Seeing Stars: Astronomy in the Desert Southwest

For my second article I stuck with my area of expertise, figuring that if I didn’t have any record as a writer, at least I had some credibility as an astronomer. Faces is a non-fiction magazine with a culture and geography theme for kids 9-14. I’m not normally a culture and geography type, but the theme for this month was America’s Southwest. As there’s a lot of desert in the southwest, there are lots of telescopes. I’ve even spent time at Kitt Peak National Observatory (KPNO) in Arizona. So my first paragraph was a typical night in the life of an astronomer. The rest of the article was an overview of the biggest observatories in AZ, NM, and TX, and a description of why astronomers like the desert (short answer: very few clouds).

My pitch for this article included one of the writing samples I’d already used, plus a sidebar. Since I hadn’t written for Faces–or anyone!–before, I knew I needed to provide proof that I could actually write. The query email was also pretty formal: similar to a query you’d send to an agent or editor. Why do I want to write for Faces? What’s my idea? What are my qualifications?

I got the go-ahead for this article one day after I’d heard from Ask about “Alien Seasons.” I had 2.5 weeks to write both of them. This taught me my first lesson in writing: always say yes! Luckily I’d written a pretty detailed pitch, with a list of sources, so I already had a head start on the article.