I couldn't resist doing an interview with my friend and author, Jennifer Cole Judd. Her newest release, Circus Train, hit the shelves last week. Jen is a brilliant poet and an incredible person all around as you will see from the brief interview below:
Your latest book, Circus Train, is a rhymer, which you do very well. How hard was it to sell and where did the idea come from? How long did it take from its creation to is ultimate publication?
Thanks, Johnell! The idea for Circus Train was born when (surprise, surprise) I took my young kids to the circus one day. It was watching my then five-year-old daughter's eyes light up with wonder that brought a wave of nostalgia and excitement for me. It was like a sensory explosion, and watching her take it all in was pretty special. I really wanted to capture that magic and wonder, so I sat down that evening to write a poem about it. The poem expanded and became picture book length. This was back in 2006. I had been taking Anastasia Suen's Intensive Picture Book Workshop online at the time, so the manuscript went through some great critiquing. I was really new to children's writing back then, and was focused primarily on poetry writing, so when I subbed the story out and got a couple of rejections, I put it away for a while. Well, quite a while, actually! I pulled the manuscript out in 2012, after having spent some years working on rhythm, rhyme, and learning the craft (and after my first publication, Eyeball in My Garden had been out!). It was then that I added the train to the story. I revised it, shared it with my critique partners, and subbed it to Two Lions. I was surprised (and thrilled) when they acquired it a few months later. I know that doesn't happen a lot in the industry, so I feel extremely blessed (and lucky!) that this story was acquired that quickly...but, I think the span of six years helped! (I wish I could say all of my other stories and poems came together that magically!)
You've been doing author events already. What's been the best one you've done and what feedback are you getting? Which events seem to work best for you and what advice would you give an author preparing for a book tour?
I am still learning when it come to events and visits, but I absolutely love doing poetry workshops at schools. I have had some of the best experiences helping kids create rhymes, use sensory language and poetic devices to write their own work. It is so rewarding to get notes from students saying, "I love poetry!" or "I want to be a writer now!" In terms of preparing to do events and visits, I would say to consider your audience, think of something both educational and inspiring you can share with young readers, and remember to have fun.
What's your favorite line in Circus Train?
Hmmm, that's hard! I'm attached to certain lines, particularly because of the illustrations! I do like "Tigers, horses/weave through courses/vendors handy--'Cotton candy!'" because those short lines pack a lot of action into a bit of text (and the illustrations are fun!). That was both the challenge and the fun of writing Circus Train--choosing the right words to evoke an image, in short, tight phrases.
Of all the drafts you've got, why do you think Circus Train pulled ahead in your choice to submit it or in the publisher's choice to publish it? I mean, this is not your first time going through this, so I'm curious as to how you select what you think will work and what you perceive on the publisher's end as to why they choose some ideas over others.
Honestly, I wish I could say there was a formula or a magic algorithm to know for sure on this. Circus Train felt complete and ready to send, and I had had it go through crits by skilled rhymers several times before getting to that sense of completion. So definitely critique partners' feedback is key. I definitely think having a manuscript that fits the publisher's particular needs at the time helps, and it's really difficult to know precisely if you do. I am such a right-brained person, that I go based on a sense of feeling like the manuscript is ready, but also getting crit partners' feedback makes a huge difference, too. I think Circus Train's spare text and rhythmic rhyme seems to fit what the market is leaning toward now. Some of it is definitely researching the publishers and seeing the kinds of things they are looking for. A lot of it is polishing as much as you can, and then, putting faith in your work and just going for it.
Circus Train is book two for you. Can you talk to me about the inspiration of book one, An Eyeball in My Garden?
Eyeball has an interesting story. It is actually an anthology of spooky middle grade poetry that I co-edited with my friend and fellow children’s poet, Laura Wynkoop. The book features 14 poets from my the Poets’ Garage, an online critique group run by Bill Peery. We were all critique partners back in 2007, and one day, around Halloween, a couple of us had posted spooky poems on the boards for critique. I commented on how fun it would be to do a spooky collection together, and before we knew it, Bill asked Laura and me to spearhead the project. It was an amazing experience of collaboration, creativity, learning, and coordination (none of us lived in the same city--some were in California, Wisconsin, New York, Texas...) and we were beyond thrilled when Marshall Cavendish contacted Laura to acquire the manuscript. Eyeball was published in 2010--it not only produced some fun, spooky poetry, but also lifelong friendships amongst critique partners. It truly was a labor of (creepy) love! ;)
What advice do you give to aspiring writers? Especially about writing in rhyme because it's not an easy thing to do.
My best advice is to immerse yourself in children's literature. Read what you want to write. Stand on your head (this is advice I give to budding student writers--try looking at the world from a different angle!). Read what's currently been published (and not just your favorites from childhood). Get involved with writing communities, join SCBWI (the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators), join online forums and challenges such as PiBoIdMo, 12x12, and a new favorite of mine, ReFoReMo (Reading for Research Month). For rhymers, I highly recommend taking poetry classes and getting into poetry or rhyming picture book critique groups. I took Heidi Roemer's poetry class and Anastasia Suen's IPB course, and they were invaluable learning tools, and there are many more offered online to help rhymers and poetry writers. Most of all, just keep writing!
Two, or so, authors who inspire you?
Oh--so hard to narrow it down! I am always inspired by Jane Yolen. She is amazing. For children's poets, I love Joyce Sidman, Douglas Florian, Kristine O'Connell George, and a new favorite, Amy Ludwig Vanderwater. Verla Kay's "terse verse" is what inspired the rhyming structure for Circus Train. I also love Drew Daywalt's hilarious The Day the Crayons Quit, Karma Wilson's books, Marilyn Singer. The list goes on and on!
Where can interested parties find a copy of your book and when is the release date?
The book is out now! It's available in print or ebook on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Circus-Train-Jennifer-Cole-Judd/dp/1477826343/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1427459108&sr=8-2&keywords=circus+train or Barnes and Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/circus-train-jennifer-cole-judd/1120830515?ean=9781477826348 or your local bookstore.
And anything else you want to add or suggest?
Here are some links!