The Story Catcher, a Debut Tale

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Donna Martin could catch a lot of things! Butterflies. Snowflakes. She could even catch a cold. But one day she caught a story. She wrote it. And she sold it.

“Will I ever be an author?” asked Donna.

“Yes Donna! You are!”

The Story Catcher BT Banner-1

I’ve watched Donna on Facebook the past few years. She is a member of over 15 Facebook writing communities. She is always very involved, very helpful, and very positive. So when she asked for reviewers for her book, I leaped at the chance. I knew it would be something magical! And I have to admit, the title caught me.

The Story Catcher is about a little girl who wants to catch a story. She, like my own children, loves to be read to. But she wants to do more. She wants to read (catch) the story on her own. It is a very sweet story that all children learning to read will relate to.

Donna herself comes from a long line of readers. Her older sister Janet helped her learn to read. And Donna’s own son, Randy, was reading by age four.

Donna Martin-1

A couple years ago, Donna was a READ TO ME volunteer at one of the local elementary schools. She worked with one little girl who: “really struggled to understand the wiggly words on the pages of her favorite book, despite the fact everyone in her family read to her all the time.”

But the little girl didn’t give up, and by the end of the year she was reading on her own.

Donna, what was the hardest part of the writing THE STORY CATCHER?

Realizing it was based on a true experience I witnessed. I can’t imagine a world without books and whenever a child tells me they DON’T like to read, I have to wonder if it’s because they or someone in their family has struggled with being able to read in the past and maybe that is why they turn their backs on the magical world of stories.

Though this is Donna’s first published picture book, she is also a contributing author in CHICKEN SOUP FOR THE SOUL: ANGELS AMONG US, and has also published poetry.

How long did it take you to write this book?

I actually wrote the first draft in a couple of days. But it went through a few revisions before the final product you see in the book. Not much was changed from the submitted manuscript.

Was there anyone who helped you with critiquing/ advice in how to get it published?
When I was finished with THE STORY CATCHER, I sent it to a couple of my friends as well as submitting it to Miranda Paul’s Rate Your Story group. The comments from the judge were invaluable and helped me literally change the angle of the plot to one Anaiah felt strongly enough about to offer their contract. I read various blog posts about how to sharpen my query letter and Twitter pitches so I would have to say many, many people were responsible for helping me get my story in the hands of a publisher.

What was your subbing process like? Many rejections?

I’ve been seeking agent representation for three years now so when I finished THE STORY CATCHER, I began subbing it to various agencies. I participated in Julie Hedlund’s 12 X 12 and sent it to the monthly agents with no bites. Then I decided to participate in a Twitter pitch party and within a few minutes of putting my pitch out there, I received a request from my editor, Jessica Schmeidler, to read my manuscript. From there it was a total of SIX DAYS between her reading, the book offer, my receiving the actual contract, and my signing it! it still feels surreal…;~)

Donna is currently working on her next book. What’s it about?

My next book I’m hoping to publish is a creative nonfiction story about fifty tons of chocolate, an airborne diesel train, and a sweet mystery still unsolved more than fifty years later. I’m calling it THE CHOCOLATE TRAIN WRECK and I’m just starting to submit it to select agents.

Donna is excited to introduce her free STORY CATCHER FAN CLUB where people can sign up to receive their membership certificate, STORY CATCHER reading log, bi-monthly newsletter, and a short story starring THEM! Anyone interested can send an email request with their name and age to to receive their welcome kit.

Her website also includes a teacher’s CURRICULUM SUPPLEMENT to go along with THE STORY CATCHER.

Congrats Donna on catching your dream! Here’s to many more books to follow.


Click to win a Anaiah Press is giving away a $20 iTunes Gift Card  from Anaiah Press or a beautiful journal from Donna L. Martin.

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Jodi Moore, part II

Jodi won an award! Dragon wants to take all the credit.

Jodi won an award! Dragon wants to take all the credit.

Here is the second part of: Interview with a Dragon Trainer!  I mean, Author of WHEN A DRAGON MOVES IN, Jodi Moore.  You can find the first part of the interview here.

Interview with Jodi Moore, Part 1

Here is Part 2 of her interview. The members of the study group submitted the questions before the interview.


FUN TIDBIT: Jodi has a dragon that she takes with her, I think everywhere! 🙂

Dragon really does go everywhere.

Dragon really does go everywhere.

One question everyone wants to know is:

Who made the dragon?

Jodi Moore  My son Steve made the dragon for me. He has a BFA in Musical Theatre and learned some techniques in puppetry and “masking” classes. Isn’t Dragon beautiful? I’m such a lucky mom! 🙂


We thank Jodi's son Steve for being so awesome and creative!

We thank Jodi’s son Steve for being so awesome and creative!



Did you have any struggles/issues with the “long” beginning of the story – with not starting the conflict until almost halfway through? I loved it, but we have all been told not to do this.

Jodi Moore  Joanne, your question was the toughest one for me! I have to admit I never thought about this with respect to DRAGON. I just told the story that needed to be told. While I agree that it’s important to address the conflict before too much time passes within any story, I also feel it’s essential to build the foundation of why it should matter, of why we should care. With DRAGON, I want the readers to see the joyous relationship between the boy and his new friend. That increases the stakes (the tension) so much more when no one believes him.



How many illustration notes were included when you submitted to editors/agents? How many were included when the manuscript was given to the illustrator?

Jodi Moore  Because it’s always been grilled into me (at conferences, in books) to never give illustration notes, DRAGON was submitted without any.
So…you can imagine how shocked I was when Shari came back and asked me for specific ideas! Of course, now I realize it was because Shari wasn’t sure whether the concept of illustrating a character that “may or may not be there” was feasible.
What’s exceptional about DRAGON (and the uber-talented Howard McWilliam) is that if you look at each illustration, you’ll find a dual explanation of everything that’s happening, one highlighting the dragon as the “cause”, another offering something else as the reason.

Pretty awesome illustrations!

Pretty awesome illustrations!

Did you or the illustrator come up with the subtle background details? Did you help choose the illustrator? Did you have input in the illustrations?

Jodi Moore  Aren’t they wonderful? In the lottery of illustrators, I won big time.

As I said earlier, I can’t take any credit for the fantastic illustrations. While I may have provided art notes in the beginning (to see if the concept was possible), I didn’t have anything to do with any artwork past that.

So much of the humor in this book depends on the wonderful illustrations. Did you write very detailed illustration notes in your manuscript?

Jodi Moore  Thank you, but I can’t take any credit for the brilliance of the illustrations. That all goes to Howard and Shari and their amazing vision. Shari and I did discuss ideas in the beginning, but only to make sure the concept was possible. Then I released it to the sheer brilliance that is Howard McWilliam.

I actually wasn’t permitted to have any contact with Howard while he worked on the pictures. (Even though I would have just gushed about them the whole time…yes, I have a fan-girly crush on him.) 😉 It’s important to allow an illustrator to do what they do best. To give them their space and artistic license. After all, how would we feel if they told us to change our words? 😉

Howard took my vision, expounded upon it and raised it to a level that I couldn’t even have imagined! I’ve always been told a picture book is a 50/50 labor of love between writers and artists. I never quite understood that until DRAGON was born.

Speaking of other, school visits rock!

Speaking of other, school visits rock!



How has Flashlight worked with you in securing school visits, PR, developing your online presence, marketing your book, etc.?

Jodi Moore   Flashlight is great. DRAGON is on many state lists and has won several awards due to the fact that the Flashlight team submits for everything. I often get calls for visits due to the fact it is on a list. They also designed a bookmark and bookplate for me to use for marketing.  I worked for over 6 months on my school visit, where I share that “Building a strong story is just like building a sandcastle”…it’s based on a wish list from different teachers and librarians. We even go on an imaginary roller coaster ride to simulate a story arc!


Do you have any other books coming out……

Jodi Moore   WHEN A DRAGON MOVES IN AGAIN is due Fall 2015.

Sneak peek....ssshhhh

Sneak peek….ssshhhh

Woohooo!!! We can’t wait!  Thank you so much for your time Jodi! We loved having you!

Interview with Jodi Moore!

Debut Picture Book Study Group is a facebook group run by Darshana Khiani, Margaret Greanias, Rena Traxel and myself. The group of over 200 writers pick a new author each month who has found success, and study their book. After we study the book, we are fortunate enough to interview the author.

We target our inner child and study!

We target our inner child and study!

In May, we interviewed author of WHEN A DRAGON MOVES IN (Flashlight Press), Jodi Moore. We loved talking about her book, and agreed that this is one book that gets even better with every read. Jodi broke a lot of rules in a fun story about a boy who builds a sand castle, only to have a dragon move in and create havoc. My son loved reading this book with me, and I’m excited to share with you parts of her interview!

Jodi herself is a very fun person and dreamer who I’ve gotten to know on Facebook. She has an amazing imagination, and I can’t wait to see what she creates in the future. If you ever want to meet an author who can take children to different worlds, and introduce them to different characters and friends, Jodi’s your dragon trainer.

Jodi Moore, Dragon Trainer

Jodi Moore, Dragon Trainer

Here is Part 1 of her interview. The members of the study group submitted the questions before the interview.


Jodi began with a story:

My husband and I are the proud parents of two amazing young men, now aged 24 and 26. When they left for college, we went through horrible Empty Nest Syndrome. (Oh, who am I kidding? It’s a chronic situation for us!) The first time we went to the beach by ourselves was really tough, but my husband brought all of his sand toys anyway, determined to build a sandcastle like he used to do with them. As he worked, several kids on the beach offered to help. One little guy put a piece of seaweed in the mouth of the castle and my husband said, “That looks like a dragon tail. Our castle is so cool, a dragon moved in.”
And I thought, hmmm…what a great idea for a story! The book is dedicated to Larry (beloved hubster), Alex & Steve (awesome kiddos). You can see why! They not only support me in every way, they truly are the inspiration for the story!

Jodi's husband and son, being inspirational.

Jodi’s husband and son, being inspirational.


The book is written in future tense, which is unique (kind of like IF YOU GIVE A MOUSE A COOKIE). Did the original manuscript start out that way? Why did you choose to use this tense?

Jodi Moore  Yes, I wanted the readers to immerse themselves in the story. I’ve always loved the “what if” scenario.

Did you ever have the manuscript set up in a different format before coming to this one?

Jodi Moore   I didn’t. Dragon is one of those lovely stories that just flowed out of me. I didn’t over-think it. The original version is pretty close to the final one, although Shari’s suggestions helped to make it a bit more picturesque and musical (as far as the rhythm of the read).

As Kate Messner said in one of her workshops, some stories fall from the sky (like DRAGON); others need to be worked and reworked. I haven’t had one come so easily since. 😉 In fact, I went through four rejected ideas for DRAGON’s sequel (WHEN A DRAGON MOVES IN AGAIN) before the final manuscript was accepted by Shari.

How long did it take from rough draft to printing?

Jodi Moore  DRAGON took about 3 years from concept/rough draft to publication. It took about 1.5 years from the time it was contracted by Flashlight.

You’re very careful never to fully take a side on whether the dragon is real. Was that always the plan, or was the dragon more definitely imaginary in earlier drafts?

Jodi Moore  This was always my intention. I love that the readers get to decide whether the dragon is real or not. That being said, I had two separate publishers tell me that I had to decide before the manuscript could be considered. I realize now that may have been due to the challenge of drawing a character that may or may not be there. Thankfully, Shari Dash Greenspan (my fabulous editor at Flashlight Press) and Howard McWilliam (my brilliant illustrator) had the vision to bring my dream to life.

Everyone loves Dragon!


Can you tell us your acquisition story? Did you submit directly to publishers or did you use an agent? Why did you choose that particular route?

Jodi Moore I am not agented, although I would love to have one! I did share DRAGON with an agent back in 2008, who rejected it, so I submitted the manuscript on my own.
As I mentioned earlier, at least two of the editors who rejected the manuscript told me that I had to choose whether the dragon was real or not. Shari thought allowing the readers to decide was a great idea, but wondered how it might be illustrated. We spent one year researching other published books that deal with such a situation before she finally felt we could make the book a reality. I am so grateful she took the time, had the vision…and believed in me!

Did you use any comparable titles when querying? If so, which ones?

Jodi Moore  When I queried, I complimented Flashlight’s history of highlighting and celebrating a child’s creativity and imagination (such as I NEED MY MONSTER). When Shari and I researched other books to see how others treated similar issues, we looked at books like THERE’S A NIGHTMARE IN MY CLOSET (Mercer Mayer), ALEXANDER (Harold Littledale), and THE BEAST IN THE BATHTUB (Kathleen Stevens). I’ve also always loved the story THERE’S NO SUCH THING AS A DRAGON (Jack Kent), a favorite with our boys!

How long did it take from the start of submission to a contract? How many rejections did it receive before being acquired?

Jodi Moore  I initially submitted with Flashlight on November 2, 2008 and received my contract November 16, 2009.

DRAGON had 2 formal rejections with publishers, 2 verbal issues (with different editors at a conference) with the idea I wanted the reader to decide whether the dragon was real or not and 1 agent rejection before it was accepted by Flashlight.

The informal verbal comments were made as part of a roundtable intensive at one of the SCBWI conferences. Believe it or not, the editor in the morning said I had to make sure readers knew the dragon was imaginary; the one in the afternoon told me to make sure readers knew the dragon was real. My head was spinning when I left! Shari and I emailed back and forth for a year deciding whether it was possible to draw a character that may or may not “be there”.

Her book!

Her book!


WOW! See all the great information and insight we got from Jodi? Isn’t she AWESOME!  Since this blog is getting a bit long, I’m going to split it up to a part 2. Come back soon to learn about Illustrations and the editorial process!

Look for Part 2, coming to Debbie’s blog, very soon….