And presenting...Jessica Day George! Ah, well I remember the fervent young redheaded lass, knitting on the front row when I spoke on a fantasy author panel. And here she is a few years later, kicking booty in the big league. Jessica is a fellow Utahan, Bloomsbury author (I had nothing to do with it), mother of a toddler boy, and a redhead (no, we're not twins). Her first book, Dragon Slippers, came out this year. It's a funny and delightful romp into fairytale fantasy land, the type of book that will please a good eight-year-old reader and still delight the teenagers. And she declares that the author photo she sent is a perfect photographic representation...
ME: You’ve had an adventure getting to this point in your career. Would you sum up for us your writing history?
JDG: Three words: rejection, rejection, rejection! I got rejected almost 200 times, but I believe it was because I was barking up the wrong tree. I'd written five novels in nine years and had tried contacting agents and editors and had attended many a writer's conference, with no luck. None of these books were YA, even though YA fantasy is my true love and comprises 90% of what I read. When I wrote Dragon Slippers, it was a bolt of inspiration. I took it to two conferences in the summer of 2005, and both editors I pitched it to were wild about it. It was a refreshing change, after all the rejection! When Melanie from Bloomsbury Children's made me an offer, I screamed and danced around for HOURS. Bloomsbury was my dream publisher (and still is)! After spending years trying to get published, I did it with a manuscript that I had only finished a few weeks before!
Is being a published writer different than how you had imagined when you were younger?
Where's the glamor? Where's the servants peeling me grapes? Why doesn't my toddler nap like a little angel for four hours a day while I write? Okay, but as far as realistic ideas about being a writer: I did think the turnaround was much faster. I thought you wrote a book in the spring, you and the editor fiddled with any little problems (there of course were no big flaws) during the summer, and the book came out at Christmas! And of course you got huge checks in the mail every month! I had no idea that it would be over a YEAR before my book came out, or that my first check wouldn't allow my husband to quit his job so we could move to Maui. Sigh.
Ah, it's my dark secret. I don't do embroidery. I don't have the slightest clue how it's done. I'm fascinated by it, though. I also can't draw, so I just had to use my imagination about the gowns. Then I described Creel's ball gown to a friend, and she drew it for me. You can see it on www.dragonslippers.net. I've got a knitter in my fourth book, though, and it was a relief to not have to guess wildly about how you would hold the needles or what you could actually make with the yarn.
Initially, you were looking to write fantasy for adults, but you ended up in the great world of children’s literature. Were you ever disappointed? What do you think about children’s literature?
I wasn't disappointed at all. Like I said earlier, I am a children's lit junkie. It was just that all my early book ideas were about grown ups with grown up problems. (Some dragon-related, but still, very grown up.) When I got the idea for Dragon Slippers, I was punching the air and dancing around. (I do that a lot.) (I also enjoy using parentheses.) Everything just clicked, and I knew that I had found the place for me at last. I think it's harder to write children's lit, though. I am very conscious of the fact that readers might look up to Creel the way I looked up to Aerin or Harry in Robin McKinley's books. You also have the pressure to keep it short. My editor is a big fan of short and sweet, so you have to say what you need to say more efficiently than if you had 800 pages, like some of the adult fantasy authors. I'm just glad that we have J.K. Rowling and Stephenie Meyer out there to prove that readers will still take on something over 400 pages. Maybe one day I'll be famous enough to publish something that big.
Well, East o' the Sun was my big one. I had a picture book of that story that I would read over and over. So wonderful. I'm also a big fan of Twelve Dancing Princesses, which will be my fourth book (the one with the knitter). Disney's Sleeping Beauty was a childhood favorite, too. I used to tell people that my middle name was Aurora, and argue with my friends that the blue dress was much better than the pink. Mostly I wanted a big swishy dress, and a grand ball just for me. If there were talking polar bears, well, that would just be the icing on the cake. There also needed to be lots of magic, and mysterious old ladies who may or may not be fairies. I demand a lot of a fairy tale, you see. I could go on and on for hours about them, actually, so I'd better stop now.
Thanks, Jessica! And we're all so happy you got rejected off your butt by those inferior adult publishing people so we could have you here in children's lit.