Understanding Coronaviruses: An Interview with Author Connie Goldsmith

While many scientists believed influenza would cause the next great pandemic, no one was prepared for the new strain of coronavirus that appeared in 2019. SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, has infiltrated every country and put global public health and the economy at risk. Health-care systems have been pushed to the limit as protective gear, life-saving equipment, tests, and vaccines are scarce and in high demand. From the initial infection to the widespread impact on daily life, Understanding Coronaviruses: SARS, MERS, and the COVID-19 Pandemic examines the intricacies of SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19 and how they compare to previous viruses and pandemics.

Read on to hear from author Connie Goldsmith who shares how she tackled this research-driven project and how she hopes this title will help YA readers make informed decisions.

What research did you do for this title and what was your best resource?

Writing nonfiction requires a LOT of research. When working on a new book I first set a Google alert on the topic. Each day I receive an email that includes newspaper and magazine articles about my topic. It’s a great way to get the newest info. And very often the notes on a Google alert steer me to another good resource, such as an expert to interview. I do Internet searches on my topic. I either go to the library or buy used copies of books related to my subject.   

My favorite resources are people! Because I write for young people, I like to interview them. As a writer, I know many other writers; often they are Facebook friends. I can ask something like, “Do you know a teen who would like to talk to me about xxx (whatever)?” I like to contact experts when I can; they’re usually interested in answering a question I have or giving me an interesting quote on the topic.

What are your research tips for students?

Always look for the original source. For example, you may find an article in a popular magazine that has some information you’d like to quote. But as you read the article you discover that the info came from a professional journal. The journal name is likely to be blue or a color different from the article. Click on the journal and read the info in the journal. That is the original source and the source you should quote or cite in your own paper.

If you’re wanting to reach someone at a university or a company, contact the public relations or media department. They will often put you in direct contact with the person you want to talk with. 

And give Google alerts a try!

Which part of creating this title did you enjoy more? The research or the writing? Is this usually how it goes?

Actually, my favorite part of writing nonfiction is contacting people to interview. That provides me with insight into the topic that I couldn’t get in any other way. For my coronavirus book, personal interviews included a teen boy, a teen girl, and a college age girl. They told me how the pandemic was affecting their personal and school lives. I also talked to a young woman in Sacramento where I live who had been critically ill with the virus. I reached her on Facebook after seeing her story on the front page of my local newspaper. Her photo and great recovery also serve as the ending to my book. I talked to a college professor who gave me insight into how distance learning affects students and educators alike. And I interviewed a woman who’d been detained for several weeks on one of the earliest “covid cruise ships.” The government sent her group to a military base in Northern California for a lengthy quarantine.

However, I’d say I enjoy research and writing equally. I love learning new things and then getting to write about them – it doesn’t get any better than that!

As a registered nurse and the author of multiple nonfiction titles about pandemics, you have unique insight into the last year and a half. How did this influence your creative choices? 

I wrote a book about the Ebola epidemic several years ago, and a book about pandemics in general and how human activities cause them two years ago. So yes, this is my third book about pandemics. I’ve also mentioned past pandemics in two books about flu that I wrote.

Nurses are always teachers. One of my goals in writing about health-related topics is to make the hard stuff clear enough for readers to understand. On a personal level, being a nurse (although not in active practice) allowed me to understand early on how COVID-19 was likely to affect us now and in the future.

What was the most challenging part of writing this book?

The manuscript for the book was due spring 2021. A lot happened in the pandemic between then and the publication date in September. I would have liked to have included information about the Delta variant and the huge surge among unvaccinated people that started by late summer into early fall. That’s the sometimes frustrating and often challenging thing when writing a book about an event that’s happening as you’re writing. Most people don’t realize how much time passes between finishing a book and its publication – time spent in editing, obtaining photos, designing layout, sending to printer, warehousing, and then distribution.

You’ve had twenty-five books or so published. How do you get your ideas?

It’s a mix of my own ideas and ideas that my editors have suggested. Looking at my most recent twelve books, my Lerner editors asked me to write five of them, including my newest one about coronaviruses, and my books about addiction and suicide. The other seven were my ideas. It took me several tries to get approval for two of them while the others were approved right away. My ideas come from articles I read, a story on the news, and once, from a Facebook entry about military war dogs!

Most nonfiction writers don’t write their books without getting a contract first. You do enough research to prepare a proposal, which includes why the book is needed and why you are the one to write it, a chapter outline, a sample chapter, and finally, competition if any, and possible marketing pitches.

What do you hope readers will learn and discover from reading this book?

It’s important to realize how the health of the world is interconnected. A new illness that arises in one part of the world is almost certain to spread to other parts of the world. In that sense, none of us are safe until all of us are safe.

Scientists say that many of the new diseases in the past twenty years or so are related to human activities. These activities include increased travel worldwide, crowding of huge numbers of people such as can occur in refugee camps, and perhaps most importantly, human disruption of animal habitats. Population growth and expansion into previously forested areas where wild animals live is a sure way to put people and animals in close contact; that close contact allows diseases previously confined to animals to infect humans.

What can teens do to help in our current pandemic?

Teens can help to convince friends and relatives that the vaccinations for COVID-19 are safe and effective. They can tell people to believe in the science and the experts, rather than questionable websites and social media entries. This fall, television news reports are showing people who didn’t get vaccinated and who are now critically ill and in intensive care units. Every one of them says they wished they’d been vaccinated and they urge others to do so.

What projects are you working on now?

Generally, editors ask nonfiction writers not to talk about their works in progress. I can say, I’ve got a project for Lerner underway for 2023, and another one waiting for the next acquisitions committee meeting. My agent and I are working on a couple of nonfiction ideas, and also what will be my debut picture book. And if those ideas don’t work out, I have a dozen more topics I’d enjoy writing about.

Share this video with your students to introduce them to Understanding Coronaviruses

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