GUEST BLOG: Sincerely Yours – What I Learned from an 18 Foot Naked Guy by Jane Sutcliffe

StoneGiant_jkt_300Today I am delighted to have children’s author and biographer Jane Sutcliffe as my guest.  She’s here to celebrate the April release of  STONE GIANT: MICHELANGELO’S DAVID AND HOW HE CAME TO BE (Charlesbridge).  She and I also share a book birthday!  Her next book, THE WHITE HOUSE IS BURNING: AUGUST 24, 1814 (Charlesbridge), and my GOODNIGHT, ARK both hit shelves on August 5th!  We’ll have to blow out some virtual book birthday candles together!  In the meantime, in honor of STONE GIANT, I’ve asked her to ponder the arts of sculpting and writing.  Take it away, Jane!

Like a lot of nonfiction writers, I have a serious research habit. I never seem to be able to avoid getting pulled into my subject until I’m up to my virtual elbows in quotes and anecdotes. It’s not that I’m procrastinating. (Well, OK, maybe a little.) It’s my way of getting a handle on my subject before I start to write. There is a certain comfort in knowing that, if I’ve done my research well, my story is already there. It’s right there in all those details, just waiting to be revealed in the writing.

Michelangelo would have understood perfectly. When I researched and wrote my picture book Stone Giant: Michelangelo’s David and How He Came to Be, I was struck by how similar sculpting is to creating a nonfiction story. The first time the artist saw the stone that would become his masterpiece, he saw more than a huge block of weatherworn marble. He saw David—his David, the David we have come to know so well. Michelangelo saw his task as simply carving away what was not David.

Well, maybe not simply. The David is about as perfect a sculpture as perfect gets, after all. Not all sculptors had Michelangelo’s vision or genius. Sometimes mistakes were made. Sometimes a bit too much of the stone was chipped off. When that happened some sculptors disguised their blunders by mixing a bit of stone dust with wax and then working the mixture into the void. Needless to say, this made for an inferior sculpture. A sculpture without any such imperfections was much more highly prized and could be advertised as being sine cere, literally “without wax.” It’s where we get the word “sincere.”

What a perfect word to describe the responsibility of a nonfiction writer. I am sort of a sculptor of words. My job is to recognize the story that’s waiting in the research and to carve away whatever doesn’t belong. And never, EVER, to add anything extra. I will never write anything as perfect as the David, but I will always write sincerely.

Sincerely yours,

Jane Sutcliffe

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAJane Sutcliffe is the author of over two dozen nonfiction books for young readers. Her most recent picture book is Stone Giant: Michelangelo’s David and How He Came to Be (Charlesbridge). Look for The White House is Burning: August 24, 1814, to be released by Charlesbridge this summer. Jane lives on a farm in Tolland, Connecticut, with her husband, two sons, three goats, and one very spoiled dog named Willy.

To learn more, be sure to visit Jane’s website.  She’s also active on Twitter and Facebook.

*Please note:  I will be taking a blog vacation for the remainder of June, but will be back on July 7th with a brand new post!  Happy writing, all!

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13 thoughts on “GUEST BLOG: Sincerely Yours – What I Learned from an 18 Foot Naked Guy by Jane Sutcliffe

  1. Great post and analogy! Nice to meet you, Jane. This is an interesting topic for pb! I’ll have to keep my eyes open for it.

  2. Great to meet you Jane. Love the analogy – this is definitely on my TBR list! I also looked up The White House Is Burning on Barnes and Noble. The cover is phenomenal! And I can’t wait to read that book also! Thank you Laura for introducing Jane to us 🙂

  3. Laura…thank you so much for creating this awesome platform where we can learn so much!
    Nice to meet you, Jane…congratulations on what looks like a fantastic book! And many thanks for your insights into writing non-fiction for children – ‘if you’ve done your research well, the story is already there in the details…waiting to be revealed’ – I LOVE that!

  4. Thank you all for stopping by and for commenting. I’ve been really savoring the word “sincere” today. I LOVE the story behind it and so does my 13yo who is taking Latin. And a special thanks to Jane for sharing her thoughts with us.

  5. To say the least, sculpting something from marble is—a marvel! Something like Michelangelo’s David as you said: sine cere! (Love learning that meaning!) As an aside, whenever I think of Michelangelo’s sculpture, I think of my great grandfather. He was born and lived in Rome and actually, as part of his works in art, did touch ups on sculpture at the Sistine Chapel. Cool, right?

    Thanks for this informative interview, ladies 🙂

  6. I haven’t ventured into true non-fiction as a writer, but have loved and continue to love such PBs as a reader. Thank you for hosting the insightful Jane Sutcliffe.

  7. Pingback: Stone Giant: Michelangelo’s David and How He Came to Be

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