Authors’ Stories


I recently attended the 13th Annual Longwood University Summer Literacy Institute.  Day one of the institute included presentations from 5 different authors.  I always find it so interesting to hear authors share their writing process.  Hardly ever does it match the structured process that teachers traditionally instruct in school.

Below are the authors that presented this year and my takeaways from their presentations:

Marfe Ferguson Delano


Bio: Marfé Ferguson Delanois the author of more than 20 nonfiction books for children, including Master George’s People,  Earth in the Hot Seat, and award-winning biographies of Albert Einstein (Genius), Thomas Edison (Inventing the Future), and Annie Sullivan (Helen’s Eyes). Her most recent titles are the picture books Baby Animals and A Tree Grows Up. A graduate of Duke University, Marfé lives in Alexandria, Virginia.

As a writer of nonfiction Marfe stressed the importance of really getting to know your topic and experiencing it first hand.  When she was asked to write a book about caving she went caving.  For her book on Anne Sullivan she visited Helen Keller’s birthplace and school.

For her biographies she writes quotations on notecards during her research phase and then organizes her notecards, outlines the story, and then writes a first draft.  She works to include all the “oh wow, facts” she uncovered and stated that a favorite line of hers is “Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good.”

For her nonfiction picture books she has a spiral notebook for her brainstorming.  She begins with a topic and then writes down all the words that come to mind when she thinks of that topic.  As she reads up on her topic she adds words to this list.  Next, she makes a list of questions about her topic careful to check on assumptions.  She drafts her story on notecards and then types these up to send to her editor.

Steve Watkins


Bio: Steve Watkins is the author of Juvie, a young adult novel about juvenile incarceration, and Great Falls, a post-Iraq War novel.  He has four books in his middle-grade Ghosts of War series.  Steve is also the author of What Comes After, which was named by Bank Street College as one of the best YA books of 2012 and selected as a finalist for the Georgia Peach Award for YA Fiction. His YA novel Down Sand Mountain won the 2009 Golden Kite Award for Fiction from the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.  A graduate of Florida State University, Steve taught journalism, creative writing, and Vietnam War literature at the University of Mary Washington.

Steve Watkins was humorous in his presentation and more off the cuff.  He talked about his childhood and what lead him to be an author and a yoga instructor!  He said that he wrote his first story in grade school and that his parents made copies of it to give to family at Christmas time.

Kristen-Paige Madonia


Bio: Kristen-Paige Madonia is the author of the young adult novels Invisible Fault Lines and Fingerprints of You. Hailed by Judy Blume as “a remarkable young novelist,” Kristen-Paige was the 2012 D. H. Lawrence Fellow, and her short fiction has appeared in such publications as the Greensboro Review, Five Chapters, New Orleans Review, American Fiction: Best Previously Unpublished Short Stories by Emerging Writers, and the Sycamore Review. She was the 2010 recipient of the Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival award and was granted the Marianne Russo Fellowship to attend the 2008 Key West Literary Seminar. She holds an MFA from California State University, Long Beach, and currently lives in Charlottesville, Virginia where she teaches creative writing at the University of Virginia and James Madison University.

Kristen told us that she writes books that she wished she had access to as a reader.  She shared she always has a notebook with her and said “we are watchers of the world that is.”

Mark Tyler Nobleman


Bio:  Marc Tyler Nobleman is the author of Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman (which made the front page of USA Today) and Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman (which inspired a TED talk…and changed pop culture history). Upcoming titles include Thirty Minutes Over Oregon, Fairy Spell, The Chupacabra Ate the Candelabra, and Brave Like My Brother. He has spoken at schools and conferences internationally from Thailand to Tanzania and blogs about adventures in publishing from research victories to promotional gambles at Noblemania.

Mark did not talk about his most recent book…instead he shared with us the story behind his favorite book he has written called Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman.  The story was fascinating and I am excited to receive my copy in the mail today.  To get a taste of the story watch his Ted Talk below:

Louise Borden


Bio: author of over 30 books for young readers, graduated from Denison University with a degree in history.  She taught first graders and preschoolers and later was a part-owner of a bookstore in Cincinnati, Ohio. In addition to writing children’s books, she speaks regularly to young students about the writing process. She also has done extensive research for her books including The Journey that Saved Curious George and His Name was Raoul Wallenberg.  Some of her other titles include Good Luck, Mrs. K!, which won the Christopher Award, The A+ Custodian, The Day Eddie Met the Author, Across the Blue Pacific, and Kindergarten Luck. Louise lives in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Louise Borden started shared with us special teachers in her life.  She talked about the important connection reading has to her writing stating “I was a reader before a writer.”

Day two of the institue was all day with Donalyn Miller.  Check back tomorrow to see what I learned from her!



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