Six Questions with Dana L. Church
Dana L. Church studied bumble bee memory for her PhD in animal cognition—and she was never stung. Besides Animal Minds: What Are They Thinking?, she is the author of The Beekeepers: How Humans Changed the World of Bumble Bees and the upcoming The Monarch Effect: Surviving Poison, Predators, and People (April 2024). Dana lives in Waterloo, Ontario, with her husband, two kids, and their big, black friendly dog. You can learn more about Dana and her writing on her website at danachurchwriter.com, or by following her on Instagram at @danachurchwriter.
1. What three things bring you joy?
I feel such joy watching all the different bees that visit our small backyard garden. There are big fuzzy bumble bees, small metallic green sweat bees, honey bees, and squash bees. Sometimes the bumble bees are so covered in pollen they look like they’ve been dusted with that powdered cheese they put on popcorn.
Animals in general bring me joy. One of my favourite animals, besides our dog, is Puppe the orangutan at the Toronto Zoo. She just turned 56 years old! She climbs the new outdoor zoo habitat with such ease and grace. She is so brave and curious! I love her.
My family brings me joy, too. Every day. My husband and kids are so loving and goofy.
2. How did you begin your journey as an author?
I started out by writing picture book stories and middle grade fiction. These manuscripts never went anywhere, and looking back, they were rather awful. After I finished school, I realized I knew a lot about bees, so I tried writing nonfiction. I was hooked! I love doing research so nonfiction is a great way to incorporate my love for research with my love for writing. Maybe I’ll try writing fiction again someday, but right now I have so many ideas for more nonfiction books!
3. What kind of student were you? What were your favorite subjects?
I was a very serious student and I tried my best at every subject. I liked art, English, and biology the best.
4. Where did you get the idea for Animal Minds? What was your inspiration for this new book?
I noticed there are a ton of books for kids about animals, but I couldn’t find any books about animal cognition, the field I studied in school. I remembered reading so many really cool research papers as a graduate student about topics like personality in octopuses, spatial memory in gorillas… I thought kids would love to hear about this!
5. If you could tell readers one secret about this book, what would it be?
I wanted to give up so many times. Even though I am a subject matter expert, sometimes I thought, Who am I to write this book? Am I the only one who will be interested in this? How can I possibly write about complex research in a way that kids will understand? Some days it seemed so impossible. But a little voice inside me coaxed me to keep going. So I kept going. And I am so glad I did.
6. As a nonfiction author, how do you divide your time between research and writing?
To be honest, I just wing it! But I’m not the kind of writer who writes every day. I would say most of my “writing” is actually reading research papers, thinking about whether kids would be interested in the topic, and how I could present it so anyone can understand it. Once I get a feel for the “story” behind the research, then I start writing. I’ve never actually calculated how much time I spend researching versus writing, but I bet I spend more time doing research. And I always keep in mind that as I start writing, I might need to do even more research, depending on where the story and my words take me.
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