Nov. 18, 2016
Today we welcome picture book debut author Jodi McKay! Be sure to enter her giveaway for her book, WHERE ARE THE WORDS?, illustrated by Denise Holmes (Albert Whitman, coming mid-December, winner will receive book then.)
Tell us about yourself and how you came to write for children.
First, thanks for having me on your blog. This is very exciting!
I am from Grosse Pointe Farms, Michigan and right now I am looking out the windows at the beautiful fall foliage that makes this mitten state so incredible. I live in a house full of boys, two of which are furry, so I’ve made sure to secure my own space where I can write without too much interruption.
I started writing when I was a kid, but not seriously until about 5 years ago. My happy place has always been in the children’s section of the bookstore, sitting criss-cross applesauce on the floor reading as many picture books as time allows so it felt natural to write them as well. I am proud to say that I think of about 20 weird things on a daily basis and those are often fodder for my books. It also helps to live with a bunch of boys who say and do really strange things.
Congratulations on your debut PB, WHERE ARE THE WORDS? Tell us about it and what inspired it.
Thanks so much! Remember when I said I think of a handful of weird things a day? Well, this book came from a drought of weirdness. In despair over a dearth of creativity, I asked myself, “Where the (bleep) are the words?”
Oddly enough, that was the spark I needed to formulate a story. I figured, why not write about not being able to write and what if the character that wants to write a story is usually part of the story?
Cue the punctuation marks. The first character that came to mind was Exclamation Point. I saw him yelling everything he said. This meant that all of the other punctuation marks had to speak the way they act. So Period only makes statements, Question Mark asks all of the questions, and so on. Period is the main character and all he wants is to write a story, but he literally can’t find the words for it. His punctuation pals try to help him, but it is Exclamation Point who is able to see the bigger picture and he helps Period discover where the words are.
Honestly, it’s a message to myself to step back and take a look around. Focusing too much on a problem (trying to find words) leaves a person blind to potential solutions (ideas for a story). I also added in a theme of collaboration and friendship because sometimes we need a little help from our friends (the kid lit community).
Can you tell us about how you got your first contract? How long was the process from writing the story to publication?
I wrote WHERE ARE THE WORDS? during the summer of 2014. It went through a couple of critiques, one of which gave it that extra shine (thank you SCBWI MI shop talk!) Then, when Venus was in retrograde and all of the planets aligned I got my break. I was the winner, out of hundreds of entrants, of a critique by an author who not only gave me great feedback, but then asked if I would be interested in sending it to her editor. Not needing to think twice about that one, I sent it off and waited for what felt like a life time.
After a few months without a word, I figured it was a no so I started querying it. Two weeks later I received an email with an offer. A few weeks after that I signed with the incomparable Linda Epstein now at Emerald City Literary Agency. It has been roughly 2 ½ years from start to finish and I have learned a lot along the way!
What projects are you working on now?
I am rotating through a few different picture book revisions at the moment. Two are nursery rhyme spin offs showcasing a certain cow who has issues jumping over the moon and then three blind mice who prevail despite their disabilities. Quirky, humorous picture books are my comfort zone, but I am also working on a picture book that addresses differences and being open to the unfamiliar.
What advice would you give to your younger self? Is this the same you would give to aspiring authors?
The first thing that came to mind is, don’t get a perm and then rat out your bangs. It makes you look like a poodle.
The second, and perhaps more sage advice that can be applied to aspiring authors today is, don’t doubt yourself so much. There is a learning curve for everything and doubt gets in the way of learning.
Who or what inspires you?
Well-chosen words inspire me. Whether they are found in books, on the screen, or shouted from a pulpit, I am a sucker for words that make me feel. I often find that the words that are most inspirational can be found at the least expected times or in the most random places. It’s like they were meant for me to hear them at that very moment and that influences me greatly.
What is one thing most people don't know about you?
Let’s see, what to choose from… How about, I played the saxophone for 7 years. Yep, the alto and baritone sax in about every band you can think of. Wow, I haven’t shared that little nugget of information in quite some time. Has anyone told you that interviews feel a bit therapeutic?
Where can people find you online?
Thanks for asking! I would love to chat with folks about books, writing, or maybe even saxophones so please find me on:
My website- www.JodiMcKayBooks.com (Look for the teacher’s guide!)
And you have a blog tour. Here are the dates to Jodi’s Blog tour:
November 14th- https://albertwhitman.wordpress.com
November 18th- www.kidlit411.com
November 21st- http://www.karlingray.com/blog.htm
November 28th- http://jumpingthecandlestick.blogspot.com
November 29th- http://literallylynnemarie.blogspot.com
December 5th - https://laurasassitales.wordpress.com
Jodi lives in Grosse Pointe, Michigan with her husband, son, a couple of mischievous pets, and at least one ghost. She discovered that she loved to write when she was 8 years old, but decided to finish school before pursuing it full time. Now she is an active member of the incredible kid lit community and is proud to be represented by Linda Epstein at Emerald City Literary Agency. Jodi’s debut picture book, WHERE ARE THE WORDS? is set to release on November 29th and she can’t wait to share it!