Sat 27 Feb 2010
Debut author Jacqueline Houtman trained as a scientist. She has a Ph.D in medical microbiology and immunology. But she’s a rare scientist in that she can take complicated, technical information and explain it so non-scientists can understand and appreciate it. In fact, she’s worked as a freelance science writer for the last several years.
Jacqueline’s writing talent comes through in her first book, the middle-grade novel The Reinvention of Edison Thomas (Front Street, 2010). Eddy, the book’s main character, reads college physics textbooks and is a fountain of scientific facts, but struggles with the social nuances of middle school.
Today, Jacqueline joins us to talk about her book.
How did you get the idea for The Reinvention of Edison Thomas?
When I read The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (Doubleday, 2003), I thought it would be cool to write a book from the point of view of a kid on the autism spectrum who was in middle school. Middle school is tough for everyone, and must be even tougher for kids on the spectrum.
How long did the process take from initial idea to publication? How did your story change along the way?
I have drafts that go back as far as 2005. It started out very episodic. It took me a while to work out the plot.
What did you learn while working on this book?
I learned about constructing a plot and creating narrative drive, moving things along. I also learned a lot of random facts.
What do you hope kids who read your book will learn?
I hope they’ll learn that kids who seem weird may just see the world a little differently and might make great friends.
What books or authors inspired you as you worked on this book?
I tried not to read any fiction with autistic protagonists while I was writing, because
I didn’t want to be influenced by them. After I had finished the first draft, I did read Freaks, Geeks, and Asperger Syndrome: A User Guide to Adolescence (Jessica Kingsley, 2002) by Luke Jackson, a very eloquent kid on the autism spectrum. That reassured me that I was on the right track with my book.
What do you do when you’re not writing for kids?
Write about science for grownups. When I’m not writing, I’m spending time with my family, or at the gym.
I hear you’ve written about some pretty memorable topics for adults. What
are some that particularly stand out for you?
Some my favorite pieces have been articles for the “Breakthroughs in Bioscience” series for the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB), a nonprofit that supports biomedical research
They trace the history of basic science and show how seemingly insignificant or unrelated findings can lead to life-saving therapies.
- The first was on the breast-cancer drug, tamoxifen.
- The next was on the HPV vaccine — and has jackalopes!
- The third will be coming out soon and is about angiogenesis (the growth of new blood vessels), the basis for some new drugs for cancer and other diseases.
I know they sound esoteric, but they are written for a general audience and are very readable. And they were such fun to write. Check them out.
What other projects do you have in the works?
I’m working on another novel, also full of science and rockets.