Wednesday, September 12, 2012

When Yes, No, and Maybe Seem Similar

I find it is hard to get people to agree, to the point it is infuriating. Just look at politics – half the country thinks Obama should remain as president and half want Romney in the Oval Office. Most things are like that – split. Even individuals are like that – half the time you might support one thing and then half the time you don’t. We can waffle on so many decisions simply because we give equal weight to so many options.

Look at marriage. One day we commit our life to someone; the next day we want to run from them. Did we make a bad decision or did circumstances and people simply change? It has gotten to the point where we either see both sides to an issue and cannot make up our mind – or we put all of our eggs in one basket one day, only to do a 180 and reverse course later on. Life can be very confusing!

You don’t have to suffer from a split personality disorder  to experience a feeling of being torn in multiple directions, unsure which way to go. Part of it is that life moves swiftly and we react to multiple changes going on. Another part is that few things prove to be ideal. So we keep trying new paths to get to where we think we want to go.

It would be nice if, as a society, we had agreement on key issues. It would be great if as individuals we could have a united, focused approach to our own lives. But I can conclude that neither thus far has been possible and know that I will just have to coexist with uncertainty, indecision, or doing one thing tomorrow and then the opposite the next day.

Now let me go flip a coin or consult a Magic Eight Ball for my next big decision in life.

Interview With Author Elizabeth Rusch

Elizabeth Rusch is the author of The Mighty Mars Rovers (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012), a Junior Library Guide selection, which has received starred reviews from Kirkus, Horn Books, Booklist, and the School Library Journal.  She recently took part in an online interview with Book Marketing Buzz Blog:

1.      What type of books do you write? I write both fiction and non-fiction books for kids and magazine article for kids and adults. I think I’ve developed a knack for writing creative, narrative nonfiction for children that breaks ground by presenting cutting-edge material or missed stories in fresh ways. When I think about the future of my career, I aspire to become the John McPhee of children’s books. He writes nonfiction so well and so creatively that it reads like fiction. When I'm writing nonfiction I challenge myself by saying: How would John McPhee organize this information? What story would John McPhee tell to get the information across? Of course he's not telling me how to do it, but his creativity in presenting information in a gripping narrative is something I aspire to in my nonfiction writing.

2.      What is your latest book about? My latest book, The Mighty Mars Rovers: The incredible adventures of Spirit and Opportunity, is a part of the acclaimed Scientists in the Field series.  On June 10, 2003, a little rover named Spirit blasted off on a rocket headed for Mars. Less than a month later, a twin rover named Opportunity soared through the solar system with the same mission: to find out if Mars ever had water that could have supported life. Totally dependent on solar power, which is scarce during harsh Martian winters, Spirit and Opportunity were expected to survive for three months. Instead, in what may well be the most successful space mission ever, the two go-cart-sized, six-wheeled rovers explored the red planet for more than six years. Opportunity has driven farther than anyone can believe, and Spirit survived so many impossible situations that engineers call her “the Indiana Jones of Mars.” Defying all expectations, Opportunity is still exploring!

3.      What inspired you to write it? Spirit and Opportunity’s mission on Mars has arguably been the most successful space exploration mission ever – and I worried the kids might not know about them. Here were these incredibly cute robots exploring another planet, having amazing adventures, overcoming incredible obstacles. It was an AMAZING true story that I just didn’t want kids to miss.

And there was another story, too. Behind these rovers, behind this mission, were fascinating men and women like Steve Squyres, the principal science investigator for the mission, and the engineers and rovers drivers. I tell the Mars rover story through the team behind the mission as as they sweat through the rovers’ dramatic landings, as they figure out how to make delicate rovers explore deep craters and travel up the sides of jagged mountains, and as they hold their breath as Spirit and Opportunity find themselves in grave danger again and again.

People make space exploration happen. Real people with dreams and dedication and inspiring stick-to-it-ive-ness. I wanted the people behind the mission to come to life for kids so that just maybe they could see themselves as space explorers, too.

4.      What did you do before you became an author? I began my professional writing career straight out of college as an editor and writer for Teacher Magazine, a national award-winning magazine for elementary and secondary school teachers. When I moved across the country to Portland, Oregon, that inside view of how magazine publishing worked gave me what I needed to know to become a successful full-time freelance writer.  I’ve published more than 100 articles in numerous national magazines for children and adults, including Muse, Read, American Girl, Harper's, Smithsonian, Mother Jones, Parenting, and Backpacker, among many others. I continue to write for magazines when I can find the time!

5.      How does it feel to be a published author? I became a published author about a decade ago when my first book Generation Fix: Young ideas for a better world came out.  Though I had published many magazine articles before, publishing a book just felt different – it feels more permanent, longer lasting. And so far, it is. Generation Fix is still in print, in its third printing, came out recently in audiobook and is being made into an e-book. So while magazine articles might be read and recycled in a couple of months, a book can have a life on someone’s shelf to be reread and shared over and over.

Since my first book, six more of my books have been published and each time is a thrill. I love when my box of books comes from the publisher and I can hold the book in my hands, touch the cover, feel the weight of it. I love thinking about the people will read it, how it might affect them, and I really love hearing from readers or meeting them at school visits, book signings, or writing conferences.

6.      Any advice for struggling writers?  Read, read, read. Read in your genre and outside. Read for fun, for pleasure, to be inspired, and to see how other writers do what they do. Write, write, write. My definition of a writer is not someone who publishes. It is someone who writes. And I believe if you write, and read, and think about your writing, and write and read and think about your writing, you have a much better shot of becoming a published writer.  Join or create a critique group. Meeting regularly with other writers to give comments on works in progress will help you grow so much as a writer. For more guidance on critique groups, check out the blog run by my critique group the Viva Scrivas at Rewrite, rewrite, rewrite. Read your work with an eye on how to make it better. Get comments from other writers and take them to heart. Don’t be afraid to radically reimagine or restructure a manuscript. Don’t be afraid to write multiple, radically different versions of a manuscript. Put troublesome or unsold manuscripts away for at least 6 months then read them again and rewrite them. Your writing will get better and better as you do this.  Attend writing conference. The workshops will help you polish your craft. The people you meet will open your world, and can open doors.  Submit your work, wisely. No one is going to knock on your door and ask if you have anything they can publish. To be published you must submit your work, often to quite a few publishers. But please don’t waste your time or the publisher’s time. Only submit work that fits what a publishing house publishes. Most publishing houses have submission guidelines and catalogs to guide you online.

7.      Where do you see book publishing heading? I think there is the room, the place, and the need for both traditional print books and e-books and enhanced ebooks. I still read mostly print book. I love browsing books stores and libraries and I adore the picturebook form, which cannot yet be well-replicated with an electronic device. My 11-year-old son loves to read, and while he is fine with print books, he loves his Kindle. And I must say that we have bought many more books for him because he has a Kindle. When he finishes a book and wants something to read, it is so easy for him to browse, pick another right away, buy it and he’s off reading again. So Kindles and the like can really fuel the growth of book sales, which is a great thing.

I think e-books and enhanced e-books can be a particularly powerful form for nonfiction. I am working with two of my publishers to turn two of my books into enhanced e-books (Generation Fix and The Mighty Mars Rovers.) Enhanced ebooks can offer great supplementary materials such as videos, audio clips, and extra photos that were not possible to include in the print versions. And with The Mighty Mars Rovers, we will be able to update the story, with Opportunity’s current and ongoing explorations and the adventures of the newest rover Curiosity, which landed on the planet in August (yay!).

8.      What are your upcoming books about?  Well, my next Scientist in the Field book, coming out in 2013, will take readers onto the flanks of smoldering, rumbling volcanoes in Colombia, the Philippines, and Indonesia. It’s called Eruption!: Volcanoes and the Science of Saving Lives and it tells the true stories of a small group of geologists who take the pulse of active volcanoes around the globe to try to predict dangerous eruptions and save lives.  I have two more books coming out next year – a picturebook for younger kids called Volcano Rising and a nonfiction picture book biography called Electrical Wizard on Nikola Tesla, the inventor that we really should be thanking for having power in our homes, schools, and businesses. (Move over Edison!) I’m working on another Scientists in the Field book about engineers on a quest to turn the power of the ocean into electricity. And I’m close to signing a deal for a middle-grade graphic novel about a kid who gets superpower from mud. It’s a super fun project.

To learn more about Elizabeth Rusch’s work, see

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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