Having a blog on writing gives you the opportunity to speak with some very impressive people. Some days you wonder how you get so lucky. Today's interview is with an amazingly talented and smart writer. I'm stealing this next part from her website because it's too good not to. JOANNE ROCKLIN is the critically acclaimed author of several books, including ONE DAY AND ONE AMAZING MORNING ON ORANGE STREET, an Indie Bound book; STRUDEL STORIES, which was a School Library Journal Best Book of the Year and an American Library Association Notable Book, and FOR YOUR EYES ONLY!, which was a School Library Journal Best Book and a Bank Street Best Book. Her early readers THREE SMART PALS and THIS BOOK IS HAUNTED will soon be e-books, the latter also to be released as an App.
Her latest middle grade novel is ONE DAY AND ONE AMAZING MORNING ON ORANGE STREET, also published as an audiobook. "Fully realized characters and setting definitely make this one morning on Orange Street amazing." KIRKUS, starred.
She has a doctorate in psychology and is a former elementary school teacher, presently writing children’s books full-time. For several years she taught a popular class in writing children’s books at UCLA Extension. She gives presentations in schools, libraries and bookstores and has been a speaker for the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, the California Reading Association, and other organizations.
Joanne is a rock star. Wouldn't you say? Is it possible to air guitar to book interviews? (because I'm doing that right now). Okay, now that my opening act is over let's get to the main event.
You have a strong history of writing and teaching, can you tell us what brought you to writing for children?
JOANNE ROCKLIN: I have always written, ever since I was very little-- poems, stories, etc. Books have been one of my greatest loves, and I believe that most, if not all, writers have been life-long readers. As for writing for children-- I write middle grade, and the middle grade voice is strongest in my head, because of all the letters I wrote to a best friend during summer vacations. I fell in love with children's literature all over again when I had my own children. And, living in L.A., I found myself taking wonderful children's writing classes at UCLA Extension, as well as becoming inspired by and active in The Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, which began in L.A. but is now an international organization.
Your new book sounds wonderful, can you tell us a little about it?
JR: This isn't really a lazy way out, but no one has described my novel better than my own editor in the flap copy, who understood the book completely. Here goes:
When a mysterious man arrives one day on Orange Street, the children who live on the block try to find out who he is and why he’s there. Little do they know that his story—and the story of a very old orange tree—connects to each of their personal worries in ways they never could have imagined. From impressing friends to dealing with an expanding family to understanding a younger sibling’s illness, the characters’ storylines come together around that orange tree.
Taking place over the course of a day and a half, Joanne Rocklin’s masterful novel deftly builds a story about family, childhood anxieties, and the importance of connection. In the end the fate of the tree (and the kids who care for it) reminds us of the magic of the everyday and of the rich history all around us.
The story also touches on the Great Depression, Vietnam War, and America's changing landscape.
I love writing for middle grade. Do you prefer writing for a specific age group? If so, why?
JR: Yes, I love writing for that age, too. My own middle grade years were spent with my head in a book. And as I said, I wrote piles of letters to a friend during the summers, and after the summer we exchanged letters! So I have boxes of my own middle grade voice sitting in my garage. I love that in middle grades the conflict is out there in the open and the main character doesn't have to be disguised as a bunny or a mouse. But I also love the naivety of the age, combined with a growing awareness--this makes for great opportunities for humor!
What is the biggest mistake you see new writers making when writing for children?
JR: The biggest mistake is not understanding that each genre reflects the developmental age and needs of the child reader. That is, there's a reason a picture book looks and sounds the way it does. There's a reason why a 6 year old is not usually a main character in a middle grade. There's a reason why young "easy" readers have self-contained (vs. cliff-hanging) chapters. I've written articles about this aspect of children's books. My web site has an interview with me on this topic. (joannerocklin.com)
Your posts on writer's block are extremely helpful. Do you find this is a huge roadblock for many writers? Why do you think that is?
JR: I don't know what the numbers are, but I'd guess it's a problem for most writers at some point. I believe that the main reason is that all writers are readers. We've all read the very best books out there, so our gold standard for ourselves is pretty high. Once I got it into my head that the first draft is usually AWFUL, and that's ok, and that work tends to improve and develop after revision, I was (almost) cured of my occasional block...I love talking and thinking about the writer's process, though. It's all so---human!
There is a lot of buzz on the internet right now about self-publishing vs. legacy publishing. I would like to know your thoughts about this and what you think the benefits of both of them are?
JR: I'm afraid I don't know much about this topic. I have never considered self-publishing. I think the main issue is distribution once it's published, and it's exhausting thinking about doing it all myself...
One of my favorite questions to ask authors is - if you were stuck on a deserted island with only one book to read what would it be and why?
JR: Oh, gosh. Probably a book about how to get off the island...you've heard that before, I'm sure. The thought terrifies me! I've honestly never thought about this! I don't even know how to make a fire. Hmmmm....Reading, as I said, is one of my greatest escapes--it would have to be an amazing book to take my mind off that crisis. Probably a book of good poetry, an anthology from all over the world....
One of the funny things about that favorite question. I've never thought about what book I would want if I was stuck on an island. Hmmm. I'm pretty sure there would be zombies and dinosaurs on the island no matter where it was.
I can't thank Joanne enough for taking time to speak with me and share her thoughts on writing. I'm very anxious to read her new book and I have to find This Book is Haunted. Looks glorious, right?