Seasoned author Heather Alexander stops by to talk about the first book in a weird and wonderful new series about the 50 United States, Only in America!
How did you come up with the idea for Only in America, and how long did you work on it?
I have to give credit to the fabulous editorial team at Quarto, because the idea originated with them. But I love trivia–and the wackier, the better–so this book was a perfect fit. This book took about a year to complete–there are a lot of states to research!
How did you choose which facts would be included with each state in the final book? Anything interesting end up on the cutting room floor?
I searched out intriguing facts that made me chuckle, scratch my head, or gape in wonder. I was looking for the kind of cool facts you just have to have with your friends. The cutting room floor is cluttered with piles of facts, because we also needed room on each spread for the great art. (Spoiler alert: you’ll get to see some of these fabulous facts in future books in this series!) One of the toughest choices was picking out two middle-grade books set in each state to highlight. Originally, I had several favorite titles for each. It’s kind of like being team captain in physical education class and choosing your team. You want to include every one of your treasured friends!
What was your research process like? What challenges did you encounter? What surprised you most?
Normally, I do the bulk of my research at libraries. Because this book was written during the height of the pandemic when libraries across Los Angeles were closed, I had to rely on the internet much more. I was surprised at how much misinformation is out there. Simple things, like the height of a monument or the length of a road, were often inconsistent. And don’t get me started on all the cities that call themselves the capital of something or other and the number of people who claim to have invented the cheeseburger or the ice cream sundae! I found myself on the phone every day with museums and local libraries, verifying facts and gathering information. For the record, librarians rock! So many of them happily tracked down answers to my many obscure questions.
What do you do when you’re not writing?
I also work as a children’s book editor and literary scout. I love to be busy and usually juggle multiple projects at once. Throughout the day, I make sure to take several long walks with our new beagle puppy–she’s full of energy and adores eating paper (which my office is filled with!) if not tired out.
What are you working on now?
A series of state-specific books filled with wacky and wonderful facts for Quarto. First up are Only in California and Only in Texas. I’d love to hear your suggestions about which states I should focus on after those! I’m also writing the next book in my fiction series, Eat Bugs, which follows two kids who start an edible bug business.
About the author:
Heather Alexander is the author of over 40 books for children, both fiction and non-fiction. Recent titles include Life On Earth: Human Body and Life on Earth: Farm (Wide-Eyed Editions), A Child’s Introduction to Art (Hachette) and Across the USA (Kane Miller/Ivy Kids).