By Kristen Mai Giang
Did you read that right? Passion project? But we’re here to
talk about nonfiction. Hours upon hours of research. Facts, not fiction. Is
there really room for passion?
There is. There must be. Because you will spend hours upon hours researching your topic. Reading every book you can find, watching every video, scouring the Internet for creditable sources and annotating them all so you can cite them months and possibly years down the line when you can barely remember your own name, let alone the obscure source of the obscure photo you once obscurely found.
Then, once your book sells, you may go through rounds and rounds of revisions, cross-checking to make sure your facts haven’t morphed into fiction. And once the art is complete, you may – you guessed it! – go through rounds and rounds of reviews to ensure that the art and text still tell a true story
PLEASE DON’T STOP READING. If you find yourself slinking away from the idea of writing nonfiction, passion is the thing that will make that sly nonfiction idea rear its head and compel you to return to it. Over and over again. Picking a passion project will save you during the dark hours, when you’ve stayed up too late, and your eyes just don’t seem to see anymore. Because you will care so much that you must tell this story, and you must tell it right.
So how do you pick a passion project? Passion is a daunting word. Do we feel passion about many things in our lives? I like many things, but do I have passions? (Cue shrug emoji.) As it turns out, passion lurks in unexpected places. It pops up and surprises you when you aren’t really looking for it.
My first nonfiction picture book is a biography of Jackie Chan. I like Jackie Chan very much. I find him hilariously cheeky and charming. His stunts are perfectly timed blurs of speed and grace, power and precision. I grew up watching his movies and laughing at all his silly humor and punishing pranks. But was I PASSIONATE about him?
Until I happened to learn that before Jackie Chan became a global action superstar, he had been classically trained to perform Peking Opera. In painted face and colorful costume, he sang and performed epic Chinese legends. This seemed such a disconnect from the Jackie Chan I thought I knew – that icon of kung fu comedy – that I couldn’t help learning more. And before I knew it, I had read every book I could find, watched every video, and scoured the Internet.
What I learned, what became my passion, was the multidimensional truth of who Jackie Chan is. So often people of color, even those as famous as Jackie Chan, are only seen in one dimension. A stereotype. The kung fu fighting part that doesn’t represent the three-dimensional whole. The whole in whom we might see a universal truth, in whom we might see ourselves, no matter what our race or background. I wanted to tell that story. The whole story of Jackie Chan. I was passionate about it.
Along the way, I unexpectedly fulfilled another passion – for representation. When I was growing up, there weren’t many Asian actors in leading or even supporting roles on TV or in the movies. Only recently did I realize that I gained that representation – I saw those heroes – in Hong Kong movies. My mom would take us kids to the Chinese theater in San Gabriel, California, that played Hong Kong double features. Sharing sticky sweet fruit-flavored beef jerky, we laughed at Jackie’s antics and cheered a star, many stars, who looked like us.
Perhaps Jackie Chan was fueling a passion I didn’t even know I had those many years ago. And perhaps there is a passion in you just waiting to be sparked.
GIVE IT A TRY
So how do you locate that lurking passion? How do you coax it out? Start with what you like. What interests you? What are you curious about? What do you enjoy? From there, research and learn more about a topic or a person related to that. If you love food or cooking, perhaps a chef or a pivotal moment in history related to food. As you research, take notes and free-write ideas that come to you. What themes arise? Why does this matter to you? The object of your passion may not be the topic itself, but an idea or theme or memory it represents. Something that makes you want to dig deeper. When an idea captures you, that’s when you know you have a book you want to write. Even better, you’ve done the work of figuring out the real story you want to tell – and that readers will want to read.
MEET THE AUTHOR
Kristen Mai Giang is a Chinese American author who emigrated from Vietnam when she was 18 months old. Her debut picture book biography, The Rise (and Falls) of Jackie Chan, releases March 29, 2022, from Crown Books for Young Readers.
She is also the author of Ginger & Chrysanthemum (Fall 2020) and the upcoming Last Flight (Spring 2023), both from Levine Querido.
When not writing, Kristen has spent the past two decades creating Emmy Award-winning interactive media for Disney, PBS Kids Sprout, and Mattel, among others. She is currently developing a K-5 interactive learning platform funded by the NSF.