Growing up, I loved dogs, dolphins and France. I wanted to be an international reporter or lighthouse keeper. Teachers praised my stories, but no one told me to join the Creative Writing Club or said, “You should be a writer.” It may never have occurred to me if I hadn’t filled out Stanford University’s application. The essay question was, “What kind of book would you write and why?”
A book! What a great idea! Instantly, I knew I’d write a children’s book because kids were less bombarded by information than adults. They would remember their favorite books like I did, so writing children’s books meant making a lasting impression. My essay must have been convincing because Stanford let me in. I didn’t take any writing classes, but I did major in International Relations, which was a new degree. It was only after I graduated from college that I started taking classes and reading books about how to write.
What was great about that essay question is that it gave me a wonderful life goal—to have a children’s book published. The best way to achieve anything is to turn it into a goal, the kind that dangles in front of you like a big, fat target to aim at and not rest until you’ve hit it.
What was your first job out of college?
With no starving artists in our family, I knew I’d have to work at jobs that would pay the rent while I pursued my goal to become a writer on my own time. I’d always wanted to see four seasons the East Coast way, since San Diego seasons are quite subtle (fall=fog; winter=rain, if we’re lucky; spring=scent of mock orange blossoms; summer=obvious). After graduation, I moved to Washington, D.C., with all its embassies and federal institutions working with other countries.
First, I waitressed in a cafe while I pestered the Environmental Protection Agency until they gave me a summer internship. That led to working on SUN DAY, an international day to promote solar, wind and water energy. The group became a non-profit organization where I was the education coordinator. I wrote about solar energy and pulled together packets for teachers and students. At night, I also worked on my first children’s article. My goal was to sell something before my 24th birthday, and RANGER RICK magazine bought my “Sandy the Sea Lion” story one month before that birthday. Victory!
What was your first book?
That’s a little tricky. Technically, my first book is the HIPPOS ZOOBOOK. It was part of an on-going series that someone else had started. I was hired to write seven new volumes. My brother didn’t think that they counted as real books because ZOOBOOKS look like magazines and are sent to subscribers’ homes. Fortunately, soon after I’d written my seven, ZOOBOOKS came out in hardcover for libraries and looked like real books, so my brother believed me.
What do you like to write about?
Mostly whatever surprises me or intrigues me. Anything that makes me say, “Oh, wow! I didn’t know that!” is a good candidate for an article or book. For example, THE GREAT TULIP TRADE came from finding out that tulip bulbs in Holland in the 1600s were more valuable than gold, diamonds or even houses. Wow! My favorite flowers are tulips, so I was immediately hooked. When Anna, the main character, must decide whether to trade her birthday tulips for sheep, pans, chairs, and other necessities, that came from my own quandary when my ornery older brother tried to make me trade a gift from our mom.
Have your books won any awards or recognition?
Yes, I’m happy to say. My website, www.bethbrust.com, has a full list and descriptions of my fourteen books. It was very surprising and exciting when the American Library Association used one of Andersen’s paper cuttings from my book to illustrate the cover of their “Notable Books” brochure. And my first adult book, QUIRKY, YES—HOPELESS, NO: PRACTICAL TIPS TO HELP YOUR CHILD WITH ASPERGER’S SYNDROME BE MORE SOCIALLY ACCEPTED, won the San Diego Book Award for Best in Education in 2010, which was very gratifying.
What do you want students to know about writing?
That attitude is everything. Some days, it’s easy to write and some days it’s hard, even for us published authors. The main thing is to stay positive and not give up. Remember that nothing comes out perfect the first time, so relax. Just spit out what you want to say in a scribbly first draft, then go back and fix it.