Friday, February 15, 2019

Mentor Texts, Guest TA Interview, and Hedy Lamarr Book Giveaway with Laurie Wallmark

Hello everyone!
Today I'm thrilled to bring you a guest TeachingAuthor interview with award-winning picture book author Laurie Wallmark. See the end of this post for details on how you can enter to win a copy of her newest book, Hedy Lamarr's Double Life: Hollywood Legend and Brilliant Inventorwhich was released from Sterling Children's Books just last week! And, in honor of Poetry Friday, I'll also be sharing a poem from Laurie's book Grace Hopper: Queen of Computer Code.

This post kicks off a new topic: how we TeachingAuthors use "mentor texts" as part of our writing and revision process. In case you're not familiar with the term, mentor texts are published books we study to learn how to become better writers. To elaborate, I'd like to share a definition from Lynne Dorfman, co-author of several books on using mentor texts, including Mentor Texts: Teaching Writing Through Children's Literature, K-6 (Stenhouse) In an interview for the National Writing Project, Dorfman said:
"Mentor texts are pieces of literature that you—both teacher and student—can return to and reread for many different purposes. They are texts to be studied and imitated...Mentor texts help students to take risks and be different writers tomorrow than they are today. It helps them to try out new strategies and formats."
Although Dorfman is referring to using mentor texts in the classroom, adult writers can experience the same benefits by studying published works on their own, whether they're writing fiction or nonfiction. For example, while working on Playing by Heart, I read and studied numerous historical novels set in the 18th-century, especially those featuring musicians and composers. Now that I'm working on a nonfiction picture book biography, I'm studying recently published picture book biographies. That's how I discovered Laurie Wallmark's books. When I learned she had a new book coming out this month, Hedy Lamarr's Double Life: Hollywood Legend and Brilliant Inventor, illustrated by Katy Wu (Sterling Children's Books), I invited Laurie to do a guest TeachingAuthor interview. (If you'd like to read more about how writers can use picture books as mentor texts, check out the Reading for Research Month (ReFoReMo) Challenge.)

Before I get to the interview with Laurie, here's a bit about her: Laurie Wallmark, author of Hedy Lamarr’s Double Life (Sterling Children's Books), writes picture book biographies of women scientists and mathematicians. Her books Grace Hopper Queen of Computer Code (Sterling Children's Books) and Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine (Creston Books), have together received five starred reviews and several national awards. Laurie has an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts as well as degrees in biochemistry and information systems. When she's not writing, she teaches computer science at Raritan Valley Community College. She also teaches courses on writing for children. Find out more about Laurie on her website and follow her on Twitter here.

Laurie's newest book, Hedy Lamarr's Double Life: Hollywood Legend and Brilliant Inventor, tells the story of the actress’s hidden life—movie star by day, inventor by night. She co-invented the technology that helps keep our electronic devices safe from hacking. The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books says of Hedy Lamarr's Double Life:
"Many STEM-for-girls biographies fan excitement over women's achievements, but this title actually brings the central scientific concept within middle-grade reach."
See the end of this post for details on how you can enter to win a copy of this terrific new book!

But first, be sure to read this interview with Laurie:

Laurie, you're so busy as a TeachingAuthor, teaching computer classes and courses in writing for children while writing and researching your own books. How do you balance your writing and teaching?

All writers have other responsibilities, whether they are related to work, family, or themselves. Writers need to take advantage of those interstitial opportunities in our lives. You can think about your story while: standing in line; washing in the shower; exercising, etc. You can write while: on hold on the telephone; waiting for your flight at the airport; between meetings on a business trip. You get the idea.

Today we’re celebrating your latest release, the picture book biography Hedy Lamarr's Double Life: Hollywood Legend and Brilliant Inventor illustrated by Katy Wu (Sterling Books). I’ve seen some of Hedy Lamarr’s movies but never knew about her “double life.” Please tell our readers about the book and how you came to write it.

I like to shine a spotlight on women in STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) whose achievements have been overlooked. Hedy co-invented a technology known as spread-spectrum frequency hopping. This discovery is used in our Wi-Fi, phones, Bluetooth, and other technologies to help prevent people from listening in on our private communications. (For more on how this book came to be, and a sneak peek at some of the illustrations, see Laurie's interview with Kathy Temean.)

Hedy Lamarr’s Double Life is a great follow-up to your two other picture book biographies: Grace Hopper: Queen of Computer Code, also illustrated by Katy Wu (Sterling Books), and Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine illustrated by April Chu (Creston Books). What drew you to writing these biographies as picture books? 

Growing up, I experienced several instances where I was discouraged from pursuing my interest in math and science. The most infamous of these was when the principal of my high school told my mother she didn’t have to worry about the availability of advanced math classes, since I was a girl and wouldn’t take them. I want girls (and boys!) to realize that careers in STEM are open to everyone. (Laurie shares more on her path to writing these books in this essay.)

Wow! I'm glad you didn't let your principal's comments keep you away from math and science, since that ultimately led to your writing these great biographies.  How did you sell your first book?

Several years ago, I had an editorial critique at a New Jersey SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) conference with agent Ginger Harris-Dontzin of the Liza Royce Agency. She loved my manuscript and shared it with her partner, Liza Fleissig. They had a particular editor, Marissa Moss of Creston Books, whom they thought would be interested. She was. Marissa bought my Ada Lovelace book, and Liza and Ginger are now my agents. Anyone who is interested in writing books for children needs to join the international organization, SCBWI.

What advice do you have for other writers working on picture book biographies?

Research. Research. Research. For me, research is part of the fun of writing biographies. Often you find out that something everyone knew about the person isn’t really true. The challenge in doing research is when sources differ.

What’s next for you?

I have a picture book biography, Numbers in Motion: Sophie Kowalevski, Mathematician (Creston Books) about a women mathematician coming out in 2020. After that, I have another woman in STEM biography, but it hasn’t been announced yet. Even as we speak, I’m writing another picture book biography.

Your productivity is inspiring, Laurie! In studying your books as mentor texts, I've noticed that they're recommended for grades Kindergarten-3 even though they’re at a fourth-grade reading level. Do you write your biographies with a particular age student in mind? In what grades do you see your books being used? 

The publisher always says K-5. I actually think grades 3-5 is the sweet spot for them, but I just write. The Hedy Lamarr book skews higher because it has more science in it.

Readers, if you're a classroom teacher, you'll want to check out the Curriculum Guides for Laurie's books on this page of her websitewhere you'll also find links to STEM activities

Laurie, thanks so much for taking time from your busy schedule for this interview. Thanks, also, for giving our readers a chance to win a copy of your new book. 

Readers, below I've listed some resources for finding and using mentor texts, followed by the book giveaway instructions. But first, I want to share a poem from Laurie's book Grace Hopper: Queen of Computer Code, as I promised at the beginning of this post. This poem appears on the front end pages, before the book's title page. On Wednesday, February 20, Laurie will be back to share a writing exercise related to the poem.

I chose the clock background above because in Grace Hopper: Queen of Computer Code, young Grace tinkered with clocks until she "understood what made them tick." Explaining how the moth is tied to the book would be a "spoiler" for those who haven't read it yet, so you'll have to get a copy to see for yourself.

Before I provide the giveaway instructions and a link to this week's Poetry Friday roundup, here are some additional resources for those of you looking for advice on writing picture book biographies and/or for more on mentor texts:
Now, at last, are the Book Giveaway Instructions:
To enter our drawing for a chance to win Hedy Lamarr's Double Life: Hollywood Legend and Brilliant Inventor, use the Rafflecopter widget below. You may enter via 1, 2, or all 3 options.

If you choose option 2, you MUST leave a comment on TODAY'S blog post or on our TeachingAuthors Facebook page. If you haven't already "liked" our Facebook page, please do so today!

In your comment, we'd love you would share either the title of a picture book biography you'd like to recommend or the name of a person who would make a good subject for a picture book biography.

(If you prefer, you may submit your comment via email to: teachingauthors [at] gmail [dot] com.)

Note: if you submit your comments via email or Facebook, YOU MUST STILL ENTER THE DRAWING VIA THE WIDGET BELOW. The giveaway ends March 1 and is open to U.S. residents only.

P.S. If you've never entered a Rafflecopter giveaway, here's info on how to enter a Rafflecopter giveaway and the difference between signing in with Facebook vs. with an email address.

Don't forget to visit today's Poetry Friday hosted by Jone at Check It Out

Finally, remember to always Write with Joy!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Friday, February 8, 2019

Where Do I Begin?

The theme of how I start a new writing project comes at the right moment for me because I’m asking myself the same question:  How do I start a new writing project?

First, I’ve got to let go.

My new book has finally been released and I’ve got to move on to another project.  But it isn’t easy to do.  I’ve lived with the enslaved people I wrote about in Buried Lives: The Enslaved People of George Washington’s Mount Vernon for the past five and a half years.  I’ve researched, I've thought deeply, and worked hard to write about them in a meaningful way.  But now a new phase has begun for my book as it faces the world on its own.  It reminds me of the feeling I had when I took my kids to college and left them there.  I knew they were ready to go.  I wanted them to go.  It was time for them to go.  It was hard to let them go-but I did.   

Image from Burst.
Since the first of the year, I’ve been doing as much marketing as possible for Buried Lives-but soon I’ll be at the end of my long list of things to do.  Once those tasks are done, I’ll clean my office.  I'll find a place (though I don't know where) for the piles of papers and books that at this moment look like a tornado has touched down. I need to see a clean desk before I can think seriously about what to do next.  

Because I write long nonfiction, each project is a time commitment of years.  I must be willing to invest that kind of energy—mental, physical, and emotional—to the topic.  For me, I must believe the topic is worth what it will cost me, and that this is the book that I’m supposed to write.  

I sometimes think the books choose me, rather than the other way around.

Yes, I know that sounds melodramatic.  But the truth is that it takes so long to write my deeply researched books, that there won’t be that many books by the end of my career.  I will never be one of those authors whose bios say they have written 200 books.   Therefore the topics I choose to write about are crucial to me.  

So many books, representing so much work!  Image from Burst.
So now that I’m letting go of Buried Lives, what is next for me?  I do have a topic that has been in my mind for a couple of years that might become my next book.  But at this point, the possible topic is only a starting place.  From here, I’ll need to do market research to see what else has been written on the topic.  The next step will be to write a book proposal.  Sounds easy, right?  It isn’t. I do a lot of research in order to understand the topic so I can figure out how a book could work.  I need a fully realized concept for the entire book before beginning to write a book proposal.    

After lots of research, and after I know what the book is really about, I craft the most powerful book proposal I can.  I keep in mind that the proposal is a sales tool.  My goal is for the editor to think—I love this idea!  I want this book on our list! 

The next step is signing a contract.  Once I sign my John Hancock on a contract, I put everything I’ve got into writing that book. 

The process is slow and challenging.  The process is also exhilarating and fulfilling.  

What will be the focus of my next book?  Image from Burst.

Carla Killough McClafferty

Friday, February 1, 2019

In the Beginning…

My fellow TeachingAuthors and I begin this new year sharing our thoughts about our stories’ beginnings.
What do we do once a glimmering idea snatches our attention?
Bobbi focuses on first lines.
Mary Ann gives the idea room to grow.
April (most poetically) weighs her options before investing.
I begin by falling in love.

  The thing is, I have no choice. Since the start of my Writer’s Journey, each and every story I’ve given my all and best to - whether eventually published or now boxed on a shelf – began with a “something” read/heard/overheard/seen/felt that inexplicably grabbed my heart.
The meteorological truth of weather proverbs as noted in a Chicago Tribune article.
Competing chicken soup recipes reported in a Jewish Exponent feature.
A plaintive Klezmer melody replaying in my mind.
A winter in Chicago that never saw snow.
There was that modern young man living the life of a long-ago artist whose painted boxes caught my eye at an Art Fair.
And those tethered preschool kiddos traipsing across Lincoln Park.
And my current love - a little-known antebellum woman whose quiet philanthropic efforts continue today.

Not to get all hormonal about it, but yes, while rolling out an idea’s story possibilities, day after day, wandering, wondering, What-if-ing, imagining, reading, listening, viewing, researching, my body’s dopamine rises, my neuro-transmitters go nuts. 
Soon, I’m intensely single-focused, some say even driven! The sky becomes bluer! Dreams permeate my sleep! I ooh, ah and sigh with unabashed abandon.  I’m euphoric, exhilarated, invested, all in!
In other words, I’ve fallen in love.

The Good News is: having fallen in love with heart-grabbing story ideas numerous times, I know Reality demands eventual commitment.
Yes: I’ll need a format, a structure, a time and a place.
Yes: I’ll need a Narrator, a tone, a voice.
Definitely YES: I’ll need a star for my story, a character with whom my readers can connect.
Absolutely YES: I’ll need to discover my connection to that star.
To quote Katherine Paterson: “… one heart in hiding reaching out to another.”

The Even Better News, though: I can do all of the above – the carving out of story elements, the probing of my character’s heart, the telling of the story, because once upon a time, when the idea first grabbed my heart, I’d fallen in love.

I’ve learned the hard way how important it is to have a record of that first romantic encounter.  Now I journal a story’s spark and how I fell in love.  I make my students and writers do the same.
Whenever I’m stuck or have lost my way, when a no-holds-barred critique knocks me flat to the floor, I re-read that journal entry and before I know it, I’m recalculating, moving forward on my plotline, my heart once again fully engaged.

I’m delighted today’s Poetry Friday host is THE OPPOSITE OF INDIFFERENCE.
When I first visited Tabatha Yeatts’ site on January 16, knowing full well the content of the post I’d be writing today, all I could do was smile.  Her post was titled “Getting Started.”
Even better, she’d closed with a poem by Mary Oliver, presciently, it turns out, because Mary died the very next day.
Mary Oliver’s words are the perfect close for this post and a lovely way to remember this life-affirming poet.

    “When it’s over, I want to say all my life
      I was a bride married to amazement.”

Happy Beginnings!

Esther Hershenhorn

Friday, January 25, 2019


Howdy, Campers ~ and Happy Poetry Friday! (original poem and PF link below).

2019's first topic rumbling around our TeachingAuthors' treehouse, is How Do I Start a New Writing Project? Bobbi launched our new year asking What is your first line?; Mary Ann followed by blowing my socks off with her poetic description of beginning a new story.

You know the feeling when you read something and it's so good, there's nothing left to say on a topic? That's how I felt after reading these posts. I simply wanted to bow to my fellow TeachingAuthors and tackle some other topic...
Me, curtsying to Bobbi and Mary Ann
 I lied. It's Cissy Fitzgerald, curtsying. 
Photo by W.M. Morrison, 1895 

...until I remembered my Hot Idea Files, which, like Mary Ann's journals, are filled with lines of dialogue, quotes that at some point stirred my insides, a misheard word, an item from my gratitude list, ideas that flew across the room and hit me like a rock, a remembered dream, a word or definition from's A.Word.A.Day borborygmus (...look it up).

Here's a random jot (as Mary Ann calls them) from February, 2014:
Teaching feels as if I'm careening down on of those Olympic ski racing courses--you know, that 1½ mile downhill course where they hit speeds of 85+ mph? Yeah, that feeling. Like I'm going to hit a bump and skid off the course and die any minute. And then...the three hours of class are over and I had them. Cowabunga! GOLD MEDAL!

And here's one from June, 2017:
I think my sleep is deeper...I'm having lots of dreams. It feels as if I'm catching up on dreams that have been stacking up.

Speaking of stacking up...have you ever had someone say, "Heck, I can write a picture book on my coffee break!"?

When I hear that, I think about the process of choosing an idea for a poem, a picture book or a novel and decide that the person who just said this...
is an alien.

Sowhat do I do to start a new writing project? I open the door and listen to my stacks of ideas calling, "Pick me, pick me!"...choose one, and simply begin.

by April Halprin Wayland
I say, “How nice. 
Would you like to come inside?”
Then I walk her up the concrete steps of my brain,
open the door and move ten heavy boxes,
walk around letters stacked to the ceiling,
shove aside bulging brown bags with string.
We make our way to the back bedroom
past piles of Federal Express packages
where I stick a butterfly net
out the bedroom balcony doors
and catch a few more ideas
as they fly past.

In the kitchen, cases of canned ideas
line the worn wood floor,
unpacked sacks of fresh-picked ones
are piled on the counter.

We hold onto the paint-chipped banister
and walk down the wobbly stairs
to the cold, cement basement.
The sulfur smell surprises as I strike a match.
“Where is there room for your idea
between the wooden tennis rackets,
the rusty bird cage,
the folded music stands
and trunks of family stories?” I ask.

Crouching behind a trunk
is the one that creeps upstairs at night
to slink along the hall near my bedroom.
It's almost too heavy to pull to its feet.
This is the one I am working on now.

“Would you be kind enough to take your idea
to my storage locker downtown, near the pier?”
I say, handing her a small tin key.
“Perhaps you'll find room there.

Best to stand back as you roll up the aluminum door.”

drawing & poem (c)2019 April Halprin Wayland. All rights reserved.

What's in your Hot Idea File?  C'mon...tell us one thing. We are dying to know.

posted with hope for this brand new year by April Halprin Wayland, Eli-the-dog, and Snot-the-aging-cat.

Friday, January 18, 2019

Beginning a Story or Populating Your Beach

    Beginning a new story is like sunrise at the beach.  Slowly, light appears over the horizon. Brighter and brighter to empty beach.  Well, not quite empty.  The light is an idea, a glimpse, a voice, a detail, flitting though my head.

Quick! Catch it. Catch it right NOW before it flies off to join the bog of other ideas in the back of my head...the ones I forgot to write down.

I grab my jot journal--the one full of disjointed phrases and conversation bits that make no sense to anyone but me.  I scribble down whatever the light revealed to a way that I will remember it the next time I read it. (My first jot journal contained all kinds of cryptic notations that made no sense when I looked at them later.)

Let entry marinate a day or so.

Go back to jot journal. Decide if what seemed brilliant a couple days ago, still shines as brightly. Assuming it does, find other journal where I Work On Things. I write down as much as I know about that tiny bright spot on the empty beach of my mind. Sometimes it's a sentence (on rare occasions, the FIRST sentence...which was the case with Yankee Girl and First Grade Stinks). Sometimes it's a character description, or a disembodied character carrying on a monologue. I write it down. I write until I run out of stuff to say. I stick a Post-It note on the page, with the date, and shorthand for the idea, sticking out like a book mark.

Then I put it away for a couple of months.

At some point I will 1) remember that idea or 2) find the idea in the IWOT journal while I'm looking for a DIFFERENT idea. I will either decide that the idea is too thin to bother with, or discover that in the intervening months, more ideas, themes, and characters have bubbled to the surface, begging to join the original thought.

Thin ideas stay where they are. I never throw anything out. Some of those turn into something more, years later (Camp K-9 and A Tree for Emmy are two of those). Sometimes not. You never know.

I look at the idea I am now married to for the next year or so, and do an inventory. How well do I know these characters who have moved into my life?  What other information do I need for this story? Then follows three or four months of basic research.(Amazing the number of facts you need to know to write even a picture book,),

I also get to know my characters. They obligingly show up at odd moments (the back seat of the car, or the foot of my the middle of the night) and want to talk to me. Or to each other.

After a couple of months of nailing down facts and talking to characters, I take another look at my beach.

Wow. It's full of people meandering around...little groups here and there, engaged in a scene. The beach is also littered with piles of props (my researched facts) I know my characters need, but they don't seem to be using them. It's up to me to show them their props, and tell them how to use them. I need to put those scattered groups acting out scenes in some sort of sequence.

My beach is full, but chaotic. This chaos is called pre-writing. Now it's time to get my ducks and characters and facts in a row. Time to write that first draft.

And that's how I start a story.

Friday, January 11, 2019

Endings and Beginnings

The Old Year
--John Clare, 1793 – 1864

The Old Year's gone away
     To nothingness and night:
We cannot find him all the day
     Nor hear him in the night:
He left no footstep, mark or place
     In either shade or sun:
The last year he'd a neighbour's face,
     In this he's known by none.

And welcome to the New Year!

I am reminded of what T.S. Elliot once said, that last year’s words belong to last year’s language. And next year’s words are yet to be written.

So now we have an opportunity to begin a new story. A blank page is in front of me, and I’m still trying to figure out my first line. It’s intimating, writing that first line. An argument can be made that the beginning of the story is the most important. First impressions and all. In fact Jacob Appel suggests in his article, 10 Ways to Start Your Story Better, that the fate of most literary endeavors is sealed within the initial paragraph, “and that the seeds of that triumph or defeat are usually sown by the end of the very first sentence.”

“In writing, as in dating and business, initial reactions matter. You don’t get a second chance, as mouthwash commercials often remind us, to make a first impression.”

Consider these iconic first lines:

Jane Austin, Pride and Prejudice (1813): It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.

Herman Melville, Moby Dick (1851): Call me Ishmael.

George Orwell, 1984 (1949): It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.

Charles Dickens, Tale of Two Cities (1859) : It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.

Charles Dickens, David Copperfield (1850): Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show.

Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451(1953): It was a pleasure to burn.

Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar (1953): It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn’t know what I was doing in New York.

Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937): Ships at a distance have every man’s wish on board.

So I wrote my first line, to my new story. It reads:

To see the elephant: an American expression popular in the 19th century. It means to gain experience, overcome unexpected dangers and face the miseries of life, but at an extraordinary cost.

Well, I’ll work on it.

What is the first line to your new story?

Bobbi Miller

Friday, December 28, 2018

Giveaway Winner and our Winter Break

Hi all,
Just a quick update to announce that the winner of Carla's new book Buried Lives: The Enslaved People of George Washington's Mount Vernon is Vanessa R!

Congratulations, Vanessa! And a BIG thank you to all who entered. We're planning more great giveaways in 2019, so stay tuned. I'll be posting about the next one in February.

Hope you're all enjoying the holiday season. Our regular posts will resume Friday, January 11.

Till then, remember to Write with Joy!

Friday, December 21, 2018

The Unseen Foundation of Buried Lives AND Last Day to Enter Book Giveaway

This week’s post is a follow up from last week.  In that post, I was looking forward to the release of Buried Lives: The Enslaved People of George Washington’s Mount Vernon on December 18.  At last the book is officially available for purchase.  Yipppeee!  


But behind every page are countless backstories that no one will ever know.  Sometimes those stories—not meant for the pages of the book—make what is written on the page even deeper and more meaningful.  

Here in this space I’m going to share a few pics and stories that are not in the book.  And some of the stories I don’t have photos for.  But every photo and every story are sub text in the book, even though not in the words I’ve carefully crafted there.  

Many different people at Mount Vernon have helped me in countless ways.  I don’t have photos of most of them.  Mary V. Thompson, the historian at Mount Vernon has always shared her vast knowledge with me with unbelievable generosity that goes beyond her “job” at Mount Vernon.  She has answered hundreds of questions for me along the way.  Another hero of mine at Mount Vernon is Dawn Bonner, Manager of Visual Resources who shared countless images with me as I chose just the right ones. In the end she helped me find many of the stunning images you see in the book.  She too answered hundreds of questions for me about images.  Thank you both from the bottom of my heart.

Here are just of few photos that make up the unseen foundation of Buried Lives.  

In the laboratory with Joe Downer, Archeologist and Crew Chief for Mount Vernon's dig in the cemetery of the enslaved.  Thousands of pieces of history have been found at Mount Vernon especially in the areas where the enslaved lived.  Lives of people become real when you touch pieces of dishes, pipes, and pottery they used day to day.  Joe has helped me in a million ways throughout this project.  

I had the opportunity to work with the archeologist to dig in the cemetery.  Me working the soil shaker where a 5000 year old Native American arrowhead was found.  Wow.  I was the second person to touch this in 5000 years!   

Me working a trowel to finish uncovering one of the graves of the enslaved in the cemetery.  I wrote about it on pages 126-127 of the book.  It was a deeply moving experience to uncover grave #67.  No one will ever know who lies buried in this unmarked grave.

Brenda Parker, who portrays Caroline (one of the people highlighted in my book) and Don Francisco (plays the fife at Mount Vernon) came to the cemetery memorial on the days I was working on the dig.  Brenda -who sings like an angel-sang Amazing Grace, and Don accompanied her on the fife.  I cried and cried.  A day I'll never forget.  Thank you dear ones for all you!

One of the wonderful things about this book is adding these two wonderful people in my life as friends.  Thank you Brenda Parker and Don Francisco for your sweetness.  

Having dinner with the amazing Mary V. Thompson, the historian at MV.  And my new friend Zunny Matema (a descendant of Caroline in my book).  Zunny wrote the forward for the book.  What a wonderful circle to complete as a writer.  To write about Caroline, then meet her present day descendant.  What an honor!  

I’ve done all I can to make Buried Lives the best book it can be. I’ve researched it, written it, revised it countless times, wept over it, and prayed over it.   

At last the book is available for readers. 


Carla Killough McClafferty

Here's the link to the post where you can enter the giveaway.

Friday, December 14, 2018

Book Giveaway and Release of my book, Buried Lives: The Enslaved People of George Washington's Mount Vernon

At last it is time to do the dance of joy and celebrate.  Yippeeeeee, Hallelujah!  My new book Buried Lives: The Enslaved People of George Washington’s Mount Vernon(Holiday House Books) will be released in a few days-on December 18, 2018. 

Released December 18.  New from Holiday House.  STARRED review in Booklist.
Enter the book giveaway at the end of this post for a chance to win a copy of
Buried Lives: The Enslaved People of George Washington's Mount Vernon.

It has been five years in the making.  Now that I think about it, it has been closer to five and a half years since the first idea for this book planted itself firmly in my mind--and more importantly in my heart.  At the risk of sounding melodramatic, when I take on a topic for a book, I live with the people I write about for the rest of my life.  

The people from Buried Lives I’ll carry with me along life’s bumpy road are William Lee (Washington’s valet), Christopher Sheels (the young man who took over as valet), Caroline Branham (housemaid), Peter Hardiman (Caroline’s husband who ran Washington’s mule breeding operation), Oney Judge (Martha Washington’s lady’s maid), and Hercules (chief cook at President’s House in Philadelphia).  Along with these six people, their families join me too. For some of them, I know their mothers, their grandmothers, their aunts, their uncles, their spouse, their sons, and their daughters.

While I’m researching and writing the book, the subjects of my book are never far from my mind.  I think about them as I figure out how to bring their true-life stories to readers in a way that is accurate and entertaining.  I think through the details of their experiences.  I ponder over them.  I put myself in their shoes so to speak-at least as much as possible.  The people I write about must be real to me.  If they aren’t real to me, they will never feel real to my readers--even though they were real people.  

I want my readers to find out what happens to the six people I highlight in my book.  But that’s not all—I want them to feel the hoe in Christopher’s hand when he was a child. I want them to feel the cold as Caroline lights the fires in the house during the winter.  I want them to smell the delicious meals Hercules cooked on the hearth.  I want my readers to see them as real flesh and blood people who had every emotion we have today.  And I want my readers to remember that someone else owned these six people.  In this case, their master was the President of the United States.

Along the way of telling about the lives of these six individuals who were enslaved at Mount Vernon, I weave in Washington’s changing views of slavery through the years.  By 1799, 317 enslaved people lived at Mount Vernon. Washington owned 123 of them, he rented 41, and 153 individuals were owned by Martha’s dower estate.   Near the end of his life, Washington wrote a will that would freed the 123 people he owned.  But neither he nor Martha could free the 153 people that were part of her estate.  This sets up a devastating separation of some families after the deaths of George and Martha Washington.  Readers will find out which of the six were freed and which remained enslaved.

Also part of Buried Lives is the ongoing archaeological dig in the cemetery for the enslaved people of Mount Vernon.  The graves, which are unmarked, are slowly being located and counted—while none of the remains are disturbed. 

In a few days, Buried Lives: The Enslaved People of George Washington’s Mount Vernon will leave my protection.  It will be released into the world to stand on its own.  It is my hope that the book I’ve written will allow six, specific enslaved people from Mount Vernon to step out of the fog of history and stand in the bright light of recognition.  I want my readers to like them as much as I do.   

Carla Killough McClafferty


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