Questions and Answers with Author Linda Zajac | Saturday Q&A

Known For: Award Winning Freelance Science Writer and Author of “Robo-Motion: Robots that Move Like Animals” and Minecraft Books with STEM and Coding Sidebars

For starters: Her first major publication was in Highlights, a children’s magazine, on the use of DNA to count grizzly bears.

Education: Graduated from Eastern Connecticut State University.

Q: When did you think, “Oh, I’m going to write a book? “

A: In high school or college, I wrote poetry. I thought they were so good that I sent at least one to Hallmark and got a refusal. I remember taking this, crumbling it and throwing it in the trash. It was the end of my writing for me. I had finished.

I don’t know what made me start over. It was around 1998 and I wrote a math and crafts book which I bought everywhere. An editor told me, “We just bought something like this. This is pretty much the only response I got, which is pretty typical. This manuscript went to a corner and I didn’t get back to writing for a long time. I put a lot of effort into it and it didn’t work.

A: I was planning a Boy Scout event with my friend Daryl-Lynn Gottier – she’s a writer friend of mine – in Vernon, and we were on the phone and one of us was like, “What are you doing? We hit it off because I had a manuscript and she wanted to write. We started to get together and formed a small writing group. It was in 2000 when we started to meet.

Q: Where did the idea for “Robo-Motion” come from?

A: “Muse”, for 9-14 year olds. It’s a science magazine. It’s a nice magazine with themes. The theme I was writing for was “thinking robots”. It interested me simply because I have a background in technology. I was a computer programmer. I was a systems designer. I was a consultant, so technology really interests me.

You must pitch your article. I did some research and found these robots to be really fascinating. There were… a whole bunch of animal robots that I noticed. I kept a list of them as I went along because I didn’t know which one I wanted to write about. This list became the nuts and bolts of the book. I presented the article and in March 2017, “Reaching Like Roaches” was published. I chose the roach because I thought it was interesting the way they did the research. They were blowing on the back of the cockroach and it was going into those acrylic tunnels and they were making it narrower and tighter and they were watching how the shell was compressing.

They made this CRAM robot (Compressible Robot with Articulated Mechanisms). The idea behind CRAM is that in something like earthquake rubble, cockroaches can move quickly in tight spaces. They thought, “If we could do this with a robot, maybe we could find survivors in the rubble of the earthquake much faster than us. The robot put to good use. It was scary and the research was interesting. It was also a little different. If you choose something mainstream that’s all over the media, they might say it’s not unusual enough to want your pitch.

Q: How did the article become the book?

A: I had a whole list of robots. I thought of different structures. I thought, “Maybe I’ll do a primer, but which robot and animal starts with X and Q?” You are really looking for something. Then I thought, “How about a counting book? It just didn’t do it for me.

I realized that animals are things of interest to children. Robots are also topics of interest to children. I looked for a way to connect them. I found a very long wordy line and finally collapsed it and this is the main text of the book. It came very quickly for me. It was maybe a maximum of three months. I think I spent more time thinking about how to do this, but once I got that first line it really evolved. I have thought about all the action verbs. It is filled with action verbs.

I think it’s fascinating, the robots that they have there, and they move around in different ways.

Q: What age is the book for?

A: According to the publisher’s catalog, it’s kindergarten to grade three. The publisher is Millbrook Press, which is a division of Lerner Publishing. The book is available in bookstores, it is on Amazon, Barnes and Noble. You can get it from Lerner Publishing Group.

Q: How was the reception?

A: Very well. I was lucky. Kirkus gave it a star review. The Horn Book recommended it. It has also been reviewed in Archimedes Notebook.

Q: Did that inspire you to do another one?

A: I am in the process of making another one.

Q: Can you disclose what this is about?

A: I have a lot of manuscripts, and 90-95% are STEM in one way or another. One is a graphic novel with a STEM background. Many of them are purely non-fiction.

Q: What is your future?

A: More of the same. One of the areas I really want to focus on is writing for adult magazines.

I ran an article earlier this year on the eyes of the submarine. It was for an online physics magazine. It was really interesting to see how the periscope evolved. It’s no longer a periscope, they use a photonic mast. Virginia class submarines now have these high tech things.

Note: This conversation has been edited for clarity and length.

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