Monday, January 5, 2015

Jess Keating Author Interview

Book Nerd Interview

As a zoologist turned middle grade and picture book author, Jess Keating has been sprayed by skunks, bitten by crocodiles, and been a victim to the dreaded paper cut. Her debut How To Outrun A Crocodile When Your Shoes Are Untied is coming in Summer 2014 from Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, with a sequel to follow. Her nonfiction picture book, PINK IS FOR BLOBFISH, will be published by Knopf in 2016.

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.

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Greatest thing you learned at school.

The greatest thing I learned in school was how much I don't know! I was a giant nerd growing up (surprised?) and loved that feeling of learning something new. I used to collect facts like some people collect stamps, and every awesome thing I learned I would make sure to jot down in a notebook somewhere. One of my favorite parts of writing is the chance to constantly be learning about so many different things, and using what I learn in my books.

Defining moment during your youth when you realized you wanted to be a writer.

When I was in elementary school, I was lucky enough to be chosen to attend a Writer's Conference, where I could meet real-life authors, many of whom had written some of my favorite books. It was the first time I realized that books didn't just magically appear on shelves, and that people actually could spend their lives writing them! Though I also became a zoologist, my dream of writing a book never disappeared. Today, getting to mix my love of zoology with writing is a dream come true!

What fiction most influenced your childhood, and what effect did those stories have on How to Outswim a Shark Without a Snorkel.

My favorite books growing up were always the ones that made me laugh the most. I think it's really hard to get humor right, so the authors that consistently hit the mark were hugely inspirational to me. Judy Blume comes to mind, because she was always able to write such authentic characters with real ups and downs, while still creating endless opportunities to make readers laugh. With How to Outswim a Shark Without a Snorkel, my goal was to tell a story that felt like real life (complete with all the horribly mortifying moments of being almost 13!) yet still left everyone laughing. Judy Blume taught me that humor doesn't need to be just "funny situations". It can also be found in the smaller moments, when we're chatting with friends or even looking in the mirror! (This last bit especially applies if we're wearing a scuba suit at the time!)

I also loved the goofiness of Sideways Stories from Wayside School, the realistic friendships of the Babysitters Club books, and the sibling relationships in the Ramona books!

What’s the best advice you can give writers to help them develop their own unique voice and style?

I hate to say it, but the one thing that I think will always help you develop your voice is to keep practicing. I know, it's boring! But even if you start out by copying the styles of your favorite writers, you will eventually settle into a groove that feels right for what you're working on. For me, I can usually tell when I've got the right voice for a project when I feel "out of the driver's seat". It may be you at the computer typing away, but if you find yourself getting surprised by your characters, you're probably on the right track!

Is there such a thing as a formula for storytelling?

I don't think there is a formula, because that makes it sound like you can just input each component and get the perfect story every time! But, I do think that there might be story recipes. All you need to make a cake is eggs, sugar, flour, and baking powder. But the result is so much greater than the sum of its parts! I think stories are like that. You can have all the right ingredients, but unless your recipe comes together the right way, with the right technique, your story might fall flat. Timing, skill, and experience all play a role, I think!

Your greatest Adventure:

Ooh, this is a tough one! I love traveling, and recently spent some time wandering around London. I got to visit all of the amazing museums, eat delicious food (sticky toffee pudding, anyone?) and even managed to not get lost on the tube! I also had an amazing adventure when I visited New Zealand a few years ago. I got to see some beautiful landscapes, including the real life Shire! I also went tubing through glow worm caves, and horseback ride along cliff sides!

Thank you so much for having me, Jean! Happy reading!

Ana Wright's summer just got terrifying. She's finally getting used to living in a zoo (no, seriously—she lives with her family in an actual zoo), when she's assigned to work in the new shark tank. With her worst enemy. Forget about sharks! Ashley is the ultimate predator. And after Ana's favorite croc peed on Ashley's shoes, she's probably out for revenge.

This can't be good.

You can purchase How to Outswim a Shark Without a Snorkel at the following Retailers:


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