Author Spotlight: Jocelyn Rish
April 29, 2022
Tell us about yourself and how you came to write for children.
Although I’ve always been a ravenous reader, I wasn’t one of those kids who knew I wanted to be a writer. Instead, I graduated with a major in psychology and a minor in computer science and went to work at a computer software company. While working way too many hours, I continued to inhale books when I could, and my favorites were YA mysteries and thrillers. One day, I saw an ad in a magazine for the Institute of Children's Literature, and I thought, “Huh. I love reading them so much, maybe writing YA novels is something I should try.” So I applied, got accepted, and it all kind of snowballed from there.
Congrats on your recent picture book, Battle of the Butts! Tell us about it (what a delightful premise!) and what inspired you.
Thank you! Battle of the Butts is a nonfiction book about ten animals that do weird things with their butts. It was a blast to write! Late one night, when I should have been sleeping (or at least writing), I was indulging my Twitter addiction by mindlessly doom-scrolling. One of the tweets had an adorable graphic of a manatee with the words “Manatees can control their buoyancy through an endless cycle of farting. There. That’s a thing you know now.”
I was like, “Whaaaa??? That can’t possibly be true!” So off I went to Google, and I was shocked to learn it is true! And in what turned out to be a career-changing stroke of luck, the Google search also brought up articles about other animals that do weird things with their tushies. So I went down a rabbit hole of all these cool caboose facts, and I just knew they would make a hilarious book for kids.
Was your road to publication long and winding, short and sweet, or something in between?
Very long and winding! I started writing over twenty years ago, and while I had successes with short stories and screenplays, a book deal remained an elusive dream I so badly wanted. I was 100% focused on fiction, mostly YA and then some MG. I got close a few times, but I never got the email I wanted no matter how many times I pressed refresh.
About ten years ago, I experimented with nonfiction (because I’d heard editors were really looking for it), and it was horrible – basically written in that Charlie Brown adults’ "wah wah wah" voice. So I wrote off nonfiction as a possibility for me. But then came the idea for BUTTS, and even though it was extremely outside my comfort zone, I knew I had to try, and luckily things then went very quickly. So basically it took me changing from fiction to nonfiction and jumping to a completely new age category to make my book publishing dreams come true!
What projects are you working on now?
I just reviewed and approved the release proof for Battle of the Brains, which comes out in November. And I sent my agent several pitches to submit for a third Battle book, so fingers crossed on that. Also, I’m returning to my fiction roots to draft a creepy PB idea I had during Tara Lazar’s most recent Storystorm. Here’s hoping I remember how to write plot and characters!
What are some of your best tips for researching nonfiction?
Research can be frustrating because many of the science papers and articles I need are behind paywalls – very expensive paywalls. So you have to get creative – search phrases from the abstract to see if it was reprinted in a free publication, email the author and ask for a copy (scientists want their findings to be available), or get yourself a super awesome friend who works in academia and offers to procure the papers for you (thanks, Katie!).
The coolest resource I found is 500 Women Scientists, which is actually many more than 500 women and gender diverse STEM experts who want to be used as resources. While writing Butts, I had to distill large, technical studies into a few hundred kid-friendly words, so once it sold, I needed experts to make sure the science was still correct. I was very intimidated about reaching out to scientists, but knowing the experts in this database wanted to help made it easier to approach them. And they were all so amazing and excited about Butts. I’m so grateful for their help!
What is one thing most people don't know about you?
I lived in Australia for six months during my junior year at Duke as part of the study abroad program. It was an amazing experience! I got to scuba dive the Great Barrier Reef, abseil off cliffs, hike where Crocodile Dundee was filmed, and watch horses run races the “wrong” way (just like the flushing toilets!). Unfortunately, I never met the square-pooping wombats or the bum breathing Fitzroy River turtles from Butts while I was there.
Where can people find you online?
I’m JocelynRish pretty much everywhere!
Twitter: @jocelynrish (https://twitter.com/JocelynRish)
Instagram: @jocelynrish (https://www.instagram.com/jocelynrish/)
Jocelyn Rish is a writer and filmmaker who loves researching weird and wonderful animals and sharing what she learns. When she’s not writing, she tutors kids to help them discover the magic of reading. Jocelyn has won numerous awards for her short stories, screenplays, short films, and novels and lives in South Carolina with her dogs.