Leda Schubert * Writer of Picture Books

An Occasional Post

Finding Stuff Out

October 13, 2011

Tags: Research, writing, VCFA

October 12, 2011
Finding Stuff Out

Just about every story Iíve written, whether published or unpublished, has involved research. Lots and lots of research. Some examples: the life of Marcel Marceau, McCarthyism, George Balanchine, Igor Stravinsky, John Ringling North, Modoc the elephant, Vera Zorina, the Atlantic telegraph cable, and recipes for borscht. I love finding stuff out, and the internet, with all its databases and countless other resources, has meant I donít even have to leave Vermont most of the time. (I hate leaving home. Iíve only flown--on an airplane--once in the last eleven years and have no plans to do so again.)

In the early days of the internet, which I remember as if they were yesterday, the prevailing wisdom was that it was a mile wide and an inch deep. This has not been true for a long time. The danger for me is how very deep it is. Years go by and I am still finding stuff out, because itís more fun than writing. Itís seductive. It calls to me, waking me from sleep. My long-suffering husband and I have dinner with the laptop on the table in case a question pops out of the salad or an idea bubbles up from the pasta. As recently as last night, while eating at a friendís house, I demanded she retrieve her laptop so we could find out where Cormac McCarthy lives. It was a birthday dinner, too.

Eventually a very sad day arrives and I realize itís time to figure out what the heck the story actually is. 99% of the research then disappears, never to surface again. Everything has to serve the story. What becomes fascinatingóand frustratingóis the balancing act of what to include, how to include it, and what to leave out.

Iím planning to offer a workshop at VCFA this January around this very topic. In the meantime, what are some of your favorite examples of well-researched (and not necessarily non-fiction!) stories that achieve a perfect balance? And what kind of research are you yourself engaged in?


  1. October 19, 2011 8:21 AM EDT
    I love this post, Leda! I just read Matt Phelan's graphic novel Around the World, which I think keeps a good balance of action and details. He mentions in his afterward his attempt to balance the outer journey with the inner one, which seems a noble goal. I also read Kadir Nelson's Heart and Soul, though I loved the art more than the text. And, for adult stuff, am just cracking open Alice Hoffmann's The Dove Keepers and preparing to be amazed. Wish I could hear you in January!
    - Jeannine Atkins
  2. October 19, 2011 11:25 AM EDT
    Thanks, Jeannine! I haven't read these books yet, but they are on my list. So much to read.
    - Leda Schubert
  3. October 20, 2011 10:07 AM EDT
    Thanks for this interesting post, Leda. (Great photo of Sherlock, too.) I just read Brian Selznick's Wonderstruck and The Amazing Invention of Hugo Cabret. Both reflect tons of research & are great. I also read Phillip Roth's Nemesis recently. Another good one, though not as good as his best. He obviously did a lot of research on the polio epidemic. As for me, I've been researching American folk tales, the woman suffragement, and pizza. Happy National Wrting Day, (declared by an act of Congress)!
    - Deborah Kops
  4. October 20, 2011 11:07 AM EDT
    Thanks, Deborah. Happy National Writing Day to you, too.
    - Leda Schubert
  5. November 2, 2011 8:06 PM EDT
    Just discovered your website and love it. Congrats on your books.
    - Barb Barstow
  6. November 2, 2011 9:11 PM EDT
    Barb! Where are you? My last email to you bounced back-- write to me!
    - Leda Schubert

Now Available or Coming Soon (Click on each title for complete information.)

Neal Porter/Roaring Brook Press, June, 2017
Click for a pdf discussion and activities guide. (Look on left of page after clicking.)
A nonfiction picture book illustrated by Robert Andrew Parker. Roaring Brook Press, 2006
Holiday House, Fall 2011. Illustrated by Amanda Haley
Illustrated by Bonnie Christensen and published by Neal Porter/Roaring Brook Press.
Illustrated by Andrea U'Ren and published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux. March, 2010.
Illustrated by Mary Azarian, published by Houghton Mifflin 2005
Illustrated by William Benedict. Candlewick, 2000.