Here’s a blurb from Goodreads:
Some things are better together. Like peanut butter and jelly. Or Annie and Jason. So when her best friend's house is threatened with foreclosure, Annie Jenkins is bursting with ideas to save Jason's home. She could sell her appendix on eBay. (Why not?) Win the lottery. (It's worth a shot!). Face the evil bankers herself. (She's one tough cookie, after all.) Or hunt down an elusive (and questionably real) pirate treasure. Whatever the plan, it has to work, or this is undoubtedly THE LAST GREAT ADVENTURE OF THE PB&J SOCIETY.
Hi Janet! Thanks so much for joining us!
1. Tell us about yourself and how you became a writer.
Hi Natalie! I'm thrilled to be here.
So I have always loved writing for fun. I never ever planned to be a writer because even as a kid, I knew how hard it was to get published and support oneself as an author. And plus, I was good at math, so I figured I was set. After batting around career ideas like engineer, scientist, lawyer, and teacher, I finally decided to major in English and see what that got me (Because I LOVED that we had to read for homework). However, after realizing how useless that degree was by itself, I got a master's in French and became a linguist.
I taught some college classes in there (like French 1010 and 1020, and Research Writing for Science Majors), but when I was given the opportunity to translate, I found that suited me just perfectly. And through all of that I wrote for fun.
But when I finished my first book, it seemed crazy not to TRY to publish it . . . even though I still declared I didn't want to be an author. Clearly I was lying to myself. And now I can't imagine my life without writing in it!
2. What a fun journey to becoming a writer. Where did you get your idea for THE LAST GREAT ADVENTURE OF THE PB&J SOCIETY?
The very, very first draft of PB&J was a series of chapters based on my childhood. There was no
That was about the same time as the housing market crash, and having had a friend face foreclosure, and seeing the haunted looks in her kids' eyes, I knew I needed to write about foreclosure.
3. Many of the reviews of your book comment on the sweet friendship between Annie and Jason. Tell us a bit about how that developed as you wrote your manuscript.
Their friendship was always the basis for the book (even before I'd figured out the plot), so I love that it was real to others, too. I based Annie and Jason's friendship on my own childhood friendship. Because of that, I had a great understanding of their characters, and why this friendship was important to them. However, getting that understanding to my readers was a whole different story. I was shocked when my critique partners questioned why the friendship was so important.
But I'm so grateful to them! After considering their comments, I spent a lot of revision time working on scenes that highlighted what each of them brought to the friendship. It was tedious, and at times I wanted to pull my hair out, but I'm really pleased with the end result.
4. Glad your critique partners helped you with such a critical part of your book. The story revolves in part around Annie trying to help Jason save his home from foreclosure. Why did you pick this as the problem and did you have to do any research into how this affects families to write your story?
As I mentioned above, I have a friend who faced foreclosure with her family, which included children. I felt pretty helpless, and writing is how I deal with that.
I did do some research into various aspects of foreclosure. How and when a bank decides to foreclose on a house. What options are available to a person who is foreclosed on. I also had to research the welfare options available. In addition, I searched for other fiction books on this topic, particularly ones for kids. I was surprised to find very few books available. That's when I knew for sure I needed to write this book.
5. Yes, foreclosure is so traumatic not only for the kids but the parents. I counseled many people during the Great Recession who ultimately made the painful decision to let their house go into foreclosure. Even though your book deals with heavy topics like foreclosure, it also is funny. I’m terrible at trying to write a humorous story, and I bet other people struggle with this too. Share your tips on how to insert humor into your story.
So tips on being funny. Hmmm . . . this is a tough question! But let me try.
Tip #1: Go for the unexpected. That is often what makes a joke or situation funny. For example, suppose someone tells you to name your favorite fruit. You expect to hear strawberries, or apples, or peaches. Whatever. You don't expect someone to say, "Fred." Unexpected. You see this type of humor a lot in movies.
Tip #2: If you have to explain a joke, it's never funny. Ever. Trust your reader to get it.
Tip #3: For a bigger laugh, set up your jokes in advance—just like a mystery writer weaves in clues throughout the whole book, weave in your information that will make a situation funny. It takes patience, waiting for that payoff, but oh, this is my absolute favorite when the foundation for some humorous bit has been laid out way in advance.
I highly recommend studying Janette Rallison's books for amazing examples of this. She is a master at it. (See especially Fame, Glory, and Other Things on My To Do List)
Tip #4: Keep it simple. If a person has to think too hard about your joke to understand it, you'll lose your audience.
Tip #5: Timing is everything.
Tip #6: Physical humor never gets old. Think the three stooges.
6. Such great tips. You make it sound easy. What was a big challenge you faced in writing THE LAST GREAT ADVENTURE OF THE PB&J SOCIETY and how did you overcome it?
My biggest challenge was probably getting past the idea that I had to completely re-write the book from the first draft to the second. There's just something paralyzing about the idea of starting over. I knew it wasn't good, but that was still a hard step. Probably because it felt like so much wasted time and effort.
However, since that time, I've come to understand that there is no such thing as wasted time or effort when it comes to writing. All of it goes toward that finished product to make it what it is.
Time was how I overcame it. I set the book aside and worked on something else until I was mentally ready to let go. It can be hard to let something you've worked on for so long just sit, because it all feels so urgent. But very little is urgent in the publishing world. That is something I've definitely learned. So I'm a huge advocate of setting your work aside before revising.
7. Good for you in taking the plunge to rewrite your manuscript. Your agent is Victoria Marini. How did she become your agent and what was your road to publication like?
She is! Victoria and I connected through Brenda Drake's pitch madness contest. I was fortunate to get a lot of interest from the participating agents, so Victoria didn't actually win my manuscript, but she requested to see it after the 1-week exclusive ended.
A week after I sent it to her, I got an email requesting a phone call. In that email, she wrote, "You had me at 'We do not traffic in body parts in this household, young lady!'"
And I pretty much knew right then that I would love working with her.
The road to publication for me was long. PB&J went to 5 different acquisitions meetings before finally finding a home at Capstone. And one rejection said, "A year ago I would have offered on this . . ." My publication path really emphasized to me how important timing is in the publishing world. Just because a book isn't published . . . or because it's rejected by an editor, does NOT mean that it's no good. I think that's an important thing to remember for any writers out there who are trying to get published.
8. How are you planning to spread the word about your book?
Great question! In addition to the things my publisher is doing, I've been fortunate to be invited for interviews at a few different blogs (like this one. Thanks, Natalie!). I'll also be doing some travelling to help promote, but mostly in places where I have a connection.
In another week I'll be off to Maryland to participate in the Behind the pages tour along with Kathy MacMillan (author of Sword and Verse), Laura Shovan (author of The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary), and Ava Jae (author of Beyond the Red). We'll be presenting a couple of library panels and have some book signings.
I'll also have the chance to teach a class at the MD/DE/WV SCBWI's spring conference, Team SCBWI. I guess, in short, I hope to spread the word by being out there and connecting with people both in person and via social media. Really, just trying to be friendly.
I feel pretty strongly that if I'm just trying to sell my book, I won't be very successful. But if I'm sincerely trying to connect with people who have similar interests, then I can't lose (whether I sell a book or not).
9. Awesome that you're doing a book signing with Kathy. What are you working on now?
Well, I've got two manuscripts with my agent right now, but I'm just starting a brand new shiny idea that I'm excited about. I don't want to say too much, because I'm still debating on a few plot points, but I will say that it involves two former best friends and a bet. Writing a first draft is a fascinating process to me because I always have new ideas and learn new information in the writing of it.
Thanks for sharing all your advice, Janet. You can find Janet at Twitter ~ Facebook ~ Website Goodreads Amazon
Janet has generously offered an ARC of THE LAST GREAT ADVENTURE OF THE PB&J SOCIETY for a giveaway. To enter, all you need to do is be a follower and leave a comment through March 19th. If your e-mail is not on your Google Profile, you must leave it in the comments to enter the contest.
If you mention this contest on Twitter, Facebook, or your blog, let me know this in the comments and I'll give you an extra entry. This is an international giveaway.
Marvelous Middle Grade Monday was started by Shannon Messenger. You can find the participating blogs on her blog.
Here's what's coming up:
On Wednesday I have an Agent Spotlight Interview with agent Patricia Nelson and a query critique giveaway.
Next Monday I have a guest post by debut author Andrew Brumbach and his agent Danielle Chiotti with a query critique giveaway by Danielle and an ARC giveaway of Andrew's MG historical adventure THE EYE OF MIDNIGHT.
The following Monday I have a joint interview with debut author Kathryn Purdie and Margo Barbo, her editor at Katherine Teagan, and a giveaway of Kathryn's YA fantasy BURNING GLASS.
The next Monday I have a guest post by debut author Kristy Acevedo and a giveaway of her YA science fiction CONSIDER.
Hope to see you on Wednesday!