What's Your Story? Sandra Warren
All stories have a beginning, a middle and an end. But within a story there can be many chapters, sections, volumes, prologues and epilogues. The best stories have unexpected twists, turns and surprises- and Sandra Warren's is no exception.
There are so many different pathways to becoming a published author, as you will see!
Over to you, Sandra...
THE BEGINNING: TO SOLVE A PROBLEM
I never aspired to be a writer in fact writing was my worst subject in school. But after having a child with learning problems, I felt compelled to write books to help educators deal with children like her . . . children who knew too much, too soon and learned too fast . . . books to enhance the thinking process using upper level thinking strategies. Even so, I never would have written a word if two things hadn’t happened: first, an artist friend of mine looked at me one day and said, “You should be writing children’s books!” and second, a teacher friend shared a classroom activity she had just done with her gifted students and said, “This would make a great book.”
If I Were A Road came out first and was soon followed by If I Were A Table and The Great Bridge Lowering, all open-ended story books still used in classrooms today, thirty-seven years after they were first introduced to the education market. Although written with gifted learners in mind, the books have proven popular with students at all levels of learning. Several other books to help gifted children, their parents and educators followed.
The success of the first three books spurred me to write a children’s open-ended picture book titled, Arlie the Alligator. Shortly after completing it, I had a chance meeting with song writer, Deborah Bel Pfleger, who also owned her own recording studio. Before long we had a manuscript with an audio tape fully produced with actors, sound effects and four snappy tunes. Books-on-tape were a new concept in children’s books at the time, and although I tried, for the next seven years, to interest a traditional publisher in the Arlie the Alligator story, no one wanted to take a chance on an unknown character by an unknown author, even though every rejection commented on the high quality of the audio cassette. So, in 1991, I published it myself along with an Arlie the Alligator Communication Activity Guide for teachers. Arlie would go on to delight children in story and song for the next thirty-three years before getting a facelift with a different illustrator in a new paperback release, in 2013 and a DVD in 2014.
THE MIDDLE: APPROACHED BY OTHERS
Shortly after self-publishing Arlie the Alligator, I was approached by two Army Reserve Nurses, who had served in the Persian Gulf War, and asked to write their memoirs. Although I’d never written anything like that before, I agreed to give it a try. In 2003, When Duty Called: Even Grandma Had To Go and Hidden Casualties:Battles On The Home Front were published through Silk Label Books, an imprint of Royal Fireworks Press. Shortly thereafter, I met a screenwriter and together we penned the Hidden Casualties screenplay. This important story instigated changes the military made regarding single parents, and although it was never made into a movie, it was optioned several times and under consideration by well-known actors.
In 2015, I was compelled to write the final chapter in a story that began in 1942 during World War II, when students at South High School, in Grand Rapids, Michigan participated in the “Buy a Bomber” funding program and earned the right to buy, name and dedicate a B-17 Flying Fortress airplane by selling $375,000 in U.S. War Bonds and Stamps. Named, “The Spirit of South High,” the students dedicated it and watched it fly off never to be heard from again, until, 2013 when a fellow alum found a crash report that said it crashed stateside in Meadows of Dan, Virginia on the Blue Ridge Parkway. The story that evolved proved stranger than fiction since neither the historical society in this small community nor the Blue Ridge Parkway historians, knew anything about this crash. The story told in We Bought A WWII Bomber: The Untold Story Of A Michigan High School, a B-17 Bomber & The Blue Ridge Parkway, has become symbolic of the patriotism that permeated the country during WWII and resulted in the placement of two historical markers, one at South High School in Grand Rapids, Michigan and one at Milepost 176.2, Mabry’s Mill on The Blue Ridge Parkway at Meadows of Dan, Virginia.
Even though the bomber story is about what high school students accomplished during WWII, I felt there should be a historical fiction version for students. She Started It All became that version taking teens into a history classroom and a WWII assignment that pits two students against each other. Neither could have predicted what would happen because of these unwanted assignments.
My newest book, Obsessed By A Promise, was first written and optioned as a screenplay. It was my producer who commented that, “if a studio picks up the screenplay, they will want a novel and if you don’t write it, they’ll assign someone else to do it.” Thus, almost twenty years later, the story has sprung to life in novel form. Obsessed By A Promise follows two brothers whose lives are changed forever when the youngest disappears on the last Orphan Train leaving NYC in 1929, and the older brother spends the next fifty years of his life searching for him.
My obsession with this story started while working as a sales representative for an educational company, Synergetics. It was there I first became aware of a small historical non-fiction book about The Orphan Trains, a part of American History I knew nothing about. I began to imagine what it would be like to be separated from everything I’d known, including a sibling. I became obsessed.
THE END or NEW BEGINNING:
Rather than the end, my story is moving forward with new found determination. The educational books I’ve authored have been traditionally published but most of the others, especially the last three important ones, have been self-published. Even though being self-published has gained market respect, a recent connection with an agent has made me think about pursuing the traditional route once again.
My immediate writing plan is to revisit the screenplay Obsessed By A Promise and update it to be a closer match to the novel, before seeking representation. The story is so much richer now.
Two picture books are waiting in the wings to be revised; one involves an enormous rug knitted by my mother, and the other involves a foot race, based on a 5-K run in which I participated.
I also have a middle-grade concept in mind, a story that involves friendship and subtle racial prejudice.
From never wanting to be an author to writing in multiple genres, my journey has been most unconventional. Most of my publishing opportunities came to me through serendipitous meetings at special interest groups, not necessarily writing organizations. However, the Society of Children’s Writers & Illustrators (SCBWI) along with an awesome critique group have put me in contact with writers and publishers who have willingly shared their expertise and their contacts. Writing may be a solitary occupation, but getting published relies on many others. No published writer did it alone. Today, I’d rather be writing than anything else.
Thanks so much for sharing your story with us, Sandra. It really shows that writing is a long and wonderful game - and different for each of us.
Talk to you again soon,