How do you prepare for a book?

Hi everyone,
Sandy Asher and I are planning a new episode in the series of nuts and bolts writers’ chats we call WRITERS AT WORK. This time we want to talk about research, or, more specifically, the things writers do to prepare for their work. Granted, some writing takes less preparation than others but most of us at one time or another have gone to considerable trouble to gain the experience we feel we need in order to convey a sense of time and place to our readers.
Sandy Asher

Sandy, who always has her antennae up, spotted a charming paragraph in a recent interview with Debbie Dadey. Here’s her response to a question about how she has prepared for some of her wildly successful stories among her 160 published books. debbie dadey

“For Mrs. Jeepers in Outer Space I went to Space Camp and for Wolfmen Don’t Hula Dance I went to Hawaii. For Hercules Doesn’t Pull Teeth I went to the dentist and for Mummies Don’t Coach Softball I got to go to Egypt. For Whistler’s Hollow, I drove eight hours so I could sit on a coal train. I took notes so I could write one paragraph about what it felt like. It must have worked because when that book came out, the publisher of Bloomsbury USA said, “It felt like I was really on that train.” I also slid into a shark tank for Danger in the Deep Blue Sea. Probably the craziest thing I have done for writing was to fall out of a plane! I wrote a story, that I’ve never sold, where a grandmother wanted to go sky-diving. So, I figured to be able to write about it I should experience it. Big mistake!!”

It is our pleasure to tell you that Debbie is joining us in the new episode, tentatively named, “In Pursuit of Authenticity.” She has already filed her essay so now it’s up to Sandy and me to get ourselves in gear to do our sections. I’ll take one, Sandy will take one, and we hope to use the fourth installment to relate stories from you.

So this is an invitation to all you published children’s authors to tell us about the lengths you’ve gone to for the sake of making your own work more authentic.

Please send your anecdotes to me personally via e-mail so we don’t spoil your stories before it’s time to include them in WRITERS AT WORK. My e-mail address is Thanks!


7 comments on “How do you prepare for a book?

  1. Since for many (most) authors a trip to Hawaii or Egypt would be at least as much and probably more than they will get–IF they get–any advance on the book, and might be more time than they can reasonably take away from family duties, we have to consider other imaginative ways to get into the blood and bones of a book.

    I haunt old bookstores where I found a travel book on Edinburgh datelined 1929 which slots nicely into a 1930s graphic novel set in that very place.

    I joined a friend who was doing a paid-for article for Yankee Magazine as she went around the Shaker Village in New York State just as I was writing a novel about Shakers.

    I had an Indian colleague of my husband’s read a manuscript set in India in the 1920s.

    A friend just back from a trip to Poland brought me photos and travel brochures, post cards and snapshots from there because I was writing a novel partially set there. And I used her interesting take on the Polish airport that I got from her when I took her out for lunch.


    • Thank you, Jane. You touch on a very realistic issue regarding what we might like to do and what we can do. We’ll definitely want to address this in the upcoming discussions.

    • Hi, Sandy. Thanks for catching the omission. Artists are most certainly included!!! By the way, first comments are already coming in to me and I’m delighted.

  2. Okay, I admit the trip to Egypt was a paid school visit and the trip to Hawaii was a family trip. Those were two over-the-top and very rare experiences for me. I was lucky to be able to use part of my pay for the Egypt school visit to bring my oldest son with me. It was a once in a life-time trip. I remember when I got the call about the Egypt trip, I assumed it was Cairo, Illinois-not Cairo, Egypt!

  3. Pingback: A Class with Greg Pizzoli, Member Congrats, and General Announcements | EasternPennPoints

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