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.
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.
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!
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.
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”.
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….