When the going gets tough, the tough get a librarian.
Jenna Boller in Best Foot Forward.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

How Authors Write

When I attended the Kansas Library Association conference earlier month I had the opportunity to hear two authors, Roland Smith and Brad Meltzer. They spoke about how they write their books. Roland Smith writes adventure stories for children and teens. Brad Meltzer writes legal mysteries and thrillers.

Both authors do much research before they start their novels. Meltzer reads about and visits the places where his books are set and is able to describe these locations in accurate detail.

Smith writes notes on notecards about his research and story ideas. When he has finished his research he sorts through the cards and puts the ones he wants on large bulletin board making a storyboard like the ones they use in the movies. He then writes the story in a notebook. After several revisions, he types it into a computer.

Brad Meltzer gets to know his characters very well before he begins writing. He will write background stories for his ‘imaginary friends’. He knows which character broke his femur playing baseball, which one did not have a date to the prom and many other details of the lives of his characters. Most of this information is not used in his books. As he begins to write, he decides who the murderer is but much of the rest of the story develops along the way. He will outline 50-100 pages of the story, write that and then outline another 50-100 pages.

Meltzer said that he usually writes about ordinary people who can change the world. Sometimes a story will come to him from an outside source. He recounts how he received a letter from former president George H. Bush wanting an autographed copy of one of his books. That got him to thinking about what happens to former presidents. One minute they are the most powerful men on earth and the next they are out of office. This idea became ­The Book of Fate. Other books by Meltzer include The Tenth Justice; Dead Even; and The Zero Game.

Smith writes about things that he cares about. He was a biologist for many years before becoming a writer. Sea Otters Is a non-fiction book that he wrote after working to help save the animals after the Exxon Valdez spilled millions of gallons of oil in Alaska which killed many many birds and animals. Thunder Cave is set in Kenya among the Maasai people where Smith lived and worked as a biologist. His great love is for elephants which can be seen in his book Elephant Run.

The Kansas Authors Club is a group of people who like to write and to share the experience. The next meeting of the KAC is on April 18th at Windsor Place Campus Center, 2921 W. 1st St., Coffeyville, 9 am to 1 pm. Another local authors group is the Night Writers. Night Writers meets every fourth Tuesday -- 6 p.m. at Sycamore Landing, 701 Lewark, in Coffeyville. Both groups welcome anyone who would like to attend.
As Brad Meltzer said the best way to learn to write is to do it.

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