Monday, November 2, 2015

Brains, Robots, and Laboratories, Oh My! . . . . . . . . . . . . An interview and book give-away with Jen Swanson, by Christy Mihaly

Yes, it's November, and no, this isn't a late Halloween post. It's a conversation with author Jen Swanson, who has published more than 20 books for kids—most about science—with more in the pipeline. If you missed last Friday's review of Jen's BRAIN GAMES, check it out here on GROGI have it on good authority that BRAIN GAMES is into its second printing after only seven weeks. Be sure to enter our drawing for a chance to win a copy!


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?

Jen Swanson
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)

30 comments:

  1. Great interview with Jen! She is such a talented author. Would love to have my name put in the drawing.

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    1. Awww thanks so much for your kind words, Janet

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    2. Isn't Jen awesome? Your name is the first in the hat!

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  2. Very inspiring and informative interview... Love this: "Don't for the humor"....I'd like to entered in the drawing :)

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    1. Thanks Jane. Yep, humor is the best thing to engage kids with nonfiction

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    2. Jane11 -- You are entered! Be sure to check back next week to see who won!

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  3. Christy & Cheddar, Love knowing more about Jen and her process with this book. Great interview.

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  4. Boy, she makes me tired just reading all she's doing. So glad she was able to give you this interview.

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    1. Ha! Yes, Sherri, I'm busy. But it's all good. Love what I do! :)

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  5. What a cool book - and great interview, Christy. Thanks for sharing all this lovely information.

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    1. Yes indeed Sue, and I will interpret your comment as wanting to enter the drawing too!

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  6. Thanks so much for this awesome review Chris! So much fun to "meet" you!! :)

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    1. Thanks to you, Jen! You helped make it a great post.

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  7. Inspiring interview. Thank you, Jen and Christy :) I have the book and love it!

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  8. I'd like to enter the drawing. We love BRAIN GAMES at our house! Thanks for sharing!

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    1. Hi Kirsti, Your name is in the hat! Good luck!

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  9. Jen is one busy lady! And the book looks cool! I love brains....

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    1. Jilianne, thanks! We will enter your name for the drawing.

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  10. Put my name in the drawing! My daughters would love it!

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    1. Hi Kathryn,
      Great! You're in! Just check last week to find out who wins.

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  11. I love Jen's high level of respect for kids. And her energy.
    This is a great example about how luck comes to the prepared mind.
    7 books writing at the same time - 1st time out in response to her work-for-hire package.
    Christy & Jen, thanks for sharing this boost.

    (not putting name in the hat...)

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  12. I've been working on fiction picture books but maybe my "linear" brain would do well with non-fiction. Thanks, Jen, for the encouragement!

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  13. Wow, Jen, you are one busy writer! You were amazingly cool about your TV appearance. Good luck with your upcoming books. Thanks for the interview, Chris!

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  14. I would love to be entered into the drawing. And thanks for the inspiration to jump into the nonfiction world!

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    1. I will make it so, Kristin! Good luck with your NF writing too.

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  15. I am amazed at how busy you are and can still crank out such wonderful work Jen. Would love to win the book.

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    1. We'll put your name in the pot . . . check back with GROG next week to see who wins BRAIN GAMES! Thanks for stopping by.

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  16. AND THE WINNER IS OF THE BOOK IS: SUE HEAVENRICH!! CONGRATULATIONS, SUE!

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