Wrestling, Research, and Takedown: A Guest Post by Laura Shovan

Today we’re doing something a little different to celebrate an awesome new book, Takedown by Laura Shovan. Rather than interviewing her or having her share fun facts about her story like we usually do, we’re letting Laura take control and share a guest post not just about her book, but a peek into how she was able to bring the Takedown story to life. We know a lot of you are aspiring writers, so we’re so excited that Laura wanted to share this insider point of a view with our readers! To start, here’s a little about her book.

Takedown by Laura Shovan

“You’re only as good as your partner.”

Mikayla is a wrestler; when you grow up in a house full of brothers who are die-hard mat heads, it’s in your DNA. She even has a wrestling name: Mickey. Some people don’t want a girl on the team. But that won’t stop her. She’s determined to work hard, and win.

Lev is determined too–he’s going to make it to the state championship. He’s used to training with his two buddies as the Fearsome Threesome. But at the beginning of sixth grade, he’s paired with a new partner—a girl. This better not get in the way of his goal.

Mickey and Lev work hard together, and find a way to become friends. But at States, there can only be one winner.

This warmhearted, engaging novel by the author of the highly praised The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary explores competition among athletes, how it influences family and friendships, and what happens when one girl wants to break barriers in a sport dominated by boys.

Takedown is an great read for sports lovers, athletes, or anyone who’s ever felt out of place on a team. It’s exciting, oozing with girl power, and an a really amazing look into the world of wrestling, family, and teamwork. But have you ever wondered how an author creates such authentic characters and moments that keep you on the edge of your seat?

Even the most avid reader might not know how much work it takes to turn a story idea into an actual book. There is lots of pitching, outlining, editing, writing, re-writing, and more. One of the most important parts of a writing a book is making sure the story you’re telling is accurate and authentic. Since Takedown is about a middle school wrestling team, a big part of Laura’s process in writing Takedown was conducting research interviews in order to create a compelling story with a realistic glimpse into the sport.

She’s giving our YAYOMG! readers an inside look at her process and showing how you can transform raw notes into an actual scene in your story. Take it away, Laura!

Wrestling, Research, and Takedown: A Guest Post by Laura Shovan:

Takedown by Laura ShovanWriting Takedown:

My favorite form of research is the personal interview. I love talking to everyday people who happen to have knowledge in the area I’m writing about. Because this is an interview, the person knows I’m going to pepper them with lots of questions. They have already agreed to answer as best they can. This means I get insider information about what it feels like to do, be, or experience the topic I’m researching.

Best of all is when the person I’m interviewing shares unexpected details or stories. When these are incorporated into a work of fiction, they make the novel feel authentic. That’s exactly what I’m going for.

Takedown is my new novel about two middle school wrestlers. One of Takedown’s main characters is Mikayla, a girl from a wrestling family who – for the first time – finds herself on an all-boy wrestling team. Lev is her training partner, and he’s not so happy about being the only boy on the team who’s stuck wrestling a girl.

I wanted to know what Mikayla might be dealing with. What’s it like to be a girl or woman participating in a traditionally male contact sport? I got in touch with Mary Holmes, a world-ranked jiu jitsu brown belt. Mary turned out to be an important resource for my book.

Interview with Mary Holmes and How it Inspired Takedown:

Let’s take a look at the notes from my interview with Mary and see how they became part of Mikayla’s story.
I asked Mary what goes through her mind at the start of a match. Here’s what she said, according to my notes:

“[I feel] really nervous, especially at the beginning of the match, especially first match of the day. Lots of times I’ll kind of get this sensation that I can’t feel my fingers or my feet. Sometimes before the match begins, [I’ll have a] panic attack that I don’t know how to start the match and I’m going to freeze, that I won’t know what to do. The noise is all there and you hear it, but it’s fuzzy, this messed up blur.”

Wow. That’s powerful. I had to find a way to work what Mary told me into my book. I decided to use this part of the interview in an important scene, the first time that Mikayla wrestles against Lev at a tournament. Here’s an excerpt from Takedown:

“After Lev and I warm up, he finds Coach and I get my dad. Dad’s going to coach me so Lev can have Coach Billy in his corner.
I tuck my braids into my cap and put on my headgear and mouth guard. I back into Dad’s chest like I’ve seen Evan and Cody do a million times. He wraps his arms around my shoulders, lifting me off the ground with a squeeze that stretches my muscles.
“Go get ’em,” he says.
I put on the green ankle cuff, my lucky color, praying I make it to the end of the match without getting pinned. Lev wraps the red cuff around his ankle. Even though I’ve already won a match today, I think, I’m going to freeze. I’m going to forget how to do this.
The voices in the crowd go fuzzy as I take the mat.”

The insights Mary Holmes shared about competing helped me create a believable, detailed scene for my character! Want to see Mary in action? Check out this video of her competing in a match!

Tips for Conducting a Research Interview:

Now that you’ve seen how an author transforms research notes and interviews into a story, Laura has shared some advice on how YOU can conduct a research interview of your own for writing, school reports, or any other projects that pop up throughout your life.

Tip #1:

Send a polite email asking the person if they have time to speak with you. Let them know a few details about your project. When you set up a date and time, let the person know about how long the conversation will last.

Tip #2:

Have 5-10 questions prepared in advance, but keep in mind that it’s okay to go “off script.” The conversation may lead to an interesting, unexpected topic.
At the top of your notes, write down their name (spelled correctly) and contact information so you know how to get in touch for follow up questions.

Tip #3:

Be prepared to type or write fast while the person is speaking. It’s okay to say, “Can you slow down a bit?” or “I didn’t catch that, would you repeat it, please?” if the person is speaking faster than you’re writing.

Thank you SO much to Laura for this awesome guest post and for taking the time to share your insight and expertise with our readers!

Takedown is now available in bookstores everywhere so be sure to pick up a copy and get reading! Looking for some other awesome reads to add to your shelves? We think you’ll love The Seismic Seven by Katie Slivenksy!

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