Interview with a STEM Professional: Jamie Krakover
Updated: Apr 6, 2020
Happy Women's History Month STEM Sparkers! We're kicking off the month with an interview from aerospace engineer (aka rocket scientist!) and author Jamie Krakover! Jamie and I have been virtual friends for a couple of years, but every year we meet in person at the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) conference. I love hearing about the engineering projects and writing projects that she's working on; she does some really cool things! Without further ado, here are the questions I asked Jamie.
I'm excited about your upcoming YA book TRACKER220. Can you please tell us a little more about the book?
The idea for TRACKER220 came about back in 2012 when I was sitting in my car at a stoplight. I suddenly was hit with the question, what if no one ever got lost ever again? What if you didn't need a computer or a cellphone to look up a map? You just had a tracking chip in your head. And thus TRACKER220 was born. From there I wondered: if you had a chip that interfaced with your brain and told you where you needed to go, then what else could you do with it?
So I created a world where everyone had tracking chips in their head that interfaced with your brain. You could do everything you can with a smart phone but in your mind through a series of thoughts and blinks and then see the results in your line of vision (kind of like google glass but without the glasses). You could contact anyone and have instant access to knowledge in the blink of an eye. It sounded pretty cool until you consider the implications. The government and the authorities could know everything about your chip: what you did on your tracker, who you talked to, what you said, and everywhere you went. Sure crime levels drop because you can literally find anyone and there would be people who would love this instant access, but there would also be people who would think it was a gross invasion of privacy.
From there I found my main character, Kaya, a sixteen-year-old, Jewish artist who sees value in the tracker technology but also loves old school paper and drawing. She is trying to find what it means to be Jewish in a society that doesn't let you unplug to observe Jewish holidays and Shabbat. And then her chip glitches. The authorities can't have someone who has a way around the government technology; they want to make sure it never happens again. Meanwhile, the people who oppose the tech want to understand why it happened so they can free themselves. And Kaya finds herself betrayed by the only world she's ever known, infinite knowledge and instant access, but is confused to be welcomed by a world of defiance and freedom that allows her to explore herself and her faith. It's the furthest thing from what she's comfortable with-- she must decide what world she wants to live in.
I also love the Brave New Girls series that you've be apart of. Are there other writing projects you'd like to tell us about? Brave New Girls is literally one of the coolest things. I know I'm a little biased, but when I found out there was a book of short stories featuring young women with a knack for STEM, I got super excited. Even better, all the proceeds go to the Society of Women Engineers' scholarship fund. I jumped at the chance to submit my short story called ARCH NEMESIS for consideration in the second anthology. I'd been sitting on the story for a while and had no idea what I wanted to do with it. When I got the email saying my story had been accepted, I nearly fell on the floor from shock. And now the world can read about the kick ass heroine who fights her arch nemesis who has a secret experimental lab underneath the Mississippi river and uses the ARCH tourists as lab rats. In terms of other writing projects, I have a short nonfiction piece called SEDER INSANITY published in a book called NOT YOUR MOTHER'S BOOK... ON FAMILY; think Chicken Soup for the Soul type essays but with funny spins on them. I also have two nonfiction pieces published in a compilation called PUTTING THE SCIENCE IN FICTION. It's a series of essays about a variety of science fiction elements and the science behind them. It's primarily aimed at writers who want to write more accurate science fiction. Dan Koboldt (the editor) put together a really amazing list of STEM folks to write these essays, and there's so many cool things in this book like 3D printing, spaceships, microbiology, computer programming and on and on. And of course, I'm always working on something new. My latest project is a Middle Grade STEM sci-fi about a young, female inventor, Izzy. Izzy builds a device that can create doorways to other dimensions. And when she accidentally sucks her house and her parents into an unknown dimension, she has to figure out how to get them back. Of course when she sucked the parents out, the law of conservation of mass applied, so for everything she sucked out, an equal amount of things had to be sucked in including terrible monsters that are after her to make sure things are set straight. Think FRINGE meets LEGACIES. I'm still writing this story but maybe one day it will make its way to book shelves.
You're also an aerospace engineer. Do you have any fun or interesting stories from your engineering job? I always encourage engineers to ask for things because the answer is always no if you don't ask. Asking about the possibility of rotating got me my own personal rotation into materials engineer for two years. But the coolest thing that ever happened because I asked was when I worked in a teardown lab. I was working a teardown for the T-7A Red Hawk. WE only had 2D drawings for the part and I was having a really hard time visualizing what we were working on. So I asked the engineer if there was any chance for me to see the landing gear in person. Two days later I was laying under the serial number 1, T-7A staring at the landing gear with the engineer for a couple of hours. One of the coolest experiences of my career.
How long have you been writing and what inspires your writing? Does your job as an engineer influence your writing? My writing actually started with reading. I used to hate writing (I'm an engineer after all) but when I got super into reading YA I started having all these ideas. So I started paying around with symbolism and character name meanings and just writing whatever came to mind. That was sometime in 2009. But I didn't really take it to seriously until I got an idea for a story about a boy who got abducted by aliens and they gave him superpowers. But his powers came with a price, he had to help the aliens whenever they called upon him, which meant he got abducted in the middle of school and all kinds of other inconvenient places. Long and short, this idea grabbed hold and wouldn't let go. And once I started writing this story, I started to wonder if what I was writing was any good. From there I sought out feedback from other writers and developed a group of critique partners. Shortly after I found out my city has a writer's guild and I joined them and attended monthly seminars and learned what I could about writing and querying agents. And I pretty much haven't looked back since. I frequently continue to get inspired when I'm reading things whether that be blogs, books, or online articles, but the thing that typically stems most my ideas is the question WHAT IF? You'll notice it stemmed the core idea for TRACKER220. and some of my other stories For example, what if there was an alien who used the St. Louis arch to secretly study people? And ARCH NEMESIS was born. Most my ideas come from a what if question. Since I write mostly science fiction and fantasy, I find myself leaning on my engineering knowledge off and on. A lot of what I write are extensions of known technology or theories today, but I certainly leverage my knowledge and like to play around with things. You'll find some pretty nerdy math and science references in ARCH NEMESIS.
What has surprised you about STEM? What fun facts have you learned about STEM as an engineer and author? I'm still shocked at the number of people (especially young girls) who self select themselves out of STEM careers because it's too hard or they don't feel good enough compared to others. STEM is work, and it's okay to fail, that's how we learn. If we got it right every single time, we wouldn't ever learn anything. And there's lots of things in our lives that took practice to learn: swimming, riding a bike etc. Learning in STEM is no different. It just takes practice. I got a D as a final grade in an engineering class in college, and I'm still a successful engineer today. One misstep does not define you or your future. In terms of fun facts I've learned, in some of my research for TRACKER220, I needed naturally occurring things that could block satellite signals, and learned that limestone is one thing that satellite signals can't penetrate. It worked out well because the book is set in St. Louis, Missouri and surrounding areas, and Missouri is know for it's limestone caves. That's a cool fact! What advise do you have for anyone interested in STEM and/or pursuing a career in STEM? Aside from the two things I already mentioned (1. STEM takes practice, don't accept failure as defeat, learn from it, and 2. asking for the things you want), I'd say the following:
Don't let yourself get too comfortable. It's when we step outside that comfort zone that we learn and grown the most.
Imposer Syndrome is real. Lot's of people have it. If you're ever doubting that you're qualified or if your belong, then make a list of all your accomplishments. Nothing shuts up that ugly voice inside faster than a list of awesome.
Speak up! If you see something you don't like or don't think is right, say something. Don't let it slide.
Be proactive and volunteer. Take on the things no one else wants, and do things that are helpful that you might not even been asked to do. People will see you as a dependable, go-to person. This behavior will open so many doors.
Leave things in a better state than you found them.
And don't forget to have fun!
Thanks Jamie for being on STEM Spark and sharing your awesome insight! You can follow Jamie on social media using the links below. I hope everybody grabs a copy of TRACKER220 from Amazon, their local bookstore, or their local library. Happy STEM-ing friends!
Jamie's blog: https://jamiekrakover.blogspot.com/
Follow Jamie on Twitter: https://twitter.com/Rockets2Writing
Follow Jamie on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/jamiekrakover/
Follow Jamie on Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/16483406.Jamie_Krakover