Author
Q&A

You say that your book, Night of the Paranormal Patterns, is a work of "Mathematical Fiction." What does that mean?
"Mathematical Fiction" is an idea I've been developing for quite a while. I wanted to use storytelling as a way of communicating math concepts. Just as a good historical novel can introduce readers to different times and places, I'm introducing readers to the ways of looking at the world through numbers.
Isn't that kind of like a "word problem?" I always hated those.
This is much better. In Night of the Paranormal Patterns, the math problems are much more connected to the real world - or at least to the "reality" of the story. A lot of "word problems" don't make sense in real life. They never explain why you'd have sixty watermelons or why you want to give three-fifths of them to your friend. But in my book, the math problems come out of the situations the characters get into, and the characters have reasons why they want to solve those problems.

And there's more beyond that, too. The book is more than just a series of problems and solutions. I wanted to take the reader on the entire journey of mathematical discovery.
What does that mean?
Have you ever read one of those "minute mystery" books? As a kid, I read several of the Encyclopedia Brown books, and there are many others. One thing that bothered me about them was that the answers were always given in this impersonal, authoritative tone, as if a narrator stepped out from behind a curtain and started speaking - "Well, you see, the answer is blah blah blah..." I didn't want that for my books.

When Lennie Miller and her friends try to solve a math problem, the reader is right there with them. Math can be a very collaborative experience. There are many different ways to look at a problem, and it helps if you can talk with someone and trade ideas to see which way is best. There's a lot of trial and error involved, too. It's okay to try an approach and discover that it doesn't work. Lennie and her friends go through all of that. They make mistakes. They go down blind alleys and have to try again. And the reader gets to share in that experience.
What prompted you to write something so unusual?
Well, the first thing was that it is so unusual. I wanted to do something different, and you don't see a lot of writers working math into their stories. My second reason was that I felt like mathematical stories could be useful. The problems can give the readers a challenge, or the stories can make the math concepts more memorable, or just seeing math in a more entertaining setting can make it less frightening. All of those things make the book worth writing. And lastly, I felt like my background makes me ideally suited for writing about math.
What kind of background do you have?
For starters, I'm the son of two math teachers! I excelled in math and science throughout school, I earned a degree in mechanical engineering and math from Vanderbilt University, and I've worked as an engineer and a Quality Assurance Manager. But I've also done a lot of writing for kids, beginning with my time on the staff of Nickelodeon's You Can't Do That On Television. Night of the Paranormal Patterns is my fifth published book, and my third with Royal Fireworks Press.
What was the hardest part of writing this book?
Coming up with good math problems. It's a lot harder than it looks! They have to be challenging, but not too complicated, and they have to come out fairly even without being simplistic. I have a new respect for the people who write math books - even the ones with problems where you have sixty watermelons.
What age group would you say the math problems are written for?
That was something else that made coming up with the problems difficult. There's such a wide range of mathematical ability, among people of all ages, not just kids. I feel like there will be some kids who find the problems to be very easy, while some adults will find them almost incomprehensible. I was aiming for kids who have reached middle school math and are starting to learn algebra, but really it's for anyone who wants to read it.
What's the significance of the title? What is a "Paranormal Pattern?"
Well, of course the "paranormal" part comes from all the monsters who ask Lennie to solve their math problems. The "pattern" part comes from the fact that math is essentially the study of patterns. It wasn't really taught that way when I was a kid, but I noticed it in the way my nieces were taught back in their early grades. I think that's really helpful. Once you recognize that there are patterns you can discover and use to find the answers, it makes math a lot less baffling.
Is there more Mathematical Fiction to come?
I'm certainly planning on it. One way I know that I've picked a good subject to write about is that I've had all sorts of story ideas come to me. At the moment, I'm working on two more books about Lennie Miller and the mathematically-challenged monsters. There are several possible stories I could do after that, but I haven't settled on one yet.
Your first two books with Royal Fireworks Press were historical fiction. Any chance you'll go back to that?
Who says I can't do history and math at the same time? As it happens, I've got a few ideas for historical stories about characters who are good at math. I think it's inevitable that I'll write at least one.
Is there really a town called Bailey, Indiana?
There's a town called Rochester, Indiana, and that's the town Bailey is based on. My dad's family is from that area, and my great-grandfather owned a hardware store there. His business partner was named Bailey, and the store is still there, now known as Bailey's.
But there are no monsters, right?
I've never seen any. But maybe I just can't see them.


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