Behind the Scenes: “The Village of Writers —NF Fest” by Pat Miller

I have to say, I couldn’t have made it to published without the collective knowledge and generosity of the kid lit village. Big thanks to all those who share their experience and create forums for learning! 


I couldn’t have published six fiction picture books by myself. Generous authors gave me inspiration, instruction, and support. I was assisted by SCBWI conferences and workshops, online courses and webinars, and helpful books like Ann Whitford Paul’s Writing Picture Books . I got critiques from Rate Your Story and editors at conferences. Tara Lazar’s Picture Book Idea Book Month (now StoryStorm) provided inspiration. My name is on the cover of my books, but dozens of people helped put it there.



I expected the same support when I began writing nonfiction. I attended a nonfiction writing workshop at Highlights in 2013, with Candace Fleming as my mentor. We were given Peggy Thomas’ Anatomy of Nonfiction, which I read cover-to-cover with a flashlight each night of the course. With Peggy’s guidance and Candace’s encouragement, I returned home to my keyboard with enthusiasm.



And then I struggled to write the story of Captain Hanson Gregory, the sea captain who invented the doughnut. I searched for help at conferences, classes, and in books. But I found a nonfiction desert with few watering holes.


I became a hoarder, recording every bit of information about Capt. Gregory that I came across—not knowing what I would need for my as yet shapeless story. I even bought a ship’s wheel, a belaying pin, and a salt container like that used by the Captain. I got lost in the details and wrote and rewrote numerous amateurish drafts. I needed help!

So I decided to put together my own NF conference. It was held in Texas and Peggy Thomas was one of our first speakers. I held the conference for three years, learning from writers like Melissa Stewart, Steve Swinburne, Candy Fleming, Karen Blumenthal, and Kelly Milner Halls. But the 4-day conference wasn’t sustainable for an individual, even with help from my friends. But those speakers gave me the help I needed to publish The Hole Story of the Doughnut, illustrated by Vincent Kirsch (HMH, 2016).

There’s still a need for NF instruction. This segment of children’s publishing continues to grow fast, and publishers are looking for manuscripts.

That’s when I was brain struck. There’s StoryStorm for picture book writers, and challenges for novel writers and poets. What about hosting an online nonfiction challenge?

I asked my critique group for help. Lisa Amstutz, Stephanie Bearce, Nancy Churnin, Susie Kralovansky, Linda Skeers, Peggy Thomas and I (The Nonfiction Chicks) created a February 2020 writing challenge called NF Fest.

Twenty-nine talented nonfiction authors agreed to participate including my former conference speakers. There are topics from “What is Truth?” to “Finding Untold Histories in Your Hometown” and everything in between.

IMAGE 5 - NF FEST NF Fest will begin this February with daily posts. Those who register between January 15 – 31 will complete the three R’s of good writers. They will READ each post, wRITE a comment on each, and do RESEARCH-related activities based on a calendar of suggestions. They will learn and participate! A course with this caliber of faculty would be very expensive—but NF Fest is free! There are even prizes.

More details and a writing community can be found in our FB group, NFFest and our web page Let NF Fest inspire, instruct, and support your nonfiction writing!

16 thoughts on “Behind the Scenes: “The Village of Writers —NF Fest” by Pat Miller

  1. This sounds awesome! I’ve been struggling for three years with writing a NF picture book bio — done the research, but it’s so hard to distill the voluminous info into a simple, compelling story. This challenge might be what I need to get some traction on the road to actually writing the book that I’ve imagined in my head.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Thank you all so much for putting on NF FEST! I’ve been longing to connect, learn from, and support other nonfiction writers. I’m passionate about this genre and can’t wait to kick off 2020 with this awesome group!

    Liked by 2 people

  3. This was a great post, Pat. I’m struggling to write a NF PB bio, and it’s so hard!! Thank you for putting this together. I’m looking forward to it!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. This sounds amazing–thanks for sharing, Beth! I can’t wait to participate, and thank you so much for offering this for us, Pat!

    Liked by 1 person

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