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Teresa Robeson: a passion for writing nonfiction

Teresa RobesonWe’d like to thank Teresa Robeson for this blog post! Teresa is faculty, along with Jennifer Swanson, for Becoming a Nonfiction Writer: A Two-Part Online Course, which runs October 23-November 3. Thanks, Teresa, for answering our questions!


1. Why did you select Wu Chien Shiung as the subject for your project that would become the award-winning book, Queen of Physics: How Wu Chien Shiung Helped Unlock the Secrets of the Atom?

I don’t remember exactly where I first learned about C.S. Wu, but I used to read my climatologist husband’s copy of Physics Today magazine and I suspect I may have discovered her there. Why was I read my husband’s Physics Today? Because that was before I got my own subscription. Just joking…sort of.

Queen of Physics
Queen of Physics, by Teresa Robeson and illustrated by Rebecca Huang

Professor Wu was a Chinese-American immigrant with a passion for physics, two traits I identified with (although the similarities ended there because she played with the pros and I’m just bumbling my way through tee-ball when it comes to science). Her life story was dramatic and her work grand, and I just knew that she would be—she should be—an inspiration to all little girls who aspire to do things society doesn’t expect them to do.

2. What challenges did you run into while doing the research?

While I didn’t have any major challenges, I was quite disappointed that Wu’s son didn’t respond to my requests to speak with him about his mother. Since then, though, his daughter, Wu’s only grandchild, and I have connected on social media where we’ve both sang the praises of Wu.

3. What tip(s) do you have for new writers writing biographies?

Besides enjoying (and doing thorough) research, I recommend writing only about people that you’re absolutely fascinated with because you’ll be spending many, many years with them. I started researching and writing about Wu back around 2011/2012, and 10 years later, I’m still talking about her.

The spouse of a friend was suggesting people to me that I could write bios on and while they were cool people, I wasn’t enamored of them enough that I could spend a decade or more being involved with their stories.

Two Bicycles in Beijing
Two bicycles in Beijing, by Teresa Robeson and illustrated by Junyi Wu

4. You did a wonderful job of blending lyrical language into your story of a unique friendship in Two Bicycles in Beijing. It was also an interactive book for the reader. The back matter helped introduce the reader to the culture in Beijing. What were you hoping would be the takeaway for the reader from this lovely book?

Aww, thanks so much for your kind words! Two Bicycles in Beijing grew out of a family trip to China in 2013. My parents had wanted for years to take me, my husband, and our kids to my ancestral homeland. Sadly, my mom passed away before we could go. But my family, my father, and my sister had a wonderful time there. I took some photos of bicycle in Beijing that inspired the story.

What I wanted for readers was for them to experience the sights of this magnificent and ancient city that is packed with history. Part of that experience involved learning some Chinese words because, as a linguistics major and being bilingual, I firmly believe that language is the gateway to understanding a culture and its people. I also want readers to be a part of a heartwarming story of friendship. I hope that kids and adults alike would enjoy this multilayered story.

5. Tell us a little about your upcoming projects.

Oh my goodness, I am bursting to tell my upcoming projects to the world but they’re not officially announced yet so I can only allude to them. I just finished all the edits on an informational fiction piece about an astronomy topic. My agent found THE perfect publisher for it, and the editor who’s been working with me is an absolute dream. She really gets science and doesn’t just have some strange, layperson notion of what science should be.

Then, too, I’m working on a biographical graphic novel, one of two in a well-known series. It’s about someone I have immense regard for. I’ve learned so much about the whole graphic novel process! My editor has been so lovely and patient with me as I adjust from writing picture books to graphic novels.

These books should be out in 2023 and 2024.

6. Do you have a favorite place to do your writing?

I used to love writing at a standing desk in our gorgeous south-facing living room, but I finally cleaned up my art/sewing/soaping room downstairs so I can spread out my reference materials on the table as I write, and I have to say I am loving it far more than I thought I would. Now I’m kicking myself for not having done this sooner.

chickens
Teresa’s family with their first batch of chickens, 20 years ago!
7. What is the most fun you have with raising chickens?

Except for scooping out the manure from the chicken house (which, lucky for me, my husband and kids take care of) and finding mauled carcasses due to predators, everything about raising chickens is fun! They’re more entertaining than TV shows. We’ve enjoyed giving them interesting names (e.g. Attila the Hen, Nazgûl, Spaz). And the fresh eggs are incomparable. They are like the best kind of pets because not only do they amuse us but they also give us food!


Teresa Robeson (teresarobeson.com) draws upon her Chinese heritage, immigrant sensibilities, as well as her background in science and love of nature when she writes. Her stories and poems on these themes have been published in various magazines, including Ladybug, Babybug, and Outdoor Indiana.

Queen of Physics: How Wu Chien Shiung Helped Unlock the Secrets of the Atom (2019, Sterling Publishing), Teresa’s debut picture book, is a biography that won the 2020 APALA Picture Book Award, the 2020 ILA Nonfiction Picture Book Honor, was named a NCTE Orbis Pictus Nonfiction Recommended Book, and received starred reviews. Her second picture book Two Bicycles in Beijing and an essay in Nonfiction Writers Dig Deep, edited by Melissa Stewart, released in 2020. Upcoming works include a nonfiction poem in No World Too Big: Young People Fighting Climate Change, edited by Bradley, Dawson, and Metcalf, and two middle-grade graphic novel biographies to be released in 2023 and 2024.


Becoming a Nonfiction Writer: A Two-Part Online Course
October 23-November 3, Online, $399
Faculty: Jennifer Swanson, Teresa Robeson
Special Guest: Workman editor Pamela Bobowicz
register now

Posted on: September 28, 2021

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