GETTING TO KNOW...Non Fiction Author Marta Magellan
Interview with Rate Your Story Judge Marta Magellan
By Lynne Marie
LYNNE MARIE: First of all, as someone who flew cross country to see the first lemurs in the US at the San Diego Zoo, I have to say that I am just wild about Marta's latest book, Just Wild Enough, Mireya Mayor, Primatologist (click the link t buy the book).
But my enthusiasm is not just due to the subject matter – it’s so engaging and accessible, an excellent #MentorText for anyone writing non-fiction.
RATE YOUR STORY: Generally, you are an author who has published many non-fiction titles and this is your first creative non-fiction title, correct? What inspired you to shift gears?
MARTA MAGELLAN: Although Just Wild Enough looks like creative non-fiction because it’s written in a more narrative style than my previous books, there is nothing in it that didn’t actually happen. Because I interviewed the subject, Dr. Mireya Mayor, and she read the final versions, she was able to catch any inaccuracies in her life story. The few quotes in the book might have been said in different words, but the meanings are all intact. Mostly fictional are the illustrations, which have certain elements that actually aren’t quite accurate like Mireya’s pink shirt. She actually wore pink boots on her first expedition. Also, the professor that inspired her was a female not a male, but by the time the book was illustrated, it was too late to change those minor points.
RYS: Where did the idea for this book come from?
MM: One of my critique partners said there was an interesting Cuban-American professor working at Florida International University in Miami, and she thought I’d be interested. I recognized who it was. When I was the adviser to a campus magazine at Miami Dade College, Mireya was a poetry student. When her former professor said she had discovered a new species of mouse lemur, I immediately sent the editor to interview her. I still have that issue of Miambiance, and we still had her personal phone number, so I called her. Sometimes when something falls on your lap, don’t stand up and lose it!
RYS: Please share any connection you have in any way shape or form to the subject matter that made you connect with any aspect of the topic.
MM: I am a lover of wildlife and get the most kicks out of seeing animals in their natural environment. Mouse lemurs have to be the cutest of all primates, so that was an attraction. In addition, Dr. Mireya Mayor has my dream job. What lover of the wilderness wouldn’t want to be a wildlife explorer and later a university professor a la Indiana Jones like her?
RYS: What was the process of this book evolving from an idea into a manuscript draft? How long, approximately, did it take? How long ago did you write this? Approximately how many revisions did it take to get it right?
MM: I must have started the process around 2018, first with the phone call, then the research, and finally the extensive interview and the writing. At that time, the critique group that I co-led was still meeting in person before the pandemic pushed us all into Zoom, so they first read it in print. It was also sent to my nonfiction online critique group, and after several edits (I don’t remember how many), I sent it to Kortney Price, an agent I had read about in the Children’s Book Insider newsletter. Although it was a whopping 800 words at the time, she liked it, and took me on as her client.
RYS: Please share the joy of how this book got an offer and acceptance.
MM: An editor from Little Brown was immediately interested, and asked for a Revise and Resubmit. She wanted me to stretch out the “wild enough” refrain. I did it, liked it even better, shortened the story, and sent it back. It took so long for Little Brown to get back to my agent that an editor from Albert Whitman & Co. offered a contract, which I wanted to take on the spot. As you know, it’s the Big Dream of all writers to sign an actual contract, so I couldn’t be patient. I’m glad I wasn’t. I ended up with a wonderful editor, Sue Tarsky, and she found the perfect illustrator, Clementine Rocheron. Together, they produced a beautiful book.
RYS: Please touch upon the sources used for your research for this book.
MM: First, I watched a video Aixa, my critique partner sent me. That’s when I recognized Dr. Mayor as the same Mireya we had interviewed for the campus magazine. I still had that issue, so I read the article my student wrote about her. After contacting her and getting the initial interview and the go-ahead to continue, I saw as many videos as National Geographic posted on YouTube about her. Plus, I read her adult autobiography Pink Boots and a Machete. Yes, she actually wore pink boots into the jungle, and I loved that about her. She doesn’t fit any stereotypes of scientists or explorers. From the autobiography, I compiled the questions I had for our interviews.
RYS: For those who cannot get access to the actual subject, what would you recommend as a first place to look for primary sources?
MM: It’s not always possible to live in the same city as the subject, so I was lucky in that regard. With the internet, phones and email, it’s possible to contact interesting people if they have a public forum you can tap into. Usually their time is precious, and that’s challenging. If they’re no longer around, it’s an even greater challenge. I’ve been writing a biography of someone who died back in 194, The Sound Collector, about a Brazilian classical composer who inspired much of Brazilian popular music. I read several adult biographies about Villa-Lobos, contacted a former classical guitar teacher who helped me understand the importance of his music, and looked up online articles. I discovered his second wife had mounted an entire museum where she kept all his documents, instruments he collected, his very own piano etc. When I went to Rio de Janeiro, where I have relatives, I visited the museum (yes, I do recommend going to the place they’re from if you can afford it for that sense of place). The documents had all been digitized, so the museum director gave me access to all of it. He connected me to one of the historians who read my final version, and gave it his seal of approval, saying there were no inaccuracies despite it definitely being a hybrid nonfiction since the timeline was squeezed, and the quotes were conjectures, sometimes from the composer himself remembering what his father had told him. The director also graciously let me play a few notes on Villa-Lobos’ own piano, which was a thrill. For your writing to reflect the excitement you feel about your subject, it is essential to experience as much as you can about their lives and their work.
RYS: How did you decide on how many pages in which to tell your story?
MM: I never really make that decision. I just write the story and then I trim, trim, trim. It’s always too long in the beginning. There are so many interesting moments in a subject’s life, that we want to stick it all in there. But of course, with picture books, which is what I write, it must focus on only one aspect. Dr. Mayor has done many interesting things, but I zeroed in on her discovering the new species of mouse lemur.
RYS: How did you decide on back matter? Did you submit with back matter? Did it change after the initial submission?
MM: I had much more back matter originally. I had a section in the back not only about lemurs, but also about all the other primates Dr. Mayor worked with. I took all those out and left only the mouse lemur and the special reserve now managed by Madagascar National Parks due to her help. I was happy to see they kept it all: Glossary, Author’s Note, Other Books, and Acknowledgements. Back matter is essential in nonfiction texts.
RYS: You are one of our star non-fiction judges. Can you please share the non-fiction classifications and give a brief description of each one (including what a hybrid is)?
MM: By now, most people have read Melissa Stewart’s work on the five types of nonfiction for children. Melissa Stewart - 5 Kinds of Nonfiction (melissa-stewart.com
She focused mainly on straight nonfiction: Traditional (“all about” books), browsable (lots of pictures, limited text), expository (focused topics, processes and concepts), narrative (with an arc similar to fiction), and active (teaching skills that readers can engage in, such as how-to books). As a judge for Rate Your Story, what I see more is the hybrid type or creative nonfiction. To attract children to the story, many authors fictionalize a true story in order for it to fit into the narrative type, which can read like a novel with an arc. A good example of this is Winnie: The True Story of the Bear Who Inspired Winnie-the-Pooh. Although “true” is in the title, the book is listed as fiction in the library because it is based on actual characters and events, but the authors added dialogue and drama that they had to conjecture. I wrote a hybrid nonfiction book called The Nutty Little Vulture about an African vulture who eats mostly palm nuts rather than carrion. I thought a vegetarian vulture would make an interesting story, so using all actual facts about what different vultures eat, I wrote a narrative about a little vulture who didn’t want to eat typical vulture food. It’s a sneaky way to teach children history or science by entertaining them.
RYS: What is on the horizon for you that we can look forward to?
In collaboration with my illustrator brother, Mauro Magellan, I have written several books on pollinators for Eifrig Publishing. I am now in the process of writing one on bees, focusing on their disappearing. So far, its title is Bee Catastrophe: We’ll Miss Them When They’re Gone. It’s an important insect in crisis, so I’m eager to see this book in print and in children’s hands.
BIO: Marta Magellan, author of Just Wild Enough is a former Creative Writing professor and literary magazine advisor. A fan of visiting wild places, she has found herself perhaps too close to jaguars in Brazil, bison in the American West, and piranhas in the Amazon, among many other wild and wonderful animals. She now writes full time and has written award-winning books for children on animals and the conservation of their environments.
Click Here to Buy this Book: Just Wild Enough
INTERVIEWER: Lynne Marie is the Owner and Administrator of Rate Your Story and the Agent and Editor Spotlight Feature Editor for Children's Book Insider. Click here to become a Children's Book Insider. Go to www.literallylynnemarie.com to learn more about Lynne Marie and her many picture books and activities, including SeasonsofKidlit.com and ThePictureBookMechanic.com