Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Children's Non-fiction Author, Carmen Grand

Today's my guest is children's non-fiction author Carmen Grand who specializes in biographies.

AUTHOR: Carmen T. Bernier-Grand
BOOK TITLE: Alicia Alonso: Prima Ballerina
PUBLISHER: Marshall Cavendish

Tell me a little about your book and give a short synopsis.

Alicia Alonso is a Cuban ballerina who became famous dancing for New York’s American Ballet Theater.   She was nineteen when her right retina detached. A few years later, the left eye did the same, leaving her with no peripheral vision. Still, she danced until she was seventy-four.

When Cuba turned to communism, Alicia had to choose between staying in the United States and retuning to Cuba. She chose Cuba. She and her first husband, Fernando Alonso, founded the world renowned Ballet de Cuba and its ballet school. This December Alicia Alonso will be ninety, but she still teaches some and is very much in charge of her ballet company.               
What gave you the idea for this particular book?

I like to write about people who have struggled so I can learn from them.

Are you a full-time writer or part-time, and how do you organize your writing time?

I consider myself a full-time writer but, in between, I teach writing to adults at the Whidbey Island MFA, to high school students for Oregon Literary Arts’ Writers in the Schools, and to elementary school students for Wordstock.

When did you first know you wanted to be a writer?

Even though, I was a writer since I was shorter than I am now, I didn’t know it. Instead, I became a mathematician. It wasn’t until I had children when I realized I had been a writer all along. I’ve always made up stories that my sister called lies; I’ve always stared at people to try to be inside their heads (that’s called point-of-view); and I’ve always have more ideas than I’ll be able to write.  
What do you hope readers will take from your writing?

Whatever they need. Each of us has different experiences and different needs.
What types of writing do you prefer, and why?

Obviously, I enjoy writing biographies. But I’d published a novel, and I am writing another.  It’s a joy when one can play god and create characters and settings.
What is the toughest part about being a writer and how do you get past it?

The first draft. It’s hard for me to put everything down. I tell myself that it will be a sin not to share a story.  Besides, when I don’t write I get grouchy.  So, I sit to write that first draft.     

What draws you to non-fiction writing?

That I can borrow from fiction. Using the ups and downs in the life of my subject, I plot the biography as if I am about to write a novel, except that everything has to be true.   

What kind of research did you do for this type of book?

I researched as much as possible from home, starting with biographies about Alicia Alonso for children, then moving to biographies of her for adults. I watched her dancing in You Tube; communicated by e-mailed with her husband, Pedro Simón; and listened to the music of the ballets she danced for hours. Then I visited Cuba where I met her and watched ten ballets danced by her Ballet Nacional de Cuba.         

What about your book makes it special?

My biographies are different because I write them in what my editor calls “free verse.” I don’t consider myself a poet, but most reviewers have classified my form as free-verse, too. 

So far, my editor has chosen for me award-winner illustrators: David Diaz, Thomas González, and Raúl Colón. Their art have made my biographies special. 

Now, what really make my biographies super special are the people I write about—César Chávez, Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, Justice Sonia Sotomayor, Alicia Alonso, Pablo Picasso (2012)—and their interesting lives.
What is your marketing plan?

I do signings, visit schools, speak at conferences, maintain a blog and a website, and use Facebook.

Where can people learn more about you and your work?

I share a blog with 9 other writers:

What are your views on self-publishing versus traditional publishing?

The problem I see with self-publishing is distribution. I don’t see myself going from bookstore to bookstore trying to sell my books. My publisher does that for me.

 I also feel that everybody needs an editor. In traditional publishing, you get paid without having to pay an outside editor.     

Do you have an agent and do you feel an agent is necessary for non-fiction?

With so many publishers saying that they don’t accept unsolicited manuscripts, an agent is necessary for fiction and non-fiction.

For years, I didn’t have an agent, but when the e-book contracts of my books began to arrive in the mail, I had no idea how to negotiate them.  I called an agent who has been interested in my work.  She has been a great a relief.

Any tips for new writers hoping to write non-fiction?

Immerse yourself completely in the topic. Live the life of your subject: eat the food, listen to the music, read the poetry, dance.

If possible go to the places that will give you the smells and scenery needed for your book.

Visit archives, museums, cemeteries. And interview.

Write honestly.

In the back of the book include an author’s note, sources, and chronology.          

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