The New School's Patricia McCormick moderated a fact/fiction panel discussion with YA novelists Gayle Forman, author of If I Stay, and Steven Sheinkin, author of BOMB: The Race to Build and Steal the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon.
Steven Sheinkin, nonfiction author of several fascinating books on American history, has written the novel BOMB, a story for young readers about the atomic bomb that reads like a gripping spy novel. So how does he turn boring facts into page turning reads?
"Being an ex-writer for textbooks, I had to unlearn to be boring," he said with a laugh. "I look at each sentence I write and go like would that be in a textbook? I aim to do what novelists do and make my story a story kids want to read. Before I begin working on a novel, I ensure I have meaty material to begin with. That way I have enough details for narrative writing."
Gayle Forman, who writes YA fiction novels on a wide range of subjects, added, "I do a ton of research from contacting different people and organizations to attending classes, seminars and watching documentaries. I throw myself into my subject matter in every which way and then step back."
On the embellishment of facts to better serve their story?
Steven Sheinkin: "In nonfiction, you can’t assume things. You have to go with the scenes you can work with. Sometimes, when my research is not descriptive or detailed enough, I can’t use it. You have these notes and scenes and like a jigsaw puzzle you make it work."
Gayle Forman: "In fiction, accuracy is not as important as authenticity. Aiming for accuracy can sometimes undermine authenticity. As a fiction writer, it is liberating to unhook yourself from the need for absolute accuracy. Thankfully."
Gayle Forman’s books include Just One Year, Just One Day, Where She Went, If I Stay, Sisters In Sanity and You Can’t Get There From Here. Notable literary awards include South Carolina Book Award Nominee for Young Adult Book Award (2011), British Fantasy Award (2010) and An ALA/YALSA Quick Pick for Reluctant Young Adult Readers (2010) to name a few. Gayle is currently wrapping up her next book, which she calls a "suicide, mystery, adventure."
Steven Sheinkin is a former textbook writer who lives in New York. His books include BOMB: The Race to Build—and Steal—The World's Most Dangerous Weapon, Lincoln’s Grave Robbers, The Notorious Benedict Arnold, among a few. Bomb: The Race to Build—and Steal—The World's Most Dangerous Weapon was a Newbery Honor Book, National Book Award finalist, and winner of the Sibert Award as well as the YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults. He lives in Saratoga Springs, NY and is currently working on a novel titled The Port Chicago 50.