Nelson, R.A.

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Nelson, R.A.

Personal

Born in AL; son of an aerospace engineer; married; children: four sons. Hobbies and other interests: Poetry, quantum physics, old movies, spelunking, history, traveling, astronomy, archeology, basketball, exploring, walking in the woods.

Addresses

Home—Madison, AL. E-mail—[email protected]

Career

Technical writer and novelist. Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, AL, technical writer. Has also worked as a journalist and a linguist.

Member

Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators.

Awards, Honors

Silver Snoopy Award, National Aeronautics and Space Administration; Dona Vaughn work-in-progress grant, Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, 2004, Books for the Teen Age listee, New York Public Library, 2006, and Best Books for Young Adults selection, American Library Association, all for Teach Me.

Writings

NOVELS

Teach Me, Razorbill (New York, NY), 2005.

Breathe My Name, Razorbill (New York, NY), 2005.

Days of Little Texas, Knopf (New York, NY), 2009.

Sidelights

R.A. Nelson, a technical writer for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), is the author of the young-adult novels Teach Me and Breathe My

Name, both of which feature young women facing difficult moral choices. "Somebody once said, ‘Writers are failed actors,’ and I tend to believe this," Nelson stated in a Teenreads.com interview with Alexis Burling. "When I'm writing, I completely inhabit the character and see the world through her eyes. I can't imagine writing any other way. I witness the story in front of me as I'm walking around inside of it, experiencing it as it unfolds, so that what I type almost seems like ‘reporting’ on something real that I'm observing."

Born and raised in north Alabama, Nelson began writing stories while in the second grade. He later developed an interest in science fiction and devoured works by Jules Verne, H.G. Wells, Ray Bradbury, Cyril Kornbluth, and Philip K. Dick, among other authors. Nelson also admired the novels of Charles Dickens and Mark Twain, especially Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, "which is hilarious and a very brave book for its time," he remarked to Burling. Nelson's love of literature was further strengthened by an English teacher who introduced him to the works of William Shakespeare and the poetry of Robert Frost. "I will never forget her encouragement—like all good teachers, she made an imprint on my life that will last forever," he acknowledged.

Teach Me, Nelson's debut title, centers on Carolina "Nine" Livingston, a high-school senior who falls in love with her English teacher. Fiercely intelligent yet socially isolated, Nine longs for more than her small Alabama town can offer, and she finds herself drawn to the charismatic Mr. Mann. Though their relationship begins innocently enough, it soon develops into an intense affair that is consummated on Nine's eighteenth birthday. Just before graduation, however, Mr. Mann announces that he is engaged to another woman, and an angry and embittered Nine seeks her revenge.

Despite its controversial subject matter, Teach Me earned strong reviews. According to Booklist contributor Ilene Cooper, Nelson "eloquently captures … the yearning that comes with loving someone who doesn't seem attainable." Claire E. Gross, writing in Kliatt, noted that the sometimes-melodramatic narrative of Teach Me is "redeemed by the force of Nine's personality, which infuses the book with grit and humor." Discussing the novel's sensational plot with Burling, Nelson admitted: "I was aware that it would rile some critics who wouldn't be too happy with the subject matter, but I knew that if I did it with sensitivity and care, it could be an important book." According to the author, it was necessary to portray both Nine and Mr. Mann as three-dimensional characters. "I think it's harder to blame people and find fault when you like them, even if what they are doing is inappropriate and wrong," he explained. "By playing out the love story between these two, I think it gives readers a chance to get to know the characters well and get caught up in the romance rather than look to find fault. The more we examine them, the more human they become."

In Breathe My Name, Nelson's second work, a young woman deals with painful memories of her mother, who years earlier suffocated the teen's three younger siblings in the midst of a psychotic breakdown. Eighteen-year-old Frances Robinson is enjoying life with her adopted family in small-town Alabama when she receives a letter from Alton, her birth mother, who has been living in a psychiatric hospital. With her boyfriend, Nix, Frances embarks on a secret journey to visit Alton and confront her own horrific past. Breathe My Name "is a thoughtful, moody, and entirely thrilling book," Jennifer Barnes observed in School Library Journal, and a critic in Kirkus Reviews lauded Nelson's prose, stating that "its shimmering clarity transfixes the reader, candling both damaging and redemptive familial forces."

Biographical and Critical Sources

PERIODICALS

Booklist, November 15, 2005, Ilene Cooper, review of Teach Me, p. 55.

Horn Book, November-December, 2005, Claire E. Gross, review of Teach Me, p. 721.

Kirkus Reviews, August 1, 2005, review of Teach Me, p. 855; October 1, 2007, review of Breathe My Name.

Kliatt, November, 2007, Janis Flint-Ferguson, review of Breathe My Name, p. 13.

Publishers Weekly, August 29, 2005, review of Teach Me, p. 58; December 3, 2007, review of Breathe My Name, p. 72.

School Library Journal, October, 2005, Jane Cronkhite, review of Teach Me, p. 168; March, 2008, Jennifer Barnes, review of Breathe My Name, p. 207.

ONLINE

R.A. Nelson Home Page,http://www.ranelson1.com (January 20, 2009).

Teenreads.com,http://www.teenreads.com/ (October 18, 2005), Alexis Burling, interview with Nelson.