A WRITER’S START, PART 2: YOUNG ADULT NON-FICTION

I learned the key to writing young adult non-fiction was in finding an overall theme to the story, as well as in each and every chapter, all of which I put to good use in writing Lee Marvin: Point Blank. This was a concept radically different from my previous writing and editing of fiction, where the emphasis was on content and comprehension for a much lower reading level. Writing young adult non-fiction biographies for Lucent Books (which also went by Gale, Thomson, Cengage Learning, Greenhaven Press…Whew!) had wholly other challenges. For example, my first young adult non-fiction assignment was Adam Sandler.

ADAM SANDLER, published in 2004 by Lucent Books for their People in the News Series (PITN).

Not a favorite subject, that’s for sure, but in doing the research the themes began to come together. This taught me something else: ALWAYS write the introduction last, even though it’s the first thing to be read. One never knows what the overall theme is until the project is completed. For Sandler, as I wrote in the company’s catalog, the theme proved to be as follows:  “Adam Sandler has become a superstar doing what he thinks is funny, first as a class clown and nightclub comedian, and then on ‘Saturday Night Live,’ hit films and best selling albums. Playing a goofy but lovable loser, Sandler is actually a writer, actor, producer, and musician who’s loyalty to his close-knit group of coworkers has taken him to the highest lever of success.”

The Sandler bio proved successful enough to garner more assignments. Next up was a subject I was was much more enthusiastic about. In fact, I even pitched this one instead of being assigned to it and the editor agreed!  Will Ferrell was a much more fun subject, as I also described in the catalog:

My bio on Will Ferrell published by Lucent in 2005 for PITN.

“Where most comedians have overcome a tragic upbringing, Will Ferrell has gone from a relatively happy childhood to become one of America’s most popular funny people. In this first ever biography of the sought after film and TV star, discover how Ferrell has parlayed his ability to turn outrageousness and hubris into one of the most successful comedy careers in contemporary show business.”

I actually pitched several ideas to the editor on a regular basis. Some were accepted, some not, but in the mean time I asked about another series by Lucent called History Makers. They had several titles available and so, being the movie fan that I’ve always been, I agreed to write about Lawmen of the Old West which was released the same year as the Will Ferrell bio. Six real life individuals of my choosing (‘Hanging’ Judge Isaac Parker, Wyatt Earp, Frank Canton, Pat Garrett, Bat Masterson, and Bill Tilghman) were written about by yours truly within the following theme:

Lawmen of The Old West published by Lucent in 2005 for the History Makers Series.

“The western frontier was a time of immense change and extreme behavior, requiring men like Wyatt Earp, Pat Garrett, Bat Masterson and Bill Tilghman to enforce the law. They were not the icons of virtue legend has painted them, nor were they the extreme opposite as portrayed by revisionists.”

From that assignment, I was able to pitch my next project and it was accepted. In the midst of writing it, however, I was informed that the word count had been radically changed as the publisher decided to make the book’s entire design different from their previous titles. Bigger fonts and color photos meant I had to redo all that I had already written to fit this new format. I was informed that other authors had bailed on their projects and I was offered the same option. Undaunted, I redid the work, and created the following theme for the book:

Hillary Swank, in living color, for Lucent’s PITN release in 2006.

“As a lonely child growing up in a trailer park, Hilary Swank dreamed of becoming a successful actress. Her determination and talent took her from living in a car to eventually earning two Academy Awards by the time she was thirty. The amazing momentum of her career continues for the woman now considered one of the greatest actresses of her generation.”

Granted, the subject’s staying power as a movie industry force may not have lasted, but it was a great challenge to redo the work for the new design and delve into such themes as transgender issues, voting rights, and more, all based on Swank’s career choices.
I was next assigned to write about Joe McCarthy for the company’s seres called Heroes & Villains but in the midst of my research, they cancelled the series. Undaunted, and still in a political vein, I took on the challenge of writing about Congress’s first female Speaker of the House.

Nancy Pelosi, published by Lucent in 2008 for PITN.

The challenge here was deceptive in that her life was pretty straightforward but detailing the complex inner workings of Congress — with it’s rules and hierarchy — for young adults in a simplified manner, now THAT was a challenge! The result was described this way…
” Describes the life and career of Nancy Pelosi, from her childhood in Baltimore and early political career to her rise as the first female Speaker of the House of Representatives.” Talk about deceptively simple!
Anyway, I got the Pelosi assignment because of a previous project that I had done in 2007 on another nationally known female political figure. On rare occasion, a subject is updated, which is what I was asked to do for a previous book I had done…..

Both Hillary Clinton titles I did for Lucent’s PITN series, first in 2007 and then again in 2009.

Although I still had to deal with such events in Hillary Clinton’s life as the White Water scandal and Monica Lewinsky, the timing was such that I was able to avoid having to write about Benghazi, her e-mail server, and the painful presidential bid against Trump last year. In other words, it’s still a worthy read.
Practically at the same time as the Hillary Clinton revision I also wrote this…

2010’s PITN offering on Denzel Washington by Lucent Publishing.

Few things are more enjoyable to me than being able to research and write about a talented film personality, and Denzel Washington certainly filled that bill!

I would very much love to do more such work as the lives and impact of certain individuals are fascinating to me.
As you can see, my fascination casts a pretty wide net, from comedy to film to politics and more, so…..
Anybody need a freelance young adult non-fiction writer who also happens to be an award-winning (see number 33), NY Times bestselling author?
-Dwayne Epstein

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WRITING ABOUT TRANSGENDER FOR YOUNG ADULT READERS

One never knows what subject may arise when writing a biography, even a biography for young adut readers. The recent controversy making national news over transgender issues, whether it be bathroom use or equal rights, reminded me of the time I wrote People in The News: Hilary Swank for Lucent Books back in 2007. When Swank made the film Boys Don’t Cry (2000), I was faced with the obvious controversy of the film’s subject matter. At the time, I was not sure how far to take it, how to write it in specifics, or even how casual the langauge should be, when considering I was writing for middle school and high school readers.  My previous titles in the series, such as Adam Sandler and the first Hillary Clinton bio, was of course work, but nothing as controversial as the subject of Boys Don’t Cry. It was a challenge to say the least.
The publisher had let me read some previous titles in the series, and I was quite taken aback by some of the frankness in the writing. Madonna’s overt sexuality on stage, Tim Allen’s drug bust, and other controversies were treated quite straighforward and had me realize young adult bios had changed considerably since I was kid. With no further requirements from the editor, I took a deep breath and went ahead and reseached and wrote it as straightforward as I thought possible.
I’m glad I did. Years later, when working on Lee Marvin Point Blank, I was able to utilize the same techinque in dealing with the subject’s obvious PTSD when it came to my attention that he suffered from it. I’ve been called out by some for my armchair diagnosis, but reseach has shown it to be quite obvious that he suffered from it his entire adult life. So, when writing about the tragedy of the real Teena Brandon, how actress Hilary Swank won the role, prepared for it, and the effect it had on her personal life, a valuable writing lesson was learned. No need to dance around the subject. Straightforward always works best. When I submitted the manuscript, all of it was left intact with nary a word spoken about it from the publisher. And so, with transgender issues again very much in the news, I present below the way in which I dealt with it for young adults nearly ten years ago. Sad to think the issue itself is still having to be dealt with in 2016 but at least it’s being dealt with at all in this climate of fear, hatred and homophobia….

How I dealt with transgender issues for young adult readers, from the beginning.

How I dealt with transgender issues for young adult readers, from the beginning.

Hilary Swank rises to the challenge of playing Teena Brandon.

Hilary Swank rises to the challenge of playing Teena Brandon.

Yeah, they let me use the phrase 'Strap & Pack.'

Yeah, they let me use the phrase ‘Strap & Pack.’

Hilary Swank's transformation.

Hilary Swank’s transformation.

Specifically written for possible transgender readers.

Specifically written for possible transgender readers.

Conclusion.

Conclusion.

 

 

 

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