As you know, I love bringing you interesting authors who write extraordinary books with many different things motivating them. Today we have Catherine Haustein, scientist and author, sharing her decision to pursue writing in combination with her career as a scientist, and how she came to write her debut novel, Natural Attraction.
Please welcome Catherine Haustein to Women’s Fiction Writers!
Combining Women and Science in Fiction and in Life
by Catherine Haustein
I must admit that I always harbored the goal of being an author who wrote about science. Science is a nation shaper, a life changer, more so now than ever, and so, I reasoned, understanding those who do science would make for great stories. I’m of Dutch decent and thus, pragmatic and it seemed logical to be a scientist first so that I could write what I knew.
After a year of pursuing my graduate degree in chemistry at The University of Iowa, I enrolled in the MFA program there without telling my chemistry adviser. I wasn’t going to take “no” for an answer and fortunately, both departments were supportive. Thus my career as a writer of scientist characters was launched.
Writing about science demystifies it. The scientific process isn’t a form of magic. It’s done by normal, flawed human beings. Scientists can be a funny lot so there’s a fountain of material. Writing about scientists gave me a niche too.
Part of why I write about women in science is to encourage others to go beyond society’s limitations. I was told as a girl that science wasn’t for women and I didn’t listen. I’m glad because science is a powerful career choice and can give a person tremendous self-confidence. Good data speaks for you and bestows a sense of worth and wonder.
I have another motivation for writing about science and that’s to entertain scientists and to inspire them to read widely. I worry sometimes, that with all this emphasis on STEM education, we’re not nurturing the souls and creativity of scientists. Suzanne Keen’s study of the connection between reading fiction and developing empathy highlights the need to keep everybody’s nose in a book.
There’s been, however, a nearly Faustian catch in my plans. Once you learn the basics of science, it’s easy to find work and the work is interesting.
I’ve spent most of my career being a scientist—a professor with research on plant chemicals and neurotransmitters.
Ironically, Natural Attraction didn’t begin with science. It began with a place, Singapore, Michigan, now a ghost town, and with a date, 1871.
From this anchor, the science in the novel unfolded and it was mostly biology. I wrote out of my comfort zone as a chemist but this helped me stay in the perspective of a young researcher starting out. It’s got a little plant chemistry in there too, because after all, it’s fun to write what you know.
A graduate of the Iowa Writer’s Workshop, Catherine Haustein is a chemistry and English professor at Central College in Iowa. Her ancestors lived in the famous ghost town of Singapore on the shores of Lake Michigan. Natural Attraction is her first novel.
Natural Attraction is an adventure told by Clementine, a young Dutch American scientist in 1871 who must pose as a man to further her career as a naturalist. With the help of a mysterious tonic, she transforms into a man, discovers new species, and falls in love with a preacher.
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