Update on the Library-loving Blog Challenge: as of this writing, I have 60 comments! And it's still not too late to join in and help me help my library. The challenge doesn't end until midnight Saturday, March 27th. And I'll include the comments made on this post as well!
Today I welcome Jacqueline Houtman, author of the charming debut middle grade novel THE REINVENTION OF EDISON THOMAS. Eddy is truly a wonderful character, and this book is a must-read for kids and parents alike.
Congratulations on the publication of your novel, THE REINVENTION OF EDISON THOMAS. I know that your young protagonist has special issues. Can you tell us a bit about the story and what inspired it?
Eddy is great at science and invention, but he stinks at friendship. He takes it upon himself to invent a device that will solve a traffic safety issue, but can’t seem to solve his bully problem.
I got the idea to write the book after I read THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME by Mark Haddon (Doubleday 2003). I was intrigued by the idea of a protagonist on the autism spectrum. I thought I would try it with a younger, middle grade audience. Middle school is tough for everyone. You’re trying to figure out who you are, where you fit. It’s bound to be even tougher for kids on the spectrum.
Please tell readers a bit about Eddy's unique way of handling information.
Eddy has a very analytical mind with an uncanny memory for details (although he sometimes misses the big picture). He’s always making associations between what he is experiencing and what he knows, much of which has to do with science. For example, when he sees a plant or animal, he thinks about its scientific, Latin name. When somebody talks about heavy metal music, he thinks about the heavy metals (cobalt, copper, mercury, lead...). This is also the source of the so-called “random facts” sprinkled throughout the book. To some people, they might seem unrelated, but to Eddy, they are a natural association. And take a good look at those fact numbers, readers.
A hidden challenge! How long have you been writing for children/teens?
I was trained as a scientist, but I’ve been a freelance science writer for about ten years. I had my first (paid) opportunity to write for children through an educational publisher about six years ago. Most of what I wrote was nonfiction, but some of it conveyed science content through fiction. I was hooked. Humor! Dialogue! Characters whose actions were under my control! Bwah Hah Hah!
Hah, hah, indeed! You had me in the palm of your hand in EDDY. Have you written other books or is this your first effort?
EDDY is my first attempt at novel-length fiction.
Can you describe your path to the publication of THE REINVENTION OF EDISON THOMAS?
I wrote EDDY over the course of a couple of years, in between freelance gigs. I started sending it around and got a bunch of rejections. Then I went to an SCBWI retreat where Joy Neaves was speaking. Her talk inspired some major revisions in the manuscript, which I then submitted to her. She asked for the complete manuscript and I got “the call” two days later. Things got a little bumpy with the big upheaval in the publishing industry in the fall of 2008, but Joy and I worked together on revisions, which I enjoyed immensely. Now I’m learning a whole bunch of new skills, like marketing and social networking and self-promotion. Ack. I don’t think I’ll ever figure out how to do online chats. And tweeting looks pretty daunting.
Do you have any advice for beginning writers?
Network. Join SCBWI if you are interested in writing for children. Join a critique group. The kidlit community is so supportive, very warm and fuzzy.
Can you tell us something about your personal life – inspirations, plans for the future, goals, etc.?
Like Eddy, I get a lot of my inspiration from science and the natural world. My academic training was all in the sciences, and so I come to fiction writing from that direction, instead of from the humanities. I don’t have a lot of training in creative writing or literature, so I sometimes feel a bit left out, or ignorant, compared to other authors. But my training in science and experience in science writing has certainly influenced my fiction. I tend to be concise and try to keep a strong narrative line. Science writing and middle grade fiction are quite similar, I think. It’s all about keeping the reader engaged and getting to the point.
Do you have any new writing ventures underway?
I am working on another middle grade novel. It is also very sciency.
Do you have a website where readers can learn more about THE REINVENTION OF EDISON THOMAS?
You can try www.edisonthomas.com, or you may find me blogging at http://jjhoutman.livejournal.com/.