Fred Bortz is one of the nation’s leading writers of science and technology for young people. In his books, articles, and personal appearances, he shares with his audience the joy of discovery that fueled his previous twenty-five year career in teaching and research in physics, engineering, and science education. From 1979 through 1994, he was involved in research at Carnegie Mellon University, from which he earned his doctorate in Physics in 1971.
Fred is also known as an excellent teacher. He was an instructor for the Institute of Children’s Literature’s correspondence courses for ten years, and taught a workshop in writing about nature, science, and technology as part of master’s degree program at Chatham College, and has now offered science courses in the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute of the University of Pittsburgh. His students have been published in a number of children’s magazines, and at least two have published books. To learn more, visit his website.
Let the conversation begin!
What advice would you give to new writers?
The key is APT writing: Audience, Purpose, Tone. Your audience comes first. Never forget whom you are writing for. Second is what you hope to accomplish. I usually want to change the way my readers think about an important issue or question. To accomplish your purpose for those readers, you need to strike the right tone. You can’t do that without engaging them with a compelling story, entertaining them with interesting language and tidbits, making them laugh or cry, or all of the above.
Ever written a book that never got published? Ever think you’ll give it a second chance?
I’ve written two contracted books for which I got the full advance but didn’t get published because of changes in the publishers’ programs. One, Anatomy of a Computer, came before I ever published a book. I recycled a lot of the material there in my second published book, Mind Tools: The Science of Artificial Intelligence (1992).
The other, Our Next Planet: Humanity’s Future in Space, is based on a school visit talk I have been giving since 2002. (Click here for more info). I have a full manuscript with suggested illustrations, and my agent is actively marketing it. The title may change and it will need a round of revisions to suit a new publisher, but I fully expect it to sell soon.
If you could throw any kind of party, what would it be like?
A planet-observing party at a major observatory, so friends could share the experience I had when writing Beyond Jupiter: The Story of Planetary Astronomer Heidi Hammel (2005). Click herefor details of that great adventure.
What is the best writing advice you’ve ever received?
A reviewer praised Catastrophe! Great Engineering Failure–and Success (1995) as reading “like an adventure story from the first page to the last.” Until that point, I didn’t recognize my own strength as a teller of true tales. Since then, I have been conscious of the importance of story in nonfiction books for young readers, even when the primary objective is to deliver facts and information.