By Mary Losure
Years ago, when I was wheeling my groceries out to the car at sunset, I looked up and imagined witches silhouetted against the pink and gold sky.
The moment grew into my first novel, the story of two young witches on a journey to the human world.
Please don’t ask me how many drafts it took.
I was a journalist when I began, and I knew I could write nonfiction. I wasn’t so sure about fiction. Years and more years went by until at last my witches found a wonderful editor, Julie Amper of Holiday House. With her guidance, Backwards Moon (Holiday House, 2014) took flight.
I’m thrilled! Fiction is fun, like flying your very own broomstick, and I loved imagining a world where the fate of all of Witchkind hung in the balance. And besides, an author’s novels get to live together, in a cozy, easily findable group in the library or bookstore. They aren’t banished to literary gulags like Folklore or Juvenile Biography and arranged by subject the way my nonfiction books (The Fairy Ring (Candlewick, 2012) and Wild Boy (Candlewick, 2013)) are.
Still, I love writing nonfiction. And I wish more children’s book authors would give it a try.
I think it’s a kind of mental food (call it vegetables, if you like. Fruit. Whole wheat bread…) that’s good for the writer’s brain. And it can teach you things about the craft of both kinds of writing.
Just as fiction does, a work of nonfiction can have suspense, rising action, a climax, and an ending inherent in the beginning: a narrative arc just like a novel’s. But you have to recognize that arc in the material you have—you can’t make it up. And I think that teaches you to think more deeply about what a plot is, and about the many possibilities that are open to you as a writer.
Often, a nonfiction plot doesn’t tie itself up nicely. The real boy who is the hero of Wild Boy never learns to talk, never escapes back into the wild to live happily ever after.
In fiction, you could make that happen. But would that necessarily be the best possible plot?
They say the first requirement for being a writer is to read—and the detective work of digging a story from historical records requires you to read very widely, following clues from one book to the next.
Often, you’ll find yourself reading books (not to mention letters, papers, and diaries) you never would otherwise, finding astonishing bits of life that you could never have made up. All this is food for the writer’s brain.
One more thing about nonfiction–it’s in great demand right now. Agents are hungry for innovative, creative-but-still-true narrative nonfiction.
I know my agent was looking for new kinds of nonfiction; that’s how he came to represent my work, and how my entire writing life turned around.
Now I’m thrilled to be published in both genres, and plan to keep writing in both.
I just need to finish reading this stack of books, grab my broomstick, and go.
Two young witches, Bracken and Nettle, venture outside their mountain valley and find a world that’s always been hidden from them–our world.
An unabashed fantasy for magic-loving children ages 7-10.
Publisher sponsored. Eligibility: U.S. only.