This week I have the pleasure of interviewing picture book writer and SCBWI friend, Jodi Moore. Jodi is the award winning author of WHEN A DRAGON MOVES IN, WHEN A DRAGON MOVES IN AGAIN (both Flashlight Press) and GOOD NEWS NELSON (Story Pie Press). She considers books, along with chocolate, to be one of the main food groups. She writes both picture books and young adult novels, hoping to challenge, nourish and inspire her readers by opening up brand new worlds and encouraging unique ways of thinking. Today she is going to tell us about her journey.
When did you decide to become an author?
When I was a toddler, my mom worked outside the home. Each night, she would bring home a book for us to share. I quickly learned to associate books with love. The seed was planted! Books helped me to make sense of my own world, and transport me to new ones. I think I started creating stories as soon as I could hold a crayon, drawing them long before written words were an option. But I believe it was having children of my own, and reading to them, that cemented the passion, desire and determination.
Tell us about your journey. How did you get your first book published?
My journey is a bit of a long and winding road. Although I spent most of my childhood and teenage years writing, it was never presented to me as a viable career option. It wasn’t until I started reading to my own boys that I realized how much I missed sharing stories. I began writing picture books. I began submitting. I began getting REJECTIONS. Although some were positive (I actually received a hand-written note from Kent Brown), I only saw the “no”s. They crushed me. I buried my dream and busied myself writing articles for magazines instead.
Despite my own issues with confidence, my husband Larry and I both recognized how important it was to nurture the dreams of our children. Both boys displayed talent and an interest in the arts at an early age, and we cheered them every step of the way. “If it were easy,” we’d assure them, “everyone would do it.” Before we knew it, they were accepting their high school diplomas. Empty nest threatened to hit hard.
“It’s time for you to get back to your passion,” Larry said. “Writing stories for children.”
I shook my head. “It’s too hard to get published.”
“What?” Both boys were incredulous. “Have you been lying to us all these years?”
Busted. They called me out.
Larry issued a challenge. “Hit it hard for the four years the boys are in college,” he said. “Go to conferences, hone your craft, submit your stories. If you aren’t published by the time the boys graduate, we’ll reevaluate the situation.” So I did. And I got rejections. And they stung. But I kept at it. Finally, I took the manuscript for WHEN A DRAGON MOVES IN to a conference, where I received two professional and conflicting critiques. (Yes! That happens! This is a very subjective business.) One editor told me I had to make sure the readers knew the dragon was real. The other? She proposed I revise it so readers knew the dragon was imaginary.
Needless to say, I was confused and discouraged. I wanted the readers to decide whether the dragon was real or not. I was beginning to feel it would never happen. I remember thinking, “When I receive my rejection from Flashlight, I guess I’ll have some rewriting to do.” But I didn’t get a rejection. And my brilliant editor, Shari Dash Greenspan, not only saw my vision, she embraced it and took it to another level.
Fast forward four years after Larry’s challenge: Our family celebrated two degrees…and one Dragon. Because one yes is all you need.
Was there ever a point when you felt like giving up?
Of course. The important thing is NOT to. (Hugs from your family and writer buddies help. So does chocolate.)
Is there anything about being a published author that has surprised you?
I think I’m surprised by something everyday! That being said, I think one of the most delightful “gifts” has been finding out how truly inspiring author visits are…for me. I might be the one receiving invitations to share information, guidance and motivation, but the kids are the ones who keep me going…and sometimes bring a tear to my eye. I never imagined I would receive notes like this: (and feel so blessed that I do!)
Oh, and to keep us humble? One thing that seems to surprise everyone: even well established authors still get rejections.
Any advice you would give to a writer just starting out?
Read everything you can. Go to museums. Concerts. Shows. Explore nature. Keep a journal. Then play. Dabble. Draw. Paint. Write. While it’s imperative to learn and refine your craft, it’s just as important to find your unique voice; to celebrate and share your own vision and heart.
Celebrate and enjoy the process.
Create honestly and bravely.
Surround yourself with positive, supportive people - those who share your passion and your compassion. Don’t listen to the “no”-it-alls. Only you can tell your own story. And the world needs to hear it.
My students are always surprised to hear that authors don’t always get to approve their illustrator and some don't even see the pictures until the book releases. What was that process like for you? Did anything surprise you when you saw the illustrations?
What many don’t realize is that illustrators do more than “draw” the author’s words, they tell the other half of the story. That’s why it’s so important for writers to leave room for their artists’ unique imaginations.
In my case, it was my editor who was the go-between, sharing my vision with Howard McWilliam (Dragon’s award-winning amazing illustrator), imparting her own thoughts and then giving him the breadth to work his magic. Specific art notes from me would have only served to restrict him. Howard took my dream – and our Dragon – to heights I never could have imagined!
You now have a sequel! What was hardest part about writing a second book? Will there be more Dragon books to come?
Oh! I hope so! *grins* But writing a sequel has its challenges. It has to stand on its own. It has to echo the flavor, humor and voice of the first one, yet be its own fresh and unique creation. I pitched four ideas for sequels before one stuck.
Is there anything else you would like to tell us about you or your writing?
It’s important to note that while writing is a solitary activity, getting published is not. I couldn’t have done any of this without the support of my family, my treasured writer friends and critique buddies, professional groups such as SCBWI, my editors, illustrators, teachers, librarians, bloggers and readers. Please give yourselves all a HUGE hug from me! And a ton of love, hugs and thanks to you, Stacy, for hosting me on this blog!
Thank you so much for being here, Jodi! You can find out more about Jodi and her books on her website.