The best biographies are those that peek into the heart and soul of their subject. They delve deep beneath the surface of “fact” to find the real human story. ~ Candace Fleming
A neat opportunity happened a week ago. I interviewed a living descendant of the person I'm writing a picture biography about. You might be thinking--how did you find a living relative? Lots of hunting on the Internet. I really felt like a stalker! A school was named after my person and celebrating its 100th anniversary. A law paper about it listed all the living descendants! Thanks to Kristen Fulton of our WOW Nonfiction Facebook group, she suggested looking up the descendants on Spokeo.com for phone numbers and addresses. I also searched them on Facebook and found two, but they didn't answer my messages or friend requests. I don't blame them; I don't friend strangers either. White Pages.com and Anywho.com also helped me narrow down phone numbers. Then, I said a prayer, and with enough courage, called. I couldn't believe she answered the phone. She's the great-granddaughter and 88 years old. I think she was more surprised that I was calling from South Korea. We had a lovely conversation later that day, but to be honest, she didn't really give me any new information. However, she did stress some details that I thought weren't as important. So now I'm re-looking at those areas. She also told me to call another relative, which I still have to do after I do another step.
I ordered in some actual books on my subject from Amazon. Otherwise, all my sources, journals and autobiographies, have been online through the Library of Congress Archives. I'm so fortunate I can research while in another country! So I'm currently reading these books, and then I'll call relative #2.
I've also read from some of the experts in the picture book biography field. Kathleen Krull likes to read actual books about her subject first rather than autobiographies, journals, and diaries, because she says people can lie about themselves. She reads what the best scholars have to say about the person or topic. Candace Fleming likes to use all sorts of materials, books, Internet, newspapers, etc...plus she travels to the place her person lived. Since I can't do option #2, I'm now doing option #1. However, I started opposite Kathleen. I read all of the journals online first and am now reading what scholars said about her. And the cool thing about this--the scholars WENT to the university libraries and read all the letters and nitty-gritty that's not online. So it's like they did all the research for me. haha. And finding out what other authors said about my person is also enlightening. I'm still debating the emotional arc or heart of my biography. So it's neat to see what character qualities they picked up on.
I wanted to share some expert advice from the picture book biography authors that have been useful to me. The links are below. I did write my bad first draft and have sent it to my critique groups. Now it's time to rewrite, now that I know more of the heart of my biography.
Awesome interviews of Candace Fleming and Kathleen Krull on writing biographies
A video interview of Tanya Lee Stone, watch "A Person's Story"
Kathleen Krull has lots of links and information for authors
I hope this is helpful. If you know of other helpful sources, please share.
Tina M. Cho, children's author
I'm a children's author and freelance writer for the educational market. Welcome!