Book Nerd Interview
She has a Masters degree in Animal Science and a growing collection of books that are threatening to take over her house. She lives in Ontario, Canada, where she loves hiking, watching nerdy documentaries, and writing books for adventurous and funny kids.
As a reader, I think our favorite stories change us. We end up carrying them everywhere, and they allow us to see the world through different lenses, shifting with each story we read. I think this is a crucial part of being human, as it can not only help us grow as people, but also connect us to thoughts, minds, and questions we otherwise wouldn't have found. I think that connection through stories is one of our biggest gifts, and that makes being a storyteller one of our greatest privileges!
What’s one thing that readers would be surprised to find out about you?
I love kickboxing!
When did you write your first book and how old were you?
I used to write books all the time in elementary school, only they were about ten pages long and stapled together, and usually illustrated in crayon. I think my first one was about a dog who stayed up late to catch Santa Claus. Things haven't changed a whole lot, but now I'm much better at revision and have really brilliant editors that help make the book shine. They also highly dissuade me from the whole crayon thing.
What was the greatest thing you learned at school?
I think the greatest thing school gave me was the freedom to learn about anything. As I got older, I couldn't decide between learning about the sciences and the arts. I loved biology and other sciences, but also loved writing, sculpting and other more artistic fields. School gave me the chance to explore it all, and now I'm thrilled to have a career where I can use what I've learned in new ways, building as I go.
How would you describe yourself in three words?
Happy, resilient, and hungry.
In your new book; How to Outrun a Crocodile When Your Shoes Are Untied, can you tell my Book Nerd Kids Community a little about it and why they should read your novel?
The million dollar question! My book is all about a 12 year old girl named Ana Wright. As one of my favorite reviews says, "Ana's life is a hot mess"; she's named after an anaconda (her parents are both zoologists), she lives in a zoo, and she has a world famous naturalist grandfather who is visiting and bringing the spotlight with him. Top it off, her best friend has just moved to New Zealand so she's on her own for the first time in her life. As a shy kid, Ana doesn't like all the attention that comes with these big changes.
But unfortunately for her, she also has a dream that won't be squashed, no matter how much she tries to hide it. At its heart, my book is a funny story about becoming your bravest, truest self. It's also about friendship, annoying (yet endearing) twin brothers, first crushes, and of course, crocodiles. I think people should read it, because who hasn't felt afraid to be themselves before? Ana's story will make people laugh, but I also think it will make them a teensy bit braver.
For those who are unfamiliar with Ana, how would you introduce her?
I would probably have to explain why she has a parrot on her shoulder first. His name is Darwin, and he's one of her best friends. Now that they're not confused about the bird, I would introduce her as Ana Jane Wright, and she would probably give you a tiny, shy grin. But you would be able to tell that beneath that grin, there was a real spirit just waiting to get out.
If you could introduce one of your characters to any character from another book, who would it be and why?
I would love to introduce Ana to Luna Lovegood. Ana could learn a lot from someone who is so deeply in tune with herself, without any worries as to what others think of her. And I think Luna would enjoy all of Ana's animal stories.
If you had to choose, which writer would you consider a mentor?
There are too many! I learn so much from nearly every book I read, so I truly do see many authors as mentors in a way. I will say that when I started writing for publication, I loved the personality and voice of Meg Cabot's books, as well as Rachel Renée Russell (Dork Diaries), Beatrix Potter, and of course, Judy Blume. Authors who can distill the voice of their characters to such an incredible degree really amaze me. Today, I'm inspired by a lot authors such as Kate diCamillo, Katherine Applegate, Jennifer Nielsen, Kate Messner, Tom Angleberger, Linda Urban, and Eliot Schrefer. (See? I told you there was no way I could pick one! Go visit my Goodreads page to see all the books I've loved!)
There are also several picture book writers whose books constantly inspire me, such as Mo Willems, Ame Dyckman, Bob Shea, Molly Idle, Oliver Jeffers, and Jon Klassen. I think picture book writers are experts at that voice that I was talking about earlier, and middle grade writers can learn a lot by studying these books!
What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating Zack?
I won't spoil things for anyone, but I was surprised that Zack surprised me at all! When I created him, I thought he was going to be a great match for Ana. Oh, I've said too much!
You have the chance to give one piece of advice to your readers. What would it be?
If we're just talking life advice, I defer to one of everyone's favorite Brits, Tom Hiddleston: "We all have two lives. The second starts when we realize that we only have one." Who knew that Loki was so wise? This is actually something I try to remember every day, to remind myself to make it count.
What's the most memorable summer job you've ever had?
I worked at a wildlife rehabilitation center! It was one of my first jobs, that I ended up having for several years. Getting to work hands-on with wildlife is one of my main inspirations for this book, and Ana's love of animals is definitely something we share.
What decade during the last century would you have chosen to be a kid?
I'm pretty happy being a child of the 80s. I just missed the bellbottom fad, and things were just heating up with technology. I'm not sure I would have liked school if everyone was instagramming our questionable wardrobe choices back then, but it's amazing to use so many resources to reach readers now!
What scares you the most and why?
Ghosts. Also global warming!
What is your greatest adventure?
Publishing books! I love to immerse myself in new projects, and see them through to a tangible end product. The biggest surprise about this job is how many amazing people you meet on the way, and I'm always looking forward to more.
When was the last time you told someone you loved them?
Who is the first person you call when you have a bad day?
I'm lucky to have a lot of amazing friends that understand the ups and downs of this industry. My bud Carter Higgins is the first that comes to mind! You should check her out; she's an amazingly talented librarian and writer, too! You can find her picture book blog here: (http://designofthepicturebook.com/)
When was the last time you cried?
Last weekend, when I was flipping through the channels and came across the movie Marley and Me! I even told myself "Okay, just don't watch this to the end because you know what happens!", but I didn't listen to myself. I watched the whole thing and absolutely lost it. Anything involving animals and I'm done for! Remember that movie Homeward Bound, with the old retriever named Shadow? I only need to think of that movie and I well up.
Where can readers stalk you?
Lots of places! On Twitter, I'm @Jess_Keating. I tweet a lot, about books and science-related goodies. On Tumblr, you can get me at www.4directions.tumblr.com. My blog is at www.jesskeating.com and I'm on Goodreads as well.
I also have a newsletter for teachers and any other curious folk, where I talk about nerdy science stuff that can't be explained in tweets! You can find those here: http://www.smore.com/u/jesskeating
Thanks so much for having me!
Ana didn't ask to be named after an anaconda. She didn't ask for zoologist parents who look like safari guides. And she definitely didn't ask for a twin brother whose life goal seems to be terrorizing her with his pet reptiles. Now, to make matters worse, her parents have decided to move the whole family INTO the zoo! All of which gives the Sneerers (the clan of carnivorous female predators in her class) more ammunition to make her life miserable-and squash any hope of class tennis stud, Zack, falling in love with her. Ana tries to channel her inner chameleon and fade into the background, but things are changing too quickly for her to keep up.