Thursday, January 19, 2012

An Interview with Connie Goldsmith

Today's guest is Connie Goldsmith, an award-winning author of books on health issues. Since fiction writers often have health issues in their books, and since there is a wide market for nonfiction books for children and young adults, this is a wonderful opportunity for fiction and nonfiction writers alike to make contact with an expert. 

Thank you, Connie, for being on my blog today to discuss your writing.  
In addition to being published by a prestigious publishing company—Lerner Publishing Group’s Twenty-First Century Imprint—you’ve garnered impressive recognition for your books. A small sample: Booklist’s Top 10 Health Series for Skin Cancer in 2010; The National Science Teachers Association and Children’s Book Council selected Superbugs Strike Back and Invisible Invaders as Outstanding Trade Book for K-12 Students, 2008 and 2006, respectively. The Society of School Librarians International named Battling Malaria best science book for grades 7-12 for 2011, and Superbugs as best science book for grades 7-12 for 2007. Several of your books have been published by Lerner but also produced in collaboration with USA Today Health Report--Diseases and Disorders

 It’s a real pleasure to have this opportunity to ask more questions about your writing career.

Thanks for your kind words, Elizabeth, and for this opportunity.

Q: For starters, you worked full-time while going to college as a single mom in order to get your RN, BSN and master’s in health care administration. Obviously you have great persistence—a necessity in a writer! You also enjoyed nursing. Now that you are such a successful author, do you still find time for nursing of any kind, or are you completely focused on being a full time writer? 
A: After working for about 15 years in hospitals, I went to work for several managed care organizations, i.e., health insurance companies. Many of the big health insurance organizations have large staffs of nurses. Some of the jobs I did in managed care included telephone nurse advice line and reviewing patient records in hospitals for quality assurance. I retired in 2011 from the “day job” but I write continuing education articles for nurses, and a pediatric health care column for a regional parenting publication. I’ll keep my RN license indefinitely because being a nurse is as much a part of who I am as being a parent or a writer.
Q: You have said that originally you wanted to be a marine biologist. Looking back, do you think that even as a marine biologist you might have gotten into writing books?  
A: It’s really hard to say what might have happened had I chosen a different career. However, being a marine biologist certainly would have given me a lot to write about.  Many nonfiction writers are scientists.
Q: Writing opportunities that came your way were related to your expertise in the field of health and nursing. Is it easier to break into non-fiction than fiction?  
A: It may be easier to break into nonfiction than fiction, possibly because so much more nonfiction is published than fiction, and there are so many opportunities and markets. People who can write in their area of professional expertise may have additional opportunities.
Q: You’ve had articles published in Cricket, Highlights, the SCBWI Bulletin, Children's Writer, and Children's Writer's and Illustrator's Market, and you also write book reviews for California Kids and New York Journal of Books. How do you find time to write reviews for two organizations, articles for magazines, and still manage to turn out an impressive book every one or two years?
A: It actually doesn’t feel like I work hard enough! I wrote magazine articles at the beginning of my writing career twelve years ago, but I do that less often now. Most of my writing time is spent on research and writing one book at a time, and reading and reviewing books. Also, ‘writing-related activities’ take up a lot of time. I have fewer family responsibilities than many writers (kid all grown up), so I can use most of my time exactly how I want to. Also, I’m compulsively organized! That helps.
Q: Tell us a little about your writing routine: Do you outline a book first and then do the research? Do you research as you go? Do you have a particular time of day that you set aside time for writing? Or do you have a nine-to-five writer’s day?
A: My writing day – which is most days of the week – starts out with breakfast and an hour of exercise, followed by errands outside the house. Then lunch, and a brief rest if needed (okay – I admit to a short afternoon nap on most days). Writing time is in the afternoon to early evening. It seldom exceeds four hours a day. My last few books were by mutual agreement, i.e., my editor asked me if I’d like to write them, or I suggested them to her. Doing a good outline puts me well on the way to writing a nonfiction book. The outline and research go together. My current WIP is not yet contracted, and I’ve put together a formal proposal and am working on the first few chapters. You have to do a lot of research to complete an effective outline or proposal.
Q: I read some of your reviews at New York Journal of Books, and I noticed that many of the fiction books you reviewed were dystopian fantasies or science fiction. Do you think your background in science and health makes these especially interesting to read and review?
A: I don’t think my educational background makes these books more appealing to me. I’ve enjoyed science fiction since I was a small child when my father used to read sci-fi stores by Asimov and Heinlein to me. I enjoy fantasy and futuristic stories because I can easily “suspend my disbelief” and fall into a story. I like a lot of action in stories. Some of today’s best writing is YA literature and I very much enjoy most of it. While I don’t go searching for dystopian novels, there are a lot of them published, so I end up reading quite a few of them.
Q: In California Kids, I notice you have a regular column, “Notes from the Nurse” in addition to your book reviews, and your reviews are more oriented to educational issues for younger children. Do you see yourself writing books for younger children in the future?
A: My column A Note from the Nurse is directed to the parent readers of California Kids. I review all kinds of children’s books for California Kids, except YA, because the publication is for the parents of younger children. I write themed columns that may feature ABC books one month, books about animals another month, middle grade novels, nonfiction, back to school books, and holiday themes.
Q: You also wrote a historical book, Lost in Death Valley: The True story of Four Families in California’s Gold Rush. Do you think you will be writing more historically based books in the future?
A: Good question Elizabeth! My current work in progress is about a period of American history that is not well known by young readers.
Q: How about Fiction?
A: I do write fiction and have been working on two YA and one MG novels for a long time. I just can’t get them quite polished enough! Maybe one day….
Q: What advice do you have for writers who want to write nonfiction? 
A: It helps if you’re naturally, even compulsively inquisitive. If I hear a new word or a fact I didn’t know before or someone mentions an event or animal I didn’t know about, I must find out everything I can immediately! I read with a book of maps and a huge dictionary readily available (well, these days, I Google much of it). If you’re interested in nonfiction, try children’s magazines. Try writing for your professional publications. My first published articles were in a nursing journal. Try community newspapers. Remember nonfiction covers everything from picture books to early readers to middle grade and young adult books. Don’t limit yourself to one media or genre. Writing is writing. Join SCBWI and attend conferences. We offered our first-ever nonfiction conference in Sacramento in January 2012 to a sold-out crowd. Recycle your research, i.e. use the same research in different ways for different markets. And read. Read. Read.

All good advice. 
Readers can learn more about Connie by visiting her website.  You can find her on Facebook by clicking here.
You can see her full list of books by browsing her author pages at Amazon and at Lerner Books.

As a side note, Connie has co-written with Jeanne Miller a wonderful article, 10 Tips for Internet Research, in the July/August, 2009 SCBWI Bulletin. You can read it here on p. 23
She also reviews nonfiction book proposals for a fee and can advise authors on how realistic their narrative is in a hospital scene, etc. And she blogs about health issues every 4 to 6 weeks on her website.

Readers, I know I have a few questions about the flu, since the influenza epidemic of 1918 figures in my WIP. How about you? Do you have health questions that need answering in your own WIP?


Julia Hones said...

Thank you for this interesting interview! I will check her links now!

Rosi said...

Wonderful interview, Elizabeth. I met Connie at a recent SCBWI event and enjoyed talking with her. I didn't really have time to delve deeply into writing talk, so this was a real treat. Thanks.

Rachna Chhabria said...

Enjoyed the interview with Connie. I like reading about other writers writing patterns.

Elizabeth Varadan aka Mrs. Seraphina said...

Julia, you'll be amazed at the range of her health books.

Rosi, I met Connie at an SCBWI event a couple of years ago, and she was also at the summer conference I went to a year and a half ago. She's quite approachable. I enjoyed learning about another are of writing for young people than the roads I pursue.

Rachna, yes, I do too. It really reassures me, because well-publishes authors all have completely different patterns. So there's obviously no set way to go. Just what works for you.

Joanna said...

Thoroughly enjoyed this interview. Was happy to see someone encourage us not to restrict ourselves to one genre as I so often hear the opposite. I am keen to try some NF too!

Elizabeth Varadan aka Mrs. Seraphina said...

Joanna, yes, I've heard you should stick to a genre and get known for that. But what do you do when stories of all kinds occur to you and you just have to write them? I think you have to go with what turns you on as a writer. If you are enthused, it makes all the difference in the writing.

Robyn Campbell said...

Love this interview. I so enjoy reading about other writers. Checking out the links. *waving and smiling*

Donna K. Weaver said...

Nice interview. I wish I had four hours a day I could devote to writing.

Nicole Ducleroir said...

Excellent interview! It's nice to get a glimpse into the life and writing experiences of a non-fiction author. Very interesting! Also, I realized I don't follow your blog, Elizabeth. What up with that? Sorry for the oversight, which is now corrected! Have a great weekend!

Elizabeth Varadan aka Mrs. Seraphina said...

Robyn, glad you are checking out the links and liked the interview. I learned a lot just visiting them.

Donna, wouldn't that be great! Four hours writing time every day, yes!

Nicole, welcome to my blog. So glad you stopped by and are following me. I agree that it's nice to learn about a non-fiction writer. I haven't tried non-fiction, but every now and then I read advice that it's a good way to break in.

Lydia Kang said...

Great interview, and nice to meet another scientist/writer!

Jayne said...

Really nice interview. It's really interesting hearing from a non-fiction writer, and being compulsively organised definitely sounds the best way forward! Thanks!

Elizabeth Varadan aka Mrs. Seraphina said...

Lydia, I knew you would like "meeting" her. I thought of your wonderful blog with all the good medical information while I was posting this post.

Jayne, thanks for stopping by. Glad you liked the interview.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for introducing Connie.
Inspiring interview.

Elizabeth Varadan aka Mrs. Seraphina said...

Glad you enjoyed, it Michelle.

Cynthia Chapman Willis said...

Great interview. I always enjoy reading about a writer's journey and writing routines.

Elizabeth Varadan aka Mrs. Seraphina said...

Cynthia, so do I. It's a way to share the journey.