How did you become a writer?
As a kid, I was always writing – postcards, letters, stories. I have a stash in my closet of letters that people wrote to me as a kid, so I must have written a lot of letters. Also I have always thought of something written as something important, or at least worth saving.
How long does it take to make a book?
Of course that depends on the book. The fiction projects take longer, definitely a year or two from idea to book form. The non-fiction books are on a much more strict schedule. In 2013, I spent months just interviewing wolf biologist all over the world while researching Mission Rescue: Wolves.
What about all the research?
Like with all the magazine articles I write, a lot of the research I do comes from interviewing people about their experiences. For the book about tigers that I’m working on now, I’ve been asking lots of questions about big cats in Russia, poaching, and how we can all help save tigers. Research for the fiction projects is a little different. Like, when I wanted to write a scene about boys walking in the woods after dark, I went out for a night hike with a friend and my sons. Something very unexpected happened when we ran into a HUGE spider web and a huge spider, too. That’s how a spider ended up in the book. It got illustrated like this!
Do you take the photographs or create artwork for your books?
There’s a whole team of people who work on the non-fiction books at National Geographic Kids, from the editors to the designers who create the pages to the photography editors who collect and decide on the photos. Sometimes I get to comment on the photos, sometimes not. All of the beautiful Boys Camp illustrations are created by a professional illustrator. I could never do that!
Where do you get your ideas?
One of my college professors called me an “ideas person.” Sometimes I have multiple lists of ideas running in my head, on little pieces of paper, and on my iPhone (sometimes even on my hand). I constantly email ideas to myself so I don’t forget. I see things all around me – kids and animals – and I’m flooded with ideas. The Internet churns up a lot of great story ideas, too.
What do you love most about writing?
Something that one of my sons’ teachers talked a lot about one year: making pictures with words. I love using sensory descriptions to recapture a moment or create it. I also love beomg able to write about things that I love, like puppies and owl rescue and horses or kids who make museums in their bedrooms and and wildlife conservation. I also love how writing has enabled me to be home full time with my sons who are both in elementary school. Also, I love it when my cat naps on the back of my chair while I’m working. Best. Headrest. Ever.
What are the hardest and easiest parts of the writing process for you?
One of the easiest parts for me is doing interviews for non-fiction pieces. I’m always curious. I love to talk to people and ask questions. I’ve been accused of asking too many questions! But once I get someone talking during an interview, then I have lots of great details to work with when writing (though sometimes I start work on a 600 word story with 9,000 words of notes. Yikes!)
Once a wildlife rehabber pretty much taught me over the phone how to teach a baby harbor seal how to eat a fish, for a rescue story I was working on for Nat Geo Kids. I absolutely loved spending time talking to wolf biologists from all over the world during my research for Nat Geo Kids Mission Rescue: Wolves. Recently, on a trip to South Africa, I spent two hours in the back of a safari vehicle asking tons of questions about white lion conservation for a story in KidsPost. Captive interview subject – get out of the vehicle and you might get eaten by a wild lion!
The hardest part of writing would be getting through the stage of drafting where I still don’t like what I’ve written. I have to keep plugging away and editing until I like it. Juggling freelance work while being a stay-at-home mom is hard, too.
Do you have a writing schedule?
The boys’ school schedule tends to dictate my writing schedule. We walk to school in the mornings and usually I’m home working by 9:15. I try to squeeze in yoga, tennis, time at the barn and a scramble to the grocery store here and there so we don’t starve. With anywhere from five to 16 non-fiction story deadlines each month, plus whatever book projects I’m working on, I spend a lot of time setting up interviews and tackling administrative details. A lot of times I’m interviewing children so I have to do interviews after school hours, which is a challenge with my own rambunctious boys running around. Then I have to clear the deck for writing time. If I really need to focus, I shut off email, the Internet and my iPhone. They constantly tempt me.
Where do you write?
My office is in the attic of our house, which is a pretty quiet place with lots of light. I also like to take a pad of paper and a pen on an antique chaise lounge we have in our living room. We got that piece of furniture years ago on a trip to Haiti and later had it upholstered in a beautiful yellow, blue and red fabric. It’s really comfy. That’s where I wrote the poem that later became the text to my picture book, “Carrot in My Pocket.”