Interview with author of Dr. Brainchild & Radar: A Popcorn Discovery, Cole W. William!
Join the fun as Dr. Brainchild and Radar discover how a little bit of creativity, some wacky inventions, and a whole lotta science can transform the ordinary into something EXTRA tasty! Boy, girl, wolf, or anything in-between–it doesn’t matter so long as YOU are there! Science is for everyone, so come along and enjoy the ride!
Cole W. Williams is an arrow-slinging idealist, advocate for critical thinking and curiosity, an all or nothing type of girl, a gold miner for truth. Passionately supporting emerging artists, randomly writing her own words, she stands for water, and for the river, she plants seeds of inspiration wherever she goes as the muse of being exactly who you are. Rivers, prairie and farm country weave their way into her writing, as well as healthy doses of science and biology. Each title Williams delivers is released within the theme of books that dig, meaning they contain topics that relate, teach and delight the readers. Offering expert advice, or a resource section to the end of a book can help bolster and magnify the reading experience. Her dream is that a reader digs even further into something that strikes them as interesting when reading her work. Updates on her whereabouts and writing projects are found at www.colewwilliams.com. She believes to get a little, you must give a little, by way of supporting local authors and bookstores and building a literary community. Williams currently resides in St. Paul, Minnesota.
Where are you from? Tell us a little about yourself!
I am from St. Paul, Minnesota. My family moved to the Twin Cities from rural Southwest Minnesota. My grandparents still live on a farm outside of St. James. It is a cherished place for me because nothing changes much there, maybe a new TV from time to time, but the hand-held mirror, brush and soap are arranged the same on the bathroom counter and the shag carpet remains throughout. I know where to find a deck of cards and where my Grandma keeps the extra silverware for large dinners. I even know the exact sound the hallway floor makes when you walk down to the guest room. Can you tell I love it?
Currently, we live on the Mississippi River and it has been a muse to my writing and a source of awareness and awakening for my water work. I volunteer and engage in as many different facets as possible. I suppose that is the writer’s way. How does it look from this perspective, what about this one, over here? However, no matter which way I end up getting to the river, I have never once approached it without awe and reverence. Why? Because what else can you go see that changes on a daily basis, not even daily, minute by minute. Something so transient means that the moment you are there, that is yours, and then it is gone. It is the ultimate haiku experience!
Tell us about your book? How did it get started?
In the practical sense, I was at a writer’s conference and a children’s picture book author said, “Writing a picture book will be the most difficult thing you will ever write.” I like to make myself suffer to learn something, so I took her challenge, and now I fully understand what she was saying. It is incredibly difficult to pull off the 500 to 600 word limit and then to add science, yes, now we are talking. As you can see from my answers, I can write ad nauseam and my first draft for Dr. Brainchild was 2000 words.
I believe that all authors have an inner field in their creative imagination, with many seeds waiting to be folded over and planted. This seed was there, or rather, this little plot of seeds was there, and they were the impetus for why I left academics in scientific research to begin writing for a younger audience. I loved the stories that were the force behind science research but felt that those lovely stories got buried in the field of scientific research as a business. What brought scientists to their fields was a deep love for the model they committed their lives to, but then grant writing and chasing the data took over and the spark fades. Sometimes it is lost. I found these scenarios to be causalities and they bummed me out. I wanted my audience to love the stories as much as I did, and I was willing to personify and glorify them, so they could be shared and celebrated instead of shunned because of the preconceived notions that it is too difficult for layman readers to understand their concepts. If I have a mission it would be to say that I could not disagree more.
Essentially, Dr. Brainchild was created to explore specific concepts and bring them to a very early reader so that those seeds can be planted right away! Why wait until high school or your freshman year of college to learn about electromagnetics, an ionic bond, the reason behind bioluminescence and so on and so forth.
I am also very interested in the historical aspect of science. How science and technology progress, how inventions are taken up into our day-to-day lives in ways that seem fluid and natural, like a vacuum always was there. How do we come to take for granted such exquisite designs like the TV or the radio and where did they begin? I am a type of person that could stare at the TV—off, and wonder, and then research the ray tubes and gas-filled cells instead of actually watching a show on it.
How do you create your characters?
I became enamored with the magnetron, the device that is inside every microwave. When I started to research the history of the microwave, I learned about Percy Spencer and his trials while working at Raytheon to create the world’s first microwave. My goal with everything I write, is to use Cicero’s rhetorical device of ‘to move, to delight, to teach,’ so when I write a book I am working toward those three devices. I hope the story is written so the children don’t bore, I hope it gives just enough so that the child and parent will want to look into the topic further and I hope that it creates lingering questions that the child creates on their own. Wonderment and curiosity are the basis of being a scientist.
Dr. Brainchild was originally created to resemble Percy Spencer. However, this character went through many iterations and was a reason the story got hung up in development. Something wasn’t sitting right with me. I post the first in-coming images the illustrator sends me, right in front of me, on my desk so I can mentally converse with this entity every day and Dr. Brainchild was not working for me. Coincidentally, neither was the second or the third version of Dr. Brainchild. Every writer has that sense that something is off. It took courage to actually step away instead of rushing through it to find out what I am trying to say to myself. I gave it time, I kept with the evolution of the character and then the epiphanies start coming in and a character that has a high collar, large gloves, is more modern yet heralds the age of the invention emerges. I realized that Dr. Brainchild should be for every reader, as science should be for every child and for that reason we wrote the story with Dr. Brainchild being undefined.
Radar came about as a metaphor and because Dr. Brainchild could not go at it alone. Ultimately, in a historical sense, many inventions and scientific breakthroughs come about because of wartime. Radar represents this presence during times of advancement—for me at least. I find it interesting, but I leave the extrapolation to the reader.
What inspires and what got your started in writing?
I am inspired by everything. I spend a lot of time in the mind of a learner or a poet. I look at things for a long time and try to reserve first impressions and judgement and just observe. I heard recently that Henry David Thoreau bad-mouthed nature odes. I am not sure if this is accurate, but it made me laugh none-the-less because basically, I wrote a whole book of nature odes before this title. It is so important to stay amazed and in awe of our world, to stay connected. If you can say to yourself without a doubt that you are not connected in an objective manner, then make the decision to rectify this condition of indifference. Take extreme measures and get out there and do the work until you find the beauty in something. Literally, anything, because the world is truly amazing.
I wrote as a child and then all throughout school, entered many writing workshops and contests and began one of my first jobs as a high school student working for an editor of a magazine. I thought that was nearly the most amazing thing. I did a couple years of fashion design credits before the program was cancelled and so decided to try my hand in biology. That is my brain in a nutshell. Art and science and where do these two worlds meet. What I think is important to note, is to write for silly fun and not for gain from time to time. This keeps it real. Not all writing has to be shared, not all writing has to be good but reserve a little fuel for mindless play. William Blake style, write and burn.
Where do you write? Is there something you need in order to write (music, drinks?)
Right now, I am writing in front of a screen-print of the city of Austin, arranged vertically instead of horizontally, in a hotel room in Austin hoping that my coffee is not cold because of the AC fan blowing on my fingers and making me rush through breakfast. This scene displays most things I need to write. My computer because I type almost as fast as I think, hot coffee (not cold AC cooled coffee), I should be sitting up in a chair because all other attempted positions have generated far less output, warm fingers—this is not a joke, I can’t stand writing with cold fingers, especially in the winter, and most importantly: extreme quiet. This last one is a bummer and I wish it wasn’t the case because it would have made college studying on campus easier if I wasn’t trying to learn inside a vacuum. I think I actually suffer from misophonia and if you think I am a person that is so in tune with myself, that wasn’t the case either, my husband told me because he does his best to quiet four kids, two dogs and a slew of chickens, ducks and the river. “Umm, excuse me love, can you quiet the river?” I can also be very dramatic, my muse is calling, I have to write right now! I am working on the less crazy about the urgency bit.
How do you get your ideas for writing?
Some are lightening bolts from the gods and I get so excited at those because all I have to do is hold the pen so to speak. Charlie was an example of this sort of gift. Others, I have a sold idea of topic and I have to work and research to make it fly. Often times with the latter, there are phrases or lines or images that will pop into my head and sit there until I do something with them. I have countless voice recordings to myself of notes for stories, things a character would say or wear or do. Post-It notes, on the backs of permission slips, on computer files. I wrote Dr. Brainchild & Radar with a lot of 1930’s and 1940’s phrases and tried them out on my family. They are sometimes amused. I have many basic ideas and titles, but it takes a bit more from my creative side to decide to produce something.
What do you like to read?
I like to challenge myself to read everything and I like to invite spontaneity into my reading. What I mean is, I will pick up random periodicals from the stands and read them while I wait for my kids to get out of school. Last week I read a magazine about beer brewing and for the flight to Austin, I read Forbes. I had never read Forbes and found it very interesting. I do this for book genres too to an extent. Mixing local literature, with staff picks and something from the lists on what everyone is reading works for me.
As another example, for this one-week trip I packed the following books: Being Mortal by Atul Gawande, The Little Wheelbarrow by Williams Carlos Williams, Writing Irresistible Kidlit by Mark Kole, If You Want to Write by Brenda Ueland, Haiku, A Poet’s Guide by Lee Gurga, Frogpond, I Wish I Had a Heart Like Yours Walk Whitman by Jude Nutter, my writing journal, a couple magazines and then yesterday I bought The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins by Dr. Seuss (vintage) and The Aeneid by Virgil. Why so many? I feel that I need a book for whatever mood I may be in, so I think I covered my bases for this trip!
What would your advice to be for authors or aspiring in regards to writing?
My advice would be to acknowledge the two sides to the writing world. There is the business of writing that encapsulates publishing and money and promotion and royalties and lists and notoriety. The other side is your heart. Your soul. Your creativity. Quite a meeting of two worlds eh? Know when you are entering one or the other. Treat the business world as business and find help at the things you are no good at. Treat the other world as sacred. In this world business does not infiltrate for a time. This is where you walk amongst your beasts and dreams. Don’t sacrifice them too soon and don’t judge them with voices of doubt.
Second, don’t be afraid to be a beginner and stand as a beginner.
Third, share, you will have to at some point so start today. Begin to share what you know is ready to be shared. Start small with someone you trust and then take the big leap and start sharing with people in a book club or writing group that you don’t know. A writer today has to be so many other things at the same time. Being comfortable talking about your writing is a skill I bet all writers wished they had in spades, but who cares really, this is your world, let’s do this.
Anything else you’d like to share?
I would like to share that my oatmeal is cold, my coffee too, the time for the end of the interview is nigh, so I will leave you with this as a follow up to the question before this. There is no better time to start activating your dreams then right now. Start by envisioning it. Make a quiet commitment to yourself. Then design some steps to get there. I am actively designing mine right now too! Share your light with the world and when it comes to the book world, stay true to yourself. Find your community, they are out there and get involved. Thanks for reading!