Diane C. Taylor: An Interview with a Nomad Author!
Diane C. Taylor is a freelance writer whose published works include both fiction and nonfiction. She has written educational material for a nonprofit arts program in Dallas, Texas, and has been an English instructor for students in middle school, high school, and college. Diane lives in Bowling Green, Kentucky, where she and her daughter own Little Fox Bakery!
Her most recent book is The Science of Natural Disasters: When Nature and Humans Collide, illustrated by Traci Van Wagoner.
Was this your first experience writing a STEM book?
It was. This was my fifth book for Nomad Press, but the first science based book. I was thrilled to get the assignment, because I love watching nature and science documentaries, and I relished the idea of binge watching shows about hurricanes and earthquakes—all kinds of cool stuff. Which I did, but once I started diving into some books, I learned pretty quickly that there was a lot more to these topics than dramatic real-time footage of tsunamis and such. It was a little overwhelming at first, but once I settled into the topics, I was pretty hooked on what I was learning.
What are some of the more intriguing things you discovered?
I was really taken with what I learned about the natural ecosystem of rivers and streams when I was studying about regional and flash floods. I had always thought of rivers as sort of passive parts of nature, but they are actually very dynamic, always responding to any change in their system. The concepts of negative feedback loops and dynamic equilibrium fascinated me. It presented a writing challenge as well. The way rivers react to their environment almost seems to imbue them with personalities, so I found myself writing things like “rivers want to do something.” Well, rivers are not sentient beings. They don’t want or not want to do anything! But they are constantly reacting to changes in their environment.
There were so many things really. I was shocked to learn that flash floods kill far more people than regional floods. I was really intrigued with the fact that fire always travels faster up a hill than down a hill. I sat in my living room one night lighting matches to see that concept play out right in front of my own eyes. I was—and remain—totally engrossed with the First Law of Thermodynamics: Energy is neither created nor destroyed. That immutable law of our universe came up several times in the writing of this book, and I kept coming back to it in different contexts too. It seems a profound truth to me—almost poetic or religious in its implications. I actually know what the “latent heat of condensation” means now. I know that fire is photosynthesis in reverse, which brings us back to the First Law of Thermodynamics. I’ll never watch a figure skating routine again without thinking about the conservation of angular momentum. For the first time ever, I feel like I actually understand what low atmospheric pressure is. I have a firm grasp of global wind patterns now—another first for me.
So some of these were concepts you had struggled to understand in the past?
Definitely! And I always felt stupid for not understanding them, so it was really important to me that I find a way to explain these concepts in a way that young readers could truly understand them as well. I was very fortunate in writing this book that I had a friend—a former physics major and all-around very smart person—I could turn to for assistance. I could write something—like an explanation for what wind is—and shoot it over to him for a quick fact check and suggestions for ways to make that section both more accurate and more readily understood. It was invaluable help.
Are there any ways that writing about scientific concepts was easier than writing about historical events or historical figures?
I had to work harder, mentally, to make sure I understood what I was writing about, but the writing itself seemed much less pressure-filled than the previous books I had written for Nomad Press. When I write about historical events or people, I find I put a lot of care into presenting information in a way that is accurate without being overwhelming or slanting toward my own social, political, or ethical leanings. That was a tough thing to do when I was writing about World War II for young reader ages 12 to 15, and it was equally tricky when I was writing about major figures from the European Renaissance for an even younger audience, kids ages 9 to 12. Humanity is complex. It takes a fine touch, I think, to present humanity to young people along a spectrum that includes tremendous beauty and kindness on one end, and the horrors of genocide and mercenary warfare on the other.
This is your fifth book for young readers. You’re starting a sixth. What’s the attraction? What keeps you coming back?
Each book is a research project. It occupies my mind for four to six months, and that fixation on a single topic for a discrete stretch of time suits me. I don’t want to pursue a PhD in Renaissance art, for example. But I love an opportunity to educate myself to a point where I can pass that knowledge along to someone else. I also truly, sincerely respect the audience that I am writing for. I take a lot of pride in being part of an editorial team that puts together a book that we can put in a child’s hands with the confidence that it’s going to be both engaging and educational. A good book can change a child’s life—literally. I find that profoundly satisfying.