You’ve got questions, I’ve got answers!

These are some of the most commonly asked questions when I visit schools, libraries, and other groups.

What inspired you to be a children’s author?

I started out as a biologist studying animal behavior, and I taught at the college level for a few years. But then my husband got a job in Germany and that meant I couldn’t teach any more. We had two small children at the time, and we read to them a lot. One day it occurred to me that I knew a lot of interesting things that might be of interest to kids. I also knew a lot of fascinating people doing super cool research. So I started writing about them. I’ve been writing about nature and science for kids ever since, and I don’t think I’ll ever stop. There are too many amazing stories to tell.

As a child, was there something, specifically, that sparked your interest in nature?

I grew up really close to the Rocky Mountains—seeing them every day made me feel in awe of this planet we call home. Hiking, camping, skiing, and sailing were all ways I could get out into nature and feel like I was part of it. I’ve always been an observant person, so just sitting outside and paying attention to what’s going on around me made me aware of how many other critters share Earth with us. I spent years learning about them and how interconnected we all are. We live on an extraordinary planet, and I want everyone who reads my stories to connect to it the way I do.

What was your favorite adventure that you’ve been on?

This is a tough question! I’ve traveled a lot (22 countries on three continents), and I have loved all of my trips. One of my favorites was Costa Rica. My husband and I went ziplining through the cloud forest, watched a volcano gently erupt while sitting in a nearby hot spring, saw a three-toed sloth up close when we were on the beach (it was in the tree right above us), and spotted mysterious eye-shine from a small animal—maybe a frog? When we shined a flashlight on it, we couldn’t see anything, so we’ll never know!

What is the most exciting/interesting place you’ve been to?

The most exciting would be the Amazon rain forest. Chocolate comes from the seeds of the cacao plant, but the pulp around the seeds is super sweet—we ate some from a tree growing in the forest, and then made chocolate (from seeds!) when we got back to Lima. We went on a night hike, and our guide told us to keep our kids in the middle because there was a cougar in the area. We caught piranha and spotted a huge caiman and several hoazin—birds that have claws on their thumb and finger when they’re young to help them hold on to branches above the water (if they fall in, a caiman is probably going to get lunch). And a tarantula tried to climb into bed with me!

What’s your favorite fact from the Weird but True books?

It’s the one about Indonesian pacu jawi jockeys on pages 100-101 of WBT Sports. I think it looks both terrifying and super fun.

How much time do you spend doing research?

I easily spend about four hours doing research for every hour I spend writing. I learn way more than I will ever put in my stories, but I’ve found the only way I can really tell a story is to completely understand the science behind it first.

How long does it take to make a book?

It varies—a lot! Some books take years of thinking, researching, and false starts at writing before the ideas finally come together and I have a complete manuscript. Others may only take a few weeks. I’d say most are four to six months. But that’s just the writing part that I do. Selling it to a publisher can take a few months (or may not happen at all). Once the publisher agrees to publish the story, it can be two to three years before the actual book comes out.

What’s your favorite animal?

This is another really hard question. I’m a huge fan of pollinators, especially native bees (most of which don’t sting). But at the moment, I would have to say the echidna which is one of the world’s most unusual creatures—it’s covered in spines, has a pouch like a kangaroo, and lays eggs! It’s also a hero for our planet. There’s a chapter on echidnas in Animal Climate Heroes.

Do you get to travel when you do research?

Sometimes! I visited Ashfall State Park several times when researching Rhinos in Nebraska, and I made three separate research trips for Detective Dogs are on the Case. I got to raft down the Snake River in Teton National Park with dog/handler teams for one of the chapters. My husband was on that trip, and his team ran into a massive bull moose on one of the islands–and quickly returned to the raft. Moose can be dangerous! I wrote Animal Climate Heroes during the pandemic, so no travel for that one, but I have seen sea otters and great whales in the wild.