Jul 30, 2021

Interview with Rochelle Melander: MIGHTIER THAN THE SWORD

Beaming Books, July, 2021

Written by Rochelle Melander and illustrated by Melina Ontiveros 

Beaming Books, ISBN-13 : 978-1506466408 

Publication Date: July 27, 2021 

Hardcover List Price: 22.99*

And check out more about Rochelle Melander:



Twitter: @WriteNowCoach

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/WriteNowCoach/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/writenowcoach/

And her new website that includes teacher librarian tips FROM THE AUTHORS: https://rochellemelander.com/

 I'm really excited to participate in this extensive blog tour for the new nonfiction release by my friend and friend to all writers/creatives, Rochelle Melander, of WriteNowCoach.com fame.

 With so many interactions lined up, I wanted to ask some "behind the scenes" questions, and Rochelle obliged with responses that can serve as a coaching session for many of us. Without further ado, let's welcome Rochelle!

Rochelle Melander is a teaching artist, professional certified coach, and the author of eleven books for adults including Level Up: Quests to Master Mindset, Overcome Procrastination and Increase Productivity.

 Rochelle is the founder of Dream Keepers, a writing workshop that teaches young people how they can change their lives and communities through writing. Rochelle believes that you can find the answer to your questions and the questions that deserve answers in a book or at the tip of your pen. She writes books, blog posts, journal entries, shopping lists and the occasional poem and owns enough books to start her own library. Even so, she reached the library’s lending limit many times while writing Mightier than The Sword.

 She lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin with her husband, children, and two goofy rescue dogs. Rochelle blogs at writenowcoach.com.

SB: WELCOME, Rochelle! Thanks for sharing your release celebration. In our previous interview to celebrate the cover reveal, HERE, you shared details of how and why you began working with younger writers than adults, who have been the focus of your writing coaching. The journey of this book, from concept to concrete object, is a story in itself. 

Let’s see if we can dig a little deeper now. As a reader and writer, I admire and enjoy the individual stories and projects you feature in your new book, especially the way you’ve included writers from across vast stretches of time and from around the globe. You’ve  curated  a broader scope of individual and cultural identities than I’ve encountered in any other work of this type. In what ways has collecting writer-stories been a lifelong practice?

Rochelle: As a teenager, I was interested in theatre, and my high school English teacher lent me My Life in Art by Constantin Stanislavski. That helped me understand that artists participated in a creative process, whether they were painting or writing or making plays. During graduate school, I discovered the rest of Madeleine L’Engle’s books—and devoured them. (I read A Wrinkle in Time when I was seven, and it opened my world.) Her book, Walking on Water, was the first book I read that examined writing as a creative process. I was hooked—and began collecting books like that. During those years, I read many of Virginia Woolf’s diaries and letters. 

A few years later, a friend recommended Audre Lorde’s collection of essays Sister Outsider. Lorde’s words helped me carve out time to write and find my voice. She wrote, “Poetry is the way we help give name to the nameless so it can be thought. The farthest horizons of our hopes and fears are cobbled by our poems, carved from the rock experiences of our daily lives.” (From “Poetry is Not a Luxury” in Sister Outsider, p. 37).

These books helped me develop and nurture a creative process when I was busy with raising kids and establishing my career. They also help me in my work as a writing coach.

SB: How was that practice/pattern affected while writing this book? 

Rochelle: It just sped up. Suddenly I had to read ALL THE BOOKS. Yikes! But I still followed my pattern of digging through footnotes for biographies, history books, and original documents that would give me the detailed information I needed. When I researched MIGHTIER, I always began by reading some sort of overview of the person’s life. (This is a good list: https://besthistorysites.net/general-history-resources/) Then, I would review an autobiography or letters. Finally, I looked at writing about the person from other sources. Because I didn’t have time to read six books about every person, I often used the table of contents and indexes to find the most important parts. After writing the piece, I would go back and research the bits I missed or needed more details about.

SB: Have those changes in your reading and writing life continued now that the book is available?

Rochelle: I would say that I’m back to following my fancy, but not quite. I found some very interesting books and documents while writing MIGHTIER THAN THE SWORD, and I am hoping to go back to read some of them—maybe for future projects. For example, I purchased Zora Neale Hurston: A Life in Letters by Carla Kaplan. I was interested in learning more about her academic background, her relationship with Langston Hughes, and her writing process. (It’s a great read!)

SB: In your teaching, writing, and coaching roles you had already accumulated a deep and wide frame of writer references and stories. Could you offer us some “chicken or the egg” insights about your approach to choosing and presenting so many compelling choices? Did the subjects and their works lead you to your section labels and sequences, or was that organizing framework established first and then selected writers found their places among those categories?

Rochelle: A little of both. Since 2008, I’d been collecting the names and stories of people whose writing made a difference, including children and teens. 

Then, I researched documents that changed the world like the Declaration of Independence or the Reconstruction Amendments. (I read books and consulted with historians to find documents—there’s so much I don’t know!)

Next, I thought about types of writing. Because I work with so many young people who don’t want to be writers but love science or social justice, I wanted the book to represent other fields—and not just storytellers. Because I was trained by the National Writing Project, I knew how important it is for students to “write across the curriculum”—so I tried to find writers from many disciplines.

These three queries led to a pretty long list of people and documents. One of the agents who asked for an R&R suggested that I organize the book by category—travelers, scientists, politicians, and so forth. That was helpful—because I could see what I was missing. 

Once the book was acquired, I worked with my editor and a team at the publishing house to come up with a list that would appeal to children, teachers, and librarians. Once we had our core list, I started adding the “more mighty writers”—the sidebars that appear in each chapter.

The whole process was much messier than it sounds. When I started reading about one writer, I learned he’d abandoned his child—so we eliminated him from the book. As my editor read the draft, if any topic seemed like it just didn’t fit our theme—writing that changed the world—it got replaced, too. Finally, as we reviewed the whole book—we made changes to ensure that children would see their role models in the book.

SB: Working as an educator for many decades, with many ages, I noted that writing for REAL and meaningful purposes is the key to turning a lesson into an empowering and transformational experience. Your Table of Contents establishes that writing can have MANY purposes and that those purposes have value. Models for various purposes can be readily identified and accessed as individuals or in groups. Do you have an example of the power of purposeful writing among your students you’d like to share? 

Rochelle: When I started Dream Keepers, my writing program for young people in Milwaukee, I knew the research about how writing empowers people. But I wanted to see what that might look like in real life. In the first years, I worked with a group of tween and teenaged girls. During our time together, they experienced some pretty difficult situations, including bullying and a house fire. Their writing helped them to cope with these situations. One summer, they wrote six-word memoirs. Here are a few examples:

Look at me! Rude to stare. -Deanna Branch

Born to care for needy children. -Elisha Branch

One fall, one laugh, one lonely girl. -Maya Montgomery

The young people entered these six-word memoirs in a contest sponsored by a local bookstore. They were all honored by the store—and had the opportunity to read their memoirs aloud. That was really a powerful thing for them—it showed them that people were interested in their stories. One of those students became the speaker at her middle school graduation!

These first Dream Keepers have graduated from high school (and some college), become parents, and are working. One of them is writing her first book. I’m seeing that this writing thing did help them.

SB: What a wonderful exercise for your writing group, and such powerful results. Brava!  Big ideas and emotions in few words.Which leads to this question: It is no small feature of your book that each four-page segment incorporates one or more direct quotations, with source citations included in the back matter. I and other teachers and writers thank you for that. How daunting was that task? Any hair-pulling moments you care to share?

Rochelle: How long do you have? One of my goals was to find a quote from each author. For some of the subjects, that was difficult. For example, Martin Luther said a lot of great things—but most didn’t fit in a kids’ book. Like this beauty:

“You should not write a book before you have heard an old sow fart; and then you should open your jaws with awe, saying, 'Thank you, lovely nightingale, that is just the text for me!' " Against Hanswurst from Vol. 41 of Luther's Works p. 250

One of the biggest challenges I had was verifying information and quotes. If you’ve researched anything online, you probably know even reputable sites will publish articles with misinformation. Then the false story gets republished on other sites—and it’s hard to uncover the truth. I found this to be especially true when I researched people from underrepresented communities. When I studied Sojourner Truth’s famous 1851 women’s rights speech, I discovered that many writers quote the Frances Gage version “Ain’t I a Woman,” which was published 12 years after the original speech. Gage’s version gives Truth a southern dialect even though Truth grew up in the North and spoke Dutch for the first 10 years of her life. Thankfully, there are several amazing books on the subject, and The Sojourner Truth Project offers good information. (Compare speeches: https://www.thesojournertruthproject.com/compare-the-speeches)

SB: Since this has been a concept-then-work-in-progress for over a decade, is there a particular moment that feels the most deeply gratifying about MIGHTIER THAN THE SWORD reaching its book birthday?

I loved working with the team at Beaming Books—it felt so good to share the project with others. It’s also been wonderful to hear the positive reactions of friends and early reviewers—like you! Thank you. But I think I’m most looking forward to seeing how young people react—I will be so grateful if this book reaches them and inspires them to write. 

SB:  This is an engaging read, but also a powerful resource. I won't be surprised if this becomes a timely, timeless classic for writing classes, workshops, and individual writers. And I'm equally confident that your interview responses can serve as a mentor session for those of us who have projects of our hearts and believe that hard work can lead to success. Thank you so much for finding time within this eye-popping life of yours to let us step behind the curtain and see how the magic is made!

Find my Goodreads review of MIGHTER THAN THE SWORD: Rebels, Reformers, and Revolutionaries Who Changed the World Through Writing, HERE.

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