Where did you grow up?
In Greenville, SC
What is your earliest memory of writing/drawing?
Scribbling poems about snow, in the dark of the car, as my family was on the way to North Carolina to ski.
What inspired you to write/illustrate your first book?
My first published book? Or the FIRST book, as in the bedtime stories for pet rocks my friend Miranda and I sold to our classmates? My first published book was Desert, part of a series about biomes. That book came about after I answered an ad in the Washington Post for folks to write biographies of scientists. The scientist book, which I wrote under contract, was never published because Holt bought 21st Century Books (the publisher) and cancelled my first ever book! Ha! But Holt eventually contracted me to do a series instead. So…Holt was my first ever publisher and here I am still doing Holt books, after all this time.
Do you use your childhood as inspiration?
I use my nature experiences as inspiration. Those experiences stretch from childhood into adulthood. So I guess I do use my childhood sometimes. Mostly, though, it comes from adult experiences in the wild. Last night I observed a gray fox. This summer I spent lots of time underwater, studying coral reef fish. There’s always something to study!
What books from your childhood have most influenced your work? What about adult titles?
My mom had a science book company in our basement so I read all those Lets Read and Find Out titles when I was a kid. But, mostly, I read fantasy such as The Book of Three, The High King, and A Wrinkle in Time.
A lot of my inspiration, as an adult, comes from reading science magazines. But books like Tropical Nature, A Book of Bees, and the journals of Madeleine L’Engle have meant a lot to me.
What are your hobbies and interests besides reading and books?
Photography is my passion. I’ve been a dedicated photographer since age eight or so. My mom taught me how to compose a picture and I published some photos in college.
Birdwatching, bugwatching, native plant gardening, yoga, and snorkeling are some of my favorite activities.
Who are a couple of your favorite author/illustrators? What is it about their work that inspires and interests you?
I read middle grade and YA fantasy. My favorite author is Tamora Pierce. I like the sensory way she approaches the discussion of the magical. I like that her mages learn practical skills in order to shape their brains and magical powers.
In read aloud nonfiction, I’d say Byrd Baylor’s work has the most meaning for me. I found her work long after I was writing my own books—really, only recently. But now, as I am reading her work, I keep saying “Aha! Yes! I know what you mean!” Her books are delicious in the deepest way possible. She says the important things.
What one or two words of advice would you give for young authors/illustrators?
Share what you care about by writing. Polish your work until it shines. And never give up. It may take a while for your style of work to find its place in the world, the place where it is best appreciated. Until that time, your job is to do the work—with a dedicated mind and heart.