Laura Hoopes


Could you tell us a little bit about yourself?


 I have been a biology professor for many years, and now I am transforming into a writer.  I'm in phased retirement from my college and simultaneously, I'm in the second year of a three year MFA program at San Diego State University.  Writing without the passive voice, using "I", mentioning emotion, describing settings, all were new to me as I moved from writing scientific papers into the world of creative writing.  I'm so pleased that writers are very warm and welcoming to new writers.  I've enjoyed getting to know writers at UCLA and SDSU, as well as immersing myself into literature.  I am a married woman with two grown children, living outside of Los Angeles, CA.


Describe your book ‘Breaking Through the Spiral Ceiling: An American Woman Becomes a DNA Scientist’ in 30 words or less.


In Breaking Through the Spiral Ceiling, Hoopes traces her development as a woman biologist, how she fell in love with DNA but encountered discouraging signals from men in science, how she married and balanced both family and career, and why she's glad not to be a Harvard professor.


What was the hardest part of writing your book?


Learning to write a memoir as if it were a novel.  I began by writing it more like a scientific paper, but it was terribly boring.  Two of my friends, an ethnomusicologist and a French literature specialist, took me out to lunch and gave me tough love. They said I had a lot of good material but I needed to learn to write.  So I stated to take writing classes and rewrote from scratch.


What books have had the greatest influence on you?


James Watson's The Double Helix, showing a scientist's biography need not be boring.  Evelyn Fox-Keller's A Feeling for the Organism, her biography of Barbara McClintock, Nobel laureate in genetics.  Thomas Hardy, Tess of the D'Urbervilles, for beauty of language and description.


Briefly share with us what you do to market your book?


I joined Book Buzzr, had a promotion package on Writers' Point of View, sent the book for review to all the places recommended in Carolyn Howard-Johnson's book, The Frugal Book Promoter, 1st edition (she just released the second edition).  I asked for volunteers to review the book on sites for scientists, hoping some would adopt it for texts for their classes, to show that women can have a career and family both.  I sent a free book to those who volunteered to review it for these journals.  I offered a free copy to teacher who might consider it for a class.  I went on a book tour to Woods Hole, MA, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, Emory University, Scripps College, Pepperdine University, City of Hope Beckman Research Institute, Cedars Sinai Medical Center.  I've been bloggin about the book on my Nature Women in Science site on and on my literary blog  I've done some blog interviews with Suzanne Burke and M E Anders.  I went on a radio show for Equal Pay Day and talked about equal pay issues and also my book.  I made a trailer for YouTube and posted a lecture (at Scripps) video on Vimeo.  Might have forgotten something.


How do you spend your time when you are not writing?


Driving back and forth to San Diego, teaching biology classes at my college, reading, walking, following ice skating and gymnastics on TV.


What are you working on next?


I'm writing a biography of two spectacularly successful women in science called Two Women of the RNA World. I think young girls choosing a career need to be able to see what has happened to women who want both career and family.  My memoir shows one outcome, but Joan Steitz and Jennifer Doudna are much more celebrated scientists, on the faculty at Berkeley and Yale, members of the National Academy of Sciences, and winners of big science awrards.

My thesis project is a novel called Not North, about a girl coming of age in North Carolina.  This is a white girl whose boyfriend is half Cherokee and half Lumbee, a Native American.  She is a passionate pacifist and environmentalist.  Her boyfriend joins the Army and she takes it very badly.

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