Linda Zajac author of Light in the Cellar of the Sea

Linda I am glad to know you and your work. I don’t have many nonfiction writers here, so we are all ears. Please be welcome to our blog.

How long have you been writing?  

Ten years.

So  you where born in Connecticut …. where do you live now? 


We heard you have a magazine article that will be published soon. What is the title? 

Light in the Cellar of the Sea.

How interesting …Tell us more about it.   

Sure. The article is about animals that make light in the deep sea.  It’s a fascinating subject.

On land, animals that make light, such as fireflies, are rare, but in the ocean they’re common. Down in the deep, it’s frigid cold and the pressure is immense, so scientists use submersibles and technology to study the marine life at these depths. Light produced from a living organism is called bioluminescence. Research on one bioluminescent jellyfish has led to a discovery that revolutionized medical research. Scientists have developed new imaging techniques and new tools in the fight against cancer.  It’s amazing.

Since the article will be published in ChemMatters, a high school chemistry magazine, it includes the chemistry of how these marine animals glow. Last I heard, it’s due to be published in February or April of 2013.          

I agree with you it is a fascinating subject. How do you distinguish between fact and non-fact? 

That’s a great question.   The ability to discern the facts is an important skill for science writers, students and for the general public as well. On some topics, like climate change, there is a lot of misinformation out there and it’s easy to be misled.

First of all, I use good sources. I’ll get information from published research papers, national and university websites, adult nonfiction books published by reputable publishers and interviews with scientists. When sources disagree about a fact, I dig deeper. It’s also prudent to look at the reliability of each source. For example, newspaper reporters work under tight deadlines, so sometimes things slip through the cracks. I’ve omitted facts that I couldn’t verify one way or the other.

If a fact doesn’t seem logical, I’ll question it even if it’s from an expert. Recently, on Facebook I noticed an Einstein quote. It didn’t seem like something he would have said, so I did some research and found no evidence it was his quote. Once I found an error in a planning and zoning map that prompted me to get in the street with my tape measure. Sure enough, a distance was incorrect. In 2005, while doing research for an article on beavers I spotted an error in Grzimek’s Animal Life Encyclopedia. At ALA, I ran into someone from the company and they were very interested. The Gale Group has since revised and updated the encyclopedia.

Another thing to be watchful of is where the facts are coming from. How qualified is the writer or speaker on the topic? If I was ill, I wouldn’t seek out a geologist for medical attention.  It’s also helpful to note if the individual has a personal connection to the topic. Sure you can get information about tobacco from cigarette companies, but are you going to get the facts?

Wow that sounds so Sherlock Holmsy. How do you pick a topic to write about? 

I have a technology background, so I have always had an interest in stories about scientists who use cutting-edge technology to study wildlife, advance medicine and protect the environment.  I choose some topics because of the wow factor.  Even though it’s more work, I write about other subjects, like climate change, because it’s so important to get the facts out there to educate the public. There is a mountain of research papers to comb through. Last fall, I was pleased to get the opportunity to write climate related test passages.   

You go girl!!! What kind of impact do you expect your works to have in the reader’s lives?

I write to educate and entertain kids. I strive to captivate the reader so they don’t realize they’re learning something too. I want to make them aware of career paths that they may not know exist. Since I write narrative nonfiction, I also try to get that emotional connection going.   

Do you have any advice for authors trying to break into the industry? 

1. Persevere – Know that the frustration of rejection can make it challenging to continue.

2. Join a writing group – An objective set of eyes is your best ally. A writing group can put the steam back in your writing step.

3. Learn about the craft – books, conferences, websites

4. Write you’re absolute best stuff–always.

5. Go to #1. 

What are your new years goals? 

After finding a TED talk about goals, I’m not saying. 

It was very informative to have you in our blog, Linda. We wish you the best with your book’s proposals.

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