Sports is number-one for me, having come into the book business after 15 years in sports journalism. However, I also love writing biographies, especially on people about whom I don’t know very much. Finding new and fascinating people makes telling their stories much more interesting to me. History is another area that I like writing about. I mean, it has “story” right there in the word! As a teller of true stories, I find that history is an ever-expanding treasure trove.
The main difference was that any sort of narrative flow has to be handled by dialogue, not description or any sort of authorial voice. All the work of moving the story along instead had to come through our narrators, Libby and Sam, or through labels, signs, captions, etc. In terms of the research, more than in a traditional biography, I wanted to have a sense of the voice and style of the subject so that the dialogue I made up for them (or chose their own words for in many cases) matched the reality of their lives. Of course, having to dream up the visual elements for all of these stories was a new thing, too. The manuscripts for the books all had to include extensive direction for the artist about point of view, setting, clothing, atmosphere, etc., while also making sure to leave room for dialogue. Working with professionals like our artists and John Roshell of Comicraft was an essential part of this process. We quite literally could not have done these books without them.
While the writing process was different for these graphic nonfiction, the research part was pretty traditional—reading, reading, and more reading (and the occasional documentary movie!). I relied on a mix of books for adults and young readers. I think looking at how other writers have told these stories to young readers ensures that our take is unique, while still sticking to the facts. The more in-depth styles of the longer adult bios lets us have a richer mine of stories to choose from.
I think the most interesting people to write about are people I don’t know a lot about. So when I wrote a book for young readers on Jules Verne, I learned an enormous amount about his life that I would not otherwise have known. Writing about another writer was also very cool! I have been lucky enough to write several books and articles about Muhammad Ali, and his life created endless amounts of remarkable incidents, crossing as it did with so much going on outside the boxing ring and sports. And as a baseball fan, I really enjoyed writing our upcoming Show Me History! title on the great Babe Ruth.
How much room do you have? There are dozens of people I could see having a great part in the Show Me History! series or in other types of books that I write. Off the top of my head, here’s a random list: Jacques Cousteau, Ty Cobb, Miles Davis, Ted Williams, Nellie Bly, Simon Bolivar, Vince Lombardi, Raymond Chandler, Admiral Nelson . . . the list goes on and on!
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