Author Interview: Patricia M. Newman

Patricia NewmanI caught Patricia Newman’s presentation at a local library and was I impressed!  When I arrived, I found a very large vase of water with pictures taped to it and many vials of interesting stuff.  She opened her talk discussing the benefits the ocean provides people, from swimming, to fishing, to providing us clean air.

She then moved into a history of the ocean during the past 300 years and how the introduction of plastics and their accumulation is impacting ocean life, air and people. Using the large vase as the ‘ocean’, clothes pins clipped to the vase to represent the earth’s growing population, and pouring into the vase  more than a dozen vials of ‘toxins’, trash, ‘fishing nets’, etc., the audience got to (almost) experience what happens in the ocean.  If you are unable to catch her in person, check out her book, Plastic, Ahoy! Investigating the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, the winner of The Green Earth Book Award.

PlasticAhoyQuestion:  How did you come to research and write Plastic, Ahoy!?  How long did it take?
I wrote Plastic, Ahoy! because of an article I read in the Sacramento Bee about a group of graduate student scientists who mounted an expedition to the North Pacific Central Gyre . The expedition had all the makings of a great book that might in fact become a call to action for future ocean stewards, e. g.  students who were themselves scientists, the scientific method, and, what was at the time, the mystery of how plastic trash affected marine life. The Plastic, Ahoy! scientists were among the first to study the floating garbage.

I first wrote a book proposal, which took about 18 months to be accepted. After I received a contract, I had about a year to write the book. The last few months of that time, I worked with my editor to make the book as perfect as we could.

Q:   How did you develop the presentation?
I wish I could say I created this presentation, but I didn’t. I found it in the December 2014 issue of POPULATION CONNECTION. I wrote to the editors to ask if I could use it during school and library visits. Luckily they said yes! Originally, the presentation was written for high school students, but I’ve modified it for middle-grade audiences.

Q:  One of my favorite parts of the presentation was when you identified little changes we can make to reduce our plastic use.  Can you share the top 3 that kids can do?
I’ll share five:

  1. SKIP THE STRAW. When you order a drink in a restaurant, tell your server you don’t need a straw, and be sure to say you’re saving the ocean! Better yet, speak to the manager and ask him/her to consider ditching straws altogether.
  2. SAY NO TO PLASTIC TO-GO BOXES. If you take food home from a restaurant, politely refuse Styrofroam to-go containers. Ask for a cardboard box or a piece of aluminum foil instead.
  3. REMIND YOUR PARENTS TO BRING REUSABLE BAGS INTO THE GROCERY STORE. A simple “fix” for our oceans. If you forget your bags in the car, ask your check-out person to load your groceries back in your cart and pack them in your bags when you get to the parking lot.
  4. BRING A REUSABLE WATER BOTTLE TO SCHOOL instead of opening a fresh plastic water bottle every day. If you have events at school, such as concerts or festivals, consider a giant urn of water where people can refill their water bottles or buy water in cartons rather than plastic bottles. Here’s a link: http://www.boxedwaterisfbetter.com/
  5. Did you know that most plastics are recyclable? In Sacramento County (where I live) we can recycle the following items to make sure they never wind up in the ocean:
  • All CRV containers
  • Containers with numbers 1 – 7 in the triangle symbol
  • Soda bottles, milk jugs, shampoo bottles, etc.
  • Tubs and containers (i.e. yogurt, margarine)
  • Plastic bags (stuff several bags inside each other)
  • Buckets, pails and crates
  • Toys (i.e. plastic tricycles)
  • Clamshell trays and deli containers
  • Plant pots
  • Laundry baskets
  • Polystyrene (Styrofoam®)

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Q:  Your book won the Green Earth Book Award.  Tell us what that experience was like for you.
The award was announced on Earth Day 2015, and Annie Crawley (the book’s fantastic photographer) and I were so excited we screamed at each other on the phone! We are going to Washington, D.C. for an October 1 ceremony. Can’t wait!

Q:  You have 14 books, most non-fiction.  You seem to have many interests.  How did you come to write on so many different topics?
I often ask myself the same question. I guess I go where my curiosity takes me (although sometimes book topics are also suggested by editors). You never know where I’ll turn up to ask questions for research.

Q:  Have you always wanted to be a writer?  How did you get into writing children’s books?
I never thought about being any kind of writer—although I was always the go-to person in my other jobs for written materials. Somehow it just worked out that way. After my kids were born and I started reading children’s books again, I knew I wanted to give it a try. It’s rewarding, but it’s also the hardest job I’ve ever had.

Q:  What’s the hardest part of writing for children?
To paraphrase Eudora Welty, each book teaches me to write itself but no other. My biggest challenge is finding my way into a new book. How will the story start? What do I want to say with this book?

Q:  The past 5 ½ years you’ve been a Regional Adviser (RA)
for the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI)?  Tell us about SCBWI and share with us how you find time to write.
SCBWI is the only professional organization dedicated to people who create content for children. It provides craft instruction and entrée to the editors and agents who buy our work. I loved my time as a volunteer RA for SCBWI, and mostly through the help of an exceptional team who worked with me, was able to continue writing while organizing events. I stepped down in January 2015 so someone else could experience the camaraderie of the organization.

Q:  You have a new book coming out October 1, 2015.  Tell us about it and how it came to be.
Ebola Fears and Facts cover (1)EBOLA: FEARS AND FACTS is the brainchild of my brilliant editor, Carol Hinz, at Millbrook Press. At first I wasn’t sure if I wanted to write a “disease” book, but the opportunity to work with Carol made the decision an easy one. I’m especially fond of the way the School Library Journal reviewer describes the book, “Breaking new ground, Newman has written a truly excellent book for middle grade students that tackles the terrifying specter of Ebola. As the title suggests, readers will come away with more facts and less fears.”

For more information about Patricia Newman, visit her website: http://patriciamnewman.com

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