My most recent book is The Way Kitchens Work: The Science Behind the Microwave, Teflon Pan, Garbage Disposal, and More – the inside story on all those gizmos lurking in the dark corners of kitchen cabinets. It’s written for the inquisitive home chef and the house geek. It answers some of those timeless questions like: “Why does my coffee pot make that popping sound?” “What color are the microwaves in my oven?” “Just how far can a salad shooter shoot?” “Will I get electrocuted if I use the toaster while taking a bath?” Good stuff to know.
Tell us something about yourself.
I was fortunate to get a background in physics and later in fluid dynamics and oceanography. After a few years doing research on Arctic and sub-Arctic environments – with one winter in the Antarctic – I started directing science museums. Great fun and a good way to learn about all those other fields I never cared about enough to take a course. (Dinosaurs? They weren’t covered in quantum mechanics!).
How did you know you wanted to be a writer? How did you get started?
I am inquisitive. I want to know how things work, so I take them apart. To keep myself well provisioned with stuff to take apart I share my findings by writing books. My son and I wrote The Way Toys Work, which was published two years ago. I’ve also written a series of our books on technology you see, but may not know about. A Field Guide to Roadside Technology answers all those “What in the world is that thingy alongside the highway?”
I find writing to be exceptionally rewarding. Not so much financially, although each royalty check is cause for a minor celebration. It does seem almost unethical to cash checks for a book I wrote years ago. But if Tom Clancy can do it, so can I. But writing is more rewarding in the sense of positive feedback. The publisher says: “Yes.” “Hurray.” They send an advance: “Hurray.” I finish writing the book and send it to the publisher: “Hurray.” UPS delivers the first copy: “HURRAY.” I give a copy to a friend: “Hurray.” Occasionally a reader sends fan mail: “Hurray.” All good! And the checks – no matter how small – keep coming.
The other best part of writing is learning. Each book – I’ve written 27 – requires learning or re-learning so much. Being paid to learn is about as good as it gets.
What types of books do you like to read?
Of course I read. In the Seattle area we are blessed by having a great library system. Something in the newspaper or a discussion with a running friend shanghais my attention and that sends me to the King County Library System to find two or three (or five) books on the subject. In a couple of days I walk to my local library to pick them up. Currently I’m working three very different projects, so have been ordering books on polar exploration, 21st Century Learning Skills, and the latest Clive Kessler. Clive keeps me awake on long plane rides. Oh yeah, I do buy books, too. It’s important for you to buy books – especially mine as I’m running out of stuff to take apart.
Are you working on your next book? What can you tell us about it?
I just sent the next book off the publisher. We haven’t decided on a title yet, but it’s about one person’s quest to take stuff apart. (How original). A year from now it will be printed. With that manuscript out of my hands I am in project withdrawal – looking for the next book contract.
What is the best advice you could give other writers about writing or publishing?
I spend a bit of time in bookstores looking to see what they carry. If a book is there, at least the store buyer thought it interesting enough to order and maybe it represents what people are buying. I’m not interested in writing what people won’t buy – I have written at least several of these. Bookstores sleuthing is my research. I look for topics, presentations, and publishers.
Where can readers learn more about you and your book?
In my other life I give science and technology workshops to teachers around the world and build museum exhibits on – you guessed it – how stuff works. The workshops tie in nicely with my writing as the people in my workshops are all potential readers. And, the books help me convince people that they should hire me to do a workshop. It’s an unusual mix, but it works. Check it out at www.invention-center.com.