24 May 2011

Inspiration in the Oatmeal Jar

After, "How old are you?" and "How much money do you make?" students I meet during school visits often ask "Where do you get your inspiration?"

That's pretty easy for a science writer. Everywhere. Ideas are all around us. The trick is spinning these ideas into a viable project and always being open to to seeing the story in whatever you are up to. There are a lot of times I miss out on a good idea and there are many times I've seen a published book or article and said, while slapping forehead, "Ah, I wish I'd thought of that." Like the time I found the coolest coprolite in New Zealand. (I mean, honestly, don't you think fossilized poo is exciting? Well, I do and that's probably why I'm a science writer.) Much as I was fascinated, for some reason I didn't think of spinning it into an article or even a book. But Jacob Berkowitz did and he wrote the the coolest book about the stuff: Jurassic Poop: What Dinosaurs (and others) Left Behind. I'm not envious at all. Nope. Not me.

Writing about poop would be right up my alley. I tend to veer towards the living-things-people-love-to-hate school of writing. Bats, snakes, spiders, shipwrecks, and slugs have all been subjects, but I don't stop at living things. Mud, slime, even death fascinate me. General rule? The gooier, slimier, muckier and grosser the better.

Most of the time, writing about these topics is just plain fun. But sometimes it pays off too. When people ask me "What is your best selling book?" they are often surprised at the answer: Mealworms: Raise them, watch them, see them change.

Yup, when it first came out in 1998, this book flew off the shelves. (Well, as much as my books ever fly anywhere.) The trick to the success of this book was, to use a sciency term, finding its niche. And I found a fairly large one: teachers across North America use mealworms to teach students about metamorphosis. These creatures, the larva of the darkling beetle, metamorphose fairly quickly and don't fly as beetles. So they're perfect for the classroom, where the last thing teachers want are escaped science projects, especially ones as potentially pesty as mealworms.

So, all of this is to say hello and to make my official entry onto this blog. Thanks for stopping by! If you care to know more about me, you can find more than enough here.

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