Jonathan Roth interviewed Erin about her contemporary middle-grade novel, which was just published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Erin’s a member of the Sweet Sixteens, an online author group for writers debuting this year. Jonathan’s own debut will be out in 2018.
ABOUT THE NOVEL
Future scientist Madeline Little is dreading the start of middle school. Nothing has been right since her grandfather died and her best friend changed schools. Maddie would rather help her father in his research lab or write Standard Operating Procedures in her lab notebook than hang out with a bunch of kids who aren’t even her friends. Despite Maddie’s reluctance, some new friends start coming her way—until they discover what she’s written in that secret notebook. And that’s just part of the trouble. Can this future scientific genius find the formula for straightening out her life?
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Erin Teagan worked in biochemistry labs for more than ten years. She is an avid reader and an active member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. You can find her at www.erinteagan.com and on Twitter @erinkteagan
Your MC, Madeline, is an aspiring scientist from a family of scientists. You worked as a scientist for many years. Is Maddy you?
If anything Maddie is more like me as an adult (socially awkward, likes to write in notebooks…). When I was a kid I wanted to be a writer. I was a reader and loved libraries. My interest in science wasn’t sparked until I was in high school and I met a real-life scientist and spent the day in her lab as a school project.
Now, I use my experiences from my work as a scientist in much of my writing. Maddie’s story was inspired by the research I did on Von Willebrand Disease, a blood disorder, at NIH. I worked for a doctor that saw VWD patients while I ran experiments in the lab. I couldn’t help but picture what life would be like in middle school for a kid with a blood disorder.
You organize the regional SCBWI conference. Are you a success story from this conference?
I am definitely a SCBWI success story! Without SCBWI I never would have had the confidence or know-how to interact with people in the industry. I never would have met my writers group or learned half as much about craft. Though I didn’t actually meet my agent through a conference, as the co-chair of the conference for ten years, I’ve seen plenty of writers and illustrators meet their editors or agents this way. SCBWI is a unique organization and I couldn’t have made it this far without them.
Maddy’s grandfather is both a famous scientist and a painter. You’re a scientist and a novelist. Do science and the arts use the same kind of thinking and processes to you, or are they on different sides of the spectrum?
I love the idea of science and the arts colliding. Even though scientists and artists use different parts of the brain, they are very conducive. A scientist that is a creative thinker and utilizes his/her imagination makes the best kind of scientist. And I’ve discovered that using parts of my logical and sequential science brain when I’m writing, especially revising, has made me a better writer.
What are some of your biggest ups and lows about the publishing process?
My biggest up and down was one of the same experience: in 2003, at the very first conference I attended, I met an agent at a critique. She got my voice and humor, she liked my story, and we clicked. She requested everything I had written. We spoke on the phone. She asked for a revision and when I turned that in, she made another appointment to speak on the phone. I was over the moon; I thought this was it! And then – she missed our phone call and I never heard from her again. No rejection. No explanation.
It was a great reality check for me. I grew a thick skin. I separated myself from my work so future let-downs didn’t derail me. I kept writing and submitting and improving my craft, and although it took ten more years, I ended up signing with an amazing agent in the end.
Favorite book and/or author from your youth?
Anything by Roald Dahl. Matilda was probably my favorite.
Plotter or panser?
Pantser in a first draft, but in revision – a plotter.
Book or books you wish you had written?
The Millicent Min series by Lisa Yee.
Would you go into space if you had the chance?
No way. Nor the middle of the ocean.
One line of advice to other writers?
Trying new things and pushing yourself out of your comfort zone are great ways to grow as a writer.
Will you come speak about your book at my school?
Which is awesome, because the main NIH campus is only a couple miles from my school, and the kids will be very interested!
ABOUT THE INTERVIEWER
Jonathan Roth teaches art to elementary kids by day and writes and illustrates for them by night and summer and weekends and holidays. His chapter book series, BEEP AND BOB’S HORRIBLE ADVENTURES IN SPACE will come out with Aladdin/S & S in spring 2018 (which sadly means, due to unforeseen planetary misalignments, he is no longer officially Swanky).