Monday, May 28, 2012

In Conversation with Nancy Stewart

by Susan Berger
I don’t know how many of you saw A Dolphin Tale, a movie based on a true story about Winter, a young dolphin who lost her tail in an accident. Winter not only inspired a movie. She’s inspired people around the world to reach for new horizons.

One of these people is thirteen year old Katrina. Author Nancy Stewart took her story and created a lovely narrative non fiction book called Katrina and Winter Partners in Courage. The photographic illustrations are the perfect compliment.

Nancy, how did this book come about?
 It came about in a circuitous way. My husband and I bought a condo on Clearwater Beach, Florida, four years ago. One day I happened to drive by the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, home of Winter, the dolphin. I’d never heard of her so decided to have a look. I visited Winter and went in to see the video they were offering about her. Featured in the video was an eight year old girl, Katrina Simpkins, who had to wear a prosthetic leg. It told the story of her journey from being a shy, withdrawn and bullied child to one with more self-assurance and determination. About a year later, I received a phone call from a woman called Maria Simpkins. I knew I’d heard the name but couldn’t place it. Martie is Katrina’s mom, and she called to see if I’d be interested in writing a book about Katrina.

I’m delighted to say the book has been on Amazon’s Hot New Releases and on their Bestselling List as well.  It was a long route from there to here but worth every step of the journey.
Could you talk about the style of narrative non fiction?
Narrative non-fiction offers up a true story written in a style much like fiction. This genre in some forms has been around awhile. People have written memoirs and autobiographies for many years, but the emphasis has not been in a narrative style. The person credited for bringing narrative non-fiction onto the mainstream is, of course, Truman Capote and his journalistic book In Cold Blood. The book describes the murder of the Cluter family, subsequent trial and hangings of the two accused men.  Capote wrote the book in the style of a journalist, researching and interviewing countless people. Added to this, he is the narrator of the story and allows his bias to show through.

Are there any criticisms of such a genre? 
Indeed. The problem often sited is no stringent standards or guidelines. The reader wants to know what is fiction and what is not. Sometimes the lines are blurred, leading to confusion and even rejection of the work. 
There are some wonderful narrative non-fiction books for kids.  I’ll give two examples:  In The Librarian of Basra, Jeanette Winter tells the story of Alia Muhammed Baker, the chief librarian of Basra, Iraq, who saved 30,000 books from Basra's library before it burned during the US invasion of Iraq. 

 Another fine example is Survivors: True Stories of Children in the Holocaust by Allan Zullo and Mara Bovsun.
This genre has become a powerhouse in the book market.  If it is done well, accurately and is interesting to kids, it has real merit.  Narrative non-fiction is full of teachable moments and can make such an impact on a child's life.
Do you have a critique group?
Yes, actually I am in two critique groups, one in St. Louis and the other in Tampa.  I am maniacal about them both and only miss if I really must, depending upon which place I am, of course.  Writing in a vacuum is not a good idea, and I would urge every writer, seasoned or novice, to join a group.  To me it is pivotal!

What made to decide to write Children’s books (as opposed to adult books)
Children’s books were always what I wanted to write.

Your first published book, One Pelican at a Time  which was illustrated by Samantha Bell was about the Gulf Oil Spill. Was that the first book you sold?

There's a story behind Pelican. The first story I sold in the Bella and Britt Series was Bella Saves the Beach. It was almost out when the Gulf Oil Spill happened. My publisher, Lynda Burch of Guardian Angel Publishing, thought a book had to be written about the disaster and wanted the Bella and Britt Series to do this. As you know, it takes months to write a book and up to two years to get it into print. I wrote Pelican in six weeks (not sure if I should be proud or embarrassed by this admission ), and it was the first children's book on the spill published in the US. I'm also happy to mention that Pelican was on Amazon's Bestseller List for Children for 18 weeks, won a Literary Classics Seal of Approval, a Readers Favorite 5 Star Award and was nominated for a Global eBook Award. And as for Beach Bella? Next one out the gate!
One Pelican at a Time, illustrated by Samantha Bell, is  also available on Kindle.
Do you feel that social media has helped sell any books for you?
This is an interesting question.  I know the social media has helped get the word out about my books.  No question of it.  Whether it, and I use them all, helps actually sell books is another matter.  I am finding more and more that it is rather a combination of ingredients, such as virtual tours, blogging, facebook, getting on lists such as Amazon, all in concert with each other.  The first ingredient, though, is still writing a great book that has appeal to the trade audience.  There is nothing more important than that.
What do you do to help sell your books?
I do school visits and attend and speak at national and regional conferences.  I never refuse speaking at events within the community.  I blog at least three times a week and work at getting new followers of my blogging community.  I carry business cards at all times and give them out whenever and wherever I can.  It becomes a way of life, really, where marketing is a constant for you.
What’s next on the horizon for you?
I am just finishing a middle grade novel called “Lost on the Skeleton Coast.”  It is an adventure set in the African country of Namibia in the Namib Desert where a brother and sister, Olivia and Andy, are on an archaeological dig with their Uncle Blake.  The kids get swept up in a kidnapping and getting lost in the desert where they contend with diamond smugglers and lions who may be ready to attack.  It was fun to write, and I hope it’ll be as much fun to read!

I look forward to reading it.Thank you, Nancy.

Katrina and Winter: Partners in Courage is now Available from Guardian Angel Publishing,, Barnes & Noble, and IndieBound Books

Visit Nancy on her blog Nancy Stewart Books


  1. Thank you so very much for hosting me on your marvelous blog, Sue! I follow it, as you know, and it is one of my favorites.

    All best wishes to you and your readers, and thanks again!

  2. Nancy continues to inspire me with her energy, insight and accomplishments. Thanks for more background.

  3. Thanks for sharing the insight into what was behind 'Katrina and Winter...' What a fascinating story.

  4. Thanks, Sue. It's always nice to hear more about Nancy and her books.

  5. Thanks, Barbara and Penelope. I loved reading Kristina and Winter.


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