Posts Tagged Author Interview

STEM Tuesday– Invasive Species– Interview with Author Lisa Amstutz

Welcome to STEM Tuesday: Author Interview & Book Giveaway, a repeating feature for the fourth Tuesday of every month. Go Science-Tech-Engineering-Math!

Today we’re interviewing Lisa Amstutz, author of Invasive Species. The book is part of the “engaging and informative” Ecological Disasters series, according to School Library Journal.

Mary Kay Carson: How did you come to write Invasive Species?

Lisa Amstutz: This book was an assignment from an educational publisher as part of their Ecological Disasters series. Because of my background in ecology, this one felt like a great fit, and I was excited to dig in! For those who aren’t familiar with this market, some educational publishers hire writers to produce series for them instead of reviewing projects submitted by authors/agents, as most trade publishers do. These series are designed in-house and are highly targeted to the school curriculum. Authors are given a set of guidelines that includes things like word count, reading level, a general outline, number of sidebars, etc.

MKC: The book is so well researched! Did you discover anything especially surprising?

Lisa: The thing that surprised me most was how many invasive species were imported on purpose. For example, the nutria was brought to the United States between 1899 and 1930 by fur farmers. When the market collapsed, farmers released the animals into the wild. Kudzu, aka ‘the vine that ate the South’, was imported in 1876 as an ornamental plant and even promoted by the Soil Conservation Service to prevent soil erosion from the 1930s to 1950s. Today, both are damaging ecosystems. Hopefully we’ve learned our lesson when it comes to moving species out of their natural habitats.

MKC: Do you have a least-liked invasive species? 

Lisa: The brown marmorated stinkbug (at left) is my current nemesis, as it has an annoying habit of moving into my house in the winter!

MKC: For whom is the book written? How does the writing style reflect that?

Lisa Amstutz is the author of ~150 books for children. She has also written for a variety of magazines and newspapers. In 2021, she joined Storm Literary Agency as an associate literary agent. Lisa’s background includes a B.A. in Biology and an M.S. in Environmental Science/Ecology. She specializes in topics related to nature, sustainability, and agriculture. Lisa lives on a small farm with her family. Find her online at

Lisa: Because it is targeted to schools and libraries, this book provides a broad and straightforward overview for kids exploring this topic on their own or for a research project. Photos and sidebars add interest. As always, I tried to use engaging language, concepts kids can relate to, and fun facts to hook the reader and draw them into the topic.

MKC: Do you choose to write about STEM books? Is STEM your background?

Lisa: I have a B.A. in Biology and an M.S. in Environmental Science/Ecology. After working in my field for a few years, I realized I liked writing about science even better, and as a bonus I could work from home. I love exploring new topics and sharing that excitement with kids. I’m also passionate about helping readers connect with the natural world and learn to care for it.

MKC: Could you give us a peek into your process by sharing where you are right now on a current project and how you’re tackling it?

Lisa: I’m at the very beginning stages of a new project at the moment. After choosing a topic from my long and very random list of ideas, I’m currently gathering information and resources online and through my local library. For a longer project like this one, I use Scrivener or OneNote to easily record and categorize information. I always footnote as I go, so it’s easy to go back and double check facts. For me, this part is the most fun—I love learning new things!


Win a FREE critique by author and agent Lisa Amstutz!

The lucky winner receives one critique (query letter, picture book manuscript, or first 10 pages of a longer manuscript or project). Enter by leaving a comment below. The randomly-chosen winner will be contacted via email.

Good luck!

Your host is Mary Kay Carson, author of Wildlife Ranger Action Guide, The Tornado ScientistAlexander Graham Bell for Kids, Mission to Pluto, and other nonfiction books for kids. @marykaycarson

Don’t Forget to Have FUN!

Happy 2022!! I hope this year is off to an amazingly good start for you all. Mine is so much better than last year (mostly because I’m not recovering from emergency gallbladder surgery). 😊

But seriously, I wanted to take this time to talk about Goal Setting. I mean, it’s the new year. We are all supposed to set a goal for the new year. Yes?

Goal-setting is a THING for the New Year. Whether you call them goals, resolutions, or intentions or  pick a word for the year, or just make a list of things you want to accomplish, it all boils down to one thing…  some action that you are supposed to be doing that makes you feel better.

That sounds wonderful. Okay. I’m in! In past new years’, I have had many different resolutions.

One year it was, to work less (If you know me, you know how ridiculous that resolution was. It didn’t last a week).

Then I moved onto choosing a saying for my year.  I chose “be less stressed”.  (also ridiculous).

The next year, I moved to a single word that was more positive, like “balance”.  (That was a good thing. It didn’t last, but it was a good idea.)

And let’s face it, the last two years have simply been taking a deep breath and racing to the finish  the year before you dropped. Am I right?

So, this year, I decided to try something completely different. Instead of picking something that I knew I could never live up to, thereby actually increasing my own stress (ironic, right?).

I’m not doing a resolution.

I’m not using a saying,

I’m DOING something.

Every Friday I am now calling “FUN Friday”.

(That’s just my name. You can choose your own.)


On FUN Friday, I am giving myself permission to do whatever I want– work on a new idea, write a new proposal, have an entire brainstorming day, write fiction (!), or just sit around and watch Star Trek the Next Generation all day. (Yes, I’m a Trekkie, but you can pick your own binge show).

Mostly, I’m making it a day to relax my brain and put deadlines aside. I’m hoping that will reduce the stress and frustration I feel at not being able to do all of the different things I want to explore. (Yes! That fiction book will be finished this year!)

How’s it going so far?

Well for one thing, it’s the second Friday of the year, and I’m STILL doing this! That right there tells me that the FUN Friday thing is a much better idea than any resolution or word for the year I ever picked.

And secondly, on the first FUN Friday that I ever did, I managed to relax enough and clear my brain so that a book idea that I had been trying to figure out for almost two years FINALLY broke through. (It was at 11 o’clock at night, right after I laid down to go to sleep, but hey, whenever it happens, is fine with us writers, right?)

SO, today is another FUN Friday!

What will I be doing today?

I don’t know.

The best part about a FUN Friday  is that I don’t plan for them. I wake up in the morning, and well, just do whatever I feel like. It’s very free-ing, especially for a person who normally goes through life at Mach 10 with her hair on fire!


What I say to all of you writers and really, anyone who reads this blog is: Don’t forget to HAVE FUN in your life!

I know it might make you roll your eyes with the amount of work, stress, and everything else you have to do. But if you take a day, an hour, a few minutes to just have fun, you won’t regret it. In fact, doing that, may even help you reduce your stress.

TGIF Everyone!

What will you do with your FUN Friday?

Going Backstage on How GUITARS Was Made

Hi Mixed-Up Filers! Recently, I had the opportunity to talk to Patricia Lakin, an award-winning author who writes both fiction and nonfiction for toddlers to middle-graders. We discussed Guitars, the latest book in her Made By Hand series from Simon & Schuster. It’s a fun book filled with great facts about how guitars are made and two activities that show kids how to make their own instruments.

Tell us a little bit about Guitars and the Made By Hand series? How did 4 Covers from the Made By Hand Series: Skateboards, Bicycles, Steel Drums, and Guitars, or more broadly, the Made By Hand series, come about? Did you select the subjects? If so, why?

The story of how Made By Hand came about is a true tale of admiration. An editor I have worked with in the past has a great love of hand-made objects. She knew that I shared that same love. It was this editor, Karen Nagel at Simon & Schuster, who created the Made By Hand series and asked me to be the writer.

The editorial team decided they wanted to focus on two objects used for transportation—one of wood and one of metal and use the same materials for two musical instruments. And that is how the book on Bicycles, Skateboards, Steel Drums and Guitars was born.

Did you actually visit Coloma Guitars? Or do you have any fun stories from researching the book?

The story of how I learned about the oh-so-talented Meredith Coloma is, I think, a New York story.  I happened to pass by Chelsea Guitars, a famous guitar store that is located at the equally famous Chelsea Hotel. I entered the long narrow shop and marveled at the guitars hanging on all the walls, from the ceiling etc. and asked the fellow behind the counter if he knew of a female luthier. [The three other books all had male makers and I wanted to highlight a woman for this book.]

The man behind the counter confirmed with another gentleman that I should contact luthier, Meredith Coloma—which is exactly what I did. She lives in Vancouver, BC. She was delighted to be a part of this project and so I put her in touch with the editorial department at Simon and Schuster.

Meredith and I spent a fair amount of time doing telephone interviews during which she shared her story—how she became a musician and decided to become a luthier—the latter all occurred because of a violin maker she happened to come to know. He only spoke Yiddish. His wife translated but he and Meredith spoke the language of music. It was that elderly gentleman who showed her the brochure of a luthier school not far from her home in British Columbia. I thought her story of becoming a luthier was magical and had to be included in the book.

We had extensive conversations and Meredith shared pictures of how step-by-step she creates an acoustic guitar as well as an electric guitar. I had no idea how complicated and how delicate the process is to create an acoustic guitar.


Guitars book cover

How did you approach the research and writing of Guitars?

I feel fortunate to live very close to New York Public Library of the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center.  There, I found so many books in circulation that dealt with the history of guitars, guitar greats and the science behind guitars.

I was able to bring those books home to do extensive research. Between those books and the wealth of information I found on the internet from a variety of guitar periodicals, I had tons of material to read and educate myself on the history of guitars.

Most nonfiction writers tell us that they learn so much about a subject that not all of it can fit into one book. Are there any fun facts that you learned that didn’t make it into Guitars?

That is so true. Each evening I’d recount to my husband all of the fascinating facts I’d learned about the guitar. Although I will admit that, since I’ve never studied an instrument and can’t read music, some of the facts on the number of strings on an acoustic guitar and the sound differential was too confusing to understand…plus, I knew that would make the book too technical to include. What I did find I had to cut was the longer history on how electric guitars were really influenced by Hawaiian ukuleles but I was able to include a few fun facts.

Do you play an instrument? If so, what do you play?

Patricia Lakin Publicity Photo 2021

As a child, I studied ballet and in college continued with dance classes, jazz and then tap and never studied a musical instrument.

If you could have a custom guitar made for you, what would it look like? Would it be acoustic or electric?

If I did own a guitar it would most likely be the guitar that Meredith made with a gorgeous tree inlaid on the acoustic guitar’s back. It’s on page 15 of the Guitar book.

I read on your bio that you’re inspired by movies. What is your favorite movie, and why?

Wow! I am such a movie fan that I don’t think I could pick a favorite. Going to the movies as a child, and now, even as an adult, is a special treat for me. Sitting in a darkened theatre, having those images up on the screen, larger than life—speaks to me in ways that I find totally magical.


Thank you for a fun interview! For more information about Patricia Lakin and her books, please check out her website. And don’t forget to check out Guitars and The Made By Hand series. For more information about, please visit Simon & Schuster’s Made By Hand page.