea's story has a certain linear structure to it because her travels with Lewis and Clark followed a specific route, so that provided the guideline for shaping her story.
Because the Goosebottom Books' series are written in a story-telling narrative style, deciding where and when to embellish the details and where to just gloss over them, proved a challenge. And some things I wrote into the manuscript didn't make the final cut because we had to trim it for length. Some interesting facts, we were able to include as sidebars though. My editor, Amy Novesky, really helped me mold the manuscript by suggesting areas where I didn't need to be quite as long-winded or pointing out passages that needed more sensory details.
This book has some beautiful illustrations. Were you involved / were you able to suggest any of them?
No, the illustrator, Albert Nguyen, had already been selected by the publisher and he illustrated the last six books in the series. Each series has its own illustrator so that the books in the series can have a consistent illustrative style and look. So this book was illustrated by the same illustrator as the rest of the books in The Thinking Girl's Treasury of Real Princesses.
Above the title for the book it reads: The Thinking Girl’s Treasury of Real Princesses. What does that mean?
There are a lot more biographies written about men in history and a lot more biographies written for boys, so Goosebottom Books' mission is to tell the stories about women in history who were just as important in shaping the world in which they lived and to make history fun and informative for girls.
The title came about as a way to combat the stigma of the pink, fluffy, girly Disney princesses who dreamt of marrying their handsome prince. These real princesses became an admiral in the Greek navy and led her own ships into war, ruled all of Moghul India and fought battles atop an elephant, declared herself Pharoah and amassed a fortune for Egypt, and in Sacajawea's case, traveled over 7,000 miles—the farthest of any woman of her time—to help Lewis and Clark navigate the rugged American West. They were strong, powerful women who did amazing things at a time when women had little say at all. Through their stories, we hope to inspire girls all over the world that they have the power to do whatever they want to do.
That is very inspiring to young girls to go after their dreams. I hope it will also inspire my readers to pick up your books. Here’s some links to do just that.
If you would like to buy Sacajawea of the Shoshone, here are two optionsAmazon
If you would like to learn more about Natasha and her writing, here’s some options.
If you would like the opportunity to get a free book, go to the next blog stop for the book at Susanna Leonard Hill's blog, http://www.susannahill.blogspot.com