Creative Inspirational Wisdom: It’s the Story that Counts!

This week, Sarah Byrn Rickman discusses the thrills and challenges of adapting her style for the Young Adult market.


 

B.J. Erickson in the first P-51 she ever flew; June 13, 1943; Palm Springs, California

With seven books aimed at an adult audience, all focused on women in aviation, I should stick with what I know. Right?

 

“Young girls need to be reading your WASP stories,” two author friends told me over beers at a writers’ conference last fall. “Write for them.”

 

“But I don’t know how.” Deep down, I knew they were right.

 

The research for book number eight was done. B.J. Erickson’s story would be my fourth biography and eighth book about the women pilots of World War II.

 

I got to know B.J. well over her final fifteen years. I visited her frequently, did her oral history, shared a speaking podium with her, and got to know her family. She “flew west” on July 7, 2013. She was 93, a great lady, and I miss her.

 

If ever there was a story for my fourteen-year-old granddaughter and her contemporaries, B.J.’s was it. A consummate leader at 22, she was a no-nonsense gal with keen insight into what made people tick, as evidenced by the accolades heaped on her by the women in her squadron who flew under her leadership in WWII.

 

I approached a friend who knows my “adult” work but who publishes for middle-grade readers. I asked if she would a.) be interested in publishing a WASP biography for Y/A and, if so, b.) would she work with me to get it right? She agreed.

 

Six weeks later, I had the first draft. Something built a fire under me!

 

My editor sent back her suggestions. I took them to heart and began draft two. My multi-clause sentences painstakingly became two or three stand-alone sentences. I searched for easier-to-understand synonyms—tough for aviation terms that the average adult reader won’t know, let alone a thirteen-year-old. When in doubt, explain.

 

Oh, yes—I also had a 25,000 word limit. I’m used to 80,000. Focus. I got my 30,000 down to 25,000.

 

My journalist’s training has taught me to write short paragraphs. That helped. But because we’re dealing with a lot of B.J.’s quotes, I’ve had to alternate them with paraphrasing because of the way the book would be formatted. I never had to worry about that before!

 

B.J. Erickson, age 19

I removed my proverbial darlings and that pesky dead wood—several times.

 

There were far too many dates and airplane numbers. Too much for young readers! Historian, ditch your dates. They’re boring!

 

I submitted draft three. The story was told. I’d tightened the lens. Enough?

 

No. Don’t start planning the cover yet. Revisions, not major but nevertheless needed, were required.

 

I thought I could do it in six months, start to finish—November to April. It was not ready in April, nor in May.

 

On July 11, I handed the finished manuscript—25,745 words—to my editor, Doris Baker of the small Colorado book publisher Filter Press.

 

The cover is now a go, and it is gorgeous. It is B.J. in the cockpit of a P-51 World War II fighter aircraft.

 

In all, 63 photos grace this book aimed at eleven to fourteen-year-old girls and, hopefully, boys. Boys do like aviation.

 

B.J. was 19 when she learned to fly, right before World War II began. She qualified as a flight instructor at age 20 and, after Pearl Harbor, joined the Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron (WAFS) to fly small trainer aircraft from the factory to the Army training fields.

 

These women become known as WASP (Women Airforce Service Pilots). At 22, BJ was named the leader of the women’s ferrying squadron in Long Beach, California. She led some 70 other women, many older than she, for the two years the WASP were on active duty.

 

Her squadron was the one tasked with the delivery of the largest number of P-51 fighter aircraft delivered by the women pilots. The P-51 was THE aircraft—the “Game Changer”—that ultimately sealed our victory over the German Reich in 1945. The P-51 was the aircraft that protected the big bombers from enemy fighters all the way from England to Berlin, then back to England and safety.

 

It’s the story that counts—and yes, how you tell it. Writing, whether for adults or for children, is all about whether you tell the story in a way that engages your reader, puts her right there in the cockpit with the heroine, and brings both the pilot and the story home.

 


Sarah Byrn Rickman, Pikes Peak Branch NLAPW, has been writing since she was five. An English major at Vanderbilt University, she began a 20-plus year career in journalism at The Detroit News and concluded it as editor of the Centerville-Bellbrook Times in Ohio. In 1996, she earned an M.A. in Creative Writing from Antioch University Midwest. She has since written eight books about the women pilots of World War II, known as WASP.  Her web site is www.sarahbyrnrickman.com. 

 

Above photos furnished by Sarah Byrn Rickman, author
 

WANTED: GUEST BLOGGERS! Pen Women are invited to submit guest posts for two new series: Creative Inspirational Wisdom and It’s A Creative Business. Please visit this link for more details. We look forward to reading your material!

 

Comments

  1. Mary Pat Canes says:

    This book sounds so inspirational!

  2. Beautifully written Sara, to the point, engaging, and inspiring~

  3. BARB WHITMARSH says:

    YOU’VE DONE A REMARKABLE JOB ALREADY.
    BARB W.

  4. I love your books. Glad you are writing for the younger reader. Your stories will be appreciated by all.
    Thanks for making the effort to spread the word about B.J.Erickson to more readers. It took much effort but you did it. Congratulations!

  5. Wonderful article, Sarah! I can’t wait to read it and I know the girls you wrote it for will be deeply changed and inspired because of the amazing life of B.J. All the best with the publishing and marketing!

  6. Sara Etgen-Baker says:

    I’m sure your books will inspire many a young girl; your history sounds so bold and historical. Congratulations on your books!