LAURENCE PRINGLE'S BLOG
November 12, 2018
Earlier this fall I researched and wrote the text of THE SECRET LIFE OF THE SLOTH. An editor wondered why this manuscript had less action and drama than, say, my books about a woolly bear caterpillar, red fox, and little brown bat. I had to explain: it is a sloth! These mammals are the least-energetic and slowest of all mammals. So, in writing I could not use words like "leaped," "scampered," "raced," or many other action words. Nevertheless, readers will get to know, and become emotionally attached to, the female sloth and the young male she gives birth to. Soon artist Kate Garchinsky will start her research and sketches, leading many months from now to a gloriously illustrated book.
And speaking of bats, on October 24th a house painter removed our bat house from a wall of our home, and a bat fell out. I rescued it, putting it a nearby shed. The bat house was put back and on Halloween I looked in, seeing one sleeping bat. Perhaps it was the same one. This incident led me to watch for bats foraging in the sky, to see if they might still be out there hunting insects. They were--as long as the temperatures at dusk were about 60 degrees F. And I saw two sizes of bats, probably little browns and big browns. It never occurred to me to watch for bats so deep in the fall, so I thank the house painter for that.
August 11, 2018
Since November I've been at work on a book for somewhat older kids, 5-grade and up including middle and high school. The tentative title: ANIMAL MINDS: HOW ANIMALS THINK, USE TOOLS, PLAY, AND COMMUNICATE. This is such a broad, deep, fascinating subject, with new discoveries in the news almost every week. Some very smart humans are doing research, but--no surprise--they don't agree on what is known so far. I learned a lot, and keep doing so; no doubt that will be inserts and updates before this emerges as a finished book. That will take quite a while. Both an editor and an expert reader will no doubt find ways to change the text. Meanwhile I will be rounding up many photographs, which will be the main illustrations. I also look forward to my next research and writing project, which will be delightfully different because its intended readers are more in the first grade to third-or-fourth grade range.
November 8, 2017
Though my spirits have been lifted these past weeks by seeing more monarchs on the move, heading for Mexico, my life has been dominated by a writing struggle. Yes, I say "struggle" because the book writing process is sometimes like that for me. It is somewhat like a roller coaster of feelings, and believe me, the low points are not fun. However, at some point--not yet reached--a writing project will give me lots of highs, and great feelings of accomplishment. And, by the way, I sometimes remind myself that many people have jobs that are so much more difficult, boring, and soul-destroying than mine.
A fall with far-above average temperatures has yielded some sweet surprises in nature: Green frogs still active in the garden pond. Katydids calling at night, even in early November. Ten or twenty years ago we would have had a killing frost well before Halloween. Our everyday lives show evidence of global warming, brought on by human activity. Some minor changes are welcome. The major ones are scary.
author in classrooms and libraries
June 17, 2017
Recently sent to my editor: THE SECRET LIFE OF THE SKUNK. It was fun to research and write, particularly because it is narrative nonfiction. In the process of writing I discovered that I needed some specific details not found in my research. So I sent an e-mail to a woman biologist who lives and works on Martha's Vineyard, MA. (I met her ten or more years ago. I was fishing at night on an ocean beach; she came along with an antenna to help her locate skunks that carried little transmitters. We've been in touch ever since.) She helped with some skunk details, and she will also be the expert who checks my writing and the illustrations.
Writing a nonfiction story for young readers allows a writer to play with words. For example, there's this, when young skunks (kits) are led by their mother to a rocky stream: "For the first time the kits hear the music of flowing water. It tinkles, splashes, and sploshes. It gurgles, burbles, and babbles."
One more thing: my wife and I are members of a secret group of people, of unknown numbers. The secret: we like very much the strong, musky scent of skunks! (more…)
April 6, 2017
Sometimes, authors make mistakes in their books. And, often the error is
discovered by a kid reading the book!
That happened to me. I wrote a book called the Scholastic Encyclopedia of
Animals. (You might have a copy in your school library.) It has information about 138 animals, and all of the research and writing took most of a whole year. I know that I sometimes make mistakes, so I asked an animal expert to check my work. She found a few errors. I fixed them, and the book was published. It was my 96th book, and I thought it was perfect. Yeah!
A few weeks later I received a letter from North Carolina. It was from a 6-year old boy named Sebastian, and he had found a big mistake in my book. Here is what he wrote: "I was reading about my favorite animals with my mom and we read on page 62 that Lions are the biggest cats on Earth. But, tigers are bigger than lions! We turned to the Tiger page (page 111) and you wrote "The tiger is Earth's biggest cat." Did you know you wrote that?"
Oops! I had somehow written that two different cats were the biggest. Everybody, including the animal expert, had missed this BIG UGLY error. Quickly, I talked with the book's editor about fixing the mistake when new copies of the book were printed. And I wrote to Sebastian. I congratulated him, thanked him, and promised him a new, corrected copy of the animal encyclopedia when it was printed. When I mailed that new book, I wrote to Sebastian, "No other reader or book reviewer has let me know about this mistake. Hurray for you!"
When I visit schools, I am sometimes asked to autograph a copy of my animal
encyclopedia. When this happens, I always turn to page 62 and see what it says about
Lions. If it is a really old copy, the error is there. I sign the book, and also write, "Beware of the mistake on page 62. Tigers are bigger than lions!"
When I write, I try to do good research, and I ask experts to check my work. Mistakes are rare in my books. But I know that, if I mess up, some school kid--maybe even a 6-year-old--will probably tell me about it. (more…)
March 7, 2017
I recently had the great treat of reading, and observing, Melissa Sweet's book, Some Writer: The Story of E. B. White. I say 'observing" because the book is so richly illustrated by Melissa Sweet and with many photos that trace White's life from childhood onward. I've long admired White's writing, especially in Charlotte's Web, and was intrigued by details about his work on that book. I can recite the first sentence (beginning, "Where's Poppa going with that axe?") but learned that White had several other beginnings before choosing that. And the evidence is there on the page: actual copies of White's handwritten first page, his crossed-out sentences. A couple of typewritten pages are shown too, again with White's revising and editing marks. For me these are treasures, revealing the writing process of a great writer. Today most writers, great or not, often edit on a screen or on a printed page. They make changes, save those changes, and instantly print a new version. The first draft, the 4th draft, the 20th draft, etc. vanish, probably never seen again. Maybe this is not a great loss, but I'm glad that some bits of E. B. White's writing process can be seen today.
January 10, 2017
Yesterday I submitted a manuscript of a book--Elephants! Strange and Wonderful--that will be published a long time from now, 2019. I'm excited about it, about the process so far, which includes research on these extraordinary animals, and the writing just ended. The rest of the long process includes comments from my editor and an elephant scientist, both of whom will help make the book better. Then artist Meryl Henderson will devote several months creating her usual wonderful illustrations.
In all writing, and maybe especially in writing nonfiction, a lot has to be left out. That seemed particularly true on this subject. I felt I could write much more about one elephant body part: the trunk. There is no other animal part quite like it. (It can be used to sniff odors, spray water, hug, grab food, and much more.) And so much can be written about the awful reality of wild elephants today, with great loss of their natural habitats, and being killed so that people can have jewelry, trinkets, and other objects carved from the ivory of their tusks. Fortunately, my writing ended on a slightly hopeful note as the Chinese government just vowed to end the whole ivory business in that nation (where more than half of all ivory-made products are sold). Say No to Ivory!
October 5, 2016
There are no Trader Joe's stores in Montana, and this presents a serious problem for Sneed Collard III of Missoula. Sneed and I met last century (1987) and became steadfast friends. We are far apart geographically but close in other ways. He is a prolific author, mostly of nonfiction but also of novels. Most recent title: Hopping Ahead of Climate Change: Snowshoe Hares, Science, and Survival. One reviewer (me) called this book "a gem of excellent science and environmental writing."
Now about the chocolate. Sneed claims that his writing falters when he lacks certain kinds of chocolate. One kind he treasures (bittersweet with almonds) is available in one
pound packages from Trader Joe's. In West Nyack, NY, I'm fairly close to a Trader Joe's.
Thus, several times a year, Sneed receives a special package from me. It is rather costly
but I want his wonderful writing career to continue. And he is on a short list of really good friends.