Q: Welcome Jen! It’s a pleasure to be “talking” with you. Let’s start with BRAIN GAMES. How did you wind up writing this book?
JS: The book is based on the National Geographic TV show, BRAIN GAMES. National Geographic Kids approached me with the assignment. Before this book I’d written many educational books, but this is my first trade book. My editor’s first question was “Do you know anything about neuroscience?” And of course I said yes, because that is what you say to an editor you really want to work for.
Q: Hah! That is great career advice: JUST SAY YES, right? How did you prepare to write the book?
JS: I watched every single episode of the Brain Games TV show (about 24 hours worth!). Then I chose challenges that could be adapted to a 2-dimensional book. For example, in the show they use a lot of video to make their points. That wasn’t possible in a book. But reading this book should be done jumping up and down, standing on one leg, and twirling around—it’s very interactive!
Q: There’s a ton of technical and scientific information in BRAIN GAMES. How long did your research take?
JS: I researched as I wrote. It took me about eight weeks to write the first draft. But then we spent another four months in edits, so basically a long time. I got really good at skimming medical papers on neuroscience.
Q: Did you have a particular interest in brains before this book?
A. I love science of all kinds. (Well except maybe plants, because I don’t have a green thumb.) But neuroscience is just COOL, so I had a blast writing this book and I loved all the fun—and obscure—facts I learned about the brain.
Q: You appeared on TV to promote BRAIN GAMES on the Morning Show [click here to view]. How did that feel?
|Jen Swanson, television personality|
JS: It was a lot of fun and a little scary. But the interviewer, Nikki Kimbleton, was really excited about my book and had fun with it. She immediately put me at ease.
Q: Were you involved in the design or photo selection for BRAIN GAMES?
JS: I found most of the images used in the book online and sent them to NGKids. They procured the permissions. Thank goodness, too, since that can be an enormous job.
|Can you complete this challenge?|
Q: Could you complete all the puzzles in BRAIN GAMES?
JS: I think so, although I don’t always get them right the first time.
Q: How did you get started writing for the educational market?
JS: I created my work-for-hire package and just sent it out. Luckily I got a response within a few weeks when an editor called to offer me a two-book deal. I quite literally almost fell over after that out-of-the-blue phone call. To my surprise it was followed closely with an offer to write 5 books in a series. Yes, that’s right. My first foray into becoming an author was to write 7 books simultaneously!! (Not recommended, by the way, but when there are issues and deadlines end up overlapping, you just go with it.)
Q: That’s impressive! My guess is that the publishers liked the combination of your science credentials plus the humor in your writing. BRAIN GAMES uses a light touch to explain some highly technical issues. How can writers incorporate more kid-friendly humor into their nonfiction writing?
JS: Put it into kid’s terms. Relate it to something that they already know and are familiar with. Don’t forget the humor. And make it fun. Making it funny or offbeat is a way to capture their attention. They will remember it that way!
Q: What are some pros and cons of writing for the educational market versus the trade market?
JS: In the educational market you are given your topic and all of the guidelines. There is room for creativity but within the bounds of what the publisher wants. Also, a lot of the educational market books I have written are in a series, so you need to closely follow the series outlines.
|Jen visiting a school|
Q: Do you visit schools?
JS: I love doing school visits! It’s one of my most favorite parts of my job. I love getting the kids excited about science. Because after all, SCIENCE ROCKS!!
Q: Any forthcoming books?
JS: As a matter of fact, I have a book coming out with Charlesbridge in June 2016 titled SUPER GEAR: Nanotechnology and Sports Team Up. It’s an exciting look at how the microscopic science of nanotechnology is helping athletes to perform better than ever before. Want to hit a golf ball farther, swing a tennis racket with more oomph, or even swim faster? Nanotechnology can help with that!
Plus, I have two more books releasing next year. NGKids Everything Robotics takes the reader on a peek inside the world of robotics. Forces and Motion by Nomad Press is an interactive book of experiments and activities to help kids learn about physics.
Q: Wow! You’ve been busy! What’s next in your writing career?
JS: More writing! I just had a proposal for a MG/YA book accepted by another trade house. Yay! And I am working up a proposal on a MG STEM book for my agent to shop around.
I’m also teaching writing classes. I'll be teaching a fantastic course called “Writing for Love and Money” with Dr. Mira Reisberg of the Children’s Book Academy in January. It covers pretty much everything from creating ideas to formulating stories to preparing cover letters, proposals, and submissions.
In April 2016, I will be doing a reprisal of “The Nuts and Bolts of Science Writing for Kids” at the Highlights Foundation with the amazing children’s author, Miranda Paul. We’ll have editors (onsite or by Skype) from Scholastic, Roaring Brook Press, Charlesbridge and Lerner/Millbrook Press, plus my agent, Clelia Gore. Attendees will get to submit to the faculty. Look for more information here.
Finally, in my spare time, (ha!) I am working on my MG novel, and getting close to submitting that as well.
Q: Congratulations and good luck with all that, Jen. It sounds like part of your secret to success has been long hours of work. Any final words of wisdom for folks who might like to follow in your footsteps?
JS: Be Bold! Work hard and don’t be afraid to take chances and maybe just throw your idea out there and see what sticks.
THE BIG DRAWING
Thanks to Jen, we'll be giving away a copy of BRAIN GAMES to a lucky reader. Just leave a comment indicating you'd like to enter the drawing. My trusty assistant Cheddar and I will draw the name of the lucky winner a week from today, Monday, November 9. Good luck, brainiacs!
-- Christy (and Cheddar)