Monday, April 23, 2012

Guest Blogger Carla McClafferty says "Ideas Are Everywhere"

I would like to welcome and introduce INK's newest member, Carla Killough McClafferty. Carla will participate in both INK Think Tank (the database of nonfiction books searchable by curriculum standards), and INK Link: Authors on Call (the videoconferencing group). 

Carla, who lives in Arkansas, is the author of award-winning nonfiction books of history and science including The Many Faces of George Washington: Remaking a Presidential Icon; In Defiance of Hitler: The Secret Mission of Varian Fry; Something Out of Nothing: Marie Curie and Radium; and The Head Bone’s Connected to the Neck Bone: The Weird, Wacky and Wonderful X-Ray and her latest, Tech Titans. You may contact Carla at

I asked Carla to be a guest blogger in my slot this month. She addresses the third most common question I get from children at schools, "Where do ideas come from?" In case you're wondering, the most popular question is, "How old are you?" to which the teachers always say, "Don't ask that! That's not polite." (I tell them anyway.) The second most common question is, "How much money do you make?" to which the teachers say even more forcefully, "Don't ask that! That's really not polite." (I tell them how much I make on the sale of one book.) But when they ask, "Where do you get your ideas?" their teachers relax and coo, "Oh, that's a nice question." Here is Carla's story of how she got the idea for one of her recent books.

Book ideas are everywhere.  Some ideas come from unlikely places; others develop through a lot of thought and planning.  Sometimes a book idea comes along when you least expect it.  It comes as a sweet surprise (like finding a row of Thin Mint Girl Scout cookies in the freezer that I’d forgotten about).  That’s how it happened for my 2011 book, The Many Faces of George Washington: Remaking a Presidential Icon
One day I watched a History Channel special I’d recorded titled, "The Search for George Washington."  Being a nonfiction author, I’m a big fan of shows that give me the “facts.”   This program described how the three figures of George Washington in the Education Center of Mount Vernon were created.  It explained how experts conducted a forensic study of George Washington in order to determine what he looked like at the ages of 19, 45 and 57.  During the science phase of the project they studied priceless artifacts with a spatial laser scanner, which appealed to me since my first career is as a Radiologic Technologist.   
The project included aspects of science, technology, history, and art.  As I watched, I was mesmerized.  I thought, “This would make a great book.”  Then immediately I thought, “This would be a perfect book for me.” And it was. 
That day I knew thousands of books had been written about Washington.  But I also knew that to write nonfiction books for a trade publisher I had to find a way to write about this familiar subject it in a way that has never been done before.  No book on Washington had ever been written using cutting-edge modern technology to reveal new details about the man.  The idea for The Many Faces of George Washington: Remaking a Presidential Icon came to me that day nearly fully formed--a sweet surprise. 
Now excuse me while I search the freezer for cookies. 

While Carla is searching for more Thin Mints, here is what I tell children in answer to their question about ideas:" Ideas are everywhere. You just have to keep your eyes open, your ears open and your mind open." One the many sources of ideas is books by other authors. Just as a History Channel show gave Carla the idea for her book on George Washington, perhaps her book will give you an idea for a book of your own. 


April Pulley Sayre said...

I got to know Carla when we both spoke on a nonfiction panel for last year's ALA. She's inspiring. I loved what she said on that panel about connecting with her subject. It was such an organic, important aspect of writing and finding our pathway through a book. Great to see Carla here!

WendieO said...

My father had a great answer to the question of "How old are you," which I use when asked:

I'm as old as my hair and slightly older than my teeth.