Girls Like Us: Writing a Bestselling Biography
April 17 - 18
Daytime Class: 3 to 6 p.m. Eastern (noon to 3 p.m. Pacific)
“One day after school, fourteen-year-old Carole Klein sat on the edge of her bed in a room wallpapered with pictures of movie stars and the singers who played Alan Freed’s rock’n’roll shows at the Brooklyn Paramount. She was poised to make a decision of grand importance.”
This is the opening paragraph from Girls Like Us, the bestselling triple biography of legendary singers Carole King, Joni Mitchell, and Carly Simon.
Written by Sheila Weller, Girls Like Us is a stunning example of biography at its best, taking the reader immediately into the lives—and the very hearts and souls—of these three extraordinary women.
Before writing Girls Like Us, Sheila didn’t know the three singer-songwriters, but she knew they mattered. And so she set off on a journey to find out what made them tick. What kept them up at night. How they handled pain and struggle. The significant details of their childhoods that became part of their story. Why they were so significant to the generation of women they represented. And what made them unique as human beings and recording icons.
Girls Like Us is the foundation of our weekend intensive class, in which Sheila will share the secrets of researching, interviewing, sourcing, and crafting a bestselling biography.
Her special guests are two of the best biographers in the field. Holly George-Warren is the esteemed biographer of many books, including the greatly lauded Janis: Her Life And Music, spotlighting a fourth legendary singer from the sixties, Janis Joplin. And Bob Spitz is the author of The Beatles: The Biography, as well as the bestseller Reagan: An American Journey, Dearie, A Biography Of Julia Child and a forthcoming biography of Led Zeppelin.
This class is for you, whether you’re writing a celebrity biography or a family profile of your favorite aunt.
The beauty of biography is that everyone’s life has meaning. In fact, some of the best biographies are not about celebrities, but about the neighborhood beauty shop owner who does makeovers for cancer survivors, the garage mechanic who came back from war a hero, or the scientists who did their work in the shadows but contributed to the biggest advancements in mankind.
If you know someone whose life deserves notice or celebration, biography gives you the chance to become a sleuth, a storyteller, and an investigative reporter.
How do you get inside that person’s soul and spirit?
How do you determine a universal theme or a lesson from that person's life?
How do you write about tough times in your subject’s life?
How do you make them real and three-dimensional?
What kind of permission or contract do you need?
What special considerations are there in writing about historic or well-known figures?
If the subject is a cultural icon, how do you research and present their creativity?
Biography is creative nonfiction at its best, using detailed research and storytelling techniques that read like fiction.
Even if you’ve never considered writing a biography or biopic before, the skills you’ll learn in this class can be used to develop characters and weave stories together in multiple genres, including fiction and memoir.
Learning about the highs and lows of a person’s life, then accurately portraying them through story—those are skills you’ll use in many ways throughout your writing career. Sometimes just the smallest detail about a person can lift them off the page and make them live and breathe in the mind of the reader or viewer.
Here’s how the week will unfold:
Saturday, April 17th: Sheila Weller and a special guest will lead you step by step through research, interviewing, and information gathering. How do you conduct an interview, and what questions do you ask? How do you prepare? How do you find your sources and resources, from high school yearbooks to photographs to financial records? What kinds of questions do you ask to gather details for scenes and description? How can you access public records? How much digging is enough?
Sunday, April 18th: Sheila and her guest, biographer Holly George-Warren, will focus on the craft of writing biography, from organizing the story to weaving together the voices of the sources you’ve found in your research. How do you make scenes come alive with details and dialogue? How do you recreate scenes from the person’s past? How do you make the story so compelling that the reader doesn't want to put it down?
Important Note: Before the class begins, please identify someone you want to write about and ask yourself this question, “Why is this person of interest to me and my potential readers?” Throughout the weekend, writing prompts will give you opportunities to start writing about your subject.