GU Comics Day: Figuring it all out with Manga Math (and Tigers)

by Erin Finnegan

Melinda Thielbar is the primary author behind Manga Math Mysteries, our series for Grades 3-5 that relates math to everyday life through the eyes of the students at a Kung Fu dojo. Melinda is a statistician who has previously worked as a math teacher “in real life.”

What was the first thing you were paid to write?

Manga Math is my first paid writing gig, which is awesome and has probably spoiled me for other publishing houses. Everyone I’ve worked with has been professional, helpful, and focused on making the books their very best.

What’s it like working with an artist?

The artists are the best part of writing for Graphic Universe. It really pleases me when they take a script I’ve written and add their own character touches and interpretations.

Do you write full time? If not, what else do you do for a living? Do you want to write full time?

I was actually chosen to write Manga Math because of my experience teaching statistics and mathematics. I’m now working as a consultant for a statistical software company. One of the really exciting projects I’m working on is saving the wild tiger with statistics. There is a group called WildTrack that uses animal footprints like human fingerprints to track endangered species. Two weeks ago, I got to stand outside a tiger’s cage and feed him treats. We were trying to get him to walk across a nice sandy spot so we could take pictures of his footprints. Of course he wouldn’t do it, but he appreciated the treats.

I love my job as a statistician. People are always excited to see me and have my help, and they’re more than happy to tell me all about their interesting projects. I have many friends who are full-time writers, but overall I think it’s not for me. Writing as a full-time profession often means writing things that are profitable rather than things that move you as an artist. Having a day job gives me the freedom to write what I want to write. It helps that my day job is one of the coolest jobs around!

Have you ever written someone you know into a story? Perhaps at their insistence?

Most of the Manga Math characters are based on my kung fu brothers and sisters. No, I won’t tell you which ones. Amy is actually named after Amy Lau, a writer from New York and a classmate from one of my writing workshops. Amy helped me with a lot of research for a novel I’m working on, so it seemed only right that I make her a character in one of my Graphic Universe books.