When Suzanne Morgan Williams first started to write, she planned to write beautiful picture books and great novels. During a vacation to China, a story idea took shape in her mind and became a picture book manuscript. While that particular piece of fiction hasn’t yet sold, it opened the door for her first book, Made in China: Ideas and Inventions from Ancient China (Pacific View Press, 1996).
Made in China is meticulously researched nonfiction—a departure from Williams’s original plan to write novels and picture books. According to Williams, “Writing leads me in a number of amazing directions!” For instance, because of Piñatas & Smiling Skeletons: Celebrating Mexican Festivals (Pacific View Press, 1998), Williams frequently speaks to teachers in her hometown of Reno, Nevada about Mexican celebrations.
Williams’s writing has also taken her to the Arctic twice where she lived with a tribe of Inuit while researching The Inuit for Franklin Watts (Fall 2003). “On my first trip several people suggest I meet with one Inuit elder. But I couldn’t make the arrangements. I got the distinct feeling I needed to make a longer commitment to the community before I met such a cherished elder.”
As an outgrowth of her research and the friends she made in the Arctic, Williams coordinated an art exchange between Inuit children of the Arctic and Paiute children of Nevada. The exhibit was a reflection of Williams’s commitment to multicultural education by introducing two communities of Native Americans to each other and showing the non-native community something about native life. The exhibit appeared in three Nevada cities: Nixon, Reno, and Carson City. Williams is now searching for funding to ship it to the Arctic for the Inuit people to enjoy.
When Williams signed a contract with Heinemann Library to write five books in their Native Americans series, she continued her developing trend as an author of multicultural books. For The Chinook, The Cherokee, The Tlingit, The Powhatan, and The Ogibwe (2003), Williams met with tribal members who are authorities on their tribe’s culture. “I try to write honestly and to get the most accurate and interesting information I can. I put a lot of effort trying to make good books for children.”
Williams progresses through a specific process when creating each of her books. First, she surveys the major online retailers for books on her particular subject and requests several of them from university libraries. While she waits, she surfs the Internet for scholarly research. After the library books arrive, she reads them and selects one or two to buy for easy reference from her office. Her Internet research usually leads her to at least one expert to interview. From there, her research pattern is usually directed partly by the information she obtains from her experts, and partially from her own list of questions. The detailed outline follows the research, and once approved by her editor, Williams begins writing.
Made in China is a conglomeration of information from at least 15 different experts. “Practically every section of that book has a different expert,” says Williams. And a book currently on her editor’s desk capitalized on the research she accumulated for Made in China, but took it one step further. Currently titled Chinese Women (Pacific View Press, TBA), Williams’s book contains 18 biographies beginning in ancient times and progressing through the 1949 revolution. Williams artfully incorporates themes within the biographies such as Chinese culture and education.
Williams recalls getting excited reading to her three children when they were small. “I’d like to do that,” she remembers saying, paving the way for her plan to write beautiful picture books and great novels. According to Williams, “The focus of what I’m interested in hasn’t changed, just the genre.” Williams’s eldest daughter likes to say that her mother “wanted to say some things through fiction, and it’s turned out that she’s been able to say them much more directly but just as honestly with nonfiction.”