Publishers Weekly's review of Geri Spieler's book, Taking Aim at the President: "On September 22, 1975, Sara Jane Moore attempted to kill President Gerald Ford. Investigative journalist Spieler traces the unlikely assassin's convoluted path as the suburban housewife who abandoned her children meandered through relationships, marriages and careers ranging from bookkeeping to political activist turned FBI informant. Moore assumed varied personas, a skill she first displayed as an actress in high school. Despite three decades of contact with Moore, Spieler admits she still cannot explain what led Moore to attempt to kill Ford. But Spieler offers a portrait of an erratic, unstable woman with a protean capacity to shift identities, with the 1960s and '70s as a dramatic backdrop. Fans of true crime accounts or contemporary history will savor this portrait of the first woman to make an assassination attempt on an American president."
As Geri writes: "To begin, before I answer questions, I think it is important to know that my book is creative non-fiction. It is about a real person, still living.
So, although many people use plot tools for fiction, I used them to help me plot my non-fiction book. From my experience, many of the tools fiction writers use were essential to me in plotting the life of my subject. When one is dealing with tremendous amounts of material available, it became overwhelming to sort it out. So, my answers will reflect my experience as a creative non-fiction writer."
Blockbuster Plots [BBP]: How did you go about plotting your story?
Geri Spieler [GS]: I knew my story as it is non-fiction. However, there was more material than I could use and I needed sort it out. I didn't know how which is why I took your class. It was not until then that I defined the plot parts. I also identified a major and minor plot.
BBP: Are you a pre-plotter or after the fact?
GS: I'm definitely a pre-plotter. I need to know where I'm going. However, I will change direction if I see things changing, so my third draft will very different than my first or second, and by the eighth the story will look completely different.
BBP: What methods did you find particularly useful in plotting out your project?
GS: I'm not necessarily visual, so I need to work at laying things out on paper like time-lines and sequence. I get into a lot of trouble when I don't do that. I had several court appearances to explain in my book and several overlapped. It got very confusing and difficult to follow.
I finally just stopped writing, took out a big piece of paper and plotted the entire court sequences from Sara Jane's arraignment to her final hearing.
BBP: Do you consciously develop thematic significance?
GS: For non-fiction even though I began with a lot of built in material, I still had to choose what I was going to use. There were many significant events to the story but I did not know how to use them. How was I to look at a life and pick what would become part of the significant theme?
I found myself trying to find a balance for this person.
BBP: Are you a character-driven writer or action-driven?
GS: Definitely character driven. I'm all about character, but I like to have movement in my work. I'm the same with reading. I want to know the characters.
BBP: Plot tips to share?
GS: Plot early. For me, a good road map is essential to building the story line. I'm not one to stay artificially bound to a certain plot, but I need to have something to begin with. Then, if I change my mind, it is because I knew where I was going in the first place.
Plotting my story or any piece of writing keeps me focused. I follow the rule of "less is more." I like to dig deep on small themes. I call it being "content rich" as opposed to "content free."
I also believe in using the plot process as an opportunity to research the story. Fiction requires facts and the plot process can help clarify what may be necessary for the writer to research.
As a parting piece, my passion and love are research. The best part of writing my book was researching the politics, finding people I didn't know, and digging up secrets about the time and the politics.
The flip side of that is the absolute necessity of being accurate and thorough. No matter how tiny the reference, someone somewhere will know if you have made an error in fact. Always remember that, even if it is a street name.