Kerrie Logan Hollihan is a veteran non-fiction writer from my local Cincinnati SCBWI group who has multiple honors under her belt for her previous books. Her latest book Mummies Exposed! "The Scoop on Sleeping Beauties, Masked Men & Tattooed Tourists, Traders, and Tribesmen" is set to come out May 2019.
It's the first book in the new "CREEPY and TRUE" series published by Abrams Books for Young Readers.
Mummies! takes an in-depth look at human bodies that were preserved either with intent or by Mother Nature. (Some call the latter “serendipitous” mummies but “natural” is a friendlier term for my middle grade readers.) Either way, in the ten chapters I cover a variety of examples across space and time, explaining why these people were mummified or how their bodies survived the process of decay.
What research was necessary to write this book?
A lot! First I had to identify which mummies to include in my text, according to the availability of information, the reliability of sources, and the acceptability of each mummy as both intriguing and appropriate for middle grade kids.
How long did you research this project? How long did it take to compile the information and write it after that?
I approach writing each book in a slightly different fashion. For Mummies!, I worked chapter by chapter, researching each one as I went along. Some chapters were far more difficult to write, because I had to explain some essential terms such as anthropology and archaeology, not to mention how they differ! There was quite a bit of scientific research to explain, as well, DNA and CT scans being prime examples. It took well over a year to research and write the book.
How did you decide which mummies to include? Were there others you wanted to include but had to leave out for some reason? It seemed obvious to start with King Tutankhamun, our most famous archaeological discovery ever. (Later we cut most of his chapter to make room for others!) Some mummies, bog bodies for instance, I’d read about a while ago. The Tarim Mummies I learned about much more recently. When I was a kid, I read in Life magazine about the weird travels of Eva Peron’s remains. The Soap Lady of Philadelphia and the mummified monks of Japan were new to me.
It’s like you said, you think you know everything about mummies when something new is unburied. What did you find most surprising as you got into your research?
That very fact. Five months before Mummies! publication date, Egyptian archaeologists reported the uncovering of a 4,000-yer old-tomb they say is unique. You can’t keep up, and that’s a good thing.
I think the stories about Inca children (who I’d heard of) and the Buddhist monks (who I had not) intrigued me the most. Which is yours and why?
The Inca Children grabbed my heartstrings the most. These little ones are so lifelike in death. I also viewed the Vac Mummies, the Hungarian family, here in Cincinnati during the Mummies of the World tour. I came out of their darkened exhibit feeling quite subdued.
Which mummy was the hardest to research and why?
None was especially hard to research, but in order to get photo permissions from various museums, I had to send in my text for review. The reporter in me shrinks at that a bit. Museum curators can be quite protective of their mummies! Keep in mind that this book is written for middle grade kids, and I tried to keep the text entertaining and informative. A couple of times, curators asked me to rewrite the text in order to satisfy their requirements—a little less wordplay. One mummy I referred to as looking “horrified and horrifying,” and the curator didn’t like that. In the end, that was helpful.
Tell me a little about this new CREEPY and TRUE series. Was this a topic you wanted to write about and made a proposal, or did the editor come to you? Will you be writing more books in the series? My editor, Howard Reeves, at Abrams Books for Young Readers, accepted my mummy proposal, and he’d also seen a second proposal on “murder and mayhem.” As I was working on the mummy book, Abrams suggested the Creepy and True Series, including a book on ghosts as the second offering. I’m writing that now and it will appear in Fall 2020. Then in Fall 2021, Bones will be published, the new name for my murder/mayhem proposal. Think King Richard III buried in a parking lot in England, and a young woman who was cannibalized—posthumously—in the Jamestown Colony.
Talk a little bit about the photographs and other visuals included in the book. Where do you find them and what permissions do you need to use them?
Photo research is fun but takes a lot of time. It’s a challenge to work within a budget. I dealt with museums, a variety of image collections such as National Geographic, Science Sources, Getty, and Science Source. I was in touch with many private photographers too. It took months before I was able to reach the guy who photographed the Tarim Basin mummies back in 1984.
Who will this book appeal to? What age range would you recommend it for?
Fourth through seventh grade, and adults who want a quick read on some amazing stories.
Is this a book teachers can use in the classroom?
Yes. Mummies! can supplement a variety of classroom lessons in history and science.
What are you working on next?
Ghosts! and Bones!.
Can you talk a little bit about your writing process/writing routine?
I’ve settled into a routine where I research and write a chapter at a time.
Where do you write?
I write in my son’s old bedroom, now officially my “writing room.”
Pen and paper, or computer?
Computer, mostly. Once in a while an idea finds me and I write it down on the back of an envelope.
How do you organize your research? Do you use any programs like Scrivener or Evernote?
I use both One Note and Evernote. One Note has more bells and whistles, and since Mummies! was a complex topic with a ton of scientific research to view, I used it. Ghosts! seems better fit for Evernote, especially to clip stuff I was reading on the web. One great thing about Evernote is its dictation capacity. When I’m researching books, I dictate notes into Evernote, and these often appear later as a framework for what I’m writing. I take care to identify direct quotes and so forth as opposed to what I call “mine” in my dictation. All my books are thoroughly end noted, so this dictation saves a lot of time.
Are you part of a critique group or do you depend solely on your editor/publisher for feedback?
Once in a while I ask my critique group to look at certain passages if I’m having trouble. But mostly I rely on my editor for feedback.
Why do you write non-fiction for children?
It came to me about eleven years ago when I wrote a manuscript about Dr. Percy Lavon Julian, an African American chemist who synthesized cortisone from soybeans. He was my neighbor in Oak Park Illinois a “while” ago. I joined SCBWI trying to learn the publishing gig, and I met a bunch of very helpful authors whose encouragement helped me to get a contract to write about Isaac Newton for Chicago Review Press. Now, I’m no physicist, but I’m a good researcher and with help from my editor, Jerry Pohlen, my first book, Isaac Newton for Kids: His Life and Times, was published in 2009.
Talk a little bit about yourself. What is your background?
I studied history in college and got a master’s degree at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. That year of learning to undo florid writing and to “write short” has helped immensely in writing for kids and teens. My colleague Vicki Cobb, who has written on science topics for forty years, says she is a “distiller” of information. So am I.
What other things do you do to fill your time? Any hobbies?
I used to do a ton of needlepoint, but a night I’m too darn tired for close work like that. If I’m into research, I’ll cruise through stuff on my iPad (thank you, Evernote). Otherwise, I binge watch British crime dramas and yes, I’m a costume drama fan. Thank you, PBS! In warm weather, I fool around with succulents on my deck and nurture them in winter. I enjoy messing around in our yard, too.
What is your favorite Christmas snack?
Spritz cookies made with a press. It takes time but everyone raves about them and I hide a few for myself…
If you could travel anywhere for research, where would you like to go?
I’d like to see the Altay Mountains in Siberia where the Altai Princess was discovered. Photos of that region are breathtaking—they remind me of Glacier National Park. But I’m not sure whether that area is open to tourism now—read about that in Mummies!
Do you have a favorite book – fiction or non-fiction? How about one of your own?
For starters, George Saunders’ Lincoln in the Bardo, a wonderful work of fiction that’s loaded with nonfiction elements. I don’t have a favorite among my own books.
What writing advice do you have for aspiring writers?
Read the genre you want to write. Understand how punctuation works – too many beginning writers do not. Network with others. Don’t worry so much about your “platform” early on – get the work done first. Attend conferences if possible. Find a good local writer’s group and join a critique group.
Do you have an author website or other platform where readers can find more information about you and your books? www.kerriehollihan.com/
Is there anything I have neglected to ask that you would like to add?
Yes! I’m a proud member of iNK Think Tank, LLC, a consortium of accomplished authors of nonfiction for kids and teens. We provide the Nonfiction Minute, a daily look into all kinds of topics that is free to a smartboard or phone anywhere. https://www.nonfictionminute.org/
I also do web visits with schools and older adult learnings via iNK’s Authors on Call http://inkthinktank.org//
Thank you for your time!
You are welcome!