Jennifer Swanson is the award-winning author of over 25 children’s books, including “Astronaut Aquanaut,” which received the 2018 Gold Standard Award from the Junior Library League. We met at the Florida Authors & Publishers Association Annual Conference, where Jennifer was a keynote speaker.
Tell me about your background. Where you grew up, where you live now, education, work experience? Share some interesting things about yourself that we should know about.
If you told me when I was a kid that I would be a successful children’s author, my response would have been, “Cool.” I didn’t start out wanting to be a writer. I wanted to be a Doctor, a pediatrician to be exact. I studied chemistry at the U.S. Naval Academy and graduated in 1990. But organic chemistry and I didn’t see eye-to-eye, so I did my 5 years in the Navy and got out. Then I was a stay-at-home-mom for about 10 years and raised 3 kids. I started writing about 10 years ago and I’ve been lucky enough to do that from home, too. I am also employed by Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Talented Youth as a middle school science instructor. Aside from being a wife and mother, being a children’s author is the BEST job in the world. And I’m so thankful that I found this path.
What inspired you to write this book? What is the story behind the story?
“Astronaut Aquanaut” was developed from my own curiosity. I was researching a book about space and had a conversation with one of my editors. We were talking about astronauts and how they train and then we started talking about how that was probably very different from how a deep-sea diver trained. I got to thinking and started researching. To my surprise, I found out that they do a lot of things in common when training. Since most of my books start with a “Wow! I didn’t know that fact.” I was off and running.
What has been your biggest challenge or obstacle?
Like all authors, facing rejection is difficult. And it still happens. Whether you have written 5 or 50 books you still have the ones that don’t sell. It’s tough sometimes to keep going, but when I get a rejection, I use that to spur myself onward. Kind of like “okay, you didn’t like that one, but I’m going to write something even better that you’ll love”. And I keep going. You have to have a thick skin in this business.
What has been your biggest “aha” moment or success?
The hardest part about writing for me is finding the right hook and the right structure for the books. Most of my hooks are also my titles. When I find a title that resonates with me or is just plain cool, I know the book will work. I read A LOT of other kids’ books in my genre. That gives me an idea of how I want to structure the book. I try to think out-of-the box and do something unique. So when those two things match up — the hook and the structure, I usually write very quickly. It’s my “aha” moment.
What authors do you like to read? What books have had a strong influence on you or your writing?
I read a lot of mysteries– both adult and children. The bigger the adventure and the more difficult the mystery to solve the better. That kind of makes sense, because science is a lot like solving a mystery. You have to keep going and keep trying until you figure it out. I read a ton of authors, my favorites are Elizabeth Peters, Cleo Coyle, Rick Riordan, and of course J.K. Rowling, just to name a few.
Do you write every single day? Any writing rituals?
I work every single day. Not every day is spent writing. Some days I’m marketing, other days I’m editing, some days I’m writing to a deadline. I usually work to whatever has the most imminent due date. My ritual is to be in my chair in my office by 9am and I work through til about 5pm.
What are your interests outside of writing?
I love spending time with my family. I enjoy biking, running, and walking along the beach. I was born with a travel bug so my husband and I take 1-2 big trips a year. Sometimes in the U.S., sometimes abroad. I love learning about and experiencing new places and cultures.
Share some tips for other Authors or Aspiring Authors: What would you do differently? What would you do the same? Please share anything you think would be beneficial to those reading this.
My best advice is this; everyone has their own path to publication. Whatever you choose to do, is great. Keep at it and don’t give up. In this business it’s easy to keep comparing yourself to others and if you do, you may feel as if you come up short. Try to avoid that. Everyone is different! There is no one path to success. If you’re happy and moving forward, give yourself a pat on the back. Celebrate every success! You worked hard to get here.
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