Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Mysterious Pseudonymous Bosch – Teller of Secrets

The guest author at the most recent Writer2Writer meeting was Pseudonymous Bosch, author of the best selling “Secret” series. His talk was fun, entertaining and enlightening. His appearance as himself was a special honor to us, as fellow writers, as he usually wears disguises with his fans (who are delighted by the mysterious persona which goes with his ‘secret’ books).

Books with mysteries lend themselves to anonymous writers. He told us that for the first three years after the series began he was Google-proof—now he’s on Wikipedia. In the spirit of anonymity, however, those who photographed him at our event decided to continue the mystery—as you see in the accompanying photo.

The story of how the former screenwriter came to write his first children’s book was particularly interesting. He had volunteered to be a writing partner to a 4th grader in a Santa Monica school. The project was meant to stimulate and encourage kids to be creative. His young writing partner was very creative and sent him stories, poems and cartoons. Bosch sent his partner a series of installments which would become the first in his series of five books: The Name of this Book is Secret.

Though his publisher gave him the star treatment from the start --a website and a book tour—(book tours really do exist?) he said word of mouth is what made the books so successful. It’s important to Bosch that his books not be categorized as a ‘boy book’ or a ‘girl book’. As a child he secretly enjoyed Louisa May Alcott books and Nancy Drew as well as so-called boy books, and he didn’t want the marketing of his books to be limiting. Most of his fan mail comes from girls, but that also reflects the reading public percentages. Girls are more likely to be readers and to write to authors, but he has devoted boy fans, as well. His favorite emails are along the lines of “I didn’t like to read until I read your books.”

Bosch is very conscious of making books as much fun as possible. He also has to be careful to get the details correct as ‘kids catch discrepancies.’ They consider that he’s writing for them, and nag him to write faster.
Bosch admits he has ‘the writing habits of a neurotic poet’ and would happily spend a week worrying over a simple sentence!

Luckily for his many fans, his fifth book You Have to Stop This will be out in the fall.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Where Do Ideas Come From?

Writers are often asked the question: “Where do you get your ideas?”  My answer is -- everywhere!

I just attended a yearly genealogical conference in my area and again found not just genealogical help, but inspiration for my writing. Genealogy is, after all, made up of the stories of past families, and families’ lives are made up of many stories.

I always find the workshops of ‘Photo Detective’ Maureen Taylor compelling. She is an expert on the ‘intersection of history, genealogy and photography’, specializing in preserving, dating and identifying photographs and the subjects in them. The Smithsonian asked her to choose a photograph from their vast collection to analyze and write about. Her choice was a copy of a daguerreotype taken in 1839 or ’40 (the original had been damaged during an attempt at restoration). It shows a well dressed lovely young woman in a flower trimmed bonnet. The young woman was Dorothy Catherine Draper, who was photographed by her brother John W. Draper on the rooftop of New York University. He made the camera himself out of a cigar box within months of Louis Jacques Daguerre’s invention of that process of photography. Her face was powdered with flour in order to accentuate contrasts in the photograph. The likeness of Dorothy Catherine is now considered to be possibly the first family photo.

I found the story of the young woman in the picture to be intriguing. I had found nothing about her when I was researching my book about a female painter in the 1830s but apparently Dorothy Catherine Draper was well known in the 19th century. She was an independent and industrious woman who, in England and America, supported her mother, sisters, brother and his family by teaching art. She put her brother through medical school at a time when it was difficult for women to have careers, and she appears to have been quite successful in that career. Her brother went on to be an eminent scientist, educator and writer.

There are many such stories to be unearthed in the genealogical records of families—a treasure trove of ideas for writers.