Suzanne Morgan Williams spoke on Research Tips for Writers at the San Diego SCBWI meeting on Saturday.
As the author of several non-fiction books and the tween novel, Bull Rider, she had a wealth of information to share. Entertaining and well-spoken, I found her tips on research and considerations for cross-cultural writing relevant and helpful, for writing both fiction or non-fiction. She’s had some very interesting experiences and travels in order to get her books right. Her trips to the arctic sound utterly amazing! Place and setting are significant to her process.
In addition to her very practical tips, the two points I hope everyone heard:
- Respect your topic, subject, theme.
- Be open to moments of serendipity.
Her novel Bull Rider, is captivating and poignant. And really important. From the book jacket:
Cam O’Mara, grandson and younger brother of bull- riding champions, is not interested in partaking in the family sport. Cam is a skateboarder, and perfecting his tricks — frontside flips, 360s — means everything until his older brother, Ben, comes home from Iraq, paralyzed from a brain injury.
What would make a skateboarder take a different kind of ride? And what would get him on a monstrosity of a bull named Ugly? If Cam can stay on for the requisite eight seconds, will the $15,000 prize bring hope and a future for his big brother?
Cam is a character who takes action and cares deeply about his family – but from what felt like a very authentic boy perspective. No melodrama, no over-the-top emotion. Just a digging in and doing what he can. Bull riding is something I know very little about – I found that whole world/culture fascinating.
I think Ms. Williams does a fantastic job of informing readers of the challenges families face in helping loved ones deal with life-shattering injuries. Unfortunately, that is a increasingly prevalent scenario in our country.
It just so happened – that serendipity thing, perhaps – that last week I was stuck waiting somewhere without a book and happened to pick up a DAV Magazine. (Subtitled The Official Voice of the Disabled American Veterans and DAV Auxiliary). In there I found an interview with photojournalist Danfung Dennis about his film, “Hell and Back Again.” Dennis accompanied a US Marine Corps unit in Afghanistan and then continued to document the homecoming and recovery of one injured Marine.
Some points that stand out:
- The experience of war isn’t simply on the battlefield. It is also that transition home.
- Only 1 % of Americans serve in the military.
- (For most of the country) The war in Afghanistan is an idea, an abstraction, far away, distinct, complex and does not affect their daily lives.
- Our country has been at war for nearly 10 years, and it doesn’t feel like it.
Here are two different ways of helping us understand a little better what our military families endure.
Sarah Wones Tomp
WRITING ON THE SIDEWALK