Wendy's favorite quotes

"Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don't matter, and those who matter don't mind."— Dr. Seuss

Sunday, June 5, 2016

A Visit With The Awesome Jessica Day George!

 My friend, Jessica Day George, was presenting at a local elementary (Gate City) and we treated her to dinner while she treated us to some writing tips.

She is super talented and writes middle grade & YA. She spilled the beans about her meanest teacher ever and how she decided to become a writer!

 -       Jessica Day George  –
-       School presentation given to kids at Gate City Elementary
Jessica read 165 books in 2015. Her goal is to read 170 books by new years eve this year.
            Books were a big deal in her family. Her dad holds a book while watching TV so he can read during the commercials.
            She was so excited to learn to read and see what all the fuss was about. So she learned…and it was awful. Run Pug, run! Seriously? Who cares if pug runs? She hated to read.
            When she was little, there was no such thing as Harry Potter or Maze Runner. No Percy Jackson. No fun books. We had Hardy Boys and the Babysitters club. Always boys were getting to find treasure—but they gave it back! They don’t even keep 1 doubloon. Also, we had horse and dog books—but the only point to reading these books was to teach people to be responsible animal owners, so all the animals died.
            Her meanest teacher ever made her do a book report. She decided to reuse her old book report and wrote a fake report. Her made-up author was named after the kid in front of her (very sneaky). When she was caught, her teacher made her do it again and gave her one night to read a book and write a report. (Or else she’d call Jessica’s mom) She chose Robin McKinley’s The Hero of the Crown—which changed everything. Dragons! A girl with long red hair! Adventure! (And no stupid babysitting.)
            Her next project was to do a report on a real person. She chose the author Robin McKinley. That was when she learned that writing about dragons was a job you could have. She decided then in 5th grade that she wanted to be a writer.
            She went to college and had amazing teachers…except for one professor. (Fred Finnegar, a red head with mustache who was the #1 expert in the world on Moby Dick) Seriously, the meanest teacher in the world. He asked them to go home and write a story and bring it back the next day.
            After class, he asked her to stay. She was excited at first, thinking he liked her story, but after a long, awkward pause, he said,
“You have a little bit of writing talent. I don’t want you to throw it away writing trash for children.” She spent the rest of the semester writing serious, hard core stories, and got straight A’s. She graduated and continued writing all those serious books. She hated it.
            She sent her serious grown up masterpiece to a literary agency and 220 rejection letters later, some were nice and said her writing is good but the story is awful. Some were mean.
            5 books later, a friend told her, “Anyone can write a romance novel. So write one and get it published.” She wrote romance novels, but was rejected because she didn’t have enough kissing in the books.
            Her oldest child (now 11) didn’t sleep through the night till he was 4 years old. She got the 220th rejection letter at this time. It said something like, “I really hate your writing please never bother me again.” She began to doubt whether or not she could be an author. She told her husband that she wanted to quit. He said, “Oh, thank heavens!” He said, “You’re funny, but your books are not. You cry over the books and over the mail with the rejections.” Reluctantly, she agreed. Time to quit.
When she went to close her laptop, she started to cry because the line popped into her head, “It was my aunt who gave me to the dragon.” And this whole storyline popped into her head. What if you went into the dragon’s cave and it was all full of shoes, and another dragon collected only stained glass, and another collected dogs?
            Her husband was confused, “What? Why are you crying?”
            “I just came up with a story, and I want to write the book!”
            “No! We’re quitters, we’re quitting, remember?”
            “But if I don’t write it down, I’m so tired, I’ll forget!
            “Fine. You can write one more book.”
She decided to write this book for HER SON. It had everything fun in it: her candy-eating dog, fancy ball gowns, etc. She put everything she’s ever loved in it, and told no one. She was afraid to tell people and have them hate the book that even had her own dog in it. She was so excited! She loved it! She laughed and loved writing it.
            Finally, she sent her first chapter and a description of the story to a friend. Unbeknownst to Jessica, that friend sent her chapter to a New York editor (who also did Shannon Hale’s books).
            That editor wanted to meet Jessica so, Jessica’s friend tricked her into coming to meet her. Suddenly, the editor pulls out Jessica’s story and said she loved the books and wanted to talk contract. Afterwards, Jessica grabbed her friend and said something like “I love you so much and hate you at the same time!” while shaking her affectionately.  
            Suddenly someone was giving her money for her books!
            Then editing time! She got the manuscript back, and it was all red. Circled, loads of lines, and whole chapters X’ed out. She was shocked. She didn’t know what editors did and wondered if the pages bleeding all over the place meant that the editor hated her work, but nope. This is part of the process. They worked on it back and forth for a year. She had to read Dragon Slippers 16 times while editing it.
            Finally, she was finished.
            Her editor wanted to see the other 8 books and Jessica wouldn’t even tell her about them. “Don’t even worry about them. They don’t exist!” She felt confident saying this because she had found the key; write about things you love!
            By the time Dragon Slippers came out, she had written three more books, and she wanted to write about her favorite fairytale. It had The North Pole, Norway, and Polar bears. She speaks German, Norwegian, and Old Norse. When you study those things, fairy tales are a big part of learning.
            So she began writing improved versions of fairytales—without the brutal things, like decapitating 25 princes who couldn’t figure out where the princesses were dancing at night.
            She found out that you can write about whatever you like to think about. What is it like to have a secret pet? What’s better than a hidden little thing? How about a griffin hidden in the castle?
            If you don’t like to read, or if you do like to read, the book is out there that is right for you! When you find it, “I promise it will be awesome!

Later at dinner, Jessica said that she doesn’t actually outline her books. She usually has the beginning and end in mind and might jot down a few things in between, but big outlines are not her thing.

In short, I’m happy to report that Jessica is every bit as funny, kind, talented, and awesome as the heroines in her novels. Maybe cooler.

Thank you, Jessica!