Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Amelia Lost

March 30 - Today's post provided by Candace Fleming

I began work on Amelia Lost back in 2007, but Amelia Earhart has been on my radar (no pun intended) for much longer.  Years ago, my mother told me a story about how she felt after learning of Amelia’s 1937 disappearance. Mom was ten years old at the time, and couldn’t believe the news.  It was impossible.  Amelia Earhart was the woman who could do anything.  She couldn’t be lost at sea.  So my mother, who lived in a small town on Lake Michigan, stood on the beach and gazed up into the sky.  She was convinced that if she stood there long enough, she’d eventually spot the aviatrix, winging her way through the clouds to safety.  Isn’t that wonderful?  Can’t you just see her there?  That’s how connected my mother felt to Earhart, how vividly the pilot’s life had captured her imagination.  And through my mother’s retelling decades later, Amelia captured mine.  I knew I would someday have to write about her.
And really, who wouldn’t want to research and write about Amelia Earhart?  She is, after all, America’s favorite missing person. So I spent two weeks at the Purdue University Library, shifting through the vast holdings of the George Putnam Palmer Collection of Amelia Earhart Papers.  I gathered digitized files from the collection of the National Air and Space Museum, as well as from the Schlesinger Library, the National Archives, the Library of Congress, the USCG National Maritime Center, and the Seaver Center for Western History Research.  Best of all, Ric Gillespie, executive director of The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR), generously shared his organization’s miles of documents, including those marvelous pages from Betty Klenck’s notebook.
  It was my exploration of TIGHAR’s documents that made me eager to tell about the seventeen-day search for her downed plane  --what the press called “the greatest rescue expedition in flying history.”  It’s a dramatic, suspenseful tale.  And believe it or not, it’s never before been told in a book for young readers.  Sure some of the pieces of the search are well-known, and have been used selectively in the past to support various theories about her disappearance, but the entire picture, scattered and dispersed among dozens of archival files and private collections has been hard to decipher.  Luckily, Ric Gillespie and the smart people at TIGHAR helped guide me through the historical record, providing me with a day-to-day, in some cases minute-by-minute view of what really happened.  That view can be found in the book.
(Amelia Earhart source:
As for Amelia herself, the most surprising part of my research was the discovery that she was… well… sort of a fibber.  Time and again, I unearthed a telling detail, or charming anecdote only to learn that it wasn’t true; that Amelia had made it up to maintain her public image.  Take, for example, the often-repeated story of the flier’s first glimpse of an airplane.  According to Earhart, this happened at the Iowa State Fair in 1908, when she was just eleven years old.  “It was a thing of wire and wood,” she wrote in her memoir, The Fun Of It.  “I was much more interested in an absurd hat made of an inverted peach basket which I purchased for fifteen cents.” It’s a sweet story, but placed in the context of aviation history it can’t possibly be true.  Or, take that popular anecdote about Fred Noonan and the around-the-world trip.  According to Amelia, Fred was confined to the navigator’s station in the rear cabin and could communicate with her only in notes passed forward over the fuel tanks by means of a bamboo fishing pole.  True?  Absolutely not.  In fact, Fred spent much of his time in the cockpit with Amelia, clambering over the fuel tanks in the rear cabin only when he needed room to spread out a chart.  At first, I was frustrated by these (and so many more) fabrications.  I started to think I should retitle the book, Flyer, Flyer Pants On Fire.  But then I began to see her fibs as a challenge – a challenge to finding the real Amelia behind the public persona, and discovering the events that led to her disappearance.  My hope is that readers will be able to glimpse the real woman through the pages of this book.

Editor's Note:
"Candace Fleming awarded herself the Newbery Medal in fifth grade after scraping the gold sticker off the class copy of  The Witch of Blackbird Pond and pasting it onto her first novel—a ten page, ten-chapter mystery called Who Done It? She’s been collecting awards (her own, not Elizabeth George Speare’s) ever since.
Today, Candace is the versatile and acclaimed author of more than twenty books for children, including the Boston Globe/Horn Book Award-winning biography, The Lincolns; the bestselling picture book, Muncha! Muncha! Muncha!; and the beloved Boxes for Katje." 

Visit Candace Fleming's blog to find out more about Candace and her books.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting about the fibbing. Annie Oakley made up stories about herself, too. In fact, she wrote an unpublished and highly fictitious autobiography. And Nellie Bly was extremely protective of her personal life. It seems that these famous women, Amelia included, tried to distance themselves from their public personas by creating their own mythologies.