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Debut Author Interview: Rochelle Melander and Mightier Than the Sword: Rebels, Reformers, and Revolutionaries Who Changed the World through Writing Giveaway

Happy Monday Everyone! Today I’m excited to have Rochelle Melander here to share about her debut MG Mightier Than the Sword: Rebels, Reformers, and Revolutionaries Who Changed the World through Writing. It contains mini-biographies of people who have affected the world through the power of their words. It sounds like an interesting read for kids and adults.


Here’s a blurb from Beaming Books:

Throughout history, people have picked up their pens and wielded their words--transforming their lives, their communities, and beyond. Now it's your turn! Representing a diverse range of backgrounds and experiences, Mightier Than the Sword connects over forty inspiring biographies with life-changing writing activities and tips, showing readers just how much their own words can make a difference. Readers will explore nature with Rachel Carson, experience the beginning of the Reformation with Martin Luther, champion women's rights with Sojourner Truth, and many more. These richly illustrated stories of inspiring speechmakers, scientists, explorers, authors, poets, activists, and even other kids and young adults will engage and encourage young people to pay attention to their world, to honor their own ideas and dreams, and to embrace the transformative power of words to bring good to the world.

Hi Rochelle! Thanks so much for joining us.

1. Tell us about yourself and how you became a writer.

I’ve been writing since I was very young. I wrote my first picture book when I was seven and kept a journal all through school. During graduate school, a professor suggested that I write for an academic journal. I called up the editor (I must admit, this memory makes me cringe!) and pitched a couple of ideas. She said yes. I wrote them—and they were published! After starting my first job, I began writing and pitching ideas to popular magazines. That was a much slower process, but I got a few things published. I kept at it—and soon was pitching books. More on that in a moment.

2. That’s awesome that your professor encouraged you like that. Where did you get the idea for your book?

When I started Dream Keepers, my writing program for young people in Milwaukee, I brought in poems, stories, and songs as writing prompts. We listened to Nina Simone sing “Young, Gifted and Black” and Martin Luther King declare, “I Have a Dream.” Then the young people wrote poems in response to the pieces. I wanted a book that would capture the stories of many people like this in a single place—and the idea for Mightier Than the Sword was born!

3. How did you decide on the speechmakers, scientists, explorers, authors, poets, activists, young adults, and kids to feature in your book?

I’d been collecting names for Mightier Than the Sword for about ten years. When I got serious about the project, I read anthologies. There are so many anthologies out there! One of my favorites was written for adults, Explorers’ Sketchbook: The Art of Discovery and Adventure by Huw Lewis-Jones and Kari Herbert (Chronicle)

I wanted to choose a variety of writers from different disciplines who used writing to educate people, protest injustice, or proclaim healing. I wrote my book proposal based on 50 people who represented a diverse group of voices. I also added sidebars so I could feature additional writers in each chapter. Then, I worked with my editors and the team at Beaming Books to finalize the list. The book specs limited me to 45 stories—and we tried to make the list contemporary and kid friendly. As I wrote and they edited, we were constantly evaluating and shaping the list. Now that the book is done, I am finding more people I wish I could have included. And there are those people who I really loved that didn’t make it into the book—but we just didn’t have room.

4. It must have been hard to pick who to feature and who to exclude. What research did you do into the lives of those you wrote mini-biographies about? What advice do you have for writers who want to write a biography or mini-biographies like you did for middle graders?

Oh! So much! I started by reading a cradle-to-grave presentation of a person’s life from a site like history.com or an online encyclopedia. Then, if they had an autobiography, I would read the parts that pertained to the chapter I was writing. If there was no autobiography, I looked for other primary sources—diaries, articles, that kind of thing. Then, I hunted down secondary sources—biographies or academic articles. Once I’d written a draft, I would do more research to find out specific information. For the chapter on Martin Luther King, Jr, I wrote about his Letter from a Birmingham jail. I wanted to know exactly what kind of paper he wrote on, how the letter was smuggled out, and how the article was put together so fast. (King started writing on the margins of the newspaper, and then on little scraps of writing paper until someone got him a pad of paper. The letter was 7000 words long!) I also wanted a clear publication timeline for the letter. Most of that didn’t make it into the book, but it helped me to understand what had happened.

For those interested in writing short biographies, remember that you’re going to have to research much more information than you can include in your book proposal or book. That’s okay.

Be hyper critical of your sources and your own work. In researching my book, I discovered that many people restate and reprint false information—especially online, but also in books. Sometimes I had to do extra sleuthing to find the true story.

Invite feedback, especially from sensitivity readers. You don’t know what you don’t know!

Enjoy the process. In the midst of a big project, when the best resources are behind the paywall, it can be hard to find the joy! But do. It’s such a privilege to do this work.

5. You’ve written other books on writing for adults, but this is your first book for children. How was the process of writing Mightier Than the Sword different than writing a nonfiction book for adults?

I’ve written eleven books for adults, many based on the work I do as a professional coach. Those books were based on topics I’d been teaching and writing about for years. I’d develop a table of contents and a basic chapter template. I would review or research material for each topic. Then, I would create a mind map for the chapter. Mind maps help me to discover, record, and organize ideas. Once I had a finished mind map, I would start writing. If I got stuck, I’d take a walk or set it aside for a few days. With this process, I could often write a chapter a day.

With Mightier, I couldn’t write a chapter until I’d spent time reading and taking notes. Once I understood the person’s life narrative, I could shape the story I wanted to tell. Sometimes, I created a mind map to find that. Then, I’d write the chapter. Once I had a draft, I’d go back to it and revise it multiple times while researching the next chapter. When I had a few essays that seemed finished, I sent them to a friend to read. She gave me very helpful feedback, and I rewrote the chapters. Both my friend and my editors helped me eliminate extraneous details and make the stories fun for kids.

6. Share about your road to publication in general and for this book.

When I started writing professionally, I did a lot of work for hire. My first book project was a work for hire assignment. That experience taught me a lot about the publishing process—what sells, how to work with an editor, and how to meet deadlines. I met an editor at a conference and had a 30-minute meeting with him. At the time, I was writing with my husband—and we pitched a book idea. The editor didn’t like it. I pitched another idea—something I hadn’t even talked to my husband about it—and he said, “Write a proposal. I’ll look at it.” We did—and nine months later he offered us a contract. The catch? He wanted us to write the book in six weeks. We had a little one and no childcare. But we met our deadline. More books followed. Most grew out of book proposals. A few came from conversations with editors. One was a work-for-hire project that I wrote with a friend in 11 days.

As I was writing books for adults, I was also writing books for kids. In the early days, we submitted a lot and collected stacks of rejection letters. (Some encouraging, but still!) I wrote several kid’s novels. Again, I submitted and collected several lovely, “Thank you but not for me” notes. In 2018, I decided that my best way in to the children’s market was through a nonfiction project. I wrote a book proposal and sent it to agents—and received lots of rejection letters. I revised the proposal to address their concerns and received an R&R from an agent. I revised the proposal again—and waited. In the meantime, I pitched it for #PitMad—and received four likes from editors. Shortly after, I sold the book to Beaming Books.

My takeaway: fight for what you believe in. I really believed in this book—in these stories—to inspire young people. That kept me going.

7. That’s great that you’ve written with your husband. How are you planning to market Mightier Than the Sword and reach younger readers?

That’s the million-dollar question! I want young people to get their hands on this book, find the stories that inspire them, and then write their own stories!

This summer, I’ve been teaching through an organization in my town called, Arts@Large (https://www.artsatlargeinc.org/). Much of that programming is online, and I am hoping some young people will find the book through that. I’m doing a blog tour (thank you for hosting me!) which I hope will help me reach teachers, librarians, and parents—who will show the book to young people. And then, I hope to speak at schools in the fall.

8. You are also an author of eleven books for adults, a book coach, and teacher. Tell us a bit about some of your books and the ways you help writers.

I’m a trained and certified coach—and have done additional study in positive psychology and ADHD coaching. So many of the programs on the market charge oodles of money to teach writers a single process that the seller promises will ensure writing and publishing success. As someone who has purchased programs like that for business and marketing, I’ve discovered that there isn’t just one path to success. Each person, each path, is different. When I work with clients, I want to understand their strengths and their successes so we can use those to build a sustainable writing practice. My books are designed to help writers understand themselves and their processes so they can function better.

Write-A-Thon: Write Your Book in 26 Days (And Live to Tell About It) lays out a process for writing a book fast. My follow-up book to that, Level Up: Quests to Master Mindset, Overcome Procrastination, and Increase Productivity uses the idea of gamification to help people evaluate their strengths and use them to overcome obstacles and get stuff done. The book is presented as a series of short quests that readers can take to deal with the inner critic, find the ideal writing time, overcome their fear of the blank page, and more.

9. You are also the founder of Dream Keepers, a writing workshop for kids and teens in Milwaukee. Tell us a bit about why you founded it and the workshops you run.

I’d been volunteering at my children’s schools for several years, reading and teaching poetry writing workshops. I saw many young people who were not the academic “stars” of the class but were still interested in writing. I wanted to create a program that would reach them. I started small, offering a writing class to a group of about ten girls at the church I attended. Within a year, we moved to the public library—and welcomed anyone who showed up. Since then (and until the pandemic) we’ve met weekly at one or more libraries in Milwaukee. I have created a lot of programs that connect writing and art, because many of the children I work with love making things. In one of my favorite workshops, I teach the students how to make tiny how-to books. The students love it—because they can write about topics they are passionate about. And it teaches them the whole book making process from deciding on a concept, to creating rough draft and book plan to making the finished product!

10. What are you working on now?

I’m writing a middle grade mystery novel. When I get stuck, I’m working on picture books—which is great fun.

Thanks for sharing all your advice, Rochelle. You can find Rochelle at:



Twitter: @WriteNowCoach

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/WriteNowCoach/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/writenowcoach/

Giveaway Details

Rochelle has generously offered a hardback of Mightier Than the Sword: Rebels, Reformers, and Revolutionaries Who Changed the World through Writing or a giveaway. To enter, all you need to do is be a follower of my blog (via the follower gadget, email, or bloglovin’ on the right sidebar) and leave a comment by August 21st. If your e-mail is not on your Google Profile, you must leave it in the comments to enter the contest. Please be sure I have your email address.

If you mention this contest on Twitter, Facebook, or your blog and/or follow me on Twitter, mention this in the comments and I'll give you an extra entry for each. You must be 13 years old or older to enter. The giveaway is U.S and Canada.

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday is hosted by Greg Pattridge. You can find the participating blogs on his blog.

Upcoming Interviews and Giveaways

Wednesday, August 11th I have an agent spotlight interview with Sera Rivers and a query critique giveaway

Monday, August 16th I’m participating in the Old School Giveaway Hop and have an interview with debut author Christyne Morrell and a giveaway of MG fantasy Kingdom of Secrets

Monday August 23th I have an interview with debut author Jessica Lewis and a giveaway of her YA contemporary fantasy Bad Witch Burning

Monday, August 30th I have an agent spotlight interview with Renae Moore Tobias

Monday, September 1st I have an interview with debut author Michelle Mason and a giveaway of her YA time travel Your Life Has Been Delayed and my IWSG post

Tuesday, September 7th I’m participating in the September to Remember Giveaway Hop

Hope to see you on Wednesday!







nashvillecats2 said...

Happy Monday Natalie, a wonderful selection to read today. I see you're going to be very busy in the future. Hope all goes well for you.
Take care and stay safe.

Angie Quantrell said...

This is a very helpful interview! Thanks, Rochelle! Congratulations!

Danielle H. said...

Thank you for the interview today. I enjoyed learning about the sources this author read/used for her research. I'm looking forward to reading her book. I follow Natalie on Twitter.

Patricia T. said...

Congratulations, Rochelle! I am especially fond of books about individuals who make a difference in the world. Your book will inspire many readers. I like your format. I especially enjoyed the interview, as your path to writing and publishing is unique.

Liz A. said...

Will the people who didn't make the cut for this book be included in the sequel? ;)

Max @ Completely Full Bookshelf said...

Mightier Than the Sword (which is a great title!) seems to be getting a lot of discussion—I also saw a guest post by Rochelle on another blog I read, Unleashing Readers. It sounds like a fantastic book with so much interesting info, and I loved hearing about the process of writing it and selecting who would be featured in it. I'll pass on the giveaway, but thanks so much for the great interview, Natalie!

Carl Scott said...

Sounds like a great book for kids to learn that activism works in all kinds of ways. Hope it's a big success! Thanks. crs(at)codedivasites(dot)com

Susan Johnston Taylor said...

Rochelle, I'm reading a copy from the library right now, but I'd love to win my own copy as I work on my own collective bio! Such an inspiring book. (Natalie, I follow you on Twitter, too.) susanejohnston AT gmail.

Stephanie Owen said...

Congratulations, Rochelle!

Computer Tutor said...

I love that story of you pitching ideas and getting published. If you asked me, I'd say it never happens. I am so glad to know I'm wrong.

Greg Pattridge said...

I know many kids who like to write but aren't passionate about their writing. This sounds like it would lead them in that direction. Great interview and insights. I'll let someone else win who can read this book much sooner than I can with my stack of future reads.

Jenni said...

This sounds like a fabulous book! I like that it covers a wide range of people from different backgrounds and time periods. I find biographies so inspiring! I will definitely check this one out.
It's really interesting about the nonfiction writing process!

bookanista said...

This book looks perfect for my activism unit with my sixth graders!

Chaya said...

Wow! Kudos to Rochelle for an amazing idea. Would love to read this!

Rebecca Gardyn Levington said...

Sounds like such a wonderful book! Congrats!

Tonja Drecker said...

This one does look like a great book...congratulations!

Rosi said...

Wow. This is a great interview and it sounds like a terrific book. I will be looking for it. Thanks for the post.

Fundy Blue said...

I love the premise of Rochelle's book, Natalie. She may have written it for middle school readers, but I would have used parts of it as a read aloud for my third grade students. The interview was really interesting!

Maria Nicklin said...

Thank you, Rochelle and Natalie ! I really enjoyed the interview and am very inspired by all of your work, Rochelle! I am especially interested in the Dream Keepers! What a wonderful program. I am buying a copy of your book today and hope to buy more for my young friends.

Leela said...

I'm a follower.

The Write Now! Coach said...

I so wish! What a great idea!