Allison's Book Bag

Posts Tagged ‘Pamela Tuck

Tales which are written as tributes to a family member or a friend are always special, whether or not they are of excellent quality. As Fast As Words Could Fly by Pamela Tuck is based on the memories of her father. What’s more, it has a strong plot, positive characters, and an inspiring message. That makes it a top-notch picture book.

Fiction which is solely message-driven tend to end up in my reject pile. As Fast As Words Could Fly works foremost because of the strong plot, which is set with the very first sentence: “Trouble was brewing in Greenville, North Carolina.” As a reviewer, I have read many books, where the author has mastered the art of creating an exciting introduction but then can’t sustain the momentum. Not so for Pamela Tuck. Mason needs to help his dad write another letter of protest for the civil rights group, who thank him with a typewriter. A few months later, Mason ends up facing his own discriminations on the school bus, in typing class, at the library, and even with a school tournament. I have also read some books where the author hooked me until the end only to then betray me. The ending for As Fast As Words Could Fly, although based on true events, is perfect. It’s realistic to the times but includes a twist fitting Mason’s unique skills.

The positive characters make for a huge plus too. Fourteen-year-old Mason works hard evening on his lessons. When his family needs him, he’s readily available. I love these two lines: “New problems meant more work for Mason. He didn’t mind though because helping Pa’s civil rights group made Mason feel real important.” When Mason faces discrimination in his own life, he doesn’t grow bitter but instead pays extra hard to the teachers and then practices at home. Mason is an exemplary role model for young readers in handling rejection, even those who might not face racial prejudice itself, while at the same time being an average boy who enjoys his summers and his friends. I also enjoyed reading about his family, who are shown as being caring and respectful of Mason and his brothers. They involve the boys in decisions, as well as stand up for them.

Although I enjoy riveting plots and sympathetic characters as much as the next reader, a message adds another layer that I treasure. From As Fast As Words Could Fly, readers will learn the ethic of hard work. Because Mason applied himself in his classes and at his library job, he gained respect of teachers and earned the right to compete in a typing competition. As Fast As Words Could Fly will nicely complement anyone’s collection of Civil Rights stories because it shows how Mason and his brother struggled to fit into school despite desegregation. I admire most that Tuck has found a way to give readers a unique addition to a topic which has been extensively written about, in that her father’s story is about a boy who used his typing skills and words to invoke change.

As Fast As Words Could Fly should have high appeal to educators because of being historical fiction. The last page includes an Author’s Note, which explains the origin of Tuck’s story and its place in civil rights. This beautiful story of family and courage should find a home among young readers too, who appreciate a good picture book.

My rating? Bag it: Carry it with you. Make it a top priority to read.

How would you rate this book?

TuckFamilyA mother of twelve children, Pamela Tuck had a young audience long before she decided to write for them. She became interested in writing for children after a family night of storytelling. The family sat around telling silly stories “off the top of our heads”. When her turn came around, she left her family captivated. It was then Tuck decided to write picture books.

The idea for As Fast As Words Could Fly, which I’ll review tomorrow, came from her father’s personal experience. Belonging to a family of civil rights activists had surrounded Tuck with many stories of pride, oppositions, and triumph. The inspiration to turn a snippet of her father’s story into a picture book was initiated by her husband, Joel. In her bio, Tuck shares that “in listening to her father tell his story over and over, his determination to excel always overshadowed his oppositions”. She admits that at first she didn’t think she could give her father’s story justice as a picture book, but her husband became her personal cheerleader. Tuck notes, “It’s ironic how the same willpower that enabled my father to surpass his doubts, also allowed me to surpass mine.”

Tuck has written more than one story based on family experiences, which led one interviewer to ask her: ” What tips would you offer to others who would like to publish family stories?” That question inspired me to invite Tuck to write a guest post on the same topic. Please enjoy her informative response.



One piece of advice for writers that I often read is to write what you know and are passionate about. I agree. What can you be more passionate about than your own family? Right? While this may be true and your heart is in it, that doesn’t mean writing about your family is an easy thing to do. One advantage in writing from a family story is the fact that three main aspects are already given to you: the character, their voice and the plot. The two challenging parts of writing a family story are: trying to pick a plot point or focal point to develop, and giving the story the same powerful impact the storyteller has given it. I prefer writing realistic fiction to incorporate my family stories. This gives me the freedom to add creative dialogue and build scenes to highlight the true events. Every author has his/her own approach to writing, but I guess the best way I can explain how to capture family memories on paper would be to tell you how I’ve done it.

When writing As Fast As Words Could Fly, I knew my dad’s story of writing letters for my grandfather, participating in sit-ins, desegregating the formerly all white school, learning to type, and entering the typing tournament. I decided to use his typing as my focal point. The next step was to create a beginning that would lead up to his typing, a middle that would show some type of conflict with his typing and an ending that would show the results of his typing. I conducted an interview with my dad so he could give me more details. I could then decide which snippets of his story would work in my beginning, middle and ending. As he retold his story, I LISTENED. I didn’t just listen to the events, but I listened to his expressions. I heard his fears, his excitement, his sadness, his determination, etc., and I made a note of each emotion. After listening, I asked questions to clarify questionable spots and parts of the story I was unfamiliar with. By the time I finished listening and interviewing, I knew my characters and I had their voices. I began writing. Since I wanted to focus on his typing, I decided to combine a few events to use as my opening. I used the idea of him composing hand-written letters for his father’s civil rights group. I threw in a little dialogue that explained the need for a sit-in, and then at some point I had the civil rights group give him a typewriter to make the letter writing a little easier. Those few snippets gathered from my father’s experiences started the flow of my story and established my plot. At some point, I had to do a little research to gain more understanding of certain things and people, like priming tobacco, and the history of Golden Frinks, a historical character mentioned in the story. When using a centralized theme or idea, try to use other aspects of the story in a way that will bring the focus back to the plot point. For example, when my dad primed tobacco during the summer, I used that event in a way to show his determination. Although he was weary from his day’s work, he didn’t let that stop him from practicing his typing. All the events in a picture book story should support your plot.

Now, for fuller length books, the listening and interviewing is the same. Determining your plot is the same. But instead of combining events to work with a plot, you have more freedom to use each event to build separate scenes for your novel. This is what my husband and I did when we wrote Color Struck. I took notes while my grandmother retold her story, and I tried not to interrupt her. When she was done, I questioned her for details for parts I felt I would use as a scene. Some things she couldn’t remember, but I took the bits and pieces she provided and filled in the rest with my own creative imagination. The hardest part was trying to figure out how to tell my grandmother’s adult story in a book for children. That’s when we decided to create a frame story (a story within a story) that would include granddaughters who have their own conflict which prompts grandma to tell them her story. Here again, Color Struck is a work of fiction based on true events, so that gave me a lot of room to create dialogue and build scenes to connect each event my grandmother had outlined. I also pulled from my own personal memories to add authenticity to the granddaughters.

So, in closing, I think the main thing in writing from a family story is focusing on the theme that resonates with you when you hear it. It’s usually pretty clear what that theme will be, because it’s the thing the storyteller expresses the most emotion about. LISTEN to that emotion, capture the voice by imitating the dialect and dialogue of the storyteller, and write what you know . . . write about that loved one you’re so passionate about, so their story can be shared across generations.

PamelaTuckPamela Tuck is the 2007 Lee & Lows Books New Voices Award recipient for her children’s book, As Fast As Words Could Fly. A native of  North Carolina, Pamela Tuck was inspired to become a writer after her grandfather, the storyteller in the family, captivated her with his tales. As a child, Tuck herself recorded stories for her family. In elementary school, she won a poetry contest, and continued to write short stories and plays. Most of Pamela’s ideas come from her family and life experiences. In her bio, Tuck says “I have such a rich family history. . . there’s not enough room for it all on paper.”

According to Author Of, winning the New Voices Award empowered Tuck as  writer. Prior to submitting As Fast As Words Could Fly to Lee & Low Books, she had attended her first Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators (SCBWI) conference in June 2007. While delighted with all the helpful information from authors, editors, and agents, she left discouraged because she didn’t feel that she had the time to devote to writing that some of the speakers suggested. She hit a writing slump and didn’t write for a while. Once her husband persuaded her to write her dad’s story, which became As Fast As Words Could Fly, her hope began to revive. She submitted her manuscript to Lee & Low Books and in December 2007, she received a call from one of the editors announcing her as the winner of their New Voices Award.

Her goal as a writer is “to enlighten and inspire my readers to believe in themselves, embrace diversity, and have the courage to make a positive difference.” You can read more about the lovely and talented Pamela Tuck in my interview. Please return tomorrow for a special guest post from her about how to write family memories. Then on Wednesday I’ll post my thoughts about As Fast As Words Could Fly. Save the dates: January 28-29!

ALLISON: Did you grow up in a big or small family? What was your relationship like with your parents? Siblings?

PAMELA: I grew up in a small nuclear family, but a large extended family. I was an only child, but the oldest grandchild out of 13. I came from a close-knit family, so we shared each other’s trials and triumphs, and supported one another in every way.

ALLISON: Your grandfather was the storyteller in your family when you were growing up. What is the most happiest story he ever told? The saddest?

PAMELA: Some of the happiest or funniest stories I remember my grandfather telling were his tales about Bruh Rabbit and all his adventures outwitting the other forest animals. I think the saddest stories I heard were the ones about slavery.

ALLISON: Did other relatives share stories too? Talk about one of them.

PAMELA: Oh, yes! I came from a family of storytellers, so it wasn’t uncommon for any member of our family to break out into a story. Even if it was just a retelling of the day’s events, they had an expressive finesse of sharing stories. One of my favorite stories is about my grandmother eloping with my grandfather because their fathers were enemies. She and her younger sister were forbidden to “keep company” with the Teel boys. My grandmother helped her younger sister elope, and then later planned her own “escape”. Because of a lack of money, my grandmother had to move in with her in-laws, my grandfather’s parents, who were less than thrilled to have her as part of the family. Her newlywed dreams turned into her worst nightmare as she began her married life as the despised daughter-in-law. This family story also found its way into a book. It became my YA novel, Color Struck.

ALLISON: As Fast as Words Can Fly is based on one of your grandfather’s experiences with civil rights. How difficult is it to capture someone else’s story to paper?

PAMELA: As Fast As Words Could Fly highlights my father’s journey of desegregating the public school system in Greenville, NC, after my grandfather filed a lawsuit for equal education. The hardest part of writing his story was trying to capture the emotional impact within a few pages. I struggled with “giving my father’s story justice”, but the one thing that made it easier was that the facts of the story were already there. I just had to find a creative way of connecting the events and picking which parts to highlight.

ALLISON: What is your most memorable experience with prejudice?

PAMELA: One experience that comes to mind is when my husband and I rented a house years ago. The house was handled by a realtor. After meeting us and seeing our spotless credit report, the realtor offered us the house. We signed the lease and paid the deposit. One evening, my husband and I wanted to take another look at the house, and we noticed that the landlord’s office light was on. So, we decided to introduce ourselves. The meeting was awkward. The landlord wasn’t rude, but he had a stiff courtesy that left my husband and I wondering if we had made a mistake by introducing ourselves. Shortly afterwards, we were told by our realtor’s assistant that the house was no longer for rent, although our deposit check had already been cashed. After a series of events, we eventually rented the house and over time, we were able to establish a very nice relationship with our landlords.

ALLISON: In As Fast As Words Can Fly, Mason uses a typewriter. Have you used one? What is your primary tool for composing your stories? Paper or keyboard? Why?

PAMELA: Yes, I’ve used a manual typewriter and found it very challenging. I admire any typist who chooses to use a manual typewriter for his/her compositions. I prefer a keyboard to compose my stories. For some strange reason, my ideas flow more rapidly as I type, rather than when I write. I’m not sure if it’s because I can type faster than I can write, which allows me to keep up with the pace of the “voice” giving me the story. The computer certainly serves as a better tool for rearranging my thoughts by cutting and pasting and inserting and deleting sentences. However, I still try to keep a journal handy just in case I get those fleeting wee-hour-in-the-morning thoughts that seem to vanish as soon as you get up to capture them.

ALLISON: You and your husband often work together on projects. How do you handle differences?

PAMELA: Working with my husband is such a joy. We respect each other for the contributions we make to our projects. My husband gives more of a character and plot development asset to our work. He helps me iron out those not-so-clear areas in my writing. However, we do disagree on some things: what a character will say, how they may say it, or what they will do. The way we normally handle this is very practical. We evaluate the sentence or event in question and determine whose idea really works better for the story. After an honest evaluation and some reasoning, we can usually reach a compromise by either using the best idea that complements the story, or incorporating both ideas into one sentence or event.

ALLISON: You submitted your story to Lee & Low. How did you hear about them? What has been the highlight of working with them?

PAMELA: I think my husband found out about Lee & Low in the Children’s Writers and Illustrator’s Market. He was researching different publishers and agents to see what each one was looking for. What I enjoy the most about working with Lee & Low is their compassionate interest in me and my work. I’ve learned so much about writing after working with my editors. Every aspect of the publication process has been extremely rewarding. Lee & Low has a mission to provide books for everyone and about everyone, and I can honestly say that the warm family-like feeling I’ve experienced as one of their authors certainly validates their aim of nurturing new talent. To me, their mission statement is not just a motto, it defines who they are. I’m honored to be a Lee & Low author, and claim them as a part of my “extended family”.

ALLISON: When you talk at schools, what do you want students to learn about African-American history?

PAMELA: I enjoy enlightening children with stories that expand their knowledge beyond what they’ve been exposed to. I’m thrilled to share my dad’s story as a part of African-American history, but my main focus is to encourage children to always strive to do their best and to believe in themselves. I hope that my story will demonstrate to children that they don’t have to do something big to do something great, and they don’t have to be famous to be recognized.

ALLISON: You have also written a novel. Do you prefer picture books or fuller length books? Why?

PAMELA: I prefer writing picture books. I think one reason is because I love sharing picture books with my children. They offer a quick peek into complex topics, foreign cultures, or just plain ole fun. Another reason is time. Fuller length books are more involved: character development, plot, subplots, etc. My story ideas usually come short and sweet, which tend to lean toward picture book quality.

ALLISON: What’s next?

PAMELA: I have a few picture book projects in the works. Two that are historical fiction and one that’s just plain ole fun! I also have a middle-grade novel that I’ve had “resting” for a few years. It may be time to wake that one up and hopefully give it life.

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