Linda Zajac is an award-winning freelance science writer for children. She has been writing for magazines since 2002. She pursues captivating stories about scientists who use cutting edge technology to advance medicine, study wildlife, and protect the environment. As a writer of creative nonfiction, she writes science as a story, sprinkled with art. In May 2010, she was the recipient of the PEN New England Susan Bloom Children’s Discovery Award. The same chapter also won the 2010 CNW/Florida Freelance Writers Contest. To learn more, visit her blog.
Let the conversation begin!
Would you rather publish a string of mainstream books or one classic?
That’s easy, one classic. Since I write creative nonfiction, I believe that science can be educational and it can also be literature. I would rather have my work known for its literary merit than for its location on the best seller list, but it sure would be nice to be in both places.
Do you write with music?
I like peace and quiet when I write. The music that suits me best is the sound of songbirds.
Is there a genre you avoid?
I can’t see myself ever writing romance novels. I think I’d turn all shades of pink and the end result would be detrimental to my career.
Most embarrassing moment?
I’m really talented in this area. Right now, I’m not ready to divulge my most embarrassing moment, but there was one incident in high school that was pretty embarrassing:
My tiny 5’1” friend Theresa stepped into a gym locker.
“See, I can fit,” she said.
I’m not one to pass up a challenge and that was a challenge. Even though I was four inches taller, I managed to squash into another locker, but I didn’t realize the lock was damaged. Theresa shut the door. I didn’t believe her when she said she couldn’t open it. She asked me to kick the door from the inside. Yeah right. I slid my foot forward a whole inch or two. She finally fetched the gym teacher who rounded up the janitor. As he worked to free me, the sound of a hammer echoed off the walls of the locker. It was like being inside a bell. He finally pried the door open. I wanted to move my face from the locker straight into a brown paper bag.
What do you do to recharge your creative batteries?
Time spent writing and researching is often balanced with time on the trail. Running helps temper frustration and I often toy with sentences while I’m out there. I regularly fluctuate between activities that are active and inactive, outside and inside. Depending on the time of year, I may hike, climb a mountain, ice skate, cross country ski, snowshoe, kayak or garden. Other times I recharge by reading.
Do you let anyone read your work-in-progress? Or do you keep it a secret?
I’m happy to share my work with my writing group. Aside from that, I don’t talk or blog about the particulars of a project.
What is your secret talent?
I have to overcompensate in this area thanks to all my embarrassing moments. I like to cook and often experiment with new recipes and exotic ingredients. I sew, but I don’t do that as much as I used to. I’ve made everything from curtains to clothing to Halloween costumes to a fully lined wool suit. My interest tapered off that one day my daughter fled from my lap—screaming. I pierced my finger with a needle and it went all the way through. I can also whip a Frisbee forehand and backhand and you know that skill will take me places in life.
What’s one rule you’re dying to break?
I’d like to break the rule that says I have to use a real word to describe myself.
What initially drew you to writing?
When my kids were younger, I read to them all the time. Every time I went to the library, I filled a tote bag with as many books as I could carry. I really enjoyed finding fun ways to educate my own kids as well as scout troops. I considered becoming a teacher until I had a dream I was on a school bus going in the wrong direction. Instead, I decided to write. My first proposal was an arts and craft book.
Are your characters completely fictional?
Since I write mostly nonfiction, my characters had better be 100% factual or I’m in trouble.
Where do you get your ideas?
Science is great, it’s always evolving and changing so there is a steady stream of new ideas, technology, and discoveries. I find these by reading online news sites, magazines, newspapers, adult books, or doing my own searches on topics of interest. I’ve also picked up story ideas for articles from editors.
What advice would you give young writers?
Although it’s not necessary to write science with an advanced degree, it makes it a whole lot easier to break in. I would tell young writers to strive for better than your best, to persevere despite overwhelming obstacles, to thrive in the tough love of a critique group, and to write about topics they are passionate about.
What was the weirdest food you’ve ever eaten?
In general, I’m adventurous when it comes to sampling new food. Once I saw an exotic looking dragonfruit at the grocery store. Since I drink dragonfruit vitamin water, I simply couldn’t resist it. I blogged about this eating adventure on 9/11/09 (it must have been a slow week for blog news!). It was interesting that the color of vitamin water matched the vivid fuschia skin of the fruit not the bland white interior. Maybe I was supposed to eat the skin?
What one word describes you?
Create-ogical. “Mid-brained,” isn’t spicy enough. I am both logical and creative. My left brain and right brain constantly duke it out. Either I am happily immersed in my writing world or I’m questioning what I’m doing here.
How many words do you write each day?
The amount I write daily varies for a couple of reasons. First of all, nonfiction writing requires research. I may spend time digging through reputable online sources, pulling research papers at university libraries, reading adult books on the topic, fact-checking my work or interviewing a scientist or three. Also, the speed that I write at varies. When I’m working on a first draft the writing is slow.
When are you the most productive?
I’m definitely more productive in the morning. Later in the day, I’ve been known to fall asleep with a captivating research paper perched on my stomach. There was one paper that I read several times. It was better than Nyquil.
What element would you add to your writing space if money wasn’t an issue?
Au. I’m going for the gold—what do you expect from someone who writes for a chemistry magazine?