My latest book is Brain Sense: The Science of the Senses and How We Process the World Around Us. The book explores the latest experimental science on how the brain and senses interact. In addition to the five major senses (touch, smell, taste, vision, and hearing), those “sixth senses” of déjà vu, precognition, and time are examined.
In Brain Sense, I use human interest stories to explain complex scientific ideas in a way that is clear, comprehensible—and yes, fun. The book takes readers to meet scientists at the forefront of brain research—neurologists, brain mappers, biochemists, physicians, cognitive psychologists, and more. I went on a journey in writing Brain Sense and I tried to take my readers with me.
Tell us something about yourself.
I grew up in southern West Virginia and completed my undergraduate degree in biology at West Virginia University. I moved to Colorado soon after that, where I worked in science curriculum development and earned a Ph.D. in science education from the University of Colorado, Boulder. I’ve worked as a high school biology teacher, university professor, medical technologist, research technician, and curriculum writer, but in 1991, I became a full-time freelance writer specializing in science and health. Last year, I hit my 25th published book. Several of my books have earned awards from the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the National Science Teachers Association, the Children’s Book Council, the Society of School Librarians International, and the International Reading Association. As a freelancer, I’ve expanded into editing, and these days I do everything from fact-checking textbooks to critiquing novels for aspiring fiction writers. I now live and work in a “treehouse office” in beautiful Bigfork, Montana.
What inspired you to write this book?
Beginning in 1997, I wrote a series of ten 101 Questions… books on various topics in anatomy and physiology. The first eight books were with a single publishing company where I enjoyed a friendly and mutually supportive relationship; but when that company sold out I found myself working for a new set of editors and marketing people. Suddenly, the game had changed. The new staff didn’t like me or much of anything that I wrote, and when I suggested that the eleventh 101… title should be on the senses, the review committee flatly refused, saying that the topic was too juvenile, too elementary school.
I had been reading a lot of very exciting research about how the brain handles sensory input, and none of it struck me as juvenile, but the publisher was adamant. Soon after that, the company terminated its relationship with me. I think they thought I was difficult. The feeling was mutual, so I was more relieved than disappointed. I then wrote a proposal for an adult book about the brain and the senses—mostly just to prove to myself that there was nothing childish about the topic. My agent soon sold the proposal to an enthusiastic publisher, and the result was Brain Sense.
Brain Sense is the book I’m most proud of, and it never would have happened if I had stayed with my former publisher. As for the new publisher (Amacom), it’s the best company I have ever worked with. When one door closes, another opens.
How did you know you wanted to be a writer? How did you get started?
It’s just something I’ve always done. It was born in me, I think.
What do you believe is the hardest part of writing?
Sitting down and doing it. You have to say “no” to all the world’s distractions and competing priorities. You must get up and go to work like everybody else. That means staying in your chair for long hours and keeping your mind and fingers moving—while everyone else is off to the gym, the beach, the movies.
How do you do research for your books?
I am a compulsive and enthusiastic researcher. There is always one more piece of source material I just know I have to lay my hands on. I use a lot of scientific literature in my work, so nothing thrills me more than finding a good meta-analysis or review paper on a topic I’m currently working on. I’d be lost without PubMed and Google. These days, it’s easy to locate email addresses for research scientists and get in touch with them for interviews. There is nothing better than getting an explanation in person or over the phone from an expert source.
What is the best advice you could give other writers about writing or publishing?
Publishing isn’t necessarily the goal, but writing is. Invest your time and effort in writing well, and publication will follow. If you set out only to be published, you may be disappointed.
What are you doing to promote your latest book?
I’ve had book signings, an interview on Public Radio, and several interviews with women’s magazines and health magazines. I’ve reached larger number of interested readers, however, through the invitation to blog for Psychology Today that came as a result of the publication of Brain Sense. I now post a new entry for “Brain Sense” about twice a month at http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/brain-sense
Where can readers learn more about you and your book?