Interview with Kelly Beatty and Dale Salvaggio Bradshaw, Authors of Firestarters

Dale Salvaggio Bradshaw (left) and Kelly Beatty (right)

Kelly Beatty and Dale Salvaggio Bradshaw are the authors of Firestarters: 100 Job Profiles to Inspire Young Women. The book is a resource that can help girls see the possibilities of different careers and get an idea of the skills needed to work through a day on the job. It also helps them see the kind of educational background many professional women have. In a recent e-mail interview, the authors talked with about what they hope to accomplish with the book, and the value it offers to young women as they think about their futures. (From an interview in November 2007)

How did you choose women to profile?

KB/DSB: When we first started, we wanted to show young women unique careers that maybe they didn’t know existed. So we sought out people with unique jobs. But we also wanted to show the power of networking, so we started with our friends and the contacts just snowballed.

Were you looking to represent a mix of careers with the women you included?

KB/DSB: Yes. We wanted to show all different kinds of careers that we didn’t know existed when we were younger. The idea was that if young women knew early about a career that interested them, they could find out more and be prepared (i.e. take the right classes in high school and college and know where to intern).

Did you know all the women profiled in the book?

KB/DSB: No. We knew several of the women, and they would give us recommendations, so one interview led to another.

Did you contact some of them specifically so a certain job would be represented in the list?

KB/DSB: Yes, we did seek out specific professions. For example, we really wanted to have a judge, so we contacted Debra Sasser, and Molly Rogers was sought out because we wanted to have a costume designer.

The format you created is great! The job description, day on the job, likes and challenges give a good snapshot of what it’s like to work in a position like the one described. How did you decide to present the jobs that way?

KB/DSB: With the fast-paced world in which we live, we knew that our format would need to be easy to read for teenagers to stay interested. There was so much information compiled from the women, and we wanted the format to be visually interesting and concise.

Why did you also decide to include the hobbies and interests for each woman?

KB/DSB: We thought it would establish a connection between the reader and the profiled women. It made the women in the book human, and the reader could see that a person is not defined by her job.

I noticed that some of the women profiled are working in jobs that are totally different from jobs they originally started their careers with. What do you think girls can learn by reading about that?

KB/DSB: It’s good to know that nothing is set in stone. Once a person is in a career, she may find out that she’s not suited for it, or it sparks an interest in something else, or her life circumstances change. Don’t be afraid of change. It’s never too late to explore a path that leads in a completely different direction from where you started.

Is there anything that surprised you as you were compiling information for the book?

KB/DSB: We were completely surprised by how generous people were with their time. A lot of these women didn’t even know us, and yet they were willing to speak with us because they thought the book was important for young women. A lesson that young women can take away from this is that it’s o.k. to ask people questions, they want to help you figure it out.  They’ve been right where you’ve been, and they understand how daunting it can seem to decide what it is you want to do for a living.

What challenges did you come across as you conducted research for Firestarters?

KB/DSB: Most careers have their own language, and it was sometimes challenging to write about the careers in layman’s terms. It required a lot of time researching the jobs so we’d have a better understanding and could convey that in a way that our readers could grasp. For example, when we interviewed Holly K. Dressman, the assistant research professor who studies breast cancer, we had to educate ourselves further about DNA microarrays and gene expressions so that we could write about it correctly.

Why did you decide to feature women by first name rather than by last name or career?

KB/DSB: It made the women more real to the readers, and we thought this format would encourage them to read the whole book. They couldn’t just flip to the marketing section or the science section.

Was it difficult to work as a team? How did you divide your responsibilities?

KB/DSB: We thought it was a great way to expand on our relationship and we didn’t find it difficult at all. Our individual strengths helped propel the book. For example, Dale is the organized taskmaster and Kelly is the wordsmith. We literally split the work in half. Each of us did 50 or more interviews. After we wrote each profile, we would e-mail it to the other person and she would edit it. We could not have done this without e-mail because we live four hours away from each other. The other information in the book, the introduction, “words of wisdom” and the conclusion we also wrote together. One of us would get the ideas down on paper and through numerous e-mails and some weekends together, we were able to work together to finish those sections.

Are you planning more projects together?

KB/DSB: Yes. We have lots and lots of ideas. We have some other non-fiction book ideas, and we both also enjoy writing children’s stories and songs. So maybe we’ll explore those opportunities as well.

What are you each working on now?

KB/DSB: Dale is doing marketing for a medical services company part-time, marketing the book and of course, taking care of her two children. Kelly is mainly working for her new baby, but she also enjoys freelance writing interior design articles for a community magazine and marketing our book.

Do either of you have daughters?

KB/DSB: Dale has a daughter, Sophia. Sophia loves to read and Dale looks forward to starting a mother-daughter book club with her and her friends when she gets a little older.  When writing Firestarters, Dale was encouraged to know that her daughter might one day use the book as a resource and guide and be able to use some of the advice from these women.

Is there anything else you’d like to say to readers of Mother Daughter Book

KB/DSB: There are so many opportunities for young women. We hope the book will allow the readers to look at their mothers and their friends’ mothers in a whole new way. Firestarters could start a dialog between mothers and daughters. Some discussion ideas after reading the book are: finding out what dreams mom had at her daughter’s age; discussing what careers the young women are interested in and if there are any networking connections in the book club to help them find out more; figuring out how to pay for education and talking about how important it is; what direction the daughter should take to learn about and start to prepare herself for a career that interests her. We want young women to know how lucky they are to live in a country where their dreams can actually come true, and we hope that our book can be a springboard that helps them explore their endless opportunities.

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