Jul 20

Tenner Tuesday with Jacqueline Houtman!

Welcome to another Tenner Tuesday! This week I have with me middle grade author Jacqueline Houtman and her amazing book: The Reinvention of Edison Thomas!

First here, is a little bit about Jacquline: She holds a Ph.D. in Medical Microbiology and Immunology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her training as a scientist included hands-on laboratory experience in bacteriology, virology, and immunology.

Wait, she’s not only like genius smart but she’s also creative…

Jacqueline writes about a variety of biomedical topics, including asthma, cancer, multiple sclerosis, and AIDS.  She enjoys writing for many different audiences: Middle school students, medical students, physicians, scientists, and the general public. The best part of her job is convincing people that science doesn’t have to be hard to understand. It just needs to be communicated effectively.

Yeah, she’s impressive. And so is her book.

The Reinvention of Edison Thomas: Eddy Thomas copes with the noise and crowds of Drayton Middle School by reciting the periodic table of elements, memorizing Morse code, and jumping on the trampoline in the gym teacher’s office. His mindstores thousands of facts and the scientific names of animals and plants, but cannot decode the meaning of the expressions on faces or the definition of a friend. When the local school crossing guard is laid off, Eddy can’t stop thinking about the dangerous intersection and the possibility that someone could get hurt there. Marshalling his talents as a scientist and inventor, he builds a traffic – calming device out of his collection of old machines. Could Eddy’s invention help with more than just the safety situation?

And now here is my interview with Jacqueline!

When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?

You mean make a living at it? I had always thought that I would make my living in science and do artistic things for fun. It took a PhD in Medical Microbiology and Immunology for me to decide that the life of a scientist was not for me. That’s when I began working as a freelance science writer, which I’ve been doing for about ten years.

How long does it generally take you to write a book from those first words to the very last?

I’ve only written one novel-length book, so I can’t really say how long it takes “in general.” EDDY took about three years from first spark to “the call” from my editor. I hope the next one doesn’t take as long!

What was the inspiration—that first spark of a story—behind your amazing book?

I read THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME by Mark Haddon (Doubleday 2003) just when I was developing an interest in middle grade fiction. That gave me the idea to tell a story from the point of view of a middle school kid on the autism spectrum.

What is your work schedule like when you’re writing?

It really varies. On a good day, I’m installed at my table at the neighborhood coffee shop from about 9am to 2pm. I often have other stuff I need to do, though, and some days I don’t write at all. I still find it hard to give myself permission to take time during the workday to write fiction and to read in my genre.

What would you say is your interesting writing quirk…come on…I know you have one!

I don’t know if it counts as a quirk; it’s more of an obsession. When I edit on paper I *have to* use certain pens.

I have a stockpile, but I don’t know what I’d do if they stop making them.

What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

My favorite thing to do these days is Zumba. The music is energizing, and the movements work all those muscles that ache from sitting at my computer. I also like to cook, except when I have to, if that makes any sense.

What do you think makes a good story?

Characters you care about doing unexpected things for very good reasons.

Without giving us any spoilers, how did you choose the title for your book?

I have a friend named Doug Kirk and every time he calls, the caller ID says it’s Kirk Douglas on the phone. (If you are too young to remember, Kirk Douglas is a famous actor, and father to Michael Douglas.) That gave me the idea for the name reversal for Edison Thomas (and his dad, Jefferson Thomas). Reinvention came as I was working on the synopsis for submission to the editor who acquired the ms. Eddy invents and reinvents both his devices and himself.

Are there any tools that are absolute must-haves for writers?

Aside from the above pens, and a computer, I would say a notepad and pen next to your bed, so that you can write down ideas before you forget them.

What kind of research went into writing your book if any?

EDDY is chock full of science, so I had to do a lot of searching and fact-checking. Everything Eddy experiences triggers associations with his vast store of scientific facts. I also did quite a lot of academic and observational research on the autistic experience.

Have you ever had someone try to matchmake for you and if so, how did it go?

When I was in graduate school, I was a member of a college rape prevention/sex education group. The faculty advisor took one look at Carl’s application to join the group and immediately thought of me. Carl and I have been married for 20 years.

Because I think you should always save room for dessert, as a child, what was your favorite dessert? And what is your favorite dessert now?

Chocolate and chocolate.

What do you hope to leave your readers with once they’ve finished your book?

I hope they’ll have an appreciation for science and a curiosity to learn more about how things work. More importantly, I hope people on the autism spectrum will feel validated and I hope everyone else will feel some empathy and understanding for people on the spectrum.

What question would you like to ask me?

Can I have your recipe for chocolate éclairs?

But of course, Jacqueline!! Here it is: Chocolate Eclair recipe! It’s the second recipe down…

Thanks so much for joining me, Jacqueline!

To visit Jacqueline on the web go to www.jjhoutman.com! And click HERE to order The Reinvention of Edison Thomas…you won’t be disappointed!

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