#TuesdayTalk with Merrie-Ellen Wilcox, author of the newest addition to the Orca Footprints series, What’s the Buzz? Keeping Bees in Flight.
What are the challenges of writing for middle schoolers?
Fortunately, although my own kids are now well past this age group (middle years), I still know several people in this age group, including my two nieces and their friends and several of my neighbours. It’s helpful to imagine explaining things to them and to anticipate their questions.
Tell us about the research component for Whats the Buzz?
I had to do a lot of research for my book. I always find that I know less than I thought I did. I buy a lot of books (the research phase takes to long for library books), mark key information with stickies, take lots of notes, and try to keep a list of where I’ve seen specific information so I can go back and find it when I need to.
Is there a story behind the creation of your story?
I wrote What’s the Buzz? because I realized that there was a need for it. I went to the bookstore looking for a birthday gift for my neighbour Akai. He was always asking me about my honey bees, so I wanted a book about beekeeping. I was surprised to find nothing in print in North America, so I thought I had better write a book myself. Since Orca Footprints are about sustainability, I had to go beyond just keeping honey bees and write about all bees and their importance, so I learned a lot!
What’s the least glamorous part about being a writer? And the most glamorous?
I’ve been a writer and editor for many years, but not of books. So writing a book seems completely glamorous! The least glamorous part of writing (and editing) is trying to meet deadlines, which often means being at my desk when everyone else is having fun.
What do you hope readers will take away from your book?
I’m passionate about bees! Not only are they essential to our own survival and the survival of many ecosystems on the planet, but they are endlessly fascinating and sophisticated. When I first started keeping honey bees, I was also studying ecological restoration, the art and science of restoring damaged ecosystems. So the two things have become entangled, and my understanding of bees has naturally become an ecological one. Many people don’t understand bees, think they are the same as wasps and hornets, and will happily kill them because they are afraid of them. Or they use pesticides that will kill bees. My hope is that readers will catch some of my own love of bees, become more aware of the bees around them, and begin to take action to help them survive–so that we too can survive.
Do you have any unique hobbies or pastimes?
Well, there’s beekeeping… When I have time (which isn’t often) in the summer, I make lots of jam. When I have time in the winter (which also isn’t often), I like to make baskets. And I’m always trying to learn to knit. My most favourite pastime, though, is–surprise!–reading.
What’s your favorite season?
Hmm. I find that each season has its lovely aspects. But I do love a good snowfall, especially here in Victoria, where it happens so rarely. I like the drama of big Pacific storms in the fall and winter. I love the long, slow unfolding of spring on the west coast (about six months). Oddly, I like the summer least here, because it’s so dry; I miss the lushness that big summer thunderstorms and downpours bring in Ontario!
When you hit writer’s block, how do you push through it?
Sometimes I go for a walk, or do something else, and the problem magically resolves itself. Another thing that I do is to start with the easy bits and gradually move into the harder bits. With non-fiction, you can do that–you don’t have to write in a straight line from start to finish.
Anything else you’d like readers of the Orca blog to know about you or your book?
Nothing that I can think of–other than that I am so grateful to Orca for having a wonderful series like Orca Footprints; I love all of the books and am always excited when a new one is published. Thank you, Orca!
Merrie-Ellen Wilcox is a writer and editor who has also played bass guitar in a rock-and-roll band, worked on documentary films and thought about becoming a midwife and a Zen monk. She lives in Victoria, British Columbia, with her husband and a lot of bees.