Thursday, February 20, 2020

Crafting a True Story When Information is Scarce


By Vivian Kirkfield

In June of 2014, I took a picture book writing class called Nonfiction Archaeology…and it was love at first sight. The instructor suggested we Google first woman to do this and first man to do that. One of the names I came up with was Sarah E. Goode, who, according to the one line of information on a Black History website, invented a cabinet bed in 1885 and was the first African American woman to receive a U.S. patent. Wow, I thought! That was pretty awesome for an African American woman to do that, just twenty years after the end of the Civil War. I wanted to find out more about her. 

But there wasn’t anything more. I searched websites, library catalog but there was nothing. Just the same few lines of information (which I came to find out were incorrect anyway). I even reached out to the Sarah E. Goode STEM Academy in Chicago, Illinois. That was a dead end also – they didn’t know anything about her. I was flabbergasted. And so sad for Sarah. She’d accomplished something astonishing, yet was completely unrecognized except for the patent she’d received. 

So, what do you think I did? I wrote a story called The Disappearing Bed (which became Sweet Dreams, Sarah). If any of my long-time critique buddies are participating in NF Fest, they will probably remember receiving that manuscript. I started the story with a young girl during the Civil War (I had Sarah’s approximate date of birth and knew she was about ten years old when the war ended). I told a story about how she had a dream of a different life. And how, after the Civil War, she had moved north to Chicago – with freedom in her pocket, hope in her heart, and ideas swirling in her head.

Slowly but surely, I continued researching to try to find more evidence to help me craft an authentic and accurate story that would engage readers while honoring Sarah.

I checked census records for Chicago’s Cook Country. Sure enough, in the 1870 census, I found Harriet and Oliver Jacobs, parents of Oliver Jr, 14-year old Sarah, and two younger siblings. The next census, in 1880, showed a 24-year Sarah E. Goode, married to Archibald Goode, with a little girl named Inez. And when I checked old city directories of 1884, I found two listings for Sarah E. Goode, a residential one that showed she and her husband owned a house that took in lodgers, and a business listing showing she was the proprietor of a furniture establishment on State Street.

Here’s a tip: use those little tidbits of info as you craft your story. Here’s how I used the information that she took in lodgers:

Sarah rented out rooms in their house to people who needed a place to live. She saved every penny she could to pay for her third dream, her own furniture store.

My next move was to reach out to my local research librarian. She reached out to other librarians at some of the university libraries. They responded with an old image of State Street in Chicago circa 1885 – and they circled the furniture store they thought was probably Sarah’s. But they, too, had no other information. What to do?

I was able to see her patent on the Internet. She originally applied in 1883 and it took a year for the government to get back to her with a denial. I was also able to see she reapplied in 1884 and received her patent in 1885. Those became very important moments in the book.

I googled Find a Grave and discovered Sarah was buried at the Graceland Cemetery in Chicago…I called the cemetery office and for $10, they sent me a list of the people who were buried alongside her in the Goode family plot, the age they died and what they died from. 

And then, using my local library’s online database, I found two old newspaper advertisements – the first from 1884 for Sarah’s furniture store. The second, from 1887 from another vendor who claimed he was the exclusive seller of Sarah’s cabinet bed. Sure enough, when I checked the city directory for 1890, Sarah E. Goode’s business was no longer listed. Referring back to the grave information, I discovered that Sarah’s child and mother died in 1886, the year after she received the patent. Perhaps she fell into a depression. Possibly she became ill and was unable to continue her business. She died in Chicago in 1905 at the age of forty-nine. 

That information is not part of the narrative, but it did give me more insight into the person Sarah was, and I do include it in the back matter. I am crafting stories for young children and my goal is to inspire them to dream and build their dreams into reality just like Sarah built her cabinet bed. I took the few facts that I was able to verify and I used them as the frame for the narrative. I never put words into Sarah’s mouth. But I did assume that she had moments of doubt and difficulty, as any inventor might. 

As I crafted Making Their Voices Heard: The Inspiring Friendship of Ella Fitzgerald and Marilyn Monroe, I faced similar problems. Although I was able to watch YouTube videos of jazz singer Ella Fitzgerald and movie star Marilyn Monroe, I wanted their friendship to be the focus of the book. And none of the resources I read told me anything about that. In one of those taped interviews, I heard Marilyn say that Ella was her favorite person in the world and that she loved her. I watched an interview where Ella mentioned that she owed Marilyn a great debt and that Marilyn was a special person, ahead of her time. Was that enough to conclude they were friends? I didn’t think so. 

Luckily, after some detective work, I was able to have a telephone conversation with the woman who was Ella’s promoter for thirty-seven years and she confirmed that they were friends. Although I read many books about Ella and Marilyn, the story I wrote wasn’t based on those. It was based on the photo that I saw on the Internet of Ella and Marilyn sitting side by side in a nightclub. That photo sparked my interest and when I discovered how they had both battled different types of discrimination and forged a life-long friendship, I became passionate to tell the story.

My advice for crafting a true story when information is scarce? Gather the facts you can verify. From those facts, find the focus of the story and create a well-paced, accurate, and action-packed narrative that will keep kids turning the pages!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Writer for children—reader forever…that’s Vivian Kirkfield in five words. Her bucket list contains many more than five words – but she’s already checked off skydiving, parasailing, banana-boat riding, and visiting critique buddies all around the world. When she isn’t looking for ways to fall from the sky or sink under the water, she can be found writing picture books in the quaint village of Amherst, NH where the old stone library is her favorite hangout and her young grandson is her favorite board game partner. Vivian blogs at Picture Books Help Kids Soar where she hosts the #50PreciousWords International Writing Contest.


ABOUT THE PRIZE
Vivian Kirkfield will be awarding a picture book manuscript critique to one lucky winner.

Leave one comment below about what struck you in the post.

You’re eligible to win if you’re a registered NF Fest participant and you have contributed one comment below.
 

168 comments:

  1. It is so interesting how you gathered your information. A nonfiction picture book writer as detective! Thanks, Vivian.

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  2. I love this, Vivian! It's so fun to be a detective -- finding those little tidbits can be the most fascinating journeys! Thanks for sharing some of your process!

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  3. That is some incredible research Vivian! Thank you for sharing the painstaking process you used to create Sweet Dreams Sarah, a book my kindergartners really enjoyed. As Nathanial Hawthorne said, " Easy reading is damn hard writing" .

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  4. I love that you were intent on finding some details about their lives. Your not giving up and your finding accurate information that could honor them and the truth you wanted to tell about them is inspiring!

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  5. Thank you Vivian. I took the Nonfiction Archaeology class in 2017, it was a wonderful class.

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  6. Thanks for those great examples of researching to dig enough to craft a story out of one known fact — they were incredibly helpful for me, especially the reminder to check city directories.

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  7. Vivian, I'm fascinated by how you researched these stories, didn't give up, and put the facts together to become thoughtful narrative NF picture books. Truly inspiring!

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  8. This post was actually thrilling to read -- the detective work so exciting and fulfilling, the few actual hard facts like treasures you dug up, gold doubloons found in the sand. I'm eager to read your book now and see how you turned those few hard facts into a story. (Part of me wants to say, what do you do if your story took place a long time ago, say, 1700, and in a foreign country where the few records that exist are written in a foreign language that you don't speak and kept in archives in Europe? What then? And yet, people still make books out of these stories. Hmm . . .)

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  9. You are a story in yourself. I admire your tenacity and your reaching out to librarians for fact finding. Thanks for sharing how to craft for children an inspiring book about little known relationships.

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  10. Incredible and diligent research! Thank you for sharing your process.

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  11. Thank you for your wonderful article--reminds me how I love searching through old records and piecing stories together!

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  12. Wonderful! Thanks for this post. I truly respect that many of our "greatest" and "firsts" lead pretty private lives (whether purposefully or because of other circumstances) but that makes it all the more challenging for historians! Which... makes me wonder about how stories will be crafted in the future. I love how you chronicled your basic timeline for us too. Thanks so much for sharing your knowledge! (And does this workshop/class still exist? -- Curious minds need to know. ;) )

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  13. I love all of your detective work and you already know I'm a big fan of your topics and books. I look forward to reading many more!

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  14. Aww, Vivian, such a helpful post. I have your SWEET DREAMS on my bookshelf. I have a few folks about whom I can't find definitive answers. I will use some of your detective clues to see if I can find more. Congrats again on living your sweet dream.

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  15. Vivian, it never ceases to amaze me how you not only created such a beautiful story - SWEET DREAMS, SARAH, but managed to pack so much information into so few, well chosen words. Thanks for sharing your research journey!

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  16. I am constantly amazed at how relentless Vivian is in her research and how she finds a way to leave no stone unturned. I honestly don't know when she sleeps. She gives me hope that I can track down what I need to tell my stories.

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  17. What a fascinating peek at how you can build a narrative from limited facts, plus you are a great detective! I also took NF Archaeology a few years back and it really sparked by interest in nonfiction.-Sara Ackerman

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  18. Wow! Vivian Kirkfield, Detective should be your new title. Absolutely fascinating read about how you continued to research Sarah and the creative ways you found information. You're certainly an inspiration to the rest of us!

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  19. Love your persistence and resourcefulness Vivian! You've crafted marvelous books with your research and passion.

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  20. This is so interesting. Thank you, Vivian. I have an idea for a PB biography but I can't find much written about the subject. Your post has inspired me to keep digging and piece things together as best I can. As always, you continue to inspire me.

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  21. I love the persistence and the thinking out of the bo . It's very encouraging.

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  22. I love hearing about your research methods. Thanks so much for sharing them. I'm truly one of your biggest fans!

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  23. Nonfiction writers definitely have to be archaeologists! Thanks for sharing examples of how you dug deep to find the facts about Sarah's life.

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  24. Thank you for this fascinating post, Vivian! I love how deeply you dig for facts. You're a nonfiction detective!

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  25. Sorry, for some reason my post for Vivian's column went to Susannah's poetry/nf blog posted yesterday. I had already posted there once.

    Your post, Vivian, shows the persistence needed to ferret out information in unlikely places. I am currently struggling with vast silence in my subject's life. Thaks for encouragement to keep digging.

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  26. Thanks for sharing your process. This is a familiar problem for me, and your post is so encouraging.

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  27. What a fascinating story about Sarah Goode. That's the same kind of process I used for my MG fiction "Special Delivery: From One Stop to another on the Underground Railroad." A ton of fun.

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  28. Great advice, Vivian! Unfortunately, I think this problem is especially true when your subject is a woman or POC because there's TONS of historical documentation of former presidents, businessmen, etc.

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  29. The story behind the story is so interesting, Vivian! And your tenacity in tracking down Sarah is pretty impressive. I guess I'll need to add that quality to my writer's toolbox. :-)

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  30. What a super sleuth you are, Vivian! Your post was so instructive and contained great tips on how to dig deep into a person's life so that his/her story can still be told even if information is scarce. Thanks for the encouragement and inspiration.

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  31. Vivian, I love these two books, but I never guessed how painstaking your research was. Thanks for filling us in on your mighty detective work!

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  32. Thank you Vivian for sharing your stories and ideas! Off to dig for the truth;) Be Inspired, Nicki Jacobsmeyer

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  33. The details of how you discovered all the information you used in your books is fascinating . Thank you for sharing!

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  34. Thanks for the post Vivian. What an adventure in research. You are a testament to perseverance and creativity!

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  35. Great post! I never even thought of this issue, so you're such a great detective for following the clues...

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  36. Great detective work! And persistence! Thanks for sharing your experience with us.

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  37. Wow, talk about archeology! Thanks, Vivian, for sharing how you pursued facts, and found what you could, and then used it well! I love Sweet Dreams Sarah!

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  38. Amazing how much you dug up. Brilliant thinking and sleuthing!

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  39. It sounds like you found a kindred spirit in Sarah Goode. Only a woman as tenacious as Sarah could have done justice to her story. This is a must read for me. Thanks for sharing your fascinating process on digging deep for scarce information.

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  40. What great sleuthing skills and persistence! Wonderful qualities for a nonfiction writer and history detective. This was a great read … thank you!

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  41. I love your tenacity and I share your heart for the under-told story! I'm working on one of those myself now and thank you for sharing your process and showing it's possible through your wonderful books!

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  42. Vivian, You've done a great deal of sleuthing and investigating for both books. My take away is your comment that, " I never put words into Sarah’s mouth. But I did assume that she had moments of doubt and difficulty, as any inventor might." I'm also working on a bio of an almost unknown person and your tips for ferreting out details is very helpful. Super to read how many various ways you uncovered information. Thanks for sharing!

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  43. An inspiration and a detective! Vivian you always amaze me.

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  44. What a great source of information on how to find facts about the person you're writing about using many different sites. Thank you.

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  45. You are quite the detective Vivian! And isn't that one of the most fun aspects of writing Non-fiction! Thanks for sharing your insights.

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  46. Love this advice and post--it is as informative, creative, and engaging as you, dear friend!

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  47. I love your encouragement! With one of my manuscripts I was close to giving up due to missing information. But now I've got sooo many new ideas to start from! Thank you!!!

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  48. Amazed at your persistence! Thanks for sharing.

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  49. Isn't it such a wonderful feeling when your persistence pays off and you find yet another piece of a person's life? Thank you for putting the spotlight on Sarah Goode.

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  50. This step by step process of how to find info when info is scarce was incredibly helpful. I appreciate it so much.

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  51. Thanks Vivian. Your ability to stick with a project you are passionate about - even when there is little information on which to go - is inspiring.

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  52. I literally just checked Sweet Dreams, Sarah out of my library a few hours ago. I'm using it as a mentor text for the biography I'm writing. Thanks for the great post. I'd never heard the term Nonfiction Archaeology, but it fits perfectly.

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  53. After reading your post, Vivian, I was amazed at the depth of your research for Sweet Dreams, Sarah. You turned an almost impossible task of finding information of an obscure woman into a book that honors her memory. Sarah was a woman who did remarkable things in her short life, and her story would have been lost had it not been for your diligence and dedication.

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  54. Thank you for your detailed post about persevering to tell stories we are compelled to tell. Just like Sarah, you never gave up, Vivian, and now we know about her!

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  55. You are a true detective- using small clues to build a detailed, authentic picture of people's lives. Even women who were lost to history. Thank you for the suggestions of how to uncover these facts.

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  56. If anyone knows how to mine for the tiniest, most brilliant of nuggets, it's you, Vivian! Thank you for taking us down your research path, retracing the steps you took on your journeys to writing these two important biographies. How lucky are today's readers to have them!

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  57. I loved reading this, Vivian. I'm in a similar situation with a manuscript and this has given me so much food for thought on directions I need to take. Thanks for sharing the process you took to craft such a fantastic book.

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  58. Vivian, you are tenacious! Thanks for these tips that will help me become a better sleuth!! xo

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  59. Thank you great information ❤️

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  60. I love NF, and this post was a great help. Great tips.

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  61. Viv, these tips were very helpful. One little bit of information can be a springboard to other facts. And you, Miss Sleuth, persevered until you collected everything you needed to tell a rich and inspiring story.

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  62. Thanks for this interesting, helpful, and inspiring post, Vivian. Sleuthing for facts about biographical subjects is so much fun!

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  63. Wow, Vivian, I'm amazed at the detective work that went into writing these books. You are one tenacious researcher!!

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  64. Vivian, thank you for sharing your journey and the terrific research tips. Patience and hard detective work are needed to craft an authentic and accurate story. I'm still winding my way. Congratulations lady :)

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  65. What struck me in the post is that you CAN write a successful nonfiction narrative based on scarce facts. That was an eye-opener for me. Joining the dots, I think you also say that you should explain in the backmatter what the facts are and how the rest is author's logic and imagination. Correct me if I am wrong in this. Thanks for this informative post.

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  66. Really wonderful information. Thank you!! Perseverance is key!!

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  67. This post is music to my ears. Can't wait to read Sweet Dreams Sarah! Thank you.

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  68. Vivian, thank-you for this inspiring and insightful post! There's so much here that struck a chord in me -- your persistence and efforts to gather as many pieces of the story as possible, the connections your forged with librarians who could assist you, the detective work that this kind of research involves and requires. Thanks for sharing your writing journey with us!

    Celia Viramontes

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  69. Thank you, Vivian. It's amazing what you did with the information you had.

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  70. Thanks, Vivian. You certainly had to dig for your golden nuggets. Thank you for posting some of your secrets for researching.

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  71. Vivian, thank you for this wonderful post! I really appreciated the bits of information you received from various censuses. Everything adds up!

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  72. What perseverance and resourcefulness! Thanks for sharing examples of your process for when information is scarce.

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  73. Your hard work has added so much to your stories, Vivian! Congratulations on your success. "Gather the facts that you can verify" is fine advice indeed.

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  74. I value your perseverance, hard work, and patience! Must be from all those years teaching. "Gather the facts you can verify. From those facts, find the focus of the story..." This is such great advice and actually really helps simply the focus and goal of the story you want to tell.
    -Ashley Congdon

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  75. Thanks for sharing your process researching both books! Very interesting! :)

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  76. This is so interesting and gives us hope and motivation!

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  77. Thank you. Thank you, Thank you. This post was so very helpful to me. I have been working on a story and have hit many dead ends in my research. Thanks for letting me know that I can still tell a story.

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  78. My former job allowed me to research and seek out people for our interpretive exhibits. It was so valuable because I learned that you must be persistent and allow yourself to go down strange tangents to uncover another kernel of truth.

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  79. I love learning how you pulled information together--even if it was small bits of information in some cases--to create these beautiful books. Thank you so much for sharing, Vivian!

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  80. Thanks for sharing! What struck me was how brilliantly creative you were in piecing all of the tidbits together to give voice to someone that didn't have one in the history books

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  81. I was very pleasantly surprised when reading your post to find that your story and experiences were familiar to me. I, too, began researching a "first" of a woman several years ago who had limited facts written about her. The facts I had heard about I had very much trouble corroborating and I actually found a mistruth or two among the published facts. I was stumped as I wondered if someone could have been so bold to not have verified the information they were publishing? After pursuing numerous leads for almost a year, I hit dead end after dead end and put my notes away, discouraged. Reading about your research journey has given me encouragement and has me brainstorming about my old topic again. Thank you for sharing - Priscilla

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  82. Wow, Vivian! Just wow! Thank you for sharing your intricate research process. You remind everyone to never give up in finding ideas, researching, and writing! I can't wait to see what comes next for you, my friend!

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  83. How disheartening that even the Sarah E. Goode STEM Academy didn't know anything about Sarah...but heartening that this didn't deter you as you researched her and wrote her story!

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  84. Great post Vivian! I knew much of the story begind Sweet Dreams, Sarah, but even I learned something new of the depth of research you did. Thanks!

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  85. I've pondered this exact issue many times--trying to figure out how to shed light on a little-documented story. Thanks so much for sharing your process and tactics!

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  86. I love the sleuthing you did, Vivian, and perseverance to find what you could about your true-life heroines! It was so helpful to know to keep digging, and that a narrative and important story could be built around a small amount of facts. You really have honored your true characters, and been an encourageer to both readers and writers, and me!

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  87. I find it shocking that the academy didn't have more information on Sarah! I'm so glad you kept digging and created such a wonderful book to share the story of this amazing woman. Thanks for sharing.

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  88. "Gather the facts you can verify. From those facts, find the focus of the story and create a well-paced, accurate, and action-packed narrative that will keep kids turning the pages!" Thank you for this advice. This gives me courage to begin working on a couple of stories that I have been thinking about for some time now and have been worried about finding enough information and facts.

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  89. Thanks Vivian for your informative and helpful article on your behind -the -scenes detective work to craft your stories!

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  91. Wow, Vivian, way to persevere! Thanks for sparking some great ideas for research.

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  92. You are always full of wisdom! And wow on all the steps you took to create a story (your passion shows!)

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  93. It's interesting how much you can put together when little is presented - I'm curious to read the books mentioned to see how it all came together in the end :)

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  94. Excellent post, Vivian! I love all the sources you were able to identify and ultimately use in the creation of your stories. There are so many places to look - places never thought of but are hidden gems. Thank you!

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  95. You've inspired me to think outside the research box to find those special tidbits that ultimately make up a great story. I don't think I utilize my librarians enough either, so this is a great reminder of just how helpful they can be!

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  96. An incredible story of research! Amazing! Thank you for sharing your process and journey. Congratulations on your books!

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  97. I love family history research, so I could mentally see all that research. Good work!

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  98. Great tips! Thanks. I have a project in mind that I can find very little information on. This will help me dig deeper.

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  99. I understand your passion for facts. (I am my family's historian and have pieced together many stories about my ancestors.)

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  100. I love reading about your research techniques, Vivian. Very helpful. You'd make a great detective!

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  101. Researching sometimes requires *detective skills*. Your persistence to include accurate facts in stories always keep the reader turning the page, Vivian.

    Thank you.
    Suzy Leopold

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  102. I love how you continue to dig, dig, dig for information, Vivian! Persistence pays off.

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  103. Such good advice, Vivian! It's like being a detective following lead after lead after lead, never letting the case run cold. Thank you!

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  104. Great post, Vivian. Thank you for sharing how you worked with the bare facts to create some great biographies.

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  105. Vivian, This is exactly the information/help I need to begin a few I am thinking about working on when I leave the classroom in a year and a half. Such an exciting process. I truly love these 2 books and after reading this post, even more, as I have a much deeper understanding of what your process entailed. Thank you for sharing!!

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  106. What a wonderful book and prize. Thanks so much for the information!

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  107. Wow to your perseverance! I enjoyed how you used so many resources to find your facts for your books. You are definitely a professional fact detective.

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  108. Great post, Vivian! Thank you for sharing your process for researching your subjects by being a detective. It was fascinating to read how you continued to research Sarah, and all the different ways you came up with the information you needed in order to tell her story.

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  109. Fantastic post, Vivian. You have inspired me!

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  110. You've given me the inspiration to send out a story I had put on the back burner! Thanks, Vivian. <3

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  111. Thank you! You made your fascinating research come alive. How inspiring.

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  112. Very informational post. I love you kept digging until you found the facts you needed to tell the stories. Sometimes that one detail is elusive, but you've inspired me to keep at it. Thanks so much!

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  113. What an incredible journey for both books. You really had to think outside the box. It sounds like a lot of fun, actually. Thank you for sharing the details of tracking down the facts!

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  114. What a timely post! One of my CPs is struggling with this exact situation and now I have advice to pass along. Thanks, Vivian!

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  115. Great information. Thank you for sharing!

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  116. Great stories about researching and writing stories. I especially like the point of finding and keeping the focus of the story. Thank you!

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  117. Vivian, thank you so much for giving us some insight into your NF process! I love how you were able to piece tiny bits together from your sleuthing to create your stories.

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  118. Viviane is so methodical and thorough! I enjoyed reading how her books came to be.

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  119. Such a wonderful post. That was some intense research! Thank you for your insights and support of the writing community!

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  120. There are so many tips for places to look for more information. I so appreciate this post.

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  121. Such an inspiring post! Finding facts is challenging in the best of situations--but these examples take it to another level. Thank you as always, for sharing your wisdom.

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  122. Such tenacity, Vivian! And I thought fiction writers had to be passionate--the more I discover about the art of NF, the more I realize how necessary it is to have a passion for your subject. Do keep writing, Vivian!

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  123. I like thinking about it as nonfiction archaeology!

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  124. Great advice! Just bought your book Making Their Voices Heard for my classroom.

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  125. What great advice! Can't wait to read your books! What an amazing year for you - well deserved!

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  126. Vivian, Love to hear the back story about Sarah and how you found your clues. Thank you for the great tips.

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  127. Your explanation of the research is one of the things that frightened me initially with NF, but also what strangely drives me to it. Thanks a bunch for the details and resources. If one is lucky enough to be in the Washington, DC area, the LOC is indeed a must have membership.

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  128. Appreciate your examples. Very helpful. Thanks!

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  129. This post is brilliant, Vivian! The research you did is inspirational and so helpful. So glad you were able to find such important facts about Sarah.

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  130. Wow, tiny tidbits can add up to a great story! Thanks for sharing this!

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  131. Writing nonfiction is truly about becoming an archeologist. I love that you stopped at nothing to dig out the facts to tell your stories. As always, Vivian, you are such an inspiration.

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  132. Your strategies for finding information are fascinating. Thanks for sharing them.

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  133. Your method of research is a clarion call of real inspiration to all of us, Vivian. Thank you for sharing it here.

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  134. Vivian, I loved your post and have had similar experiences in hitting the walk when searching for solid facts. It’s amazing you got hold of Ella’s promoter- did you jump up and down when you found her? And it’s amazing how one picture can move us. Thank you for the wonderful post.

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  135. Your research path reads like a detective story. Loved seeing the unusual places you went to find all the little pieces of information. Thank you.

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  136. Ahhhh hope to track down more much-needed info about a lesser known who I'm interested in. Thanks for the story of your search.

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  137. Wow. Vivian, you really dug into every corner for these details. It's really impressive and shows how persistence can pay off. Congratulations on these two fine books.

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  138. Thank you for the encouragement. I've researched several stories where information was sparse and I gave up. Perhaps too soon. I'm so afraid of making stretches where the research isn't there. I'll keep looking into these things and maybe there's another nugget of truth there still waiting to be found.

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  139. Wow, way to pull a story out of sparse information!

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  140. As a long time crit buddy of Vivian's I certainly remember many of the early drafts. Each time I'd read something, I couldn't wait to read the next version. What gems would she find? Obviously, she found a lot! Love this book! Thanks for sharing!

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  141. As a long time crit buddy of Vivian's I remember those early drafts. Knowing Vivian, I knew that each subsequent draft would have more details and tie things together even better! I have always loved this story, and I am thrilled with how it turned out. You are a gem, Vivian! Thanks for sharing.

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  142. It's inspiring how you can take so few facts and weave them into a well-paced story. Old census records are fascinating.

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  143. I am so lucky to be in a long-time critique group with you and feel honored to have seen the early drafts of these books. They are such great inspirational stories.

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  144. Oh, wow. You've made me feel better about the time I've spent chasing "vanishing rabbits." Plus, you've given me a few more trails to pursue and inspired me not to give up. Thanks for this wonderful post.

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  145. Thank you so much for this. I am now having the same experience: "The good news: nobody has written about this fascinating man. The bad news: nobody has written about this fascinating man." I was reassured that you made assumptions along the way. I am trying to do that too: defensible suppositions and a fully footnoted, annotated back-up copy.

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  146. I too love writing stories of subjects that didn't leave much of a paper trail. This is very helpful for researching. Thank you!

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  147. Thank you Vivian, this is such a helpful post to those of us struggling with how to put together a story when facts are scarce. Most appreciated.

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  148. Vivian, this is treasured advice. Find the facts you can verify, and craft your story to tell the truth you can. Thanks for sharing.

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  149. Find a grave advice. And "My advice for crafting a true story when information is scarce? Gather the facts you can verify. From those facts, find the focus of the story and create a well-paced, accurate, and action-packed narrative that will keep kids turning the pages!" Thank you! I recently saw your SCBWI webinar. Thank you for continuing to share your wisdom!

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  150. You provide many ways of researching a little-known person that I hadn't considered. Thank you!

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  151. I need to read both of your books! I want to see how you crafted your research into a story. I ran into the same problem when I wrote my book about Neil Armstrong and his wind tunnel. I found a few facts, and I strung them together using historical fiction. I'd like to see how you remained true to nonfiction!

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  152. Vivian, I just love how you say, ..."after some detective work..." because you really are a sleuth in addition to being an amazing author and an all-around inspiring individual. Thanks for giving us an in-depth look at how you do your research.

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  153. Fascinating tips! I love hearing how you pieced together Sarah's story.

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  154. Thank you for sharing all the detective work you did to find the facts for your NF stories! I'm so glad you kept digging and didn't give up on what you knew were important stories to tell!

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  155. Fascinating! I love the determination you showed as you kept turning over stones in search of facts. Great, practical advice. Your author bio is amazing--and fun!

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  156. I loved your story from the first draft in that NF class! And we have to dig deep to find the story when writing stories about people who are not famous or have been left out of history. Brava!

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  157. Archaeology is a great analogy for the process of unearthing precious facts about your subject. It's impressive that with a couple of handfuls of facts you can create an entertaining nonfiction story.

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  158. Wow, I am impressed with your detective abilities to track down as much as you can. I'm also impressed with your 5 word bio. Maria Johnson

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  159. Vivian, I love the way you persevere. You inspire me. There are so many voices from history that need to be heard!

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  160. We just read "Making Your Voices Heard" in my house last night. I LOVED it and wondered what resources you drew from in order to create that magic. Thank you for sharing your process, Vivian!

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  161. I live how your idea came from a picture and how you had to think outside the box for the research.

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  162. You never fail to inspire Vivian. I love your tenacity and your resourcefulness. Thank you for sharing.

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  163. Hi good friend! Love this post-both you and your subjects are so inspirational. I remember Sarah’s early days… so glad everyone gets to know her story now!

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  164. Thanks for sharing the steps you took to accomplish what seemed impossible. Great post!

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