It’s not everyday you meet an official Texas Sweetheart! Author and Texas Sweetheart, Jo Whittemore stopped by recently to celebrate the publication of her novel Front Page Face-Off that is already raking in sparkling reviews. In addition we visited about why she writes, when she writes and how she got her big break.
Why are you a writer?
For me, writing has always been a great escape and free form of entertainment. If I’m stressed at work, I can grab a fresh sheet of paper and write a character into a ridiculous situation. Instantly, I’ll feel better. Knowing that my writing brings amusement to someone else is also a great impetus. I love to hear people laugh and make them smile. And oftentimes if I narrate a situation for a character that’s similar to one I’m going through, it forces me to see both sides of the story (no pun intended) and gets me better perspective on my own life.
Describe your road to publication. Was it full of potholes or a smooth easy ride?
I’m embarrassed to admit that I started writing at 23 with the full intention of being published by 25 and a bestseller by the time I was 27. Talk about lofty goals! I didn’t actually get published until I was 28, and I’m still scanning that bestseller list for my name at 32! It’s important for writers to understand that this is not an overnight business. Nor is it an easy one. After I attended a book signing in 2000 where my favorite fantasy author, Terry Brooks, was speaking, I was inspired to start working on a fantasy novel of my own. The success of the Harry Potter series was encouraging because it meant not only that fantasy novels were doing well but also that children’s fantasy novels were doing well. It took me roughly a year and a half to get my first copy of the manuscript written to send off to agents and publishers.
When I received my first pile of rejection letters, I was shocked and personally hurt that everyone didn’t like my story. My ego was shattered, and I considered just trashing the whole project and writing a different story. Then, in 2003, I went to the SCBWI annual summer conference and had my work critiqued by a former editor and SCBWI advisor. She gave me encouraging advice and complimented my work, which made me feel a bit better. At the same conference, Megan Atwood, the acquisitions editor for Llewellyn/Flux at the time, stood and announced that her publishing house was looking for middle grade and young adult fantasy novels. With a bit of my confidence restored from my meeting, I walked up to Megan and spoke with her about my book. She gave me her business card and told me to read their submission guideline and send in my work. When I got home, I sent her my manuscript. In 2004, I got a response that they had enjoyed the work but couldn’t publish it in its current state. They suggested a few changes, and after I did a bit more revision, I got “the call” in 2005 with an offer for a contract. Roughly a year later, my first novel was in stores.
Tell us about the Texas Sweethearts.
The Texas Sweethearts (http://www.texassweethearts.com/) are a trio of Texas authors (myself, Jessica Lee Anderson, and Tricia Hoover) who support literacy and the literary community at large. On our blog (http://texassweethearts.blogspot.com/), we interview people who have made an impact in the literary world, be they librarians, educators, booksellers, etc. We also give talks on ways to raise literacy in the schools and ways to tackle the ups and downs that come with the writing life. The Texas Sweethearts are advocates for librarians/educators and a support network for writers.
What is a normal “writing” workday like for you?
Since I have a day job, a normal writing workday for me happens in fits and starts. I’ll do a little thinking and scribbling on breaks and at lunch, but the majority of my writing has to wait until the evenings and weekends. Then, of course, I’m having to balance it with emails and conferences and school visits and…But it’s funny. When I’m not working on a project, I feel like there’s NOTHING going on. I purposely add to the chaos just for that satisfaction.
Who are your favorite authors and why?
My favorite author depends on the genre. If it’s humor, I’m a big fan of John Green and Douglas Adams, and if it’s fantasy, I like Jonathan Stroud and Suzanne Collins. John Green is fantastic with a turn-of-phrase and painting the most awkward teen scenes to make them amusing. Douglas Adams was simply a genius…and he knew where his towel was. Jonathan Stroud can make the footnote almost as captivating a read as the text and Suzanne Collins can create a dystopian society that offers chaos and hope.
What project are you working on now?
Right now I’m working on revisions for a book I’ll have coming out next year from Simon & Schuster’s Aladdin MIX line. After that, I’ll tackle another humorous manuscript that’s on a topic near and dear to my heart…theater.
What advice would you give aspiring authors?
Read lots of kid’s books so you get a feel for various styles and what’s working. Listen to kids so you understand their hopes and fears, likes and dislikes. Be willing to re-visit the dark places of your childhood so you can write with real emotion and conviction. Educate yourself…always. You can never know too much about writing.
You can learn even more about Jo, her books and writing by visiting her website at http://www.jowhittemore.com. All her books are available online or at your favorite local bookstore.