10 May 2011

From reading to writing astronomy

Before I was a science author, I was a writer. Before I was a writer, I was a reader!
As a child, I read so many books I wanted to create my own! I still have the first books I made at nine years old. Looking back, it’s funny to realize these creations were mostly non-fiction. One included everything you need to know about taking care of a budgie. While my illustrations clearly indicated I wouldn’t be one of those creators who “does it all” it seemed clear I would be creating something!
There are many paths to becoming an author. I believe many of my early writing experiences served as useful practice. The multitude of pen pals who responded to my letters made me rise to the challenge to write on demand, even when not much was happening.
When I was 13, the Edmonton Journal had a kids’ page. I signed up and received a badge proclaiming my cub reporter membership. After a writing contest was announced, I wrote and sent in a poem. While I didn’t win, something good still happened. The editor of the local paper wrote a letter to me.  
“Dear Joan, I see you live in Sherwood Park and you’re a writer. Would you like to write for the Sherwood Park News?”
One week I was delivering the paper, the next I was writing for it! A weekly question and answer bird column became my first paying gig. I never knew if the editor knew my real age. 
And, excuse me for admitting this, but I didn’t just pass notes in school. I wrote rhyming ditties and sometimes entire chapters about the things I wanted to say. I still have copies of Ode to a Paramecium and Ode to a Ski Trip.
My interest in science began with books and enjoying the outdoors. I remember buying a bird book at the toy store and also owning the How and Why Book of Astronomy. My interest in science led me to take a two year technical program in biological sciences, with a focus on ecology. My plan was to work outdoors, perhaps as a technician for a research team.
Jobs were scarce when I graduated. People were not generally excited about the environment the way they are today. My first related job was as an Alberta Provincial Park naturalist. It was a wonderful combination of things I love. I could work outdoors and take people on hikes. I could read about plants and animals on the job. I could write scripts for interpretive plays and hikes! If only summer never had to end for the job was seasonal.
Eventually I talked my way a small town radio station job. Here I learned to write news, commercials, and contests. After my children were born, I worked on a young adult novel and began freelance writing for newspapers and magazines. I produced stories for CBC Radio in Edmonton and eventually saw Whitecap Books publish my first title in the Dot to Dot in the Sky series.
These four books explain how to find celestial objects in the night sky. They also include stories ancient cultures used to explain the stars, planets, Moon, and other night sky phenomena.
Now I write full time. When I'm not writing, I seem to be talking about writing, delivering workshops, or showing kids what they can look for in the night sky. And the great thing is, it all started with a love for the outdoors and books!

1 comment:

Craig Saunders said...

Hey, I have one of those Junior Press Club badges from the Hamilton Spectator sometime in the 1980s!