This week I am excited to interview Josh Funk. Josh and I met at his first NESCBWI writing conference where we realized that we attended the same sleepaway camp (a few years apart). Josh writes silly stories and somehow tricks people into publishing them as picture books - such as the Award-Winning LADY PANCAKE & SIR FRENCH TOAST (Sterling), PIRASAURS! (Scholastic 8.30.16), DEAR DRAGON (Viking/Penguin 9.6.16), and more. Josh is a board member of The Writers' Loft in Sherborn, MA and the co-coordinator of the 2016 and 2017 New England Regional SCBWI Conferences. Josh grew up in New England and studied Computer Science in school. Today, he still lives in New England and when not writing Java code or Python scripts, he drinks Java coffee and writes picture book manuscripts. Josh is terrible at writing bios, so please help fill in the blanks. Josh enjoys _______ during ________ and has always loved __________. He has played ____________ since age __ and his biggest fear in life is being eaten by a __________.
When did you decide to become an author?
I first started writing five summers ago, in 2011. Like many others, I started by writing rhyming picture books because I thought that would be easiest. I mean, everyone starts by reading Dr. Seuss, right? Boy was I wrong! Writing picture books, especially in rhyme, is hard. But I found the writing community very welcoming, so I decided to go for it!
Tell us about your journey. How did you get your first book published?
In the spring and summer of 2013, I wasn't getting great responses from literary agents, so I decided to send my best work out directly to publishers. I sent Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast via snail mail to about a dozen. And about four months later, I got an email from an editor at Sterling who said they found Lady Pancake in the slush pile and were taking it to acquisitions. 8 days later I received an offer!
Since then you’ve had a number of books contracted, including a sequel to Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast. What is the secret to your success?
There's no real secret. You just have to keep writing. I learn something from every story I try to write. Every book I write is better than the last. I try to learn and absorb as much information about writing as I can. I go to workshops and conferences. I joined the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators. I became a member of The Writers' Loft. Like playing an instrument or a sport, the more you practice, the better you become. I read a lot of picture books. I read a lot of books that aren't picture books. And I try to have fun.
Was there ever a point when you felt like giving up?
Give up? Absolutely. All of those rejections hitting my inbox hurt - and broke my heart a little each time. But ultimately, it only takes a single "yes" to make a book happen. And when you find that right fit, it makes all of the pain worth 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?
So far, I have four illustrators for different projects: Brendan Kearney (LP&SFT and LP&SFT: The Case of the Stinky Stench), Michael Slack (Pirasaurs!), Rodolfo Montalvo (Dear Dragon), and Edwardian Taylor (It's Not Jack and the Beanstalk). All were 'assigned' to my books, but I have to be honest, I couldn't be happier. The folks at each publisher know what they're doing when searching for illustrators. What surprises me most when seeing each of the illustrations is how much better these artists' imaginations are than mine, at least in a visual sense. A strawberry hat for Sir French Toast? A peg-tail for Captain Rex? None of those things were my idea!
Is there anything about being a published author that has surprised you?
Well, being a published author at all is a surprise! It's so incredibly fun to see a book I wrote on the shelf at a library. I get to meet all these cool teachers and librarians and students (and other authors). And I never imagined people would want to take their picture with me! How surreal!?!
Any advice you would give to a writer just starting out?
Have fun. Don't write to get published. Write to entertain your friends. Make them laugh. Make them cry. Put on a puppet show for your family. Write a song. Draw! And read a lot! Stories come in many forms. TV shows, movies, and even video games - all of them have stories - stories that were written. And someone has to write them. There's no reason they can't be written by you!
Is there anything else about you or your books you would like to tell us?
I'm on Team Baron von Waffle. But shhh! Don't tell anyone. It'll ruin my image.
My students and I are big fans of Josh’s book trailers, especially after learning he writes and sings all of the music. Make sure to watch the trailers below and you will see why we love them.