My guest today is Kristin J. Russo, author of over 20 nonfiction books for young readers, including titles in Capstone’s Facts and Fibs and What You Didn’t Know About Military Life series, and Cherry Lake’s Viewpoints & Perspectives library. A fun and energetic presenter, Kristin has taught writing and rehetoric at the university level for nearly ten years. An experienced editor, copy editor, indexer, and proofreader, she is also a dog lover, a surprising good tap dancer, and a terrible cook.
Today she’s here to talk about her latest books in Full Tilt’s Iron Will survival series, Surviving the Storm, Surviving the Ice, Surviving the Cave, and Surviving in Space, and her Capstone Edge book: Survival, Facts or Fibs. These are books that I would have loved as a kid, packed with real life adventures. Loaded with great survival tips, they empower kids to face the challenges of our changing world. (As I write this in the midst of the CORVID 19 crisis they seem more pertinent than ever.)
Welcome, Kristin, so glad to have you! Can you tell us about how this new series came about?
Hello Linda! Thank you for having me. I am delighted to be here.
I am a work-for-hire author and work mostly with editors who already have projects in mind and need a writer who can produce them fairly quickly. An editor reached out to me in August 2018 asking if I could write this series and have it completed by the end of October 2018. I said yes. With a few bumps in the road, as is the way of things, the entire writing and editing process was completed by spring 2019 and the books were on the shelves in September 2019.
This is often how work-for-hire projects go—very quickly and accomplished on very tight deadlines. It was a whirlwind, but I really loved the whole process of writing these books!
How do you go about researching books like these? Did you have any of your own adventures along the way?
I’ve traveled widely and had some fun adventures prior to becoming an author that have helped me bring nonfiction stories to life. Years ago, I explored a bat cave in Morocco, and I’ve visited several cave systems in the U.S., such as Howe Caverns in New York and Indian Echo Caverns in Pennsylvania. I drew upon those experiences to write about cave disasters in Surviving the Cave.
What’s fun for me is that though the nonfiction books I’ve written are technically about specific topics and include historical and scientific facts, in the end, they’re really about people and how humans can accomplish amazing feats in unimaginable circumstances. So, these science and history books are in many ways biographies, which I love to read and really love to write.
What surprising or fun facts did you unearth in your research?
When it comes to research, I’m lucky that as an adjunct professor of English and Composition, I have access to a university library that subscribes to a number of academic databases, so I can trust that my sources are solid primary sources or peer-reviewed and vetted secondary sources. For some events that are too recent to have scholarly work available—the Thai soccer team cave disaster, for example—I use up-to-date, trustworthy news sources and online interviews.
One discovery that was very powerful for me was realizing how supportive the families of the Thai cave disaster victims were of one another, and the strength of the bond they shared. There were 12 boys trapped in the cave, plus their coach, who was rescued last. When they started, the rescuers did not believe that they would have a 100 percent success rate, but they undertook the challenge anyway and hoped for the best. The boys were freed from the cave one at a time, and each rescue took eight hours. After days of gripping suspense, the rescue was a complete success after all!
As each boy emerged, he was brought to a nearby hospital. You’d think that the families would have been so flooded with relief that they would have clung to their sons and gone with them to the hospital. But no, that is not what happened. All the families remained together at the cave site until the last boy was out. Then they went to the hospital together as a group. I am deeply moved by this. It wasn’t widely reported, and in fact there was no room for it to be mentioned in my book, but it’s a powerful thing and I’m glad that I know it.
Wow, that is an incredibly powerful story. Has what you've learned through your writing made you look at life differently?
In the Iron Will series, I wrote about people who found themselves in scary situations, but through their own tenacity, endurance, and ingenuity, found a way to survive. None of the stories are the same, yet they all touch on the same theme—that our strong survival instinct comes with an indomitable spirit.
That is holding me in good stead right now, as I watch events related to the global pandemic unfold. We humans are capable of great strength and great courage and great hope. I know,
You’ve talked to me about “finding your people.” What does that mean for you and how did you go about it?
As an English major and later a teacher, I came to realize that many of the authors whose works I loved to read actually knew each other in real life. Edgar Allan Poe was friendly with Charles Dickens, who had a pet raven named Grip. Nathaniel Hawthorne lived next door to Louisa May Alcott, who lived down the street from Ralph Waldo Emerson, who had a gardener named Henry David Thoreau. And so it occurred to me that if I wanted to find my place in children’s publishing, I would have reach out and look for a group of people who shared my passion for learning and reading and sharing and teaching. I would need to find my people.
To that end, I joined a few select professional groups, including the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and the Writers’ Loft in Sherborne, MA. I’m so glad I did! All of my opportunities as a writer and editor in children’s publishing have come from my association with the amazing people I have met in these groups. We all have so much in common! I am so very glad that I’ve found “my people” and that they have welcomed me. I cherish the many great friendships I’ve made in the kidlit community through the years.
What do hope young readers take away from your books?
I’ve written about Ada Blackjack, who, 100 years ago, survived being stranded alone without adequate supplies on an island in the Arctic Circle. I’ve written about survivors of the Dust Bowl, the sinking of the Titanic, the attack on Pearl Harbor, equipment malfunctions in outer space, Hurricane Katrina, and more.
I’ve written about people who were afraid, who felt lost and uncertain, and who experienced crippling self-doubt. I want my readers to know that that’s okay. That is going to happen. It’s part of the human experience. From my books, I hope my readers learn that it’s possible to harness their own courage, ingenuity, and indomitable spirits, and that they do have the strength to overcome the challenges they will face in their own lives.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers?
Hello readers! I see you! Thank you for sharing your time with me here on Linda’s blog. I think you’re all brave, and strong, and wonderful. I’m sorry that we’re facing such challenges at this time, but thanks to Linda, I’ve found you and you’ve found me. We’ve found our people. Let’s get through these challenging times together.
To learn more about Kristin, please visit her website at https://www.kristinjrusso.com/