Today, award-winning author Connie Goldsmith joins us to answer 10 Questions about her writing. Connie writes nonfiction for middle grade and young adult readers with twenty-four published books. She also writes magazine articles for children and adults.
Linda Covella: Welcome, Connie! When and why did you decide to become a writer?
Connie Goldsmith: I was a nurse long before I was a writer. There was no particular time when I decided to “become a writer.” My first writing was continuing education articles for nurses. I’ve written for NurseWeek, RN, American Journal of Nursing, and others, as well as for health care professionals such as physical therapists and dental hygienists.
An article in my local paper—the Sacramento Bee—about a man who was recreating a trek through Death Valley with his daughters, inspired me to write my first book for young people. After much research and interview with descendants of several families, I wrote, “Lost in Death Valley: the true story of four families in California’s Gold Rush,” published in 2001 by Lerner’s imprint, Twenty-First Century Books.
LC: What is your writing process: where do you write, how often do you write, are you a full-time or part-time writer, do you outline or do you plot as you go, etc.?
CG: Where do I write? I write on my desktop PC in my living room. Gauzy curtains hang over three glass doors to the front porch so I can see outside, but no one can see inside. I’m more of a part-time writer than a full-time writer, averaging 3-4 hours per day in research and/or writing and/or interviewing.
I write only nonfiction, so there is no plotting! Nonfiction books are generally approved by the publisher/editor/acquisitions committee based on a detailed proposal. My proposals are about 15 pages long and include chapter outline, overview, comparable works if any, and why I am the person to write the book.
LC: The proposals obviously involve a lot of work before you write the actual book!
Where do you find your inspiration for your books? Do you draw from your own experiences?
CG: I’ve worked with the same editor for the nonfiction teen imprint at Lerner for nearly ten years. We both propose ideas to each other. She may hear an interview on NPR and be so intrigued that she asks if I’d like to write about it. For example, my most recent book, “Women in the Military: From Drill Sergeants to Fighter Pilots,” was my editor’s suggestion after she heard an NPR interview of a female military pilot who had written her memoir. My book, “Dogs at War: Military Canine Heroes,” started with a Facebook entry I read about war dogs. So, about half of my books come from my own ideas, and half from my editor’s.
LC: Plot and character are important aspects of fiction. How do those translate to nonfiction?
CG: I don’t write stories, but to translate this question into nonfiction – I’d say my narrative is part of the “story” and the people I interview are the “characters.” In writing nonfiction it’s not enough to do a good job of collecting interesting information. Interviews with people who have experience in the topic and with experts are equally important. For example, in my book, “Dogs at War: Military Canine Heroes,” I interviewed numerous military dog handlers as well as the head of dog training at Lackland Air Force Base. These were the “characters.” The “story” is the history of war dogs, details about their raising and training, and retirement, and so on.
LC: Can you tell us about your research when writing a nonfiction book?
CG: I do a lot of research in preparation for writing the proposal, which I then use as the outline for my book. I search for books old and new on my topic, and tend to buy a lot of used books online which I can then mark up as I want. One of the most helpful things is setting up a google alert on my topic. I receive relevant info from newspapers daily via the alert. Of course, I search online for relevant articles and stories.
I often ask SCBWI members if they know someone I can interview. For example, my book about suicide opens with the true story of an SCBWI member’s teen daughter taking her own life, while my book about addiction opens with the accidental overdose death of a nephew of an SCBWI member. She contacted her brother and sister-in-law who agreed to talk to me about the horrendous ordeal.
LC: I imagine discussing such heartbreaking situations with interviewees would be difficult. You must have a compassionate, special way in approaching them.
Did you read much as a child?
CG: Like most writers, I was an avid reader as a child. My parents never censored my reading. This will date me, but I remember reading Pearl Buck books at ten years old, and those were often very “earthy.” My favorite birthday present ever was a box of ten books for my tenth birthday. All were adult books, such as Gone with the Wind. I still have my copy of Heidi with my name written inside. I must have been four to five years old. Still have my copy of Arabian Nights and the Jungle Book.
LC: I liked Pearl Buck’s books as well. “Back then” 🙂 there weren’t books specifically marketed as young adult, so middle grade and teens often read adult books.
How important do you think reading is for writers?
CG: Reading is vital for writers, both those who write fiction and those who write nonfiction. Reading books in the genre you write for can keep you current in trends in children’s literature. It can help you know what kids and teens are reading these days. Reading also is an ongoing source of ideas for nonfiction writers.
LC: Who are some of your favorite authors and/or books? What draws you to them?
CG: Because my working time involves constant research and reading of nonfiction sites and books, my free reading time is always fiction. Barbara Kingsolver, Elizabeth George, and Jo Nesbo are some of my favorite adult authors. My children’s/YA favorite writers include Philip Roth, Blue Balliett, Francisco X. Stork, Cassandra Claire, Maggie Stiefvater, Laini Taylor, and Holly Black. There are dozens more! This is always an impossible question. I love fantasy and there is so much good YA fantasy out there.
LC: What advice do you have for aspiring authors?
CG: The Institute of Children’s Literature published an article I wrote several years ago on this subject. Tips included: Join SCBWI early in your writing career, attend conferences, and volunteer to help. Remember writing may be a new career for you and that you didn’t become a teacher, a librarian or in my case a nurse, without investing time and money in learning the ropes. Consider writing nonfiction as opposed to only fiction – the vast majority of published material is nonfiction. Try writing for magazines – dozens of magazines have hundreds of pages to fill each month. If you have an existing career, consider writing for one of your professional magazines. It’s easier than you may think to get published if you consider options other than that picture book or middle grade novel that you want so much to write!
LC: Great advice!
Anything new in the works?
CG: Always something new in the works! However, my editor doesn’t allow us to talk about WIP [Work in Progress]. I can say it’s coming out spring 2020, and is my first ever biography – a living person with an amazing life. I’m spending many hours with face-to-face interviews because I’m lucky enough to live close to her. A bio is so different from my previous books – I’m enjoying every minute of it.
LC: Now I’m very curious who the bio is about. 🙂 We can all look forward to its publication!
Connie, thank you again for talking with us about your writing. Your answers were very insightful, and it was a pleasure having you!
Connie Goldsmith has written twenty-four nonfiction books for middle grade and young adult readers and has also published many magazine articles for adults and children. Her books include Women in the Military: from Drill Sergeants to Jet Pilots; Pandemic: How Climate, the Environment, and Superbugs Increase the Risk; Animals Go to War: from Dogs to Dolphins; Addiction and Overdose: Confronting an American Crisis; Dogs at War: Military Canine Heroes; and Bombs Over Bikini,” also a Junior Library Guild Selection, a Bank Street College Best Children’s Book of the Year, and an SCBWI Crystal Kite winner.
Connie is a member of SCBWI and the Authors Guild. She’s a registered nurse with a Bachelor of Science degree in nursing and a Master of Public Administration degree in health care which gives her the creds to write her health and science books. When she’s not writing, she visits with friends and family, pounds out the miles on her treadmill, plays with her crazy cats, and hikes along the American River near Sacramento California where she lives.