Sunday, August 22, 2010
Today, I have a guest, Vickie Alvear Shecter, author of CLEOPATRA RULES! THE AMAZING LIFE OF THE ORIGINAL TEEN QUEEN. Vickie is giving us the inside scoop on writing nonfiction.
The Secret is the "Hook."
So what happens when the event or person you want to write about has "been done" countless times? Should you drop it and look for another topic less well known? You could, but you may not want to give up so easily.
For example, when I decided to write a kid's biography on Cleopatra, I could have easily talked myself out of it, telling myself that too many books already existed about her. But I didn't. Instead I approached a familiar subject with a fresh twist. In my research, I discovered that serious modern scholars weren't so quick to accept the point of view of the original sources on the great queen, especially since those sources were written by her conquerors, the people who NEEDED to make her look bad in order to justify a war. Today's scholars "tested what the Romans wrote about Cleopatra against the larger picture of international politics, Roman propaganda, ancient Egyptian artifacts, and even what Medieval Arab scholars (who had decoded hieroglyphics way before the West did) wrote about her.
I had my hook. But in approaching an old story in a new way, it became even more important to back up my suppositions with scholarly research. So, for example, when I wrote that a pre-teen Cleopatra accompanied her father on a trip to Rome, I had to acknowledge, in my endnotes, that not everyone is sure about that. However, many Cleopatra experts have good arguments/facts backing up their supposition that she did indeed accompany her father the king. I made sure to cite their arguments and proofs in my endnotes.
Another example: Cleopatra has always been depicted as a "man-eater," which implies that she seduced countless men. But today, modern scholars say there is no proof to support that claim. In fact, there is more proof that she was actually very loyal to her Roman consorts (Julius Caesar and then years after his murder, Mark Antony). So again, I made sure to have plenty of back-up when I make the claim that Cleopatra likely only had two relationships her whole life.
All this, I hope, makes for a fresh take on an old subject. So far, the response to the book has been very good (it didn't hurt that I had four ancient history and/or Cleopatra experts vett the manuscript!). And even if some "old-guard" historians may be uneasy with the colloquial tone and teen "voice" that I use in the book, to a review, they all cite the research as both thorough and impressive.
So don't talk yourself out of writing a book just because it's "been done before." Find your hook, back it up with thorough research, and let your passion for the subject shine through.
Thanks, Vickie, for sharing your ideas on writing hooks. I’m looking forward to reading Cleopatra Rules! and Cleopatra’s Moon. I'm working on a hook for my next book, too.
Vicky Alvear Shecter is the author of the recently released, CLEOPATRA RULES! THE AMAZING LIFE OF THE ORIGINAL TEEN QUEEN (Boyds Mill). Her debut YA historical fiction novel, CLEOPATRA'S MOON, comes out next summer, published by Arthur A Levine Books/Scholastic.
Family Circle Magazine Contest
Submit an original (written by entrant), fiction short story of no more than 2,500 words, typed on 8-1/2x11paper. Entries must be unpublished and may not have won any prize or award. Include your name, address, daytime telephone number and e-mail address (optional) on each page and send to: Family Circle Fiction Contest, c/o Family Circle Magazine, 375 Lexington Avenue, Ninth Floor, New York, NY 10017.
LIMIT: Up to two (2) entries per person will be accepted but each entry must be a unique short story.
Top prize of $750 for short fiction up to 2,500 words. Entrants must be US residents, aged 21+. Family Circle is a women's magazine with articles about parenting, health, cooking, crafts, relationships, and family travel.
Deadline: Postmarked by September 8 and received by September 15.
Details at http://www.familycircle.com/family-fun/crafts/2010-family-circle-fiction-contest-rules/
Contest for Women
Twice-yearly free contest offers prizes up to $500 and online publication for the best short fiction or creative nonfiction by women. Both published and unpublished work welcome. Entries should be 50-5,000 words. Contest sponsor Beate Sigriddaughter says, "Subject is open, but must be of significance to women. My criterion is passion, excellence, and authenticity in the woman's writing voice." Must be a woman to submit. One submission per contest.
Send manuscript to:
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Deadline: September 21, 2010