Elizabeth Brown‘s debut picture book, DANCING THROUGH FIELDS OF COLOR: THE STORY OF HELEN FRANKENTHALER, was published by Abrams Books for Young Readers, and it was a New York Public Library Best Books of 2019, a Junior Library Guild Selection, a Society of Midland Authors 2020 Awards – Children’s Nonfiction Honoree, and A Mighty Girl 2019 Book of the Year. LIKE A DIAMOND IN THE SKY: JANE TAYLOR’S BELOVED POEM OF WONDER AND THE STARS (Bloomsbury) released in 2022, and THE WORLD ENTIRE: THE UNTOLD TRUE STORY OF EXTRAORDINARY RESCUE FROM WORLD WAR II releases in Fall 2023 (Chronicle Books) with additional titles following. Elizabeth earned her MFA in Creative Writing from Goddard College. She is a member of SCBWI and is represented by Sean McCarthy Literary Agency. You can connect with her at www.elizabethbrownbooks.com and on Twitter @ebrownbooks.
What typically comes first for you: a character? An era? A story idea? How do you proceed from there?
Usually a character comes first for me. Since I have been writing biographies, it’s the subject of the biography that comes to me. Before I get too attached to this figure, I really start my research right away to see if there is a great story to tell and to figure out the way I might want to tell it. Once this is clear, I can officially commit to the writing of the book after I have completed my research.
How long do you typically research before beginning to draft?
I research for a long time before beginning to draft. It varies how long, depending on what I am looking for and how long the project is. The average time is maybe about 6 months. When I have been able to plot and outline the story and feel ready to start drafting, I do. For my research for both Dancing Through Fields of Color and Like a Diamond in the Sky, it took approximately 4 months of research prior. One of my forthcoming historical picture book biographies, The World Entire, took much longer and a couple middle grade nonfiction projects have taken, on average, 1-2 years of research.
What is your favorite thing about research?
My favorite thing about research is when I learn interesting, little known facts about my subject, and when I find out one of these hidden gems will make the story soar. When this happens, it makes me very happy! This usually always happens in my research phase, and I encourage all writers to remain open to seeing your story in new ways throughout the process of research, plotting, and drafting. You never know where your story will take you!
What’s your favorite thing about writing biographies?
When I get to shine a light on an unsung hero or a historical figure who should be known, it is rewarding. This is my favorite thing about writing biographies. I enjoyed learning so much about Helen Frankenthaler when I wrote Dancing Through Fields of Color. There were so many interesting facts about her life, and threading those most special details into the fabric of the story was both enriching and challenging. Similarly, telling the little known story of how the song “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” came to be one of the best known lullabies was also such a fascinating experience. Jane Taylor’s struggle to write in a time when women writers were ignored and often had to hide their true identities in order to publish will hopefully serve to inspire young writers everywhere.
Why is biography important?
Biography is important because it can be motivating and educational for young readers to read about figures who may inspire them in their own lives. There is no greater reward for me as writer! I have additional forthcoming biographies as well as I’m currently working on seven other books and two films. Even though I write in other genres at times, biographies, especially picture book biographies, are my favorite to write. I enjoy sharing my books with readers everywhere!