Sunday, August 28, 2016

Interview with Doraine Bennett

Doraine, it was so good to meet you and talk to you about how you got started writing nonfiction. Please tell us a bit about what you write.

I have written a lot of nonfiction. I think because I like the research part of writing more than because I love nonfiction. I know that sounds a bit strange, but I do like taking complicated ideas and writing them in an understandable way. I worked as editor for a military magazine for eight years and one of the challenges was to make all that complicated strategy stuff accessible to an average reader. It was a fun challenge, at least on the days I didn’t want to pull my hair out. 

I’ve tried some picture books, but haven’t quite found the knack of getting a story into 700 words or less. And I’ve written one novel which will probably remain in a bottom drawer from now on. 

I love writing poetry. I like forms and I like free verse. I especially enjoy the Poetry Friday community in the Kidslitosphere and all the poetry sharing each week. 

How long have you been writing?

Officially in the children’s world, since about 2002. Before that I wrote newsletters. I’ve pretty much always kept a journal since my mother gave me a five-year-diary when I was eight. I was totally absorbed in what I ate for breakfast and what I made on spelling tests. 

You have written for a series of nonfiction books: America, My Country American Heroes. Please tell us how you found out about this series.

I worked as a sales rep for Delaney Educational Enterprises for nine years, selling books from about 150 publishers into schools. We met for presentations from publishers on their new books for spring and fall every year and I crossed paths with editors from several of those educational publishers. The editor from State Standards Publishing was one of those editors. She was a small publisher targeting state history standards. I wrote a number of series for her. America My Country was one of them. The educational market is a bit of a different animal from traditional trade publishers. Few of them are looking for stand-alone books. They want a series. It means more sales. It was a doorway into the publishing world for me. 

How did you break into writing nonfiction.
It was simply what the publisher wanted at the time, although I’ve always loved history. I would have written most anything, but she needed Georgia history standards. So that’s what I wrote. Second grade reading level for Georgia. Tell this life story in 200 words or less using no contractions, no introductory phrases and no words that register higher than a third grade reading level. It was a bit like putting together a puzzle. 

What tips can you give writers wanting to break into nonfiction?
You have to love the research. You can’t be afraid to talk to experts. You must keep exact records of where you got every tidbit of information. And when you spit it all back out, it has to sound like a story. 

Did you have to supply the photos/images? What tips can you share for this?
I have never been asked to supply the photos for any of my books, although when I came across one that I thought especially good, I might include the url for the editor to check. Interesting, when the proofs came back with photos included, we often had to make revisions to the text based on which photos she chose.

What are you working on now?
I began working on a couple of poetry projects this year. I think I needed a break from the educational world. Right now I’m working on a historical novel in verse. It’s a big project and I’m only about half way through. 

I recently read Walking on Water by Madeleine L’Engle. Here is an excerpt that has me pondering my work in progress:

I believe that each work of art, whether it is a work of great genius, or something very small, comes to the artist and says, “Here I am. Enflesh me. Give birth to me. And the artist either says, “My soul doth magnify the Lord,” and willingly becomes the bearer of the work, or refuses; but the obedient response is not necessarily a conscious one, and not everyone has the humble, courageous obedience of Mary…then the job of the artist, great or small, is to serve. The amount of the artist’s talent is not what it’s about.

I’m asking myself how I serve this work. We’ll see what happens.


Doraine Bennett

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Doraine Bennett said...

Thanks for inviting me to stop by, Shelia!

Carol Bruce Collett said...

Interesting interview. Thanks for sharing. I'm currently working on a couple of articles for children. It's super easy to get caught up in the research for its own sake. How do you make sure you have the info you need, but cut yourself off the research trail when it's time to write?

Evelyn said...

Doraine, I really enjoyed your interview! It was fun to learn a bit more about you and your writing background. And I loved your quote from Madeleine L'Engle. Very inspiring. Congratulations on all your writing successes! Thank you, Shelia, for hosting the interview.

Nancy Kelly Allen said...

I, too, enjoy the research aspect of writing nonfiction. Wishing you much success in your writing journey.

Vicky Alvear Shecter said...

Yay for Dorainne and her terrific NF work!

Sheila Renfro said...

Thank you Doraine. I learned so much from you when we were "just talking". I know your words of wisdom will help others.