American Girl author Erin Teagan poses with her books and the doll Luciana Vega at Hillsboro Charter Academy in Purcellville, Virginia. Luciana dreams of becoming an astronaut. (Photo from Erin Teagan/Photo from Erin Teagan)

To write her recent books, Erin Teagan decided she had to go to Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama.

She wanted to immerse herself in the experiences of 11-year-old Luciana “Luci” Vega, the main character in a new American Girl series. “Luciana” and “Braving the Deep” are the first two novels.

Luci wants to be an astronaut when she grows up. At the U.S. Space and Rocket Center, Space Camp gives her — and real kids ages 9 to 11 — a chance to train like an astronaut and learn about the work there. Kids try on spacesuits, launch model rockets and work in teams on missions.

Teagan especially enjoyed the experience of being weightless, like an astronaut in space. Walking on the bottom of a pool mimics that feeling. As part of this underwater training, Teagan played catch with a 100-pound ball that she could throw with ease.

Scientist's 'shadow'

Luci loves science, but Teagan did not when she was a kid.

“Math and science were hard for me then,” she said in a phone interview from her home in Purcellville, Virginia.

Growing up close to Philadelphia, Teagan preferred writing stories for her two younger sisters and brother.

But that changed in her teenage years. As part of a school requirement, Teagan and her classmates had to “shadow,” or follow, a professional for a day to learn about different careers. Teagan shadowed a scientist at a genetics lab.

“I saw how she worked with her hands and problem-solved with her teammates,” Teagan said. “I began to see science and research in a different way. I became really interested.”

This interest led to better grades in math and science, then to college, where Teagan studied technology and science. She did biochemical research in labs for about 10 years.

At the National Institutes of Health, she worked to develop a treatment for a rare blood disorder called Von Willebrand disease.

When her children were born, Teagan decided to work at home as a writer. But she missed science and research, she said, so she started writing about girls with those interests. She used knowledge from her lab experience in her first novel, “The Friendship Experiment.” The main character has Von Willebrand disease.

“Writing is a lot like science,” Teagan said. “Discovery and making mistakes is part of the process.”


Author Erin Teagan helps kids use the scientific method to investigate soil and rock samples from a fictional planet. (Photo from Erin Teagan) (From Erin Teagan/From Erin Teagan)
Enter: Luciana

An editor at American Girl read Teagan’s novel. The company creates popular historical and contemporary dolls and books, and it was developing the Luciana doll. It was looking for a writer who might bring Luciana to life on the page — and quickly.

Teagan got right to work. She went to Space Camp twice, and she researched, wrote and revised both books in less than nine months. Teagan checked facts carefully with scientists to make sure all information was accurate. Megan McArthur Behnken, an astronaut, helped her with the precise wording for mission communication.

A challenge for Teagan became one for her character in the second book. While training for scuba diving, Teagan felt nervous.

“It was so quiet underwater, and I wasn’t used to the face mask,” she said. “I started to panic, and I had to talk to myself to calm down.”

The third novel — “Out of This World”— will be published in May.

“It’s a high-adventure book,” Teagan said. “Luci has to use everything she learned in the first two books at the Mars habitat in Chile.”

As for Teagan, she is planning a summer trip to Space Camp — this time with her family. Daughter Jaeda, 10, and son Caden, 8, are eager to do all the cool space things that their mom did.

IF YOU GO

What: Erin Teagan will sign books and chat with attendees.

Where: American Girl, 8090 Tysons Corner Center, McLean, Virginia.

When: Friday, 4 to 7 p.m.

How much: Free.

Best for: Age 8 and older.

For more information: Call ­877-247-5223 or go towapo.st/ErinTeagan.