Ideas for our books can come from just about anywhere, and sometimes even we can’t pinpoint exactly how or why. Did you have a specific origin point for your book?
Well I write nonfiction, so I’m always looking for stories that seem unbelievable, or I look for the “WOW” factor--something takes my breath away or keeps nagging at me in the middle of the night. Then it’s research time. I chase it down. For instance, while watching the news one evening in my kitchen I learned that the first woman to fly around the world was a housewife from Newark, Ohio. The newscaster said that the big event had happened fifty years ago. I wondered why I had never heard of this woman and why the first person who came to my mind while thinking of around the world flights was Amelia Earhart—but she disappeared. I had to learn more about this little known lady who circumnavigated the world, solo, in a little plane five decades ago. The more I learned about Jerrie Mock, the more I needed to know. After speaking with Jerrie on the phone, I packed my bags and set out from my Ohio home to Florida, to meet and interview eighty-eight- year-old Jerrie Mock.
Once the original concept existed, how did you build a plot around it?
My niche is narrative nonfiction. For me the plot already happened, I need to find an engaging way to tell the story. Once I’ve been hooked on the subject, I dig deep. It’s like a treasure hunt and I won’t stop digging until I’ve uncovered some gold. I try to find little known, or quirky and interesting facts on the subject. While researching my Daytona 500 book I went to the race track as a writer instead of as a driver’s wife. I learned things I never knew, even though I worked in the pits for many years. In the past I hung out in the motor home or the car trailer, waiting for driver introductions. As a “reporter” I watched for the first time as the pit box was sprayed with cans of soda pop in preparation for the big race. The crew member explained how the sticky surface kept the pit crew from slipping and sliding while they changed four tires, made any necessary adjustments, and refueled in about 11 seconds. While digging around in the Jerrie Mock biography I learned she had eloped. She never shared that with me or with her own family. No one in her family knew her wedding anniversary date. I also discovered her flight around the world became a race against another lady pilot, a fact that made the plot even more intriguing.
Have you ever had the plot firmly in place, only to find it changing as the story moved from your mind to paper?
When I write fiction I am a total pantser. I love being surprised by the characters or by a turn of events. In nonfiction I have to find the format that best serves the story. But when I wrote about military war dogs, the history of them and how they were trained, I found a better story inside of the story. Time and time again, I discovered the most amazing thing about military war dogs is the bond of friendship and trust they developed with the soldiers they served. So BONDED BY BATTLE made a complete turn around and focused on the soldier/dog relationships. COLO'S STORY also surprised me. I never expected the first gorilla born in captivity to have so much personality and such attitude. She gave me a lot to write about, which is a good thing because interviewing gorillas can be quite challenging.
Do story ideas come to you often, or is fresh material hard to come by?
Fortunately or unfortunately story ideas come at me fast and furious. I find it hard to sleep at night! There are so many stories I want to write, both fiction and nonfiction, from picture book to young adult novel. I write what I am the most passionate about at the time. After all, I know I’ll be spending days and nights researching and writing so I need to love the topic.
How do you choose which story to write next, if you’ve got more than one percolating?
Right now I am working on the biography of a World War II veteran. I met the soldier while I was writing my latest book, BONDED BY BATTLE. So, one book birthed another so to speak. Bill sent me an e-mail and said, “Nancy, if you are serious about writing my biography, let’s get started. I’m 94 years-old!” So Bill’s story went straight to the top of the pile. Bill Wynne was a photo reconnaissance soldier who fought for two years with a Yorkshire Terrier by his side. The Yorkie became a war dog hero and is credited with being the first therapy dog. Once I have the biography complete I am anxious to revise my young adult novel and a nonfiction picture book.
2016 was not an easy year. Do you draw any inspiration from the world around you, or do you use writing as pure escapism?
I draw all of my inspiration from the world around me. Even though I am not a race car driver, (some of my friends will argue that I am a racer, just not a professional!) I found living from racetrack to racetrack something to write about. I worked at the Columbus Zoo and wrote a couple of gorilla books. I love animals and will happily write about any of them. Manatees and whooping cranes are on my radar right now. Learning about World War II from a man who lived through it has been fascinating, and I think it’s important to have a good account of what our soldiers went through fighting for our freedom. And I loved writing about a lady who followed her childhood dream and I hope Jerrie Mock’s life story will inspire others, old and young, not only to have a dream, but to believe in them, and most important, to follow them. So I’ll keep writing as long as I keep breathing. There is so much to write about—inspiration is all around us!