Tuesday, November 27, 2018

An Interview with Writer & STEM Advocate Suzie Olsen

I'm so pleased to bring you this special feature, an interview with author Suzie Olsen. I met her through the 12 x 12 Picture Book Challenge, an awesome community for picture book writers that I've been part of for several years now. I love that she's an engineer who is trying to encourage children to explore STEM, especially since one of my daughters is also an engineer. There are lots of great resources on her site!

How long have you been writing and what inspired you to get started?

I’ve kept a journal off and on since the 4th grade, but I didn’t start writing children’s books until 2016.  I gave birth to my son in 2014, and then in 2015 started blogging about my life as a mom, engineer, and Rheumatoid Arthritis patient.  Having my son made me realize I wanted a new outlet outside of engineering to continue to create things. Engineering can be creative (pending what you work on), but I wanted to explore a new path with writing. In exploring my voice as a writer, I’ve reflected upon my experience as a female engineer (in a male dominated profession) and the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) educational outreach I do through the Society of Women Engineers, which lead me to write children’s books with female characters who loved STEM in order to encourage children, especially girls, to explore STEM.

That is so cool, Suzie. I wonder if you could share with us a little bit about your writing process.

For my book manuscripts and blog posts, I keep a journal with me everywhere I go, and when an idea comes to me, I write it down in the journal.  Sometimes I forget my journal and use my phone’s note app to jot the idea down.  Then if it’s an idea I’m really excited about, I’ll go draft the post or manuscript as soon as I can.   Other times I like to think about the idea for a while, such as in the car on the ride home from work or while walking the dog, and then days, weeks, months later, I finally write the draft.  Once I have a draft, I send it to my most trusted editor (who just happens to be my husband).  Some of my best blog posts have come from the input and suggestions he provides.  For my book manuscripts, I have a critique group who gives me feedback, and I’ve found it to be incredibly helpful in the children’s book industry to have a critique group—I’ve yet to meet another children’s author who doesn’t have a critique group!  For blog posts, there’s usually a few revisions, but for books, there’s so many revisions that I lose count (I’m awful at numbering and keeping each revision).  I didn’t realize how methodical my writing process was until you asked, mostly because my journals are so filled with bad handwriting and half-baked ideas, but that’s part of the fun of writing—you develop your own way of doing it!

So true. As writers we kind of discover our own writing process along the way. What can you tell us about the idea that gave you the spark for your book?

In engineering, only 13% of us are female in the US (research.swe.org)!  I do believe one day there will be gender parity in engineering, but until that day, I decided that to encourage more girls (and all kids) I was going to write a children’s book that featured a female character who loved STEM, as well as were named after real life female STEM professionals.  So, there are three female STEM role models when a child reads one of my books: the main character, the person the character is named after, and then the author.   Studies have shown that early engagement is key in getting women and minorities to pursue careers in STEM fields, so my books engage kids in the earliest stages of learning STEM, all facilitated by a female lead character.  And although I’ve drafted a couple of children’s book stories not centered around STEM, my spark is to encourage students, especially girls and minorities, to consider careers in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM).

I'm so excited to hear that! So what was your biggest challenge in writing your book?

I think my biggest challenge in writing books is finding the time!  I think a lot of authors feel that way because many of us balance jobs, writing, family, and so many other obligations.  I’m also not a morning person, so I like to write in the evenings, but evenings are also family time.  So it’s about squeezing in a hour here and there; usually when my child is asleep and before I pass out on the couch watching The Simpsons.  I also need to remember to do some revisions for manuscripts I wrote over a year ago—I so easily get distracted working on a new idea or story that I often forget to go back and incorporate changes.  But if it’s a story I’m passionate about, I make the time and actually do the revisions.  That’s another great thing about writing is that you get to pick what you like/what you want to write about!

I love all the STEM ideas on your blog. What a great resource! Do you have some favorite STEM related books you could recommend to teachers or parents?

Thanks, Andrea, for saying such a nice thing about my blog! I’m so excited by the influx in children’s books in the market that are focusing on STEM, and I hope to review many of them on my blog.  For preschool age, I like the ABCs of Science by Chris Ferrie and Hello World! Solar System by Jill McDonald.  For young elementary age, I am totally biased and love Rosie Revere, Engineer (it’s got engineer in the title!) by Andrea Beaty (Andrea’s a retired tech professional!).  I also like Mae Among the Stars by Roda Ahmed, The Diamond and The Boy by Hannah Holt (also former engineer!), and What Do You Do With an Idea? by Kobi Yamada.   Then for middle school age, the Goldie Blox series by Stacy McAnulty and the Enginerd series by Jarrett Lerner. For more STEM related books, one can browse the children’s science or math through Amazon/Barnes and Nobles/ local library/bookstore, or I also have Pinterest boards specifically for STEM books.

I find that young children are naturally curious and I love how different activities can encourage that curiosity. Do you have a favorite activity you can tell us about?

It’s so hard to pick just one, but I’d say we love going to our local science museum.  The science museum has so many great hands on displays and activities to really spark a child’s natural curiosity about how things work or are made.  I think children’s museums and zoos are also great for that, and then any STEAM (STEM with the arts) experiment from websites like the Educators Spin On It, Team Cartwright, or STEM Spark (which is my website to inspire and spark kids in all things STEM). You can check out Suzie's website here: https://www.stemspark.co/

Are you working on any new projects you'd like to tell us about?

I’m currently working to indie/self-publish a second book in my Annie Aardvark series called Annie Aardvark: Adding Ants.  The Annie Aardvark books are about a female aardvark (named Annie Aardvark) who is named after fellow STEM professional Annie Easley and who loves math and who decides to go on math adventures during her daily forage.  This series draws on my passion to encourage kids, especially girls, in math, if you can’t tell what I’m passionate about, haha.

There really can't be too many books about science & math, in my opinion! Is there anything else you'd like to add?

Find your writing tribe!  I’m feel so lucky to be a part of the 12x12 Challenge writing group and the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators— SCBWI is how I found my critique partners who then introduced me to 12x12.  And 12x12 introduced me to you, Andrea!  I’m so thankful you let me answer questions for your blog.  Thank you so much!

You're welcome, Suzie. So glad you could stop by the blog and share your "sparks" and wonderful resources.

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