I keep a notebook for each book I write. I thought it might be fun to share some of those pages with readers through a series of posts. Today’s post, the sixth in the series, will focus on my third picture book, A Race Around the World: The True Story of Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland.
A confession: most of the work I did for this book didn’t end up in these notebook pages.
Most of it ended up here, on an enormous chart I hung on my wall.
This chart was the simplified, at-a-glance version of the more detailed copy I kept on my computer.
Long-time readers here might remember I grew up with my own Nellie Bly book. As I started my research, I wasn’t sure where my story would land, but I knew I wanted to write about Nellie. When I decided to focus on her around-the-world race (for weeks she had no idea she was in competition against rival lady journalist Elizabeth Bisland), it was crucial I knew where each woman was each day of her journey. This chart helped me keep track of weather and steamships, train routes and landmarks, delays and adventures and mishaps. It helped me see, for example, that the day Nellie, in Hong Kong, learned she wasn’t just racing against time but also Elizabeth (day 39, if you’re curious) was the same day Elizabeth, in Singapore, was convinced she’d be a tiger’s dinner.
The chart helped me track each woman’s highs and lows and compare and contrast their different experiences. I shared it with my editor who shared it with my illustrator. Below you see Nellie in Ceylon, where she savored the setting and her fortuitous speed (but eventually became frustrated and headachey) contrasted with Elizabeth’s wanderings in Japan, a place where she wished she could linger.
I don’t know if I would have been able to see the story’s big picture as well as all its moving parts if it hadn’t been for this approach.
While working on this book, I came across a Nellie quote that fit her journey to a tee and paralleled my own writing experience: Energy rightly applied and directed will accomplish anything. Thank you, Nellie and Elizabeth, for your brave, bold energy! I’m so glad I’ve gotten to share your adventures with a new generation of readers.