Growing up in the Pacific Northwest, I was usually juggling a stack of library books on my way home from school. I loved writing stories, too, and in the fourth grade, started crafting plays. I'd cast my friends in the roles and our teacher, Mrs. Zielinski, encouraged us to perform for the class and sometimes, the whole school! After earning a B.A. from Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, WA, I became a television news reporter and weather forecaster, first for KAPP TV in Yakima, WA then for KREM TV in Spokane, WA. My first book contract for children was a four-book weather series for Scholastic. A few years later came my debut middle grade fiction series, Julep O'Toole (Penguin). Since then, I've published more than 100 fiction and nonfiction titles. It's a highlight of my career to be the first author to write fiction for National Geographic! A full list of my books and author bio are available in the Media Kit below.
Explorer Academy FAQs
What inspired you to write EXPLORER ACADEMY?
I have always loved reading nonfiction - history, science, weather, geography, you name it. A former TV news reporter and weather forecaster, I got my start in children’s literature writing library books for middle grade readers about the weather. Over time, I also started writing and publishing some of my fiction novels, too. This project for Nat Geo was an opportunity to combine my passion for nonfiction with my love of adventure stories. I get to use both left and right brain: utilizing my research skills as a journalist, as well as my imagination as a creator. It's the best!
Which is your favorite book of the series?
Usually, the book I am, currently, working on tends to be my favorite because that is where my energies are directed at the moment. But now that I am finished with the series I can step back a bit, look at the entire experience, and say that THE TIGER'S NEST would be at the top of my list. Cruz has some major life changes happen in that book, and it was a challenge for me to write the scenes where those occurred (it's hard to put your characters in peril, but, of course you must). Cruz must cope with the pain, the way we all must do when tough times come - and they always do. But he is resilient and has a support system of family, friends, and teachers that help him navigate the rough seas. The greatest challenges also bring the greatest rewards, so that's a book that's very close to my heart.
Which character is your favorite and which one are you most like?
My favorite characters are the non-humans, like Mell and Hubbard. It's great to be able to infuse them with their own personalities and quirks. There is a piece of me in every character I write so I feel a connection to all of them, even the villains, but I would say I have the most in common with Lani. We have a similar approach to problem solving and I like to think I have her level head. For fun, you can take a personality quiz and see which character YOU are most like at www.exploreracademy.com. I took the quiz and I am most like Emmett, which I can't deny. I do love Emmett!
I am married to my college sweetheart, Bill, a high school teacher and photographer.
My hobbies are crocheting, photography, and gardening (can you guess which flower is my favorite?). I also adore the three c's: cupcakes, chocolate, and cats.
Speaking of cats, I have four: a sweet, clever snowshoe named Pippin, a big, mellow ginger tabby named Woody, Emmylou, a mischievous but sweet Siamese mix, and Misty, a chatty, white and brown 'cow print' tabby. The kits have their own Facebook page, where you can always find photos of their shenanigans and even some stories, too!
I have always loved the movies of old Hollywood: All About Eve, Rear Window, and Casablanca. But truthfully, I like any movie with an exciting plot and memorable characters, like The Princess Bride, The Incredibles and A Bug's Life. Here's a tip for writers: if you want to know how to weave a great story, watch a Pixar movie.
I enjoy all kinds of music from pop to jazz to bluegrass. My favorite performers are Kathy Mattea, The Corrs, and Adele.
My favorite books: Charlotte's Web; Pride & Prejudice; Kidnapped; Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley, and Me, Elizabeth.