Author Spotlight: Janae Marks
June 12, 2020
We are very excited to feature author Janae Marks and her debut Middle Grade novel, FROM THE DESK OF ZOE WASHINGTON (HarperCollins Katherine Tegen Books Jan. 2020).
Enter to win a copy!
|Cover design by Laura Mock,
Illustrated by Mirelle Ortega
Tell us about yourself and how you came to write for children.
Hi! I’m Janae Marks, and I write middle grade books. I’ve always loved reading and writing. As a kid, I wrote short stories, letters to camp friends, and journal entries. When I got to college, I realized that I wanted to eventually be published.
One pivotal moment in my writing journey was my senior year in college when I took a literature class called “Girls’ Books.” In the class, we read children’s books featuring girl protagonists, like Little Women, Harriet the Spy, Weetzie Bat, The Golden Compass, and others. I hadn’t read these books since I was a young girl myself, and reading them again reminded me how much I loved stories for children--and still connected with them as an adult. Our final assignment in the class was to write a chapter of our own children’s book. I had the best time writing that chapter and it made me want to keep writing for a younger audience. That’s why I went on to get an MFA in Writing for Children from the New School.
Congratulations on your debut MG novel, FROM THE DESK OF ZOE WASHINGTON. Tell us about the book and what inspired it.
Thank you! FROM THE DESK OF ZOE WASHINGTON tells the story of Zoe, who dreams of competing on the Food Network’s Kids Bake Challenge show, and becoming a professional pastry chef. On her twelfth birthday, she unexpectedly receives a letter from her father, Marcus, who she’s never met because he’s been in prison her whole life. She decides to write back, and while getting to know him through their letters, she finds out something shocking--Marcus may actually be innocent of his crime. So she decides to uncover the truth.
I was actually inspired by a podcast. In 2014, I was obsessed with the first season of the podcast Serial, which told the story of a young man who’s serving a prison sentence for murder, but many believe could be innocent of the crime. I started thinking about wrongful convictions, and how often they happen, and why. I started researching the Innocence Project, an organization that helps overturn wrongful convictions. Since I write for kids, I started to wonder what it’s like to have a parent in prison, and what it would be like to find out that they might actually be innocent. ZOE WASHINGTON was born from there!
Was your road to publication long and winding, short and sweet, or something in between?
Definitely long and winding! I graduated from my MFA program in 2010, and really thought I’d have an agent and book deal within a couple of years. But it took four manuscripts and 7+ years to find an agent and publisher. I experienced a lot of rejection and disappointment along the way, but I kept going because I truly believed in myself, and knew if I kept writing, I’d eventually reach my dream. That’s eventually what happened! My fourth manuscript was FROM THE DESK OF ZOE WASHINGTON. And suddenly, my road to publication sped up. I received multiple offers of representation and the book went to auction before landing at Katherine Tegen Books. It was so exciting to see my years of hard work and perseverance pay off.
What projects are you working on now?
Right now I’m revising my second middle grade book, which will come out in fall 2021. I can’t wait to share more about it soon! I’m also brainstorming what I want to write next. I definitely want to write more middle grade novels, and I’m also thinking about possible chapter book ideas.
What advice would you give to aspiring authors?
Keep going! Like I said above, my publishing journey was long. But I kept writing because I loved it, and I knew that if I kept writing and working on my craft, I’d achieve my goals. Know that rejection is part of the process, and don’t let it get you down for too long. I’m so glad I never quit, and I hope you won’t either!
What is one thing most people don't know about you?
Growing up, I thought I wanted to be on Broadway. I even auditioned for a few college theater programs...and didn’t get in. But I’m so glad, because that “failure” led me to writing children’s books and I couldn’t be happier!
Where can people find you online?
My website is janaemarks.com, and I’m on Instagram and Twitter @janaemarksbooks.
Thank you so much for having me, Kidlit 411!
Janae Marks has an MFA in Creative Writing with a concentration in Writing for Children from The New School. She grew up in the suburbs of New York City, and now lives in Connecticut with her husband and daughter. From the Desk of Zoe Washington is her debut novel.
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