Author Interview: P.J. Hoover Tackles Nonfiction With Problem Solvers

By Gayleen Rabakukk

Today I’m thrilled to welcome fellow Austin author P.J. Hoover to Cynsations!

P.J. may be best known for her fast-paced adventure novels like Homer’s Excellent Adventure (CBAY, 2020), The Hidden Code (CBAY Books, 2019) and Tut: The Story of My Immortal Life (Tor/Starscape, 2016), but recently she shifted gears and wrote a nonfiction book, Problem Solvers: 15 Innovative Women Engineers and Coders (Chicago Review Press, 2022).

What drew you to the project?

With Problem Solvers, it felt like my past and my present came together in perfect harmony. Before I started writing, I was an electrical engineer. For 15 years, I designed computer chips for Motorola and Intel. Engineering was all I ever knew. It wasn’t until I was in my mid-thirties that I started writing. Before that, I’d never considered myself a writer. That said, I was an avid reader, mostly of science fiction and fantasy. So, when I started writing, that’s where I naturally went.

Me in my cubicle wearing a shirt that very much reminds me of something from Star Trek.

Back when I was an engineer, as a woman, I was definitely in the minority. Fast forward 17 years. That still hadn’t changed. For whatever reason, engineering and coding is still considered a man’s field, and despite efforts to encourage diversity, not much has changed. With Problem Solvers I saw a huge opportunity. By showcasing more female role models in technical fields, my hope is to encourage every kid out there to believe they could be and engineer or a coder.

Did the writing process for PROBLEM SOLVERS differ from how you approach novels?

Absolutely! First off, the book was sold on proposal. I wrote a sample chapter and an outline and my agent sent it off to the editor.

Great news. The editor loved it! Now I had to write the book.

The process was very different from writing a novel. With a novel, I will plot it out ahead of time, and then I will begin writing. With Problem Solvers, the writing was one of the last pieces.

First, I had to figure out who I would be featuring. Once that was determined, I had to establish contacts and set up Zoom interviews. So much of this was scheduling around everyone’s time, but I managed to get through. I did wait until all 15 interviews were complete to start writing . . . maybe not the best process, but it worked for me, because at that point, the actual writing of the book was in my control and on my timeline.

Here’s where it is a little bit similar to novel writing. When I’m writing a novel, I find someway to track my progress. My writing of Problem Solvers needed to be tracked, too, so I created a star chart for this purpose. Each chapter needed the main chapter and three sidebars. In addition, each chapter needed to be sent to the female featured for changes and approval, so I tracked that, too. I find that tracking any project, whether it be writing or home improvement, is a fabulous way to get the job done.

P.J.’s star chart for tracking the writing of Problem Solvers.

What’s your favorite part about writing nonfiction?

Problem Solvers is actually my second nonfiction book. I’ve also written a writing book for kids, Write Your Own Quest: The Ultimate Guide to Writing Your Own Interactive Adventure (Roots in Myth, 2022). My favorite part of writing nonfiction is that my voice is able to come through in a way that is so authentic.

In fiction, yes, authors have voice. But the voice of the characters is also there, shining through (or at least that’s the hope). In nonfiction, it is me speaking to the reader. This allows me to really be myself. Yes, with Problem Solvers, I am telling the story of 15 other women. But I am telling it based on my personal interviews with these amazing women.

What’s the most challenging part?

Great question! There were many challenging parts to writing Problem Solvers, but I’ll narrow it down to two.

First, once I had my list of females

I wanted to feature, I had to make contact via email and set up times to interview them. As everyone is busy, getting responses sometimes took multiple emails and nudges. During that part of the project, it felt like much of this back-and-forth was out of my control. I couldn’t control when someone would get back to me, which affected my making progress on the book. The good thing is that with 15 women, there was always someone else to nudge while waiting for a response from another.

The second part I found challenging was that every fact needed to be checked. This is a big task, and I wanted to make sure I got everything right. So, it was very important to me to send off my chapters to the women and have them make sure I represented them and the message they were trying to get across accurately. And, again, this took waiting on email responses and nudges, but in the end, it all came together perfectly.

P.J.’s writing buddies Xena on the left and Homer on the right.

What are you working on next?

Thanks for asking! I feel like the last few years have been about “breaking the mold” of what I write. When I started writing, I considered myself a writer of mythology, science fiction, and fantasy, mostly for kids and teens, with a little adult thrown in. In recent years, I have written horror short stories for adults, chapter books for young readers, interactive adventures (as my Pick Your Own Quest books under my pseudonym Connor Hoover), nonfiction writing books, and Problem Solvers, a nonfiction young adult title.

In keeping up the “trying new things” idea, I am currently working on my first graphic novel for Kids Can Press. The graphic novel is titled Dragon vs. Unicorn, and is a Choose Your Own Adventure-style book aimed at 6-8 year-olds with the intent of teaching kids how to deal with different social situations, looking at how our actions affect those around us. I should mention, just so there is no confusion, that I already have a book published called Dragon vs. Unicorn (Roots in Myth, 2019), as part of my Pick Your Own Quest series, but though the books have the same title, they are aimed at different age groups.


Cynsations Notes

P. J. (Tricia) Hoover wanted to be a Jedi, but when that didn’t work out, she became an electrical engineer instead. After a fifteen year bout designing computer chips for a living, P. J. started creating worlds of her own. She’s the award-winning author of Problem Solvers: 15 Innovative Women Engineers and Coders, and Tut: The Story of My Immortal Life, featuring a fourteen-year-old King Tut who’s stuck in middle school.

Under the Connor Hoover pseudonym, she is also the author of the popular Pick Your Own Quest series, which are Choose Your Own Adventure style interactive adventures perfect for everyone. When not working on her own writing, P. J. writes science curriculum articles and edits amazing manuscripts for other authors. P. J. loves spending time practicing kung fu, fixing things around the house, and solving Rubik’s cubes. For more information about P. J. (Tricia) Hoover, please visit her website.

Gayleen Rabakukk holds an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts and an undergraduate degree in journalism from the University of Central Oklahoma. She has published numerous newspaper and magazine articles, and two regional interest books for adults. Now she focuses her energy on inspiring curiosity in young readers through stories of hope and adventure.