|Visit Heather Lang's official author site & @Hblang|
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations
Congratulations on your new picture book biography Fearless Flyer: Ruth Law and Her Flying Machine (Calkins Creek, 2016) and the starred reviews from Booklist and School Library Journal!
I was captivated by your account of Ruth Law’s record-breaking flight from Chicago to New York City one hundred years ago, and Raúl Colón’s illustrations are magnificent.
You are creating a wonderful collection of books about strong women from our past. How do you choose the women you write about?
I love to read and write about lesser-known women, who dream big, pick themselves up when they fall, and stay persistent.
These women might face poverty, racial or gender discrimination, disability, or other hardships. They’re not afraid of failure. They inspire me to step outside my own comfort zone and be brave.
What drew you to this story about Ruth Law?
I’m a nervous flyer, so I’ve always been intrigued by those who dared to fly the flimsy biplanes made in the early 1900s. Ruth Law opened doors for women aviators like Amelia Earhart to enter this male-dominated field.
I loved how Ruth immersed herself fully in flying, even mastering the mechanics of her plane. She could tell what was wrong with her motor by the sound of it!
Her passion and personality came through in her words—she had a lovely voice. I wove her words into the text, so Ruth helps tell her own story.
It’s clear a lot of research went into Fearless Flyer. Can you talk a little about your process?
Every book I write is a treasure hunt. I never know where a clue might take me. My initial research involved reading a lot of newspaper articles, and in one of those articles Ruth mentioned she kept a scrapbook. I tracked it down at the National Air and Space Museum archives.
|Heather researching Ruth Law's scrapbook|
While I was there I visited the early flight exhibit at the museum, educated myself about her biplane, and learned about the evolution of flight. A lot of questions popped up about her plane and how she operated it, so I found a retired Navy Commander who pilots and builds these old-style biplanes. He had incredible insights.
I also consulted with the folks at the Glen H. Curtiss Museum and the National Air and Space Museum.
I am always amazed how generous people are with their time and how eager they are to help.
What is one of your favorite things about writing for children?
Other than being able to wear sweat pants or pajamas all day, I’d have to say one of my favorite things about my job is the community. I can’t imagine a more supportive group of people than writers, teachers, and librarians. We all have the same primary goal—to have a positive impact on children, giving them books they can relate to and books that open them up to new people and places and dreams.
|From Heather's The Original Cowgirl, illustrated by Suzanne Beaky (Whitman)|
I’m in two critique groups. We share the highs of clever endings, successful revisions, and accepted submissions. We share the struggles of faulty plots, poor reviews, and rejection. I rely on them tremendously for support.
What are you working on now?
|with Alice Coachman|
It will include real-life stories, psychology and science, classroom activities, interviews with authors, and of course children’s books with strong female characters.
I’m also adding supplemental materials to my website so readers can get to know even more about Ruth Law and her flying machine.
What do you have coming out next?
I’m really excited about my next picture book biography, Swimming with Sharks: The Daring Discoveries of Eugenie Clark, illustrated by Jordi Solano (Albert Whitman, 2016), about an amazing shark scientist AKA “The Shark Lady.”
Sadly, Genie (as she liked to be called) died last year at the age of 92. I had the thrill of interviewing her in person in 2014, and hearing about her remarkable adventures. Genie also reviewed the manuscript for me.
I look forward to sharing this amazing woman with kids everywhere.
Her picture book manuscripts have been recognized by The Katherine Paterson Prize for Young Adult & Children’s Writing sponsored by Hunger Mountain ("Paddy Cats," Special Mention, 2015) and by the National Association of Elementary School Principals ("Francesca’s Funky Footwear," Finalist, 2013).
When she’s not at her desk busy writing you can find her helping fellow authors with marketing events, volunteering at the New England SCBWI conference, or teaching creative writing workshops for children. Helen also serves on the on the Board of the National Children’s Book and Literacy Alliance. Find her on Twitter @helenkampion.