Amber J. Keyser is former ballerina and evolutionary biologist with an MS in zoology and a Ph.D. in genetics. Now she writes both fiction and nonfiction for tweens and teens! She’s the author of a bunch of awesome books (see the bottom of the post for a full list) but we’re especially excited about The Hunt for Mara Layil (Relium Media, 2014). The main character is an awesome teenage girl, much like our very own Pavi (except Mara has superpowers…yeah, you definitely want to check it out!) You can find her online at her website, www.amberjkeyser.com, or on twitter @amberjkeyser.
1. You’re not only a writer, but an evolutionary biologist. So what does a normal day look like for you?
I’m not actively doing scientific research any more, but there is no doubt that my background as a biologist filters into my work. I write a lot of nonfiction, and I’m always interested in the science angle. For example, my forthcoming book SNEAKERS UNLACED (Twenty-First Century Books, 2015) is a social history of sneakers. In addition to stories about sports heros like Wilma Rudolph, Michael Jordan, and Jesse Owens, I also included information about the evolution of human ancestors and the biomechanics of running. Evolution sneaks into my fiction too. In THE HUNT FOR MARA LAYIL (Relium Media, 2014), an urban fantasy novel, I wanted to make sure that there was a plausible biological explanation for Mara’s special abilities so I spent a lot of time thinking about the inheritance patterns for a made-up metalloprotein with a molecule of the element relium at its core.
But back to a typical day… I try to save my mornings for drafting and revising when I am at my freshest. I will write for a few hours and then take a trail run in the forest near my house. After lunch, I write or revise more if I haven’t met my goals for the day and then switch over to the business side of being a writer (blogging, interviews, my volunteer work with the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators). Then my kids get home from school and I’m there to help with homework and take them to soccer.
2. I’ve got to say that sound like a dream day to me! Way to go! But now I’m curious about math. Our leading lady, Pavi, is an earthling who loves math. Did you like math as a kid? Were you good at it?
I have always loved math and it always came pretty easily to me. There is something very satisfying about working through a problem and getting a discrete (and hopefully correct) answer. I love the way math can describe the world.
3. As a writer, how do you use math in your everyday work and career?
Being a writer means that you also have to be a small business owner. I’m responsible for tracking all my writing related expenses and income. I have to be my own accountant. I’m currently putting together an anthology of essays, and so I need to figure out how I am going to pay my contributors out of the money the publisher has offered for the book. In my volunteer work, I organize events for writers and so I have to generate budgets, figure out what to charge for events, and then get people to sign up.
4. That certainly is a lot of math. How about as an evolutionary biologist?
All math all the time! I loved that part. I did complex modeling using matrix algebra to study patterns of survival and reproduction in Western Bluebirds. I used the statistical tools of quantitative genetics to look at sex ratios in marine copepods. And I worked in a fruit fly lab, so if you’ve ever studied genetics, you’ll know about Punnett squares and probability theory. It’s so cool how we can observe the real world, collect data, and then use math to find meaningful patterns. Those patterns are what we need to make decisions about things like saving endangered species or solving environmental problems. Math makes us powerful!
5.What books/projects are you working on right now that you’re super excited about? Any new ones coming out any time soon?
Publishing takes a long time. (Sigh.) I finished THE HUNT FOR MARA LAYIL a year ago, but it won’t be available until the fall. SNEAKERS UNLACED will be out in 2015, and the anthology I mentioned THE V-WORD will be out in 2016. As for what I’m working on now… I’m just finishing a novel about a damaged boy and an obsessed girl, who get whisked off into the wilderness and must find a way to survive, and I’m writing a proposal for a new book series about kids and horses set in Colorado.
6. We are pretty stoked to read THE HUNT FOR MARA LAYIL in the fall! Can you tell us more about it?
ANGEL PUNK is an urban fantasy storyworld created by Relium Media. The whole thing riffs off a line in Genesis:
The Divine Beings cohabited with the daughters of men, who bore them Offspring.
They were the heroes of old, the men of renown.
These Divine Beings brought with them the otherworldly element relium and slipped into the stream of human history. Their descendants, the Firstborn and Offspring, dispersed to every culture around the world. They are almost human—but not quite. The relium coursing through their veins gives them strengths unknown to man. They have influenced our past and will shape our future.
We enter the story as eighteen-year-old Offspring, Mara Layil, is coming of age as the influence of the Eleven is crumbling. Her story unfolds through comic books, found videos, and the novel which I wrote called THE HUNT FOR MARA LAYIL. It’s an exciting and interactive way to create an immersive experience for readers.
7. Mara Layil and Pavi are both great female lead characters! If they ever met, what do you think they’d talk about?
Since Mara has the ability to set in and out of the continuum of space-time, they’ll probably debate the role of time in quantum physics.
8. The “One-Minute Long” song is exactly one minute long. What’s the most you’ve ever written in just one minute?
Ha! I’m a very slow writer, but I’m going to try it write now and report back… I wrote two sentences, 43 words in all. Given that your average novel has about 60,000 words in it then I’ll leave it to you to figure out how many minutes it will take to write the first draft. Then you’ll have to triple or quadruple that number to account for revision time! Once you’ve figured it out, come visit my website at www.amberjkeyser.com and tell me your answer!
Amber is the author of a picture book, An Algonquin Heart Song: Paddle My Own Canoe (FOAP, 2007), two graphic novels about science, The Basics of Cell Life with Max Axiom (Capstone Press, 2010) and Decoding Genes with Max Axiom (Capstone Press, 2010), as well as a photo-illustrated nonfiction title, Anatomy of a Pandemic (Capstone Press, 2011). Forthcoming books include Sneakers Unlaced (Twenty-First Century Books, 2015), The V-Word (Beyond Words, 2016) and The Hunt for Mara Layil (Relium Media, 2014).