Writing is an adventure. You never know where you’ll end up when you set out to write an article or a book. Here are four unexpected bonuses I've had in my career:

2010  I discovered fantastic collections of bicycle memorabilia. Researching a book usually means poring over material in libraries and on the Internet, but while I was working on Wheels of Change, I came face-to-face with relics of the bicycle craze. First Dottie Batho, widow of cycling memorabilia collector Norman Batho, was kind enough to welcome me into her home—and to help me scan items from Norman’s collection of ads, postcards, and sheet music for five solid hours. Then, on a tip from Dottie, I attended the annual bicycle auction in Copake, New York, where I watched scores of 130-year-old bicycles get auctioned off for thousands of dollars each. (I bought lower-priced photographs and century medals.) Finally, at the auction I met Beth Emery, who invited me to see her amazing collection of images of turn-of-the-century women and bicycles. These experiences helped make Wheels of Change a lot more authentic, and they made working on the book a lot more fun.

2001  I rode on a horse and buggy in a parade. The occasion was Annie Oakley Days, an annual celebration in Annie’s hometown of Greenville, Ohio. I was invited to come and sign copies of my book, Bull’s-Eye: A Photobiography of Annie Oakley, and take part in the other festivities. The high point was definitely the parade, which wound its way through town, past all the local citizens who came out to cheer us on. It was great, but I was sure glad I sat in the back, far from Daisy the horse. She kept shaking her head and showering the ladies up front with her saliva. Gross!

1987  I hit against a professional baseball player. At a reunion of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League in Fort Wayne, Indiana, the women played an old-timer’s game and allowed me—a young whippersnapper at age 33—to take part. My moment of truth came against Nancy “Hank” Warren, a 66-year-old pitcher whose power almost blew me away. After two strikes, I managed to tap a grounder to second, which my friend Marilyn Jenkins bobbled—intentionally, I think. It was close, but I just beat out her throw to first.

1983  I spoke to Amelia Earhart’s sister. I had written a play for Scholastic Search, an American history magazine for middle-school readers, and the designer needed to know the color of Earhart’s eyes for the cover illustration. I called the Schlesinger Library at Radcliffe University, which has many of Earhart’s papers. They suggested I call her sister, Muriel Morrissey, an English teacher in Massachusetts. I did, and she told me her sister’s eyes were blue-grey. But I couldn’t hang up without asking what Muriel thought had happened to Amelia when her plane disappeared on a 1937 round-the-world flight. She said she didn’t put any stock in the theories that Amelia had survived to live out her life on a tropical island. She believed she died when her plane crashed into the ocean.

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Young writers can find some hints and advice at
10 Tips for Young Writers, at right.