Opportunity: Young Writers Conference & An Author’s Need

Bonnye Matthews.jpg

Contributed by Bonnye Matthews

There comes a time when the opportunity to share presents itself, without any coercion, persuasion or pre-planning. The opportunity occurs serendipitously as if waiting tacitly for recognition and expression. As an author who has participated for years at the Young Writers Conference, I balked when the call for presenters first came out. I was up to my ears in alligators, to use an expression unfitting for Alaska, but connected to my surrounding of reptiles from the far, far distant past. My problem? I was struggling over the second chapter of my dino book. That’s how I referred to it. The dino book. The title is “Arctic Dinosaurs of Alaska: Stories for Children”. I’ve never experienced difficulty writing. This was hard! I had wanted a challenge after putting out 10 books since 2012. I found it!

I write prehistoric fiction about people. What’s a dino book doing in there? I realized there was no book for children on Alaska’s dinosaurs - at least nothing such as I thought should be available. I envisioned one that would be told from the dinosaur viewpoint, not a Disney perspective. I wanted to express in story and illustration how arctic dinosaurs might have looked and behaved. 

No one can know for certain how it was, but from research there are some better-than-unfounded assumptions available. Dinosaurs didn’t communicate as we do, so there’s no dialog. Dialog is wonderful for storytelling. I studied reptiles. I considered how it might have been from a reptilian perspective using scent, sound, feeling to create visuals that would appear to them when stimulated to aid in decision-making. For example, if the scent of a nanuqsaur (Alaska’s t-rex type) presented itself, the scent would pull up the memory image to cause dinosaurs to take precaution. 

I wanted to walk children through all four seasons in the land up at the slopes where these creatures lived. I wanted to show the then temperature of that place, not the now temperature; the then plants, not the now ones. Thinking this would be an interesting diversion, I discovered writing this would be the hardest writing job I tackled by far.

Having just finished the first two chapters, I longed for input. My readers were there, but they are adult. I joined critique groups. But, I really needed to know how elementary students would respond to this different presentation of dinosaurs. I designed the book so it could also be colored using colored pencils, again not as a typical coloring book, but as close as I could draw, to make them reflect what’s known or surmised today with more detail. I met with Patrick Druckenmiller, UAF’s Museum of the North’s dinosaur expert, to ask him for review of the science I was presenting, and he agreed. He also shocked me by guiding me to put feathers on the dinosaurs. I didn’t know how to draw. Feathers? Oh, I’ve toyed with drawing, but illustrating dinosaurs with feathers? How do you make a nanuqsaur look fierce in feathers? So, I learned how to draw to the best of my ability. Bought books. Googled endlessly. I knew how I responded to these images, but how would children respond?

And then it hit me as serendipitous events do. It had been staring me in the face all along. The Young Writers Conference was coming up. I’d been looking at the event all wrong. I didn’t have to design a presentation. I already had one. I set up an opportunity for the students to participate in a critique group, something writers do. I knew what I wanted to know and wrote out a critique sheet for them to fill out. I had copies printed and bound of the first two chapters. The booklets were re-usable. Students would get an idea of how a critique group worked, and I’m easy. I love every input readers give me, regardless what it is. To me they are polishing my product, providing a tremendous service. The critique sheets have a place for the student’s name. For any student who gives me his or her name, I will place that name in my acknowledgements and provide the Sherrod Library a copy of the book when it comes out. That way the students can see their name in the book.

That’s how it is with perception. I saw the event not as the problem solved, but as a potential problem. I had to realize that I was looking right in the face of the answer I sought. Humbling. Exciting with potential! Timing could not be more perfect. I found the call for presenters for the Young Writers Conference this year should give the students and me a real-life opportunity to share in the special way that sometimes happens in life. I can share the way they can critique a writer, and they can share target audience reactions to my dinosaur stories and illustrations. For an author to have a large number of target readers available just when needed for in-process critique is amazing. Thank you, Young Writers Conference! I look forward to April 28, 2018 and the special things that always happen at the conference.

If you can volunteer or participate in this very special conference during the first half of the day on April 28th, please contact:
Sharon Russell

For more information on the Young Writers Conference in Palmer, contact Sharon Russell at 907.761.4140 or Sharon.Russell@matsuk12.us

About Bonnye Matthews:
Local award-winning author, Bonnye Matthews, has written prehistoric fiction on the peopling of the Americas before the ice age. Books include “Ki’ti’s Story, 75,000 BC” and “Freedom, 250,000 BC”, among eight others. www.booksbybonnye.com