|Winner of the 2014 Golden Kite Award for Nonfiction and #LA14SCBWI Faculty David Meissner|
I connected with David to find out more...
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Lee: Can you tell us about finding out you'd won the 2014 Golden Kite Award for nonfiction for "Call of the Klondike?"
David: I was in France for work and opened my email after a long day to discover the wonderful news. It was no doubt a great thrill, honor, and surprise.
Lee: Your book is packed with reproductions of primary source materials - photos, telegrams, newspaper articles, even letters written on the back of envelopes! What was the process of organizing and choosing the ones that would make it in the book, from what must have been a sea of material?
David: It was definitely a sea of material! The first step was to cull through everything we had in order to find the arc of the story. Kim Richardson sent me a long Word document with all of the correspondence from his relative, Stanley Pearce. Even though Kim had already done much of the hard work by deciphering old handwriting and typing it up, the amount of material was no doubt intimidating.
I read through Pearce’s writing multiple times and highlighted key portions. While fascinating, it still didn’t seem like the story was complete. Pearce wrote long, descriptive letters and articles, but there were big gaps of time without any information. I soon discovered that Marshall Bond had written a daily diary during their adventure and that it was in the special collections library at Yale. That was the key. Once I went through Bond’s diary and other writings, I could finally see the full story. Bond’s daily updates filled in the gaps. The next challenge was the more tangible, though still tedious task, of selecting the best writing, editing out redundancies, and doing external research for additional photos and material.
Lee: In addition to attending #LA14SCBWI - The 2014 SCBWI Summer Conference - to accept your Golden Kite Award, you'll also be on faculty, giving the Sunday breakout session "Digging Deeper: How Authentic Research Leads To Authentic Writing." Can you tell us more about that workshop?
David: This workshop will focus on how to conduct authentic research before and during the writing process. While writing Call of the Klondike, I realized how vital it is to truly understand your subject. Having this larger context translates into more confident writing with richer detail and greater authenticity.
Lee: Kim Richardson, the great-great-nephew of Stanley Pearce, one of the two gold rush stampeders the book follows, is credited as co-author. How did the two of you collaborate on this?
David: Kim was the visionary behind this book. Ten years before we discussed the project, Kim had already typed up the century-old letters, articles, and telegrams that had been passed down to him through relatives. Over the course of a decade, he had approached publishers, editors, and writers. Ultimately, he found a talented, experienced, and interested editor in Carolyn P. Yoder, who had her own American history imprint, Calkins Creek, at Boys Mills Press. Carolyn and Kim had initially looked for an expert on the Klondike Gold Rush to write the book, but weren’t able to find an expert who could also shape this material into a book for young people.
When I was living in New York, Kim came to town and told me about his book idea over dinner one night. A few days later, he emailed to ask if I wanted to write the book. He started by emailing me all of the typed correspondence and telling me everything he knew about Pearce and Bond’s adventure. Kim made it clear that he was not a children’s book author and that he would provide general guidance, support, and feedback. He also followed through on many details relating to photo research and Pearce’s writings. Kim was amazingly gracious in allowing me the freedom to shape this material that was so dear to him. Whenever I got stuck, had questions, or needed some clarity or moral support, Kim was just a trans-Atlantic Skype away.
Lee: Why the Klondike Gold Rush? What made this the story you wanted to tell?
David: During middle school and high school, I learned about gold rushes superficially and they never really interested me. That sentiment continued into adulthood. It was only when I read Pearce and Bond’s first-hand writings that this gold rush came to life. This makes me think that we need to spend more time personalizing history and less time memorizing generic facts and dates. As a teacher and learner, I definitely prefer depth over breadth. As I wrote in the Author’s Note, I now find the Klondike Gold Rush absolutely fascinating. If you ask me about it, I will talk your ear off.
Lee: In the author's note, you explain about going to Alaska and Canada in 2010 to re-trace the steps of the Klondike Gold Rush stampeders, including hiking the famous Chilkoot Trail. How did that personal experience change your approach to the manuscript?
David: I could have written Call of the Klondike without taking that trip, but the book would have been missing something. By traveling to Alaska and Canada, I was able to experience the landscape and gain a first-hand understanding of the geography of the trail, which allowed me to write about the context with greater confidence. Through that trip, I also met with experts, visited museums, dug through archives, and learned more about the gold rush than I ever could have through books and online research. I also found historical photographs and took a number of photos myself that we used in the book. Two of the experts I met ended up providing invaluable feedback on the final draft. That research trip took this book to a higher level and I thank Kent Brown, head of Boyds Mills Press at the time, for understanding this and funding the trip.
Lee: There are two teachers guides available on your website for "Call of the Klondike" - how important is it to have a teacher guide for a nonfiction book for young readers?
David: As a teacher myself, I know how nice it is to come across a book or curriculum that has clear and thoughtful suggestions for engaging students, while still allowing room for the teacher to customize the learning process. Boyds Mills Press developed a guide relating to the Common Core. My guide includes discussion questions by chapter as well as ideas for pairing the book with The Call of the Wild. Both are free and available for download at www.bydavidmeissner.com.
Lee: When did you first join SCBWI, and can you share how that's helped you on your journey as an author?
David: I believe that I first joined SCBWI in 2002, just after I decided I wanted to write children’s books. I went to the summer conference in L.A. and then the winter conference in New York a few years later. I found it amazing that an organization like SCBWI existed⎯one that provided a forum for well-known professionals and aspiring writers to mingle, connect, and elevate the quality of children’s literature through collaboration. Attending workshops, reading the bulletins, and meeting others in the field helped improve my writing and better understand the realities of the publishing industry. It’ll be fun to return to L.A. to lead a workshop for fellow writers.
Lee: What advice do you have for other writers working on nonfiction projects?
David: Researching and writing a nonfiction book is so much work that you must be fascinated by and passionate about the topic. Thoughts of book sales, fame, and private yachts will not be enough fuel to propel you through the challenging times.
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If you'd like to learn from, listen to and cheer David on as he receives his 2014 Golden Kite Award for Nonfiction, join us at the upcoming SCBWI Summer Conference, August 1-4 in Los Angeles, CA.
Information and Registration here.
To find out more about David and "Call of the Klondike," visit his website here.
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Illustrate and Write On,