r.a. nelson

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If you want the official version, look to the right. This one is more fun.

My Lost in Space days
growing up

As Mark Twain liked to say, I was “born excited.” I was always the last kid yammering away on a campout, totally on fire about something that eventually had my friends snoring. I was also the guy who rounded up everybody in the neighborhood to build a tree house, wage war with rotten watermelons, or construct an "airplane" that we pushed out of our sweetgum tree with my brother on board. (Sorry, Randy). I spent as much time outdoors as possible. Forming “adventure” clubs, building forts, exploring, digging, swimming, playing various types of ball. I read books in trees and can still remember the way the leaves made green and yellow opaque splotches on the pages.


Here I am on Keel Mountain with my back to a 200 foot drop. Dig the pants.
Every year my brothers and I designed a "Horror House" for Halloween that ultimately became so popular, things got out of hand because of gate crashers. Other times we brought hognose snakes indoors or dragged all the mattresses into the yard so we could turn flips off the roof. We fought bullies. Trekked from one neighborhood to another through storm drains. Captured snapping turtles that nearly bit my mother's broom in half.

Give the man some clam shells, a few coconuts, vines for wires, and get out of the way
If you're old enough to remember Gilligan's Island, it's obvious who my favorite character was: the Professor, played by Russell Johnson. Six advanced degrees and a love of science and learning that was almost pathological. I found the Professor's website a while back and wrote an email thanking him for being one of the people who inspired in me a love of science and the world around me. I explained how this outlook on life had bled into my books. The Professor responded: "well, as you can see i aint no writer. rj"

My dad used to do this: NASA's zero gravity plane, called the K-Bird
moon smoke

I grew up in north Alabama surrounded by cotton fields and Saturn V moon rocket engines that every few days erupted, filling the pine woods with billowing white smoke that looked just like clouds. The NASA test stands out on Marshall Space Flight Center rattled our windows on a regular basis when they test-fired the massive Apollo engines. My brothers and I used to be featured on the cover of a little brochure for NASA's first "Space Museum." I was the one with my head stuffed up the engine.

My NASA engineer father helped us land on the moon. I am extremely proud of him for that. We have home movies of Dad goofing around in the zero gravity airplane holding two 500-pound packages, one in each hand. He went through all the astronaut training and spent a lot of time at Houston and Cape Canaveral while making his home base at the Marshal Space Flight Center in north Alabama. Untold thousands of people worked unbelievably hard to back up President Kennedy’s promise. Some literally gave their lives. I have a huge soft spot in my heart for NASA and everything those people have accomplished. So don’t ever try to tell me that the moon landing was really filmed in Arizona. I just might knock you down.


dreams

Having a dad going through all that astronaut training, it was natural for me to want to be the first person to walk on Mars. But I also fantasized about becoming a slam-dunking NBA star, a time traveler, an explorer on the North American continent somewhere between the years 1589-1720, and a general all-around Hero. I ultimately discovered that most of these spots had already been taken, required abnormal genetics, or demanded a more than passing acquaintance with words like "Boolean."

I've always had a book with me wherever I go. It's a necessity, a lifeline. What if I get stuck somewhere like Sears having my tires rotated? We're talking survival. As a reader, one of my first loves was Dr. Seuss. I can still recite huge gobs of his stuff, and my favorite story is What Was I Scared Of? (the one about the "pale green pants with nobody inside"). I can't tell you what an honor it is to be a small part of his publishing house (Random House). I read scads of "boy" books like The Hardy Boys, but my favorite series was Tom Swift. I spent countless hours daydreaming about (or trying to recreate) the things I read in books like Tom Swift and His Polar Ray Dynasphere or Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's The Lost World or H.G. Well's War of the Worlds. I've always been an explorer at heart. I read reams of science fiction, everything from Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 to Philip K. Dick's UBIK.


I read Dickens and George Eliot and Shakespeare for school, but the first "grownup" book I ever chose to read on my own was a towering love story called Green Mansions by W.H. Hudson. I fell hard for Rima, the girl with a voice like a bird, who our hero discovers in the wilds of Venezuela. Throw in the idea of a "lost world" echoing back to Edgar Rice Burroughs, and I was hooked. The ending nearly killed me. I walked around in a daze for hours after finishing it. I still think Green Mansions has one of the all time great opening lines: "Now that we are cool, he said, and regret that we hurt each other, I am not sorry that it happened."

In college I discovered poetry and authors like Dylan Thomas, T.S. Eliot, and James Joyce. Later I branched out to writers as varied as Hemingway, Shirley Jackson, and Elmore Leonard. For a good number of years Watership Down by Richard Adams was my all-time favorite book. An adventure starring rabbits? Yep.

So what's my favorite now? That's hard to say. I get excited when I discover a book like The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau or The White Darkness by Geraldine Mccaughrean or House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski. I want to be transported. Feel a sense of wonder. New possibilities. Even if the writers were writing fifty or a hundred years ago. I love spending time inside the minds of people like Laura Ingalls Wilder, e.e. cummings, Emily Dickinson, George Orwell, or, more recently, Meg Rosoff, Audrey Niffenegger, Cormac McCarthy.


"So, Peter, what's happening?"
work

I did a few other things in college besides read. I studied everything from astrophysics to microbiology. Bontany, history, psychology, astronomy, calculus, French. But I kept running into the Boolean word. So I finished up in Mandarin Chinese. I somehow managed to parlay this cache of arcane knowledge into some pretty diverse employment opportunities. Tennis club pro shop clerk. Rodman on a survey crew (the guy who holds the long measuring stick). Computer store sales. Sports reporter. Air Force cryptologic linguist. And finally Technical writer on NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center.


A "book" I was writing at about 10 or 12 years old.
I’ve been a writer almost as long as I’ve been a reader. The first thing I ever remember writing was a single act play called, originally enough, “The Mummy’s Curse,” in the second grade. I still have that play along with approximately two million other words stored away in boxes that will most likely never see the light of day, unless it’s to demonstrate the journey of a writer from awful to passable. Short stories, science fiction, half-baked Stephen King or Tolkien or Michael Crichton. Lots of novels that fell over and died at page 77 or 120 or 303.

I wanted to make it look as much like a real book as possible, so I cut the typewriter paper smaller and typed it single space.
I have another million words or so stored on computer disks and flash drives, etc. After writing all those pieces of novels, I eventually finished one. I wrote at least three complete novels, one of them 218,000 words long, before writing one that I was pretty sure would sell. Which it did. That was a book with the unlikely title of Teenage Girl's X-Ray Vision Baffles Scientists. My agent and editor thought that title was a little *cough cough* long. My editor came up with the final title, which was Teach Me.

The Official Version

R.A. Nelson is the author of the novels Teach Me, Breathe My Name, Days of Little Texas, and Throat. His work was selected as a finalist for National Public Radio's list of the "Best Young Adult Fiction Ever Written." Nelson was chosen a Horn Book Newcomer and his books have been nominated to the YALSA Best Books for Young Adults list and recognized by the Parents' Choice Awards, the New York Public Library Books for the Teen Age list, Booksense Kid Picks, the Miami Herald Best Books of the Year, teenreads.com Best Books of the year, and others. Nelson is also published in Germany and Hungary. He lives with his family in Alabama and is a recipient of NASA's prestigious Silver Snoopy Award for "outstanding support provided to the Space Shuttle program." Teach Me has been optioned by Protagonist Films for a feature film.

NASA Silver Snoopy