Tanya Lee Stone
Interview with Tanya Lee Stone
Last month, astronaut Sally Ride passed away after battling pancreatic cancer. In 1983, at age thirty-two, Ride entered low-earth orbit – the first American woman to do so and youngest astronaut to launch into space. While Ride was among the first American women to become an astronaut, she joined legion of girls and women before her who dreamed of space travel. This weekend the Perseid meteor shower will peak, as it does every year about this time. In the earliest darkest hours of the next few days, we may be able to see fifty or sixty meteors per hour. Somewhere out there is a curious, determined girl discontent to watch from the ground. She wants to study, travel, explore our universe. Tanya Lee Stone has written just the book for her!
What a fantastic book! I really couldn’t put this down. The way you write about this part of our history is so personal and interesting and dynamic. Your enthusiasm for the story really comes through. Tell me how you decided to write this book. Did you ever have any doubts along the way about whether to or how to write it?
I came across a small mention of these women and had never heard of them, which surprised me. I knew I had to tell their story and help them become better known. Finding the right way to tell the story was trickier. At first, I told it as a picture book. But that didn’t work. The story was too big for such a small format. Then, I expanded it to a longer book that incorporated both poetry and prose. My third attempt was the book you read.
Have you stayed in touch with any of the Mercury 13? How did they share in the success of the book with you?
I have stayed in touch a little bit with a couple of the women. When something noteworthy happens regarding the book, I like to let them know. And one of them even gets on Facebook sometimes! They have been very happy to have the book to share with family and friends, and I always thank them for sharing their time with me whenever I talk about the process.
What struck me about the Mercury 13’s story is that not only did they pioneer for an expanded role of women in space but also for people of color, right?
The year that NASA opened the space program to women was the same year it opened the program to people of color, yes. I’m not sure how much of a direct cause and effect it was regarding the Mercury 13 ladies, but it was certainly time for that progress.
Do you enjoy research as much as writing?
I do love research. I find it extremely interesting and challenging and fun. I love tracking down little or unknown pieces of information and being able to confirm the accuracy of something like that.
Would you be willing to share 1 or 2 of your best research secrets? What, if any, technology tools do you use to help you organize, track, or use research findings while you’re writing?
I really don’t use technology much, other than the Internet to track down people and books, of course. I think the biggest research secret is simply dogged determination. If you are unwilling to quit until you get results, you will do well at research.
What are you working on now?
I have two books coming out in the beginning of 2013. COURAGE HAS NO COLOR is a little known story of the first black paratroopers in WWII, who actually fought a threat by the Japanese in the American West during the war and were integrated into the 82nd Airborne many months before military segregation ended. Not unlike ALMOST ASTRONAUTS, these men were people who took risks and paved the way for those who came after them. The other is a picture book about Elizabeth Blackwell, who was the first woman doctor in America. It’s called WHO SAYS WOMEN CAN’T BE DOCTORS? and is brilliantly illustrated by Marjorie Priceman. And at the moment, I am working on a middle-grade adventure series that has a nonfiction component.
Pick one of the Mercury 13. What made her a strong girl?
I can’t pick one! Each and every one of them was strong in different ways. Incredible people.
Complete this sentence: strong girls
will make their own dreams come true.
Tanya Lee Stone studied English at Oberlin College and was an editor of children’s nonfiction for many years. She has a Masters Degree in Science Education. After many years as an editor, Tanya moved to Vermont and returned to writing. She writes picture books, nonfiction, and YA fiction, which include Elizabeth Leads the Way, A Bad Boy Can Be Good for a Girl, and Almost Astronauts. Her work has won such honors as the Sibert Medal, Golden Kite Award, and Boston Globe-Horn Book. Forthcoming books in 2013 include Courage Has No Color and Who Says Women Can’t Be Doctors?