Six Questions with Beth Anderson
Beth Anderson, a former educator, has always marveled at the power of books. Driven by curiosity and a love for words, she writes untold tales, hoping to inspire kids to laugh, ponder, and question. She’s the award-winning author of Cloaked in Courage (Calkins Creek, 2022), Franz's Phantasmagorical Machine (Kids Can Press, 2022), Revolutionary Prudence Wright (Calkins Creek, 2022), Tad Lincoln's Restless Wriggle (Calkins Creek, 2021), "Smelly" Kelly and His Super Senses (Calkins Creek, 2020), Lizzie Demands a Seat! (Calkins Creek, 2020), and An Inconvenient Alphabet (Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books (2018). Visit Beth's website to learn about additional historical picture books she has in the works.
1. Do you ever struggle to come up with your next project? Or do you have lots of ideas and find it a challenge to narrow down your ideas?
I have a list with many ideas, most from when I first began this journey and found my niche with little-known historical stories. BUT…now that I know more about what might be marketable and what I’ll need to create a strong manuscript, few on that list make the cut. Some have been done. SO…yes, sometimes I do struggle to find an idea I’m excited about.
I rejected Deborah Sampson’s story initially, but when I saw an article about her failed attempt to enlist in the Continental Army, it struck me differently. I understood the risk she took and the mistake she made. Her story was suddenly intriguing.
2. How do you know your idea will make a good book?
When I dig into research, I have to find something that will connect with kids—engaging and meaningful in their world… like an extraordinary nose, a crazy machine, or proposal to change our alphabet. If it connects to curriculum, even better. Humor? Irresistible! But to write it, it has to grab me with an angle I can be passionate about. It has to be more than interesting. I’m always looking for a question or idea that will resonate through the story to inspire thinking and widen a child’s world a bit. It takes a lot of research and pondering before I nail that down, but a story has to have that potential.
3. Do you work on multiple projects at the same time?
When I started writing for kids, I would have multiple projects going, but now that I’m into historical stories, it’s become hard to research more than one project at a time. I fare better if I can stay focused on one manuscript from research into the drafting stage. With books in the publishing pipeline, I’ve got several at different stages. Right now I have one working through editorial revisions, one waiting for sketches, and another in final art. Those go back and forth for copy edits, vetting, and passes—and often require more digs into research. I also have a work in progress. Drafting several manuscripts at the same time just doesn’t work for my brain!
4. As a nonfiction author, how do you divide your time between research and writing?
I research for a few months initially. It all depends how quickly and how many sources are available. As I research, I’m also in my prewriting process—organizing ideas, sorting information, and generating ideas on how to tell the story. The most difficult part is identifying the “heart” (A.K.A. “vital idea” or “so what?”) and deciding how it will resonate through the story. That further develops as I write, too.
I dip into additional research as I draft and revise. Then in editorial revisions, I usually end up rereading some of the research to fine tune details. The vetting process for illustrations usually requires a little research, as well.
5. How was the editorial process for Cloaked in Courage? Did you do any revisions? Did you have a lot of collaboration with the illustrator?
I did many revisions in the editorial process for Cloaked in Courage. It took a while! Thank goodness the editor had faith in me! The story was a challenge, plus I think there was some pandemic brain clog going on.
Illustrator Anne Lambelet and I didn’t collaborate until the vetting process. Within the editorial group we worked to ensure details such as the uniforms, table items, mattress, loom, saw, and all sorts of historical images were correct. The Continental uniforms changed periodically, so having an expert to consult was extremely valuable. Anne and I finally got to “meet” at a virtual launch conversation hosted by a local bookstore. You can catch the recording here.
6. If you read Cloaked in Courage to a room filled with kids, what message would you want them to leave with?
There was so much I found as I researched this story, and even more emerged as I wrote. I hope kids will be inspired to persevere and take away the idea that challenges create opportunities and build one’s capability. I’d love for them to explore the idea that there’s protection in excellence and integrity. And that possibilities are not given—you have to see them, seize chances, and know you’re stronger than you might think.