MWW learned about Alexandra Ramaeker Zahn, a 12-year-old from Iowa who has written four novels, through a friend’s encounter with the her mother at a conference. Following the lead from our friend, we called Alexandra to learn more about her stories, which span the geography of the U.S. and Europe.
Alexandra is a middle school student who participates in multiple sports, as well as Mock Trial, Destination Imagination, Junior Achievement, Jazz Band and Chorus. She has traveled to 18 states and 2 countries with her family. She enjoys learning, in detail, facts about each of the places she has been to. She is curious about other cultures, landscapes, the science of things, and the dynamics of friendships.
Can you tell me the titles of the four novels you’ve written and give a brief synopsis of each?
Moving Streak is the story of an 8th grade girl named Abby who moves around the United States–to South Dakota, Iowa, and North Carolina. She doesn’t know if she really fits in because she moves around so much. By the end of the novel, she finds out who her real friends are, and who she really is.
Deep Down Secrets is set in New York City. It is about a popular girl who doesn’t really love being popular, and doesn’t really know who she’s become. With the help of her best friend, she comes to terms with herself.
Best Year Never is the sequel to Deep Down Secrets. It goes deeper into the friendships of the protagonist. Some kids still think she’s stereotypically “cool,” but others discover that she is different in important ways.
Princess of Anastesia takes place in Italy, in medieval times. It tells the story of a 12-year-old who lives with a farm family, but discovers that her real dad is a king, and she is a princess. Her father had to give her up because his kingdom was fighting a great war, and the enemies were trying to hurt her.
Have you been to New York City, the setting of Deep Down Secrets and its sequel?
Yes, for my birthday last year. I saw many of the sites–Ellis Island, Statue of Liberty, etc.
Were there any details about New York that you noticed and put in the book?
The huge number of people was kind of overwhelming, and the way people acted in a big city environment. I tried to capture some of those feelings in the book.
How did you pick Europe for the setting of Princess of Anastesia? Have you been there?
No, but we studied Europe last year in school; every student had to do a project on a country. I picked Italy because I’m 3/4th Italian and wanted to learn more about my heritage. We studied history, mostly modern, but some ancient Roman stuff, too. This inspired me to write about Italian history.
Is the book based on a particular historical kingdom?
Nope, I just made it up!
Was there anything you read about Italy that helped give you a sense of place?
We learned about Venice in school. I was mainly inspired by things I read about the landscape, and the pictures we saw. It was really beautiful!
Are there any interesting facts you learned about Europe?
For the Italy project, I had to pretend that I had traveled there and put together a scrapbook. I learned lots of fun facts that were cool, like that Pizza originated from peasants in Italy because they could use any type of ingredient, and now it’s an international food.
What class did you learn all this in? A geography class? Social studies?
If you could go anywhere in the world, what would be your top pick?
I can’t choose just one! Either Italy, China, or Africa.
Why those places?
I liked learning about China a lot this year, it’s very diverse. The most impressive thing about Africa, I think, is all the hand-made crafts. My mom went to Africa and brought back some really neat things. The stuff people can make with their raw hands is amazing!
Not a lot of 12-year-olds write novels, it’s very impressive that you’ve already written four! When do you find time to write?
I write after school, after I’m done with homework or after dinner.
How did you get the idea for your first book?
It’s really based on a TV series that I watched in 4th grade, Little House on the Prairie. I got hooked on the storyline and started writing my own novel from that.
Sometimes kids want to write, but don’t know what to write about. Have you had this problem? What do you do in this situation?
I’d say, wait it out until something comes to you. But I don’t have that problem yet. I get inspiration from many places–T.V. shows, school, my own travels and observations of people. I hang out with my friends and watch how they act, and how they talk. I adapt traits from my friends for my books.
What are some of your favorite books?
The Clique by Lisi Harrison
The Cry of the Icemark by Stuart Hill
The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling
Who are your favorite authors?
Stephanie Meyer [Twilight series]
J.K. Rowling [Harry Potter series]
Do you have a favorite genre of books?
I read whatever looks good from the title! Or, I’ll open to the middle and read a bit, and decide if I like it from there
Do you plan to write any more books? What will they be about?
My next book will hopefully be more fantasy-based. Princess of Anastesia had some elements of fantasy, but the next one should have more.
Are you hoping to publish your stories?
I’m in the editing phase right now, deciding if I want to publish or not. This summer I got to meet with a professional editor a few times a month.
And when you grow up? Do you want to be a writer?
I definitely see writing as part of my future.
What advice do you have for other kids who want to be writers?
Follow your dreams–don’t let anybody get you down! Write the way you like to write. Read different genres, that way you learn different writing styles.