I mentioned before I am on a new journey with my writing. I was given a lead on a historical event not many people know about or if they do, it didn't much matter to them. But it matters to me. It is a fascinating moment in time and I know I HAVE to learn more about it.
I said last week the first thing a writer has to do when they are thinking about writing a non-fiction story is to select their topic. There are literally millions of possible ideas to begin a story. I choose this one event as my topic. It is interesting, involves children, and is shrouded in mystery. So now that I know what my story will be about what do I do next?
STEP TWO: REACHING OUT
The foundation of non-fiction stories must come from extensive fact-based research. Publishers are not interested in risking their reputations with stories built on shifting sand. They need to know the books they print are based on facts and the more data a writer can provide, the better the chances their story will be accepted by agents and editors alike. Keeping that in mind I made a list of how I wanted to learn more about my topic.
1. GOOGLE...I googled everything I could about this event. The event itself, the place where it happened, any people involved at the time, etc. I printed off copies of newspaper reports and made sure I documented my sources as I went along. I discovered only 5 or 6 small articles over the past 50 years covering this event and they generally say the same thing. This isn't going to help me uncover as Paul Harvey used to say...the REST OF THE STORY. I knew I had to do something else.
2. STRANGERS...I decided to reach out and ask strangers for help. I wrote to one of the names that I saw in the articles, explaining what I was hoping to do with my discovery of this historical event, and I waited. And waited. Until one day I received an email thanking me for my interest and suggesting I contact a local librarian.
3. EXPERTS...I reached out again and this time I spoke to the librarian over the phone. She was a lovely lady who not only had a wealth of knowledge concerning this event, I also found out she was in charge of a small museum housed in part of her library dedicated to reminding people of what happened near her town. She graciously sent me a package containing pictures and other information about my topic that I would never have found through Google. And then she gave me a special gift. A name of someone who was a first hand witness. I didn't want to seem too eager but decided to reach out again...
4. PRIMARY SOURCES...The name I had been given belonged to a very elderly lady who has a very special connection to the event and after sharing a few emails with her, I have discovered we both seem to share a few special connections with each other as well. Some of the "coincidences"I have come across includes facts like my primary source has a daughter just a little bit older than me with the same name who published a children's book years ago, she has a son who has lived near Knoxville for the past 30 years, and she has another daughter in the medical profession (my son is in the medical profession and he was born on the 33rd anniversary of this historical event). She put me in touch with her son (another primary source) who told me much more about the event and I am now trying to arrange for us to meet in person.
5. SECONDARY SOURCES...I have also spoken to an editor on one of the newspapers serving this community and they graciously offered to run a "letter to the editor" as a way of a shout out for any other primary sources to be able to get in touch with me about my topic.
There is much more to be done but my first act of reaching out has opened many potential doors and all I have discovered on the other side are lovely people eager to answer my questions and help shed a light on a little known event. I chose to boldly go where no writer had gone before and my reward for reaching out was a connection with some wonderful people and the beginning of a foundation for what I hope to be a wonderful non-fiction picture book some day.
I hope you will join me next week when I will show how I've decided to organize my research and how I plan to outline my story...