LH: Can you tell us how you got interested in writing? I know you were into science back at Harvey Mudd College.
LEH: I started writing stories in the fourth grade, and although I wrote for the school newspapers in junior high and high school, I mostly wrote fiction. When I went to HMC, I thought I’d become a chemistry professor. I found biochemistry fascinating. But I didn’t enjoy lab work. Putting my science interest together with my writing skills was a great combination for me.
LH: What was your first success with writing?
LEH: I was a graduate student in the science writing program at UC Santa Cruz, and one of my internships was at The Californian, a small newspaper in Salinas. I was assigned to cover the visit of the Olympic Torch to the area, and my article ended up on the front page! That my article was important enough and good enough for the front page gave me a lot of confidence.
LH: What kind of things do you most enjoy writing?
LEH: The in-depth ones. I’ve written a lot of different kinds of nonfiction, but it’s more fun to dig deep into a subject, to tell a real story, than to write a 300-500 word article skimming the surface, although those are important too. I also still enjoy writing fiction, although I haven't had any published yet.
LH: Any experience with agents?
LEH: Not yet. I sold Who’s Afraid of Marie Curie without one. I wrote an essay about the hairs we leave behind, not science at all, for the magazine section of the Sunday San Francisco Chronicle. In the blurb about me at the bottom, I said I write about science and engineering. About two and a half months later, an editor at Seal Books emailed me, said she liked my writing style, and asked if I’d like to write a book for Seal about women in science. That contact grew into Who’s Afraid of Marie Curie. So I basically skipped one of the hardest parts of getting a book published. It’s almost like I cheated.
LH: What are your thoughts about marketing?
LEH: It’s the part of freelancing that I enjoy least. It’s hard to put yourself out there. There are so many people trying to reach your audience, you need to stand out from that background. Target your audience and be creative.
LH: If you could go back in time to when you started writing and give yourself one piece of advice, what would it be?
LEH: If you want to be a freelance writer, make a specific, detailed business plan. I sort of made one when I first made the leap into freelancing, but I could have avoided rough places if I’d done more research and planned more carefully up front. As for the writing itself, outline, outline, outline. Having a plan, even if it changes, makes writing both fiction and nonfiction easier.
LH: Thanks for sharing your thoughts on writing with us, Linley.