Happy Friday everyone! I’m so excited to welcome my friend and newly-minted children’s author, Jodi McKay to Sensibility and Sense! Jodi’s debut picture book, WHERE ARE THE WORDS? (Albert Whitman and Company, December 2016), illustrated by Denise Holmes, is a fun and funny look at the ellusive world of the punctuation mark! When a period, an exclamation point and a question mark get together to write their own story, they find that something very important is missing. . .the WORDS! Enter some wise quotation marks, an opinionated parenthesis and a colon with a long list of ideas, and you’ve got an endearing tale that introduces kids to the important work end marks and their com padres do. And now, without further delay, here’s Jodi. . .
When a period, an exclamation point and a question mark get together to write their own story, they find that something very important is missing. . .the WORDS! Enter some wise quotation marks, an opinionated parenthesis and a colon with a long list of ideas, and you’ve got an endearing tale that introduces kids to the important work end marks and their com padres do. And now, without further delay, here’s Jodi. . .
Patti: Tell us a little bit about your journey as a writer. When did you first get the “bug” and how did you nurture the dream along the way?
Jodi: I’ve been a creative type my whole life, drawing, writing, playing music so I guess I was born with bugs-Ewwww. Regardless of what I was doing in life I always found time to draw or write. I honed my skills during mind numbing high school and college classes (some of my best doodles came from a statistics course), painted while I was supposed to be working, found a way to include writing in my job, and now I shut the door to my office and ignore reality so I can dive deep into the weird abyss of my creative process. Hmm, I’m making myself sound like a slacker. I promise I got things done, just with the occasional creativity break.
Patti: If you’re like me, you’ve been writing ever since you can remember. But some of us had other careers before we settled on writing. What did you do before you became a wordsmith?
Jodi: I have a graduate degree in Psychology and worked at an eating disorder center in South Florida as an aftercare manager/counselor for some time. I stayed home after I had my son and then we moved back to Michigan. I know what you’re thinking, that I’m crazy for leaving the tropics for the frozen tundra. You may be right.
I didn’t start writing until my son went to kindergarten and I felt like I had enough time to breathe let alone write.
Patti: Many people go to college or graduate school to study writing for children. How has your education, whether writing based or not, informed the work you’re doing today?
Jodi: Honestly, I don’t think much at all. It’s been said that people go into Psychology because they have their own issues and I guess if I tried to make a link between my education and my writing then I would say that my issues make me odd enough to think of the quirky, humorous stories that I like to write.
Patti: Now, let’s talk about WHERE ARE THE WORDS? It’s such a unique and special book. Punctuation marks trying to write a story!!! So perfect! Can you tell us where the idea came from?
Jodi: Thanks! It’s bizarre right? I mean, who thinks of talking punctuation marks? The concept came out of a bad case of writer’s block. I sat at my computer, questioning my ability as a writer and flat out asked my computer, “Where the !@#& are the words?” That was the spark I needed to then ask, “What if someone wants to write a story (me), but literally can’t find words for it?” Once I had the idea I knew I had to present it in a different way and that’s when those sneaky little punctuation marks elbowed their way into the picture. The rest flowed out and was quite fun to create.
Patti: How did your early drafts differ from the final product?
Jodi: I always had the punctuation marks speaking as they act in a sentence, but the way they went about finding the words changed. I think it’s funnier now, especially with Exclamation Point’s role. I also experimented with dialogue tags and some narration, but it just didn’t work.
Patti: Writers love to hear about other writers’ success stories! Can you talk about your journey to publication? How did you connect with your editor and agent, and how did the contract ultimately come together?
Jodi: I say it all the time, the planets aligned (which happens roughly every 500 years) and I was offered a book deal. It goes like this, I won a critique from an author who read my story, offered some feedback, and asked if I would send it to her editor. I sent it and waited 2 ½ months with only one email upfront to say that the editor had received it. Figuring that it was a no I started querying it and then wouldn’t you know it, I opened my email and there was an offer from Albert Whitman! I reached out to the agents I had queried to let them know about the recent development and Linda Epstein emailed me back asking for more work. I was lucky enough to sign with her and she went right to work negotiating the contract with Albert Whitman. I’m very grateful for all of her help in that process.
Patti: We all need great resources to help us along on our writing journey. What are some of your favorite resources- groups, classes, website, blogs- and how do they continue to help you now?
Jodi: SCBWI is probably the greatest resource out there for children’s book writers and illustrators. They are a one-stop shop for finding what you need to write for kids and I would not be the writer I am today if I had not joined. Other online resources I found to be helpful was 12×12 which is open for registration now, Kidlit College offers some great webinars as does Children’s Book Academy, and Facebook groups such as Kidlit 411, Sub it Club, ReFoReMo, StoryStorm, and Agent/Editor Discussion are great for connecting with your peers and having any questions answered. I think continuing education is key to writing for today and tomorrow’s market. What kids need and want evolves so it’s always good to be on top of that and these resources are the best place to stay up to date.
Patti: I like to leave my readers with a nugget or two to think about at the end of each post- a little Sensibility and Sense for the road if you will:) What two pieces of advice would you give to other writers no matter where they are on the path to publication?
Sensibility- Jodi says. . .Let your emotions out. I say this with two scenarios in mind: 1. When writing, access your feelings and use them in your story’s voice or your character’s personality. This will make it feel authentic, a story that only you can write. 2. Writing and submitting can be awfully frustrating. Let yourself be angry, sad, anxious because that’s part of the journey. Go outside and chuck ice cubes at a wall (not a window!), scream into a pillow, ugly cry for a bit and then pick yourself back up and keep writing. Don’t keep those emotions in or they may hold you back from experiencing how rewarding writing is.
Sense- Jodi says. . .Connect with other writers. No one else will understand what you are doing better than people who are doing the same thing. The kid lit community is filled with the most enthusiastic, empathetic, supportive people that I have ever come across and the collective wisdom of the group is invaluable. If being part of a large group is not your thing, then find a small group. By this I mean, join a critique group either in person or online. You should not send a manuscript to an agent or editor without having it looked at by at least three people who can offer feedback. A critique group will provide you with that, but more importantly they will become your champions and friends. At least mine did :0)
Patti- That’s some great writing wisdom, Jodi! It’s been a privilege to be part of your journey. Now, did you want to say something about a FREE critique?
Jodi- I am happy to offer a FREE critique for a picture book manuscript of less than 700 words. Looking forward to reading your work!
Patti: Wow, that’s a generous offer! Let’s do it this way. . .the first 10 picture book writers to comment on this post will get your name in a drawing for a FREE picture book critique from Jodi! Please include your name and the words…I WANT THAT CRITIQUE… in your comment to be eligible!
And don’t forget, I’m offering a BOGO Picture Book Critique Special through the end of January! That means today you have TWO great chances to polish your work and get it ready to submit! So start those comments rolling and check out my offer by clicking the PGWRites Critiques tab above.
Thanks again, Jodi! And be sure to get your copy of WHERE ARE THE WORDS at your local independent bookseller or on Amazon today!