Author’s Notebook | Steve Sheinkin, Award-winning Children’s Nonfiction

Photo by Erica Miller

Photo by Erica Miller

In July 2015, Publishers Weekly posed the question: Is children’s nonfiction having its moment? The article mentioned Steve Sheinkin, with whom The Whole Megillah has spoken before. It seemed like a good time to talk to him again.

The Whole Megillah (TWM): At what point in your life did you realize you were a writer?
Steve Sheinkin (SS): Back in the days when my younger brother and I shared a bunk bed, we were always coming up with ideas for stories, comics, little comedy skits. We didn’t think of it as “being writers,” but I can see now that that’s what we were doing.

TWM: What inspires you to write for young readers?
SS: Well, for years I worked in the education publishing market, mainly writing history textbooks. Those books really don’t reach young readers at all, and out of sheer frustration I decided to try to do better on my own. Until that time, I hadn’t thought at all about writing nonfiction for kids or teens.

TWM: What draws you to your subjects, like the atom bomb and the Pentagon Papers?
SS: I like dramatic, complex stories—and I like a real plot, with lots of twists and turns. History is full of stories like this, so it’s just a matter of finding one that grabs my attention. And of course, since we’re talking nonfiction, I have to make sure the source material is rich enough to allow me to tell the story the way I want to, as (hopefully) a page-turner.

MostDangerousCover1TWM: How do you conduct your research, and how do you fund it?
SS: I spend more time research than writing, which I guess is typical of nonfiction writers. Much of it is old fashioned reading: books, newspapers, etc. I’ll also often travel to special libraries or archives, and, when possible, I try to go to places in my stories so I can see them for myself. Only in my newest book, Most Dangerous, has it been possible to actually talk to the people in the story. That was a very exciting change from writing stories set farther back in time. In terms of funding, I think of it as part of the job. So I’ll use some of the advance I get for this purpose—if I got bigger advances, I’d travel a lot more!

BombTWM: Do you have experts vetting your manuscripts? If so, what’s your process?
SS: I have turned to experts at times, yes. With my book Bomb, for instance, I sought out a couple of scientists to read over my descriptions of fission and other scientific concepts in the book. With the Port Chicago 50, I shared the manuscript with people who know the story well and listened carefully to their feedback.

TWM: How would you characterize your move from Rabbi Harvey books to these nonfiction books for kids?
SS: I still like to draw comics, so I’d say it’s not so much of a move as a gradual transition to doing more nonfiction and less of the comics. Basically, the nonfiction books have done really well, and that’s turned into a full-time job, which is great. Leaves me less time for side projects, but I still love Rabbi Harvey and hope to revisit him at some point.

TWM: What were your favorite books growing up?
SS: I loved historical novels, like the Mutiny on the Bounty trilogy for instance, and outdoor adventures, like My Side of the Mountain. Mostly I read nonfiction, though I didn’t know that term. I read anything to do with train robberies, buried treasure, sea adventures, sharks, and sports.

PortChicago50TWM: What advice do you have for aspiring nonfiction writers?
SS: The process of writing nonfiction is different from writing fiction, of course, but I don’t think any of the advice is different. Just find a story you feel passionate about, and tell it. The thing with nonfiction, of course, is that the sources have to be really good. So before I go too far with an idea, I track down as many sources as I can. I’m looking for characters, bits of action that can be turned into scenes, and even dialogue where possible. If these things don’t exist I abandon the story, even if I love it. So I guess that’s the advice—stack the deck in your favor by picking stories with rich sources.

For more about Steve Sheinkin, please visit his website.

About Barbara Krasner

History writer and award-winning author Barbara Krasner writes Jewish-themed poetry, articles, nonfiction books, and novels for children and adults.
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One Response to Author’s Notebook | Steve Sheinkin, Award-winning Children’s Nonfiction

  1. Barbara A. Edwards says:

    Shalom

    Good Morning to the Jewish Nation and Everyone.

    I have been Blessed to have finished a Book that is for the Elan Vitale of Everyone.

    It is entitled RAVINIA.

    NO ONE will Forget the Unforgotten after Reading.

    With Love
    Barbara A. Edwards.

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