Introducing Loralee Leavitt and CANDY EXPERIMENTS

Today I’m thrilled to intro­duce a long­time friend of mine and fel­low non­fic­tion writer,  Loralee Leav­itt.  I first met Loralee many years ago through an online cri­tique group put togeth­er by SCBWI West­ern Wash­ing­ton. We were an assort­ed mix of begin­ning writ­ers, writ­ing every­thing from pic­ture books to nov­els, both fic­tion and non­fic­tion. The group even­tu­al­ly dis­solved, but Loralee and I still run into one anoth­er from time to time at in-per­son SCBWI events, and we always enjoy keep­ing up with one anoth­er’s careers. Now, I could­n’t be more excit­ed to help Loralee launch her excit­ing new book, CANDY EXPERIMENTS!

Can­dy Exper­i­ments by Loralee Leavitt
Andrews McMeel Publishing
Jan­u­ary 1, 2013
160 pages

LT: Wel­come, Loralee, and con­grat­u­la­tions! How did you get start­ed with sci­ence exper­i­ments using can­dy? What was your inspiration?
LL: It actu­al­ly start­ed with my four-year-old daugh­ter, who one day after Hal­loween asked to put her Nerds in water. The next time she asked, I real­ized it was a chance to get rid of all the Hal­loween can­dy I hadn’t want­ed my chil­dren to eat. We cov­ered the table in bowls of water and start­ed throw­ing in can­dy to see what would hap­pen. Soon we dis­cov­ered crazy things, like the float­ing M&M m’s or lol­lipop sticks that unrolled when they were wet.
LT: How did you get from that ini­tial inspi­ra­tion to devel­op­ing the actu­al exper­i­ments in the book?
LL: When we start­ed doing can­dy exper­i­ments, I saw that we could teach real sci­ence with them, and drew from my own sci­ence back­ground to cre­ate exper­i­ments. I also asked oth­er experts for ideas, and read books like The Sci­ence of Sug­ar Con­fec­tionery, in which I learned things that led to new exper­i­ments. Oth­er exper­i­ments came straight from what my chil­dren were try­ing: for instance, my son’s attempts to sink a marsh­mal­low by jam­ming M&Ms into it became one of my den­si­ty lessons.
LT: How much time did you spend research­ing over­all, and how long did it take to write the book?
LL: I spent about two years devel­op­ing and research­ing exper­i­ments and writ­ing rough drafts. (This was an on-and-off process, since I was also very busy rais­ing chil­dren.) After I found my pub­lish­er, I had about five more months to fin­ish writ­ing and research­ing, check my sci­ence, and take photos.
LT: The design of the book, the pho­tos and lay­out, is gor­geous. Did you sup­ply the pho­tos, too? Can you tell us about that process?
LL: After the pub­lish­er saw the pho­tos I’d tak­en for my web­site and mag­a­zine arti­cles, they decid­ed I’d be able to pro­vide pho­tos for the book. Luck­i­ly my hus­band is an excel­lent pho­tog­ra­ph­er, and was able both to take some pho­tos and teach me what I need­ed to know. I’m also grate­ful to a friend of mine who brought a pro­fes­sion­al pho­tog­ra­ph­er to my home to give me some tips, such as using a roll of white paper to cre­ate a smooth background.
LL: To take most of the pho­tos, I set every­thing up on my kitchen table by a north-fac­ing win­dow, and set the cam­era on a tri­pod so I could take long expo­sures for good light­ing. Oth­er pho­tos were more chal­leng­ing, like microwav­ing a marsh­mal­low on a paper back­ground and open­ing the microwave fast enough to snap a pho­to before the marsh­mal­low col­lapsed. I assigned one of the hard­est pho­tos to my par­ents: a series of pic­tures of a Mentos/Diet Coke geyser, which they took in a flood­it back­yard one dark sum­mer night.
LT: Fun! Dur­ing your research, did any­thing sur­prise you, catch you off guard, or make you change your planned course for the book?
LL: The book is full of exper­i­ments that sur­prised us, many of them com­ing from things we tried that had crazy results. I had no idea when I put gum­mi worms in water that they’d absorb enough water to dou­ble in length, or that opaque Smar­ties would melt into clear pud­dles, or that con­ver­sa­tion hearts would bob up and down in soda.
LT: What was the hard­est part of the research and/or writ­ing for you? How did you deal with that?
LL: One of the hard­est parts was find­ing answers to real­ly weird ques­tions. For instance, I asked sev­er­al experts why, when I dropped M&M’s into water and they dis­solved, the result­ing pools of col­or didn’t mix togeth­er on their own. At last I found a sim­i­lar exper­i­ment on the ACS web­site and con­tact­ed them to see if they could pro­vide me with a good expla­na­tion. And they did.
LT: What kind of read­er do you think CANDY EXPERIMENTS will appeal to?
LL: I tar­get­ed the book at 7- to 10-year-olds, but old­er and younger peo­ple should enjoy it as well. Even adults love learn­ing that the m’s from M&Ms float in water.
LT: I think every book teach­es us some­thing new: about the world, about our­selves, or about the craft of writ­ing. What have you learned as a result of writ­ing this book? What sur­prised you the most dur­ing the process?
LL: I loved learn­ing about the ingre­di­ents and sci­ence of can­dy. For instance, I learned that taffy pulling is what makes taffy soft by incor­po­rat­ing air bubbles–without the air bub­bles, the taffy would be as hard as lollipops.
LL: I also had to think hard about what made these exper­i­ments so inter­est­ing to me, and try to share my amaze­ment with my readers.
LT: I love that answer! I’ve found that focus­ing on what makes the sub­ject so inter­est­ing to me is the key to my suc­cess­ful non­fic­tion writ­ing as well. And it’s not near­ly as easy to do as it sounds! Are there any oth­er tips you would like to share with aspir­ing children’s book writ­ers, espe­cial­ly those writ­ing non­fic­tion for kids?
LL: Write about what you love. For me, writ­ing about the sci­ence of can­dy cap­tured my sense of child­like discovery/explored things I’d loved since I was a child: sci­ence, writ­ing, can­dy, and fam­i­ly. I was excit­ed to share my dis­cov­er­ies with oth­ers. Also, I spent so much time on this book that I couldn’t have stuck with it if I wasn’t real­ly interested.
LT: That’s def­i­nite­ly good advice. What are you work­ing on now?
LL: Right now, I’m most­ly work­ing on pub­lic­i­ty for my book, arrang­ing reviews, guest blog posts, and book sign­ings. I’m fin­ish­ing up an ebook about car trips for, since every­body always asks me how we man­age our kids on long dri­ving trips. I’m col­lect­ing more can­dy ideas in case I get the oppor­tu­ni­ty to do anoth­er book, and I have a his­tor­i­cal nov­el that I’d like to pol­ish up and submit.
LT: Good luck with those! What would you most like peo­ple to know about you?
LL: When I became a moth­er, I wor­ried that I’d have to put my writ­ing aside. Lit­tle did I know that my kids would lead me to my big break! I’m so thank­ful for the way that my fam­i­ly, my love for sci­ence, and my love of writ­ing have com­bined to make this project a success.
LT: It is a great sto­ry, and a good reminder to just go with the flow some­times. Thanks so much for stop­ping by, Loralee, and much suc­cess with your fan­tas­tic new book!
Loralee Leav­itt destroys can­dy for the sake of sci­ence at Her new book, CANDY EXPERIMENTS, con­tains dozens of amaz­ing exper­i­ments includ­ing cre­at­ing giant gum­mi worms, turn­ing M&Ms into comets, and grow­ing can­dy crystals. 
Facts First! Nonfiction Monday

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