Last year, Erin Teagan was keeping a pretty exciting secret from her neighbors—and even her own family. So it was a big relief last month when the Purcellville mom of two was able to share her news: she’s the author of the new book series accompanying American Girl’s 2018 girl of the year.
A longtime scientist, who’s been writing on evenings and weekends for years and published her first children’s book in 2016, Teagan was the perfect choice to tell the story of the science-loving aspiring astronaut 11-year-old Luciana Vega.
As a former biotech researcher, Teagan found American Girl’s choice of a character with a passion for science perfectly timed with a growing STEM-focused zeitgeist in schools. And as the parent of a fourth-grade daughter, it was important to make Luciana a typical tween girl.
“I think they really hit it on the head with this doll,” Teagan said. “When they said they wanted to do Luciana, I was thrilled. I was like I’m going to make her the non-stereotypical kid who likes science. She likes to dye her hair and she likes nail polish and glitter. It was important to me to show that—and she can still like science, too, and grow up to be a scientist.”
Teagan has always balanced her love of science and writing. The Pennsylvania native didn’t discover her own passion for science until high school when she was able to shadow a scientist in a lab and see real hands on research. Now she’s on a mission to help foster a love of science among elementary and middle school students, and Luciana fits in perfectly.
“I really related to the story I was trying to create with [Luciana] because when I was her age, in middle school, I didn’t realize science was something for me because I was only exposed to it through textbooks. I think they do a way better job now of making it interesting and fun and exposing [students] to different sides of science.”
Teagan earned a degree in integrated science and technology with a concentration in biotech at James Madison University. Since then, Virginia has been her home, and she worked in Northern Virginia’s biotech labs for more than a decade before turning to writing full time. Teagan specialized in drug research and development but continued to write on the side—in the mornings, during lunch breaks and after work—and joined a writing group through the Society of Children’s Book Writers And Illustrators.
After writing several unsold manuscripts, Teagan responded to a challenge from her writing group in 2011 to write an entire first draft of a middle-grade novel in one month as part of National Novel Writing Month (known as NaNoWriMo). The result was “The Friendship Experiment,” the story of a science loving tween starting middle school and navigating the social scene. Teagan found an agent and sold the book after years of trying to break into the children’s literature scene.
“It had been a long journey up to ‘The Friendship Experiment,’” she said. But once that novel was published in 2016, her career took off.
“The Friendship Experiment” was selected for a publishing industry reading list in children’s literature and hit the radar screen of editors at Scholastic, which publishes the American Girl books. Teagan submitted writing samples and was selected to write the three-part Luciana chapter book series about a Chilean-American tween who dreams of becoming an astronaut.
In the first book, Luciana earns a scholarship to Space Camp in Huntsville, AL, and in book two, “Luciana Braving the Deep,” she has adventures in an underwater habitat where real life astronauts train for life in space. The third book in the series, “Luciana Out Of This World,” comes out in May and sends Luciana to Chile to visit her grandmother and explore a Mars habitat in the Atacama desert.
And while developing Luciana’s character and adventures required lots of creative inspiration, Teagan also did extensive research.
“The research was the best part,” Teagan said. “I learned so much.”
The author attended Space Camp at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville twice and got support from a star-studded advisory board put together by American Girl and Scholastic to help make sure she got all the details right. Her advisors included a NASA scientist, astronaut Megan McArthur Behnken and the CEO of the U.S. Space & Rocket Center, along with Chilean cultural expert who answered questions and read drafts as Teagan went along.
The only downside was that Teagan had to keep all of her research a secret from her family and friends. So it was pretty exciting when Luciana and her stories were unveiled Jan. 1 and Teagan was able to spill the beans to her own fourth-grade daughter and third-grade son who attend Emerick Elementary School.
It was a fantastic surprise for Purcellville neighbors and fellow Emerick parents.
“They really were blown away and so were my kids,” Teagan said. “Since January, it’s been really fun talking to people about it.”
Teagan has started a series of author talks and school visits in Northern Virginia, with a focus on STEM programming. Meanwhile, the author has just wrapped up her second middle-grade novel for Clarion Books, a humorous adventure novel about a sixth-grade girl whose father is a celebrity survivalist with his own television show. Her trip with her father to film in the Great Dismal Swamp that overlaps Virginia and North Carolina (inspired in part by Teagan’s family trips to the Outer Banks) leads to adventure and self-discovery. Teagan’s latest is slated for release in March of 2019.
Fans can meet Erin Teagan at a book signing at noon Saturday, March 3, at Barnes and Noble One Loudoun, 20427 Exchange St. in Ashburn. The author will also be at the American Girl store in Tysons Corner on Friday, March 16 from 4 to 7 p.m.
To learn more about Teagan, go to erinteagan.com.