Monday, August 6, 2012

3 New Author Interviews

Interview With Author Fred Bortz

1. What type of books do you write? I write science and technology for young readers. I focus on middle grades and the physical sciences. My style is always direct and clear, without neglecting the human component, usually by taking a true-story approach.

2. How and when did you know that your destiny was as a writer? I never felt that writing was my destiny, but it was something I always enjoyed doing. My first hint, which I recognized only in retrospect, was when a professor who hired me as a postdoc told me that my PhD thesis was the best written one he had ever seen. The science content was clearly good enough to get the job, but it was my presentation that won his praise. A few years later, I decided to try writing for children on the side and had modest success. It gradually led me away from research to outreach and eventually to a non-tenure track research position in a school of education of a major university. That job evaporated after two years when my dean was forced to step down. At age 52, rather than seek another academic job, I decided to see what I could do as a full-time writer.

3. What is your latest or upcoming book about? My latest book is Meltdown! The Nuclear Disaster in Japan and Our Energy Future(Twenty-First Century Books, 2012). It describes the Great Tohuku Earthquake and Tsunami that struck Japan on March 11, 2011 and the triple meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant that followed. As the subtitle notes, the central theme is the impact on the way the world views nuclear power and what that means for electric power generation going forward.

4. What inspired you to write it? I have always been particularly proud of how I approached the nuclear power chapter in the book that first gained me substantial recognition, Catastrophe! Great Engineering Failure--and Success (W. H. Freeman, Scientific American Books for Young Readers), published in 1995. At that time, the nuclear power industry was at a low point, in part because of the meltdowns at Three Mile Island (1979) and Chernobyl (1986), but mainly because the demand for electric power was not increasing as rapidly as had been anticipated. Still, I recognized that the industry was likely to recover because of global warming and the geopolitics of oil. I closed the chapter with a statement that my readers would be called as adults on to make political decisions that would be both important and difficult regarding the future of nuclear power. That chapter was particularly prescient, but it did not anticipate Fukushima. Within days after the meltdowns there, it was clear to me that the arguments on both sides of the nuclear power debate had become much louder but were largely unchanged. The failures should have been anticipated, and either timely retrofitting or installing newer technology could have avoided the disaster. So although it was clearly a technological failure, the underlying causes included political and regulatory failure. Yet although today's arguments are largely the same as during the aftermath of TMI and Chernobyl, the present scientific, political, and social issues are quite different. The threat of global warming makes the need to limit carbon dioxide emissions urgent, and nuclear power is the only large-scale alternative right now. On the other hand, renewables like solar and wind power, and other green technologies like carbon capture and sequestration ("clean coal"), are becoming more feasible. So once again my readers will be faced with complex, difficult, and important choices regarding electric power. They will need to be armed with questions in order to make wise choices when the time comes. It didn't take me long to recognize that I should be the one to guide them toward those questions. Fortunately my publisher agreed and fast-tracked the book to appear in time for the first anniversary of the Fukushima meltdowns.

5. How does it feel to be a published author? Any advice for struggling writers? Since I never felt that writing was my destiny, and since I wrote my share of scientific papers and reports, being a published author was nothing new. The important thing for me--and I guess this qualifies as advice for struggling authors--was discovering my connection to a particular audience and keeping that audience in focus when I write. Writing for my scientific colleagues was important, but writing for question-filled middle-graders and teens who will challenge me at every turn goes beyond mere importance. For me, it is inspirational. My readers represent our future, and I owe them my very best work.

6. Where do you see book publishing heading? Books will continue to have an important place in society. Some people will prefer the tactile experience and relative permanence of printed matter. Printed books will continue to be accessible and readable even if electronic formats and e-reading devices and software change. The portability, accessibility, and new functionalities of electronic documents will lead to many more ebooks and many fewer paper books. But they will still be books and, I hope, people will learn the importance of setting aside their online connections long enough to engage with them in depth.

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Interview With Writer Melaina Phipps 

1.      As a writer at Horse Racing Nation, what do you enjoy most about your craft? I enjoy being able to write about a sport that I enjoy, of course. But I really enjoy writing for an informed, engaged audience who share a common passion.

2.      As the former managing editor at Potomac Books, what was it like working with authors? Working with authors in the capacity of a managing editor is a delicate balance of addressing both their needs and the needs of the publishing house. At Potomac Books the authors brought new life to important topics and I found the experience very intellectually stimulating.

3.      Where do you see the book publishing industry heading? While it is clear that ebooks will continue to grow in their market share, I think that printing physical volumes will remain a publishing tradition. Having so many ways to self-publish at this time, I believe, also broadens opportunities for independent publishing professionals to embark on their own venture in the service of authors and develop publishing niches tailored to the genre and audience which take full advantage of social (multi-) media.

4.      As a freelance writer where do you believe there are opportunities for writers to make money? Certainly writing content for established media outlets is still a viable opportunity. However, I also feel that it has become increasingly important to specialize and brand oneself and create one's own opportunities.

5.      In talking to other writers or editors, what do you find is the mood regarding the role of technology, social media, and e-books in how they go about practicing the art of writing? Technology and social media have made it easier to promote one's writing and build an audience. Certainly the wide variety of ebook publishing options gives unpublished authors a chance to get their work in the hands of readers, which has on more than one occasion led to significant recognition and catching the attention of traditional publishers. It's not unusual for blogs to become the vehicle for or the basis of a future published volume. On the other hand, though, a good deal of time and effort is required to build a notable online persona and some might find this taking them away from the actual business of writing.

Interview With Author Paula Bowles 
1.      What type of books do you illustrate? I illustrate picture books for children aged 2 to 102.
2.      How and when did you know that your destiny was as a book illustrator? It's always felt natural to draw, paint and make up stories, I spent a lot of time making up comic strips with my brother when we were children. Then, when I was about 16, I found out you could be an illustrator as a job, and realized that's what I would do!
3.      What is your latest or upcoming book about? My most recent book is called 'Scary Mary', published by Tiger Tales in March this year. It's about a chicken with temper tantrums - she makes signs (saying 'keep out!') and puts up gates (to keep the others out) and practises making scary faces... until she scares all the other animals in the Barnyard away.. (don't worry, it has a happy ending!)
4.      What inspired you to illustrate it in the way that you did? My work is very much drawing based, I just love pencil line and watercolour washes seem to compliment it well. I think my personality comes through in my artwork - I love animals and cute things, and I like things that make me laugh - so I feel this feeds into my work! I admire and feel inspired by the books I grew up with, illustrated by people such as Quentin blake, EH Shepherd, Shirley Hughes, Helen Oxenbury. Their books have become enbedded in who I am I think and possibly influence the way I draw.
5.      How does it feel to be a published author? Any advice for struggling writers? It feels great to be a published author! It's nice to share my stories and pictures with other people and hope I can inspire them too. Advice for struggling writers is to be patient and persistant, don't give up, network - talk to lots of different people in the industry, ask questions, visit libraries and bookshops - read up and keep up to date with what's out there!
6.      Where do you see book publishing heading? Who knows! The electronic readers are interesting, I've not used one yet, but they seem handy and convenient for some people. However I don't think they will truely replace children's picture books - I think there's something about the physical turning of the page, the touch, feel and even the smell of the book that is integral to a childs deveolpment. A cold, shiney digital screen is no match for an actual book nestled in your lap, snuggled up with your child.

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Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer, the nation’s largest book promoter. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at He feels more important when discussed in the third-person.

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