05 February 2010

From Biologist to Author: A Visit with Sneed B. Collard III

I've been reading Double Eagle by Sneed B. Collard III. In 1862, a Confederate ship carrying gold coins is attacked and sunk by Union forces, setting off a hundred-year search for the treasure. In the early 1970s, two teenage boys explore a Civil War fort on Shipwreck Island off the coast of Alabama and make a discovery that puts them in the center of a mystery, complete with bad guys and a treasure. Can the boys survive their adventure, not to mention that summer's class 4 hurricane?

Watch for my review of this exciting middle reader novel on Sunday.

I am fortunate to have the author Sneed Collard as my guest today. He and I have something in common: We both started out our adult lives as scientists and then ended up in the literary world—he as an award-winning author of children's books, I as a book editor. I asked Sneed to tell us a bit about his journey to published author.

From Biologist to Author

All of my writing career, people have been surprised that I come not from a literary background, but a biological one. I actually am not alone. Many of today’s finest writers including Laurence Pringle, Dorothy Hinshaw Patent, and others excelled in science before taking up pen, typewriter, and PC to turn out top-quality nonfiction literature. Some, such as Padma Venkatraman (Climbing the Stairs) and myself, have also delved into fiction. People who share both scientific and literary interests, I’ve concluded, come with a fairly balanced set of brain parts. In my own case, however, I can also blame my parents.

As I tell kids during my school visits, three of my four parents were biologists. My mother was a high school biology teacher, while my father and stepfather were both biology professors. This constant exposure gave me a wonderful opportunity both to travel and to view the world through a natural history lens. Some of my fondest memories are of whale watching with my mother near our home in Santa Barbara, California, and searching for snakes and turtles with my father in Pensacola, Florida. My father can especially be blamed for my interest in books and writing.

During the long summers that I spent with my dad, I often hung around in his lab dissecting fish or sorting samples of sargassum weed. More often than not, however, I would sneak away to the university library and spend hour upon hour reading. We, of course, did not have the rich variety of YA lit that young readers have today, but my dad--also an avid reader—fed me adult books he thought would be appropriate to a sensitive, young developing mind. So when I was 11 years old, he handed me The Godfather to read. After that, he gave me On the Beach, All Quiet on the Western Front, and an assortment of Leon Uris books. That did it. I was hooked on reading forever.

Still, it never occurred to me that I might want to become a writer until after I graduated in marine biology from U.C. Berkeley. While working for the California Department of Fish & Game, I debated whether to go to graduate school or do something different. I chose the latter. Why? Well, even though I’d never before considered being a writer, I wrote a lot growing up. My father and I, for instance, wrote hundreds of letters to each other during the school year. When I was fifteen, I also began keeping a journal during a trip to Southeast Asia with my mom and stepfather. My love of stories combined with a short attention span steered me away from science and into the world of literature. My science background, though, has proved a huge boon to my career.

Biology features heavily in my thirty-plus science books such as Animal Dads, Pocket Babies and Other Amazing Marsupials, Reign of the Sea Dragons, and The Prairie Builders, which was named the best middle grade science book of 2005 by the American Association for the Advancement of Science and Science Books and Films. However, my experiences studying science and having biologist parents have also provided me with a rich mine of material for my fiction. Dog Sense is more dog, humor, and action than it is biology, but my second novel, Flash Point—which won the Green Earth Book Award for environmental literature—explores the issues surrounding wildfire from the perspective of a teenager in a small logging town in Montana.

My third novel—and first thriller—Double Eagle relies not so much on science, but my experiences having a biologist father. The story is set at what is now known as the Dauphin Island Sea Lab on Dauphin Island, Alabama, where my father taught invertebrate zoology in the summer of 1973. That summer, I made a good friend, a fellow thirteen-year-old who taught me how to sneak into the Civil War fort next to the marine lab. More than thirty years later, I asked myself, "What if two teenagers sneaked into a similar fort and accidentally discovered a twenty-dollar gold piece, or 'double eagle' while smoking cigarettes in one of the fort’s condemned bastions?"

In my story, one of the boys is a coin collector, and when he flips the double eagle over, he makes an even more astounding discovery: the coin was not minted by the United States of America, but by the Confederate States of America. The boy quickly realizes that this coin is not even supposed to exist, but if it is real, it’s going to be worth a fortune. Unfortunately, while the boys are researching the coin, a professional treasure hunter gets wind of their discovery. As a Category Four hurricane bears down on the island, the race to find the rest of the Confederate treasure builds to a deadly climax.

Double Eagle is a story I hope readers will enjoy. It also offers a message to young writers. When young people ask me what they should do to become authors, I tell them that the most important thing at first is to go out and live—pursue interests, gather experiences, get something to say. While my own background was weighted toward science, I could have as easily focused on history, sports, politics, or weaving. It really doesn’t matter. The beauty of writing is that whatever background you have, whatever experiences you’ve collected, they add a priceless depth to one’s work. My science background is one I appreciate more and more as my writing career continues. Whether I am working on a new novel or a science book, I am always assured of having more ideas than I can ever possibly write about. By pursuing their own passions and interests, new writers will make the same discoveries about their work.


Thanks so much for sharing your story, Sneed. You are a wonderful role model for youngsters who may feel torn between wanting to be a writer and wanting to be something else as well. Great advice: be both, be all.

No wonder the atmosphere of Double Eagle feels so real—Sneed's newest novel starts from what he knows and what he has experienced.

Visit Sneed Collard's website for more about the author and his books.

Double Eagle at Powell's
Double Eagle at Amazon
These 3 links lead to affiliate programs.

Published by Peachtree Publishers, 2010
ISBN-13: 9781561454808


Anonymous,  2/5/10, 9:19 AM  

I finished reading this one earlier this week, and I quite enjoyed it. I enjoyed the book's scientific bent.

Louise 2/5/10, 11:53 AM  

Oh...first I thought the "I" in your post was you :-D

Great guest post and the books sounds vey interesting.

Peachtree Publishers 2/5/10, 12:27 PM  

If you have more questions for Sneed, leave a comment to let us know! I'm happy to pass on questions and he is always happy to talk to and answer anything for readers.

bermudaonion 2/5/10, 1:02 PM  

Great guest post! I love that his father gave him The Godfather to read when he was 11 years old!

Peachtree Publishers 2/5/10, 1:10 PM  

I can't say that I would have read the Godfather at 11, but it is funny what kids enjoy. Sometimes it is just nice for a challenge, or to know you've graduated to reading adult books. My mom was always under the impression that if we could get through a book, then it was fine for us to read. I appreciated that.

Sandy Nawrot 2/5/10, 1:12 PM  

I love the concept of the book...who doesn't love the idea of finding lost treasure? I always am inspired by people who start out with other professions then turn to writing. Following their dream!

Beth Hoffman 2/5/10, 1:49 PM  

This is a terrific guest post. I got a kick out of "The Godfather" story.

Yet another book to add to my out of control TBR pile!

Jan von Harz 2/6/10, 6:51 AM  

As always great post. Love reading about authors. I also think Double Eagle will be a great addition to my classroom library.

Dawn @ sheIsTooFondOfBooks 2/9/10, 10:02 PM  

I love his attitude! We each have many talents, some dominate our actions, but, yes, let them all shine however they can.

(fresh from giving my 12 year old a pep talk, can you tell?!)

Sneed B. Collard III 2/12/10, 9:17 PM  

Hey, thanks for all the nice comments, everyone--and to Beth for inviting me on! I'm delighted at the interest, and appreciate all of you getting great books into young readers' hands!

Thanks for stopping by. I read all comments and may respond here, via e-mail, or on your blog. I visit everyone who comments, but not necessarily right away.

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