Our conversation today is with Lisa A. Wroble, a Naples, Florida, freelance writer, book author, and educator with around 1,000 articles and 27 published books among her credits. She also regularly teaches various aspects of writing through adult ed courses, workshops, and other venues. Today we’ll talk to Lisa about two of her Young Adult (YA) books.
The Right to Counsel: From Gideon v. Wainwright to Gideon’s Trumpet is a YA nonfiction book in the history category. Many people mistakenly assume we’ve always had Miranda Rights. In 1961, unemployed drifter Clarence Earl Gideon was arrested in Florida and charged with burglarizing a pool hall. His request for a lawyer, since he could not afford one, was denied. Gideon was found guilty and sentenced to five years in prison. Believing the U.S. Constitution was on his side, Gideon took his case all the way to the Supreme Court. This book explores the case – a first step toward our right to counsel – its impact on the U.S. legal system, and the movie made about it – Gideon’s Trumpet, starring Henry Fonda.
Writers-Editors Network: Lisa, what inspired you to write The Right to Counsel?
Lisa Wroble: This project was unique in that an editor from Enslow contacted me to ask if I’d like to contribute to a new series she was creating. I’d written a previous book for their “In American History” series, The New Deal and the Great Depression. I was in the middle of graduate work for a degree in Post-Secondary and Adult Education and hadn’t been doing much writing, let alone the work involved in writing a book.
This new series sounded intriguing, though. The idea was to focus on movies based on famous court cases to pique the interest of teens and/or teachers, in the hopes they’d encourage young people to explore both law and history. I’d just completed a class in which we explored using movies as teaching tools and this idea seemed to fit nicely.
I initially selected a movie and wrote my synopsis and outline, only to learn it was R-rated and was deleted from the suggested titles for that series. (You can’t expect teens or their teachers to read a book that discusses a movie they’re not mature enough to watch.) The editor liked my writing style and approach, so she suggested the court case Gideon v. Wainwright and the accompanying movie, Gideon’s Trumpet.
I wasn’t keen on it because I had no idea what it was about. Once I realized there was a Florida connection, and I had been living here for about two years and knew little of the state’s history, I decided to explore the topic more. I was hooked and quickly pitched the editor.
Writers-Editors Network: What was your favorite chapter to write and why?
Lisa Wroble: My favorite chapter was “Watching History Unfold” (Chapter 6) — which focuses on the movie and comparing it to the actual events. What did the movie get right? What was omitted or condensed for the sake of time and pacing? For example, rather than have several minor characters with Gideon’s landlady and a few other women, these were condensed into a single character. It was fun to research the actors in the film and the roles they played in the movie. Writing this chapter also gave me an opportunity to pique the interest of the teen readers (and their teachers) to delve into the rights and laws we take for granted.
Writers-Editors Network: What was the biggest challenge in bringing this book to publication?
Lisa Wroble: The movie, Gideon’s Trumpet, was a vital part of the book, as each chapter includes a sidebar that connects with the movie. Drafting the book was delayed because I had a difficult time finding a copy to either buy or rent. At the time, it was only available on VHS, so once I found a copy I had to find a machine to watch it on. Thankfully, the movie was reissued as a DVD about two years after the book released.
Writers-Editors Network: How could Gideon have been denied the right to an attorney when he could not afford one?
Lisa Wroble: Each state interpreted the law giving us the right to counsel. The basis of the law was everyone had the right to hire a lawyer. Since Gideon couldn’t afford one, the judge decided whether to appoint one. Many states, including Florida, reserved court-appointed attorneys for capital cases in which the sentence would be death or life imprisonment (so namely, rape or murder). Gideon was accused of burglary so the judge denied his request. However, some states and their judges made the determination on a case-by-case basis, so the Supreme Court was itching to explore whether that practice needed to be modified. When they received the documents sent by Clarence Earl Gideon requesting a review of his case, it was an opportunity to do just that.
Sadly, Gideon assumed that the Supreme Court would simply review the case, see that Gideon was wrongly denied an attorney, and release him. Instead, he was awarded a second trial, this time with a court-appointed lawyer and he was acquitted. It would take another three years before Miranda clarified everyone’s right to a free attorney if needed.
Writer’s Editors Network: A few months ago, I turned on C-SPAN2’s Book TV, and who was on my screen, but Lisa Wroble! – and you were discussing this very book. Can you share with us how that came about?
Lisa Wroble: I never found out how they discovered the book; it all happened so quickly. What makes this even more amazing is that the crew sought out the authors of three specific books they wanted to showcase while in southwest Florida. I was among those three.
If it hadn’t been for a member of Gulf Coast Writers seeing a shout-out for the three authors and recognizing my name, I never would have connected with Christy Hinton from C-SPAN. Then, we ended up doing the interview on a Sunday (before they officially kicked-off the event in Fort Myers the next day) because of my crazy workshops/presentation schedule during season.
Christy did tell me she thought the book was “a good overview of the case in layman’s terms,” and that the segment could also be well-suited for their C-SPAN Classroom.
Writers-Editors Network: Do you plan on writing more books on the legal system?
Lisa Wroble: I won’t write specifically about Clarence Earl Gideon again, but I’ve always had an interest in law and the legal system. In fact, I have written several articles for a legal reference series published by Gale/Cengage.
This book helped me explore Florida history, and in doing initial research I did learn of other topics I might write about – though I’m likely to simply explore Florida’s history.
Dealing with Stress: A How-To Guide is also a YA nonfiction book. Everyone feels stressed out sometimes. School, extracurricular activities, and family obligations can take their toll on teens. But you can learn how to keep your life from overwhelming you. Dealing with Stress: A How-To Guide, explores what causes stress, how your body handles it, what happens when you have too much stress or don’t deal with it correctly, and surprisingly, when stress can be a good thing. Learn how to deal with stress before it leads to serious physical, emotional, and mental health problems. Real teens share their experiences and offer tips that have helped them deal with stress.
Writers-Editors Network: What inspired you to write a book on stress especially for teens?
Lisa Wroble: Personal experience. I work with children and teens through writing workshops targeting at-risk students, and I was amazed at the stories they shared. As a teen myself, I recall exploring ways to better manage my time (a huge source of stress for young people as well as adults) and tips for coping with stress. As I heard about the stresses today’s teens were trying to deal with, I thought a book on this topic would be valuable. Not a lot exists that targets teens. When my editor at Enslow contacted me about another project, I mentioned my interest and she had an upcoming series the topic fit into, so I pitched my outline.
Writers-Editors Network: What did you especially like about working on Dealing With Stress?
Lisa Wroble: My favorite part of the process was interviewing the teens for the book. I enjoyed meeting them, though many were not even face-to-face meetings, but long-distance interviews. The most fun interview was a group situation. I met with the youth group a friend’s daughter belonged to. I enjoyed watching them interact, fill out questionnaires, then meeting with each to add to his or her comments. While I did this, they were talking with each other about their answers, and they were excited that a book targeted to their needs was going to be published. It felt gratifying that I could share tips to help them deal with stress, but also to see their excitement for my project.
Writers-Editors Network: What was the biggest challenge in bringing this book to publication?
Lisa Wroble: The publisher put it on hold several times due to the economy. Unfortunately, that meant I needed to find fresh adolescents to interview each time I returned to the project. In the end, we used a sampling from two different drafting periods. Then at the very end of final revisions, my editor left the company and I was sort of an orphan while the book went through the remaining stages in the publication process. Despite that, I am very pleased with the outcome, and this was one of the first of my Enslow books to be published in both paperback and e-book versions.
Writers-Editors Network: Suppose a parent asks you, “My teen’s stress is stressing me out, so how can a book help?”
Lisa Wroble: First, the book targets adolescents and teens and the specific things that cause them stress. Adolescence is the most stressful period in a human’s life because of the natural changes the body is undergoing compounded by the inexperience of dealing with stress. I’ve interviewed real teens for suggestions that help other teens. The book is also designed to explain what stress is, what it does to the body, and the warning signs.
Second, there is a section on second-hand stress. That’s what parents are feeling when their teens’ stress stresses them. While the information and suggestions are geared toward adolescents and teens, adults will benefit from understanding the different types of stress and the warning signs. Additionally, parents will find the results of not coping with stress helpful, especially if their teens are engaged in destructive behavior because they don’t understand that they are stressed or how to adequately deal with it. It’s a fascinating topic that doesn’t need to add to anyone’s stress.
Writers-Editors Network: Do you plan on writing more books on stress?
Lisa Wroble: I won’t write specifically about stress, but I may do a book or workbook on time management for teens. Since so many adults have also read this book, I know there’s interest in the topic for them, but there are also a lot of books already out there on the subject. Still, it is an incredibly fascinating topic, so I might explore writing articles instead of another book.
How she writes . . .
Lisa Wroble: I actually write in several places. I have a home office and tend to compose directly at the keyboard (as opposed to writing longhand as I did when I was starting out – and wrote in longhand whenever I could find 20 minutest throughout the day).
After a solid block of time at the computer, I’ll take a break to walk, exercise, or run errands. Often I’ll use my laptop and sit on the lanai or in another room to continue working. If I get stuck (or feel the beginning of writer’s block), I take a pad of paper to the pool or Starbucks – anywhere outside my “normal” work area – and write longhand until the words are flowing. Then I’ll switch back to the computer and continue writing.
Writers-Editors Network: Do you have any writing rituals?
Lisa Wroble: Not rituals; just a routine. I like to get up and sit outside to drink coffee and write in my journal every morning. Nature centers me and I begin my day with a feeling of gratitude. This helps me gently wake up and record any ideas bouncing around in my head. Journaling helps clear my mind so I can focus on the project for the day.
I then do stretches and head to the computer. I take a break for breakfast later, and then plan my day as to when I’ll take a longer break, exercise, run errands, do household tasks – then back to writing until that longer break. On teaching days, heading to a workshop or class is the longer break.
Writers-Editors Network: How do you go about writing nonfiction books?
Lisa Wroble: I outline and do preliminary research and interviews before I begin writing. Once the editor approves my outline, I use that outline to create a bullet list of key points I intend to cover in each chapter.
Since I juggle a lot of different projects (other writing obligations, editing and book-doctoring, teaching local writing workshops and college-level classes), this “bullet and build” approach allows me to quickly review where I was headed in my draft when I had to stop working. It’s easy to get back into the flow and continue.
Writers-Editors Network: When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
Lisa Wroble: I was eight years old and an avid reader. Mysteries were my favorite, and my friend Kay had just received the entire Nancy Drew series. We were reading our way through it. I also loved to make up stories and share them with my friends.
The next year I attended an “open classroom” school, and for the science center I had a project to create a unit on the oceans. The skills I learned became the basic process I use in writing my nonfiction books.
My older brother, an aspiring artist, had taken me to visit the Detroit Institute of Arts, and his “guided tour” was much better than the school field trips I had been on. My plan was to write about art, music, and dance for children when I grew up.
I didn’t do that, except for articles on those topics in children’s magazines and reference publications, but my writing career has focused mostly on nonfiction for children and teens. I also work with at-risk youth blending writing with art and storyboarding to help change their attitudes toward writing, just as my older brother changed my attitude toward art.
Writers-Editors Network: What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
Lisa Wroble: Read. I generally have at least two books going at once, and balance between fiction and nonfiction. I read mostly genre fiction (mystery, fantasy, science fiction), but my nonfiction tastes are varied – though psychology and life-coaching are current favorites. When I’m not reading I like to watercolor paint, explore nature and take numerous photos, visit nature trails and the beach here in southwest Florida, and explore historic sites.
I’m also a movie buff and like to watch a variety, from old black and white movies to recently released movies. Favorite genres include horror, action adventures, and comedies.
Her advice to writers . . .
First, follow your passion. Read extensively on the topic you most want to write about. Find a fresh angle and then write. There is no way around reading and writing in your development as a writer. If you plan to write books, make sure it’s a topic you love. The process is long and requires “revisiting and revising” the same chapters many times. If you do not have passion for the topic, chances are you will rush through revision and editing, which will only hurt the final product. The real work of writing comes during revision, so you have to be dedicated to your nonfiction topics.
Second, read widely. Look closely at how any book or article you enjoy is constructed. Find authors you admire and “dissect” what they write. Then try to apply what you’ve learned to your own writing.
(Lisa also shared her thoughts about surviving in today’s freelance market in our free e-book, Freelance Survival: Thrive & Prosper
Please share your thoughts below. Do you have any questions for Lisa Wroble about writing YA nonfiction – or teen stress – or her Right to Counsel – or about writing in general?