Nikola Tesla was not only a genius, he was a complicated person with an interesting life that sometimes reads like fiction. Amy O’Quinn has done an amazing job capturing all the facinating stories about Tesla’s life as well as his many achievments in the field of electrical engineering. Her book, Nikola Tesla For Kids is a wonderful read, and I would say it’s not just for kids. We asked Amy about her inspiration and writing journey.
Amy O’Quinn: I am excited to have this opportunity to guest post at Middle-Grade Mojo to celebrate Nikola Tesla’s 164th birthday! Thank you so much for having me!
MGM: What inspired you to write a book about Nikola Tesla for children?
AO: I must say that I sort of ‘fell into’ writing about Nikola Tesla. After I finished the edits for my Marie Curie book in early 2016, my (then) editor and I began tossing ideas back and forth for a second book. I really wanted to write about the 1918 flu or perhaps Beatrix Potter, but she thought I should go in a different direction.
That’s when I asked the million-dollar question, “What do you want?” (By the way, that same question helped me land my first book contract.)
My editor mentioned they would like to add a Nikola Tesla book to their ‘For Kids’series. I have an educational background in the hard sciences, my husband has worked in the electrical industry for over thirty years, and my son is an electrical engineer, but I’ll admit that I still had to come around to the idea. I’m a person who has to understand a scientific concept from every angle before writing about it, and I contemplated how difficult it might be to adequately explain electromagnetism, direct and alternating current, wireless transmission of energy, etc. to middle grade students. Moreover, I didn’t know much about Nikola Tesla myself at that point.
But, wow! When I began doing some preliminary research, I was blown away! Tesla—brilliant, accomplished, prescient, ahead of his time, eccentric, quirky—was a writer’s dream. I was hooked. I created a proposal, submitted it to my editor and the editorial committee at Chicago Review Press, and it was accepted unanimously.
I had a blast writing about the life and accomplishments of Nikola Tesla, and I learned a lot!
MGM: There is a lot of false information and conspiracy theories about Tesla on the Internet. How did you weed through the nonsense?
AO: So true. I always stick to reputable and vetted sources/resources when I research and write, but even then, there are often conflicting opinions. However, I make sure that I can cite at least two sources for each fact. There were several interesting and fascinating tidbits I had to cut from the manuscript because I couldn’t nail down more than one source, no matter how many books or newspapers I scoured. Disappointing, yes, but that’s how it goes.
I also used Tesla’s own autobiography and writings, which are obviously primary sources. Yet a few experts wonder if perhaps some of his childhood ‘memories’ might have been somewhat dramatized for effect. Therefore, when I recounted his stories or memories, I made sure to say that Tesla ‘stated’ or ‘recalled’ this or that…and sometimes I added the thoughts of today’s experts.