Patchen Barss

  • 6 min read


Twitter: @patchenbarss

1. When you were my age (9), did you like to read?
I have always liked to read. The house I grew up in was full of books, and when I was your age, I had a really great teacher who taught us all about grammar and structure in writing. So that was the year when I went from just enjoying good stories, to really starting to think about what makes them good. I don’t think I knew I wanted to be a writer yet at that age, but it was definitely when I started to learn how to do it.

2. What was your favorite story?
I remember one day telling my parents that I had just finished reading a book called No Flying In the House ten times in a row. The book is about a girl who discovers that she’s actually a fairy princess who can fly and do spells. I still remember strange little details like the fact that she could kiss her own elbow—that struck me as some amazing magic. As a grown-up, I still often have dreams at night where I can fly—just as I imagined it when I was a kid reading that book.

3. How do you get your ideas? You write science books, are they hard to research?

It does take a lot of research to write a book, but it’s always fun.

My job is to write about science in lots of different ways. I write for magazines, museums, and websites, as well as writing books. So I’m lucky—I get to talk to scientists all the time. They tell me about their new ideas and discoveries, and also about the questions they haven’t answered yet that are driving them crazy with curiosity.

I’m also a dad, so I’m always talking to kids as well. I’m struck by the way scientists and kids are curious about the same kinds of things—they try to figure out how the world works, test theories, make discoveries, revise their ideas. I try to find book ideas that encourage kids to be scientists, to pay attention to their own curiosity, and to try to figure out why the world works the way it does. (That’s a big theme in Flow Spin Grow.)

4. What author do you really like right now?
My own kids are six and seven years old, so our house is now full of picture books and chapter books. We’ve been revisiting some classics lately, including Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. I don’t know if an author today would be able to publish a book that makes so little sense. But the book’s nonsense is full of cleverness, terrible puns, and iconic characters—the Cheshire Cat, the Mad Hatter, the Queen of Hearts. I can read it over and over, and be completely confused and delighted at the same time.

5. Do you have any new or lesser known authors you would suggest?
One book we read recently that I really loved is Wicked Nix by a Toronto-based writer named Lena Coakley. By coincidence, it’s also about people and fairies. The main character, a fairy named Nix, seems at first to be up to some pretty normal magical mischief, but the story becomes mixed up with themes of memory and family. In the end, it’s still a magical story, but it’s a different kind of magic than you might expect.

6. What advice do you have for a kid who wants to be an author?
Read as much as you can, and write as much as you can. Find other kids who also love books and writing and reading, so you can share your ideas and make up stories together. Go to bookstores and libraries and ask for recommendations. And, think about the things you’re most interested in—sports, dance, art, robots, movies, anything—and create stories about those things. I have always loved science and math, so it makes sense that that’s what I write books about. Find the things that you love to write about the most, and focus on those.

7. As an author, do you hear from your readers? What do you like about that?
Hearing from readers is the best. As a writer, you tend to really care deeply about your subject matter. I have always found nature’s patterns fascinating and beautiful. I wrote Flow Spin Grow to share my passion with other people. I wanted to inspire kids to be scientists, to ask questions and satisfy their curiosity. Now I meet people or they send me notes talking about how they now see patterns everywhere. I feel great that I’ve had an effect on them. Even more, I’m just glad to know that there are other people out there who share my interests.

8. If you could portal into any book (yours or another person’s), what book would it be?
This is a tough one. I like stories where writers create whole worlds—Harry Potter, the Chronicles of Narnia, the Lord of the Rings, etc. But those books tend to have lots of battles and villains and danger. I’m happy to read about those things, but I don’t actually need to be in there myself waving a wand or a sword around. (Honestly, I don’t think I’d last very long.)

But I do like being a part of stories where groups of talented friends accomplish great things together. So, I’m going to say that I would become a student in the Grade 2 classroom of Miss Lila Greer, in Andrea Beatty and David Robert’s great picture books, Iggy Peck, Architect; Ada Twist, Scientist; and Rosie Revere, Engineer.

Thanks so much for this interview—it’s very fun to think about these questions.


Leave a Reply