Interview with Award-Winning Author Elizabeth Rusch
Get to know Elizabeth…
ELIZABETH RUSCH is the award-winning author of fiction and nonfiction books for young readers including Eruption!, Electrical Wizard, The Mighty Mars Rovers, For the Love of Music, and A Day with No Crayons, among others, and the new graphic novel Muddy Max: The Mystery of Marsh Creek (August 2014) and her newest nonfiction The Next Wave: The Quest to Harness the Power of the Oceans (October 2014). Her books have been honored by the Junior Library Guild, Children’s Book of the Month Club, ALA, and the National Council of Teachers of English, and have landed on best book of the year lists compiled by SLJ, Booklist, Kirkus, NBC News, and the New York Public Library. Rusch speaks widely at schools and writing conferences. For more info, visit her website, Facebook and Twitter too!
If you could buy one object to complete your home, what would it be?
A Tesla Coil. Every house needs a Tesla Coil, don’t you think?
When do you know someone is exceptionally smart?
When they know what a Tesla Coil is. Just kidding! I didn’t know what a Tesla coil was until I started doing research on this genius inventor Nikola Tesla, who was a contemporary of Thomas Edison’s but who has affected our lives so much more. The lightbulb, bah! We have Tesla to thank for the entire system that brings electricity to our homes, for inventing the radio, remote control, and even wireless communication. Anyone out there with a cell phone? Thank Tesla. Oh, and the Tesla coil is a transformer that produces high-voltage, high-frequency, low-current alternating current. And it looks super cool. (BTW, you can learn more about Tesla in my book for young readers called Electrical Wizard: How Nikola Tesla Lit up the World.
The serious answer to your question is that I know someone is exceptionally smart when they ask good questions.
If you were looking at an abstract piece of art, what would your general reaction be?
“I see a dog.” I always manage to see dog forms in abstract art. We actually have a fair amount of abstract art in our house and I lie on the couch and stare at it and look for dogs and other meaningful things.
What concept or product has surprisingly never been invented?
Well, I have a book for kids age 10 and up coming out in October on something that scientists and engineers are working to invent: machines that can take the motion of waves and turn it into electricity. Ocean energy has the potential to provide as much as a third of electricity used in the United States – enough to power every home in the nation. But one of the cool things about the book The Next Wave: The Quest to Harness the Power of the Oceans is that this is such a new, cutting-edge field – that some young reader of my book may be the one who one day invents the best way to get energy from the oceans.
What is the most interesting piece of trivia you can think of?
One acre of mud contains roughly 1,000 pounds of earthworms! I learned that while researching mud for my new middle-grade graphic novel Muddy Max: The Mystery of Marsh Creek. (It’s fiction, but I love research, so I end up doing research for everything I write.)
If you were the boss at your job, what incentive or perk would you offer your employees?
Well, I am my own boss (as a self-employed freelance magazine and book writer) and I offer myself incentives all the time. Like: “If you finish writing this page, you can raid your kids’ Halloween candy.” Or “If you get this chapter revised you can print out your work and read it outside in the sun and if you doze off that’s OK.” I wish my boss would give me more days off, though. She’s tough that way.
What is the most revolutionary TV show of all time?
Northern Exposure. Set in Alaska with great quirky characters and a sprinkling of magical realism. Anyone heard of it?
If you were able to change your first name, what would you pick?
Well, my name is Elizabeth, but my family called me Lily growing up. In middle school I insisted on being called Liz, but I kind of wish I had asked for Lizzie instead. I’m not sure I should tell you this, but my kids call me Moo. Don’t ask. (I will point out that I look nothing like cow.)
What one rule do you frequently disregard?
Uhm, I disregard a lot of rules. I only regard the ones that make sense. Don’t tell the police. Or my parents. Or my kids for that matter.
Do you do anything special to get your creative juices flowing?
Whether I’m writing fiction or nonfiction I write a lot of scenes. So I will make a list of scenes I know I want to write and then pick the one that seems like it will be the most fun or most satisfying to write and jump in. That gets me going. Once my creative juices are flowing it’s easier to tackle a harder scene.
Also, I run regularly on the trails in Forest Park and do some of my best thinking and writing while in the woods.
What are your words of wisdom for someone starting out in the field of writing?
I know many people say write what you know. I say write about what interests or intrigues you. Your interests, passions and questions about your material will sustain you through the inevitably long writing process.
Why were you drawn to a career in writing instead of to a job that might offer more stability and security?
I’m interested in so many things – science, art, history, music, humor, mud, invention, psychology, travel – that I couldn’t choose just one area. I had to find something where I could explore all my interests. I’m so thrilled that I get to write about just about anything I want, in just about any form I want.
How did you pick your writing genre?
Well, I haven’t really picked one. I write magazine articles and books for both kids and adults, fiction and nonfiction. I even have a graphic novel coming out this year (Muddy Max). For each project or area of interest part of the fun and challenge is finding the best form for it.
Sometimes I can write about something in more than one form. For instance I wrote both magazine articles for adults for Smithsonian magazine and children’s books on the topics of Wolfgang Mozart’s sister (For the Love of Music: The Remarkable Story of Maria Anna Mozart) and on wave energy (The Next Wave). I’ve written three volcano books for three different age ranges: Volcano Rising (ages 3-7); Will it Blow? (ages 6-10) and Eruption!: Volcanoes and the Science of Saving Lives (ages 10 and up) and magazine articles about volcanoes for Family Fun and Portland Monthly magazines. And each of those pieces of writing about volcanoes is really quite different.
How do you know when a book is finished?
Most of the time I just get a sense that the book is the best I can do. Then I read it out loud to myself and that will tell me for sure whether I’m done or not. But sometimes I get into a rut of revising endlessly and my critique group yells at me and says “It’s DONE! Send it OUT!” I generally listen to their advice. (You can read more about critique and the writing process in our group blog www.vivascriva.com)
What traits, if any, do you think that creative people have compared to people who are not creative?
You can be creative without being artistic, I think. Many people who are not painters, or writers, or musicians are creative. Scientists, policy makers, business owners, farmers, homemaker – in fact anyone doing anything – can be creative. Creative people pose interesting questions and look for creative ways to try to answer them. They don’t automatically do the first thing that comes into their heads but rather come up with many options, some that are not obvious at first. They search for and see interesting connections and interesting possibilities. The come up with ideas and try them out.
When I was I kid, I had a favorite quote, from Booker T. Washington. He said: “…there is as much dignity in tilling a field as in writing a poem.” I say there can be as much creativity in tilling a field as in writing a poem, too. Creativity is about the way you approach anything you do in your life.
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