28 Feb

A Bartography Sampler

For those of you stopping by my blog for the first time, welcome! This month, I celebrated my grandfather Whacker’s centennial, considered my good fortune to live in the Texas Triangle, and provided a black-lit glimpse of my debut book. Here’s a bit of what else you’ll find in the archives.

  • Beyond the Big Idea: a five-part tutorial geared toward young readers about how to track down more information on a subject covered in a nonfiction book
  • It’s almost as if the bats are a metaphor for something: “Much of my time surrounding yesterday’s Austin SCBWI conference was meticulously planned — but meticulous planning will get you only so far.”
  • Original Manuscript: What-nik?!?: A short story, told from the perspective of a professional-wrestling-crazy American boy, commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Soviet launch of Sputnik
  • Project: The Day-Glo Brothers: Collected posts about my first book, a nonfiction picture book to be published by Charlesbridge in July 2009
  • Project: S.V.T.: Collected posts about my second book, a mysteriously titled, thoroughly ridiculous picture book to be published by Little, Brown in 2010
  • Project: Masqueraders: Collected posts about my third book — a YA nonfiction project originally code-named “Pasta,” and subsequently referred to as both Impostors and Masqueraders — to be published by Dial
  • Socialit: Reports on conferences, workshops, shindigs, and other gatherings of folks in the children’s book business
  • Thanks, Granddad: A version of the eulogy I delivered for my grandfather, Ernest E. Lewis
  • U.S. History Reading: Book reviews and suggested reading for various periods and themes in American history
  • “Why I Want an Agent” Week: The mental inventory I took shortly before the right agent and I finally connected
  • What am I working on?: Let’s not forget the ongoing work of researching, writing, and revising manuscripts and trying to market the results.
  • What am I waiting for?: And this. There’s lots of this.
16 Jun

Whoopee ti yi yo, get along little pseudonym

I’ve been writing about James a lot lately, and I’ll continue to write about him for quite some time. But tonight’s the last time I’ll be referring to him as “James,” because I’ve got a couple of announcements to make.

First, “James” is Alan Lomax (1915-2002), the folklorist and ethnomusicologist who preserved countless folk songs from the U.S. and around the world through his travels and recordings in a career that spanned seven decades. His life’s work left its mark on everyone from Leadbelly to Moby, and his life’s story intertwines with the New Deal, McCarthyism, and the space program. Plus, he was from Austin.

But the big news is this: Bloomsbury USA will be publishing my as-yet-untitled (and as-yet-unwritten) YA biography of Alan. I’ve been trying to tell his story for more than five years now, and hoping for nearly as long to work with the editor who’s handling this project. I can’t give enough thanks to my family, to my agent and all of my friends who have read my various picture-book attempts at getting Alan’s story told. Your support means the world to me.

Between this deal and S.V.T., the past few months have been an absolute thrill. The next several will be thrilling in their own way, but a lot of work, too. I hope you Bartography readers won’t have to wait to long for this book, but however long it takes, why not pass the time with some great music?

11 Jun

Good call

My interview with Liz went great — I’d been warned by her daughter that I’d have to be the one to cut the conversation off after our allotted hour, and she wasn’t fooling. After 60 minutes, Liz was still going strong, and I was hankering to hear more, so I’ll be pulling together another set of questions for another telephone session later this week.

One sign that all my research is sinking in: On several points, I was able to fill in (at least mentally and sometimes verbally) a name or place or date that eluded Liz — facts that she knew because she was there six, seven, eight decades ago but which I had merely read about.

06 Jun

A voice from the past

During the past couple of weeks, I’ve worked at setting up an interview with another of James‘ contemporaries, now in her 80s — we’ll call her Liz. On my lunch hour yesterday, I was finally put in touch with the person in the best position to make that happen, so I’m optimistic.

But talk about coincidences: On my way home from work, I was listening for the first time to a commercially available collection of decades-old interviews when the questioning unexpectedly shifted to a different interviewer: Liz herself, at age 19.

04 Jun

Back from a tangent…

But how long before the next one?

It took me the better part of a week to realize that I’d gone off on a tangent in my research for James, delving into an associate’s biography well beyond the pages directly related to my subject. Fascinating stuff, but nothing I should be drifting off into if I want to keep to my schedule for finishing this project.

Seeing as how James’ path crossed with those of everyone from Carl Sandburg to Moby, I’ll have to watch out for these tangents. At least for now.

04 Jun

Back from a tangent…

But how long before the next one?

It took me the better part of a week to realize that I’d gone off on a tangent in my research for James, delving into an associate’s biography well beyond the pages directly related to my subject. Fascinating stuff, but nothing I should be drifting off into if I want to keep to my schedule for finishing this project.

Seeing as how James’ path crossed with those of everyone from Carl Sandburg to Moby, I’ll have to watch out for these tangents. At least for now.

30 May

August 31st? I don’t think so…

Last week, I mailed a James-related interview request to someone who’s been a major figure in American music since the Truman administration. Yesterday, I got my letter back with a charming, handwritten note on it saying that he’s too busy to talk now, but that I should get back in touch in July or August.

He’ll be hearing from me again right around July 1.

30 May

August 31st? I don’t think so…

Last week, I mailed a James-related interview request to someone who’s been a major figure in American music since the Truman administration. Yesterday, I got my letter back with a charming, handwritten note on it saying that he’s too busy to talk now, but that I should get back in touch in July or August.

He’ll be hearing from me again right around July 1.

19 May

Chapters

I had a day off from work yesterday (the other work) and made a family day trip to San Antonio, which meant that I didn’t spend 10 hours in front of a computer before dinnertime, which meant that by the time we got home and the boys were in bed I still had the mental wherewithal to spend two or three hours on my preliminary chronology for James.

I’ve now pulled together key dates and facts from hundreds of pages of articles and FBI files (not to mention quite a few “facts” from the latter) and arranged them year by year. While I was doing all this, and without my really trying, eight or nine key chapters of James’ life emerged — some lasting a couple of decades, some less than a year.

Next, I’ll divide up the chronology according to those chapters and look for what’s obviously missing or unclear. (For example, James’ second wife wasn’t mentioned in his obituaries. What became of her?) I’ll also be looking for any inflection points that I’ve missed — episodes where something fundamentally changed in James’ life and a new chapter started.

This last bit has me thinking about my own life. Where have my inflection points been? Two come to mind quite clearly, but is that it? If so, that doesn’t make for much of a biography, which may help explain why I’m writing someone else’s.