I’m a retired English teacher with a lifelong hobby of writing historical fiction.
Nine years ago, teaching an 8:00 class of cadets at Valley Forge Military College, I had an acute heart episode. I remember my friend Jerry, the school chaplain, praying for me in the ambulance. I remember struggling to tell him, “I’ve had a good life,” so my kids would know.
I am very lucky to be alive. Since that day, I have felt sure that it is my mission on earth to bring history to the rising tide of young people. Like my cadets, our students have never heard the story of the Maya codex, or Fordlandia, or the Chinese Famine of 1957.
It is deeply satisfying for me to craft my odd little adventures around all these impossibly rich episodes. If it takes time for my readers to discover them, that’s okay too. Like my cadets, they will be more than amazed, if I can tell the stories correctly.
Could you tell us a little about your novels, The Adventures of Ruby Pi and the Geometry Girls & The Adventures of Ruby Pi and the Math Girls?
Yes, when I came across the mystifying and dramatic drop-off of female STEM students at age 14, this became my challenge. The idea was to write a handful of stories to capture in human terms the wonder of Bayes’ Rule, and the Pythagorean theorem, and the measurement of earth’s curvature. The fact that I know little math has not stopped me.
The project got out of hand, and when I reached ten stories with nine different girl protagonists (Ruby appears twice), I paused and cut the collection into two volumes to post for readers. Cleverly, I have surrounded myself with very talented people like Sandra Uve (foreword), Mai Nguyen (illustrator), and book designer Ben Kelley. I think the resulting two volumes give readers fair value.
When researching this theme, did you come upon any unexpected surprises?
Yes!! The true story of the tragic young French mathematician, Evariste Galois, who scribbled his best theories the night before he was killed in a duel at age 20, pointed the way for me. Combining human drama with mathematics can enhance both the math and the drama.
You say you are keen for girls to get into STEM research and other sciences. Why are you so passionate about this subject in particular?
Because math and science are such difficult and such classic subjects, really. I felt that, if I could craft an honest story about a girl coming of age -- and using math to carve a place in the world for herself and her family -- it would be timelessly relevant. Tying my so-so writing talent to a universal set of rules is a positive.
A second reason for my tackling STEM topics is because I don’t understand them, and I want to.
Does one of the main characters hold a special place in your heart? If so, why?
I am deeply connected to each of these heroines. They are versions of my own kids.
I have progressions of further adventures lined up for each of them!! Sophie from “Mean Girls,” for instance, will need more battlefield math to defeat Boche weaponry. The young Benin Architect must reach for ever-higher geometrics in order to defeat Queen Nala (and find love).
Ruby is first among equals because I needed a single figure to tie together all of the collections. She lives at the nexus of rising and falling empire and the modern world. Between her homeland of India and her new life in England, Ruby generates great plot and thematic possibilities.
The Adventures of Ruby Pi and the Geometry Girls & The Adventures of Ruby Pi and the Math Girls are the first collections in your series. Are you planning any further titles?
Yes!! I have mapped out subsequent collections of historical adventures of Botany Girls, Chemistry Girls, Science Girls, Aviation Girls, and more. I hope to collaborate with other writers on these, editing some and writing some. As I look at the history of each discipline, key moments jump out.
This is my way of narrativizing science. This is what I have to offer.
A Ruby story will start each collection.
And lastly, what are your current or upcoming writing projects about?
I hope the next year will see the completion of an epic, dark sequel to “The Boatman’s Daughter.” This is a decade-long project. Then there are two long-ish and complex stories, one for the Botany Girls collection and another for Aviation Girls, that I have not quite figured out (and plan to). They need to be deceptively simple on their surfaces.