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Happy Monday Everyone! Today I’m super excited to have debut author Jodi Kendall here to share about her MG contemporary THE UNLIKELY STORY OF A PIG IN THE CITY. I wish this had been published when my daughter was younger because she loves pigs and would have loved it. It sounds like a great, fresh take on Charlotte’s Web. This book has got great reviews. And Jodi has a really interesting life as a freelance writer too!


Before I get to my guest post, I have some followers news to share. FULL DARK, an anthology of
short stories to support our military, veterans, and first responders, recently release. A number of followers have stories in the anthology:
Lori Townsend
David Powers King
Carrie Butler
Nick Wilford
Elizabeth Seckman

Here's a blurb: What happens in the dark will come to light.
Here’s a blurb from Goodreads:

In this modern-day homage to Charlotte’s Web, a little pig in a big city leads to lots of trouble. Can eleven-year-old Josie Shilling save the day?

Josie Shilling’s family is too big, their cramped city house is too small, and she feels like no one’s ever on her side. Then, on Thanksgiving Day, her older brother, Tom, brings home a pink, squirmy bundle wrapped in an old football jersey—a piglet he rescued from a nearby farm. Her name is Hamlet.

The minute Josie holds Hamlet, she feels an instant connection. But there’s no room for Hamlet in the crowded Shilling household. And whoever heard of keeping a pig in the city? So it’s up to Josie to find her a forever home.

This modern-day homage to Charlotte’s Web is a heartwarming tale of family, belonging, and growing bigger when you’ve always felt small—perfect for fans of Katherine Applegate and Cammie McGovern.

Hi Jodi! Thanks for joining us!

1.  Tell us about yourself and how you became a writer.

Thanks for having me on Literary Rambles! I was always writing stories during my childhood, and in high school, books and writing continued to be a big part of my life. In college I majored in English, went on to earn an MFA in Creative Writing at another university, and after graduation held various jobs – from teaching a community college to retail sales to social media marketing – while I built my writing portfolio on the side. I was a freelance writer for over a decade, and my clients included Nat Geo Wild, the National Geographic Channel, and numerous magazine and digital publications. All the while, I always hoped to become a children’s book author one day. I became actively involved with the Society of Children’s Books Writers and Illustrator’s (SCBWI) in 2007. Seven years later I signed with my literary agent, and The Unlikely Story of a Pig in the City (HarperCollins Children’s Books, 10/3/17) is my debut novel.

2. That's so awesome how you have been able to freelance and write for a living while following your dream of writing fiction. Where did you get the idea for THE UNLIKELY STORY OF A PIG IN THE CITY?

The book was inspired by a real-life experience of mine. When I was thirteen, my college-aged brother rescued a runt piglet from a nearby farm. He hid it in his dorm for two weeks and brought it home during a holiday break. The pig ended up living in our house for six months.

3. That is so cool! Josie sounds like an incredibly sympathetic character who goes through many of the middle grade challenges that kids that age can relate to. Share about her development as a character and any tips you have for creating such a memorable characters.

When I constructed the Shilling family, I based Josie’s character on my own personal experience growing up in a big family because I felt I could connect with her point of view. Even though we certainly have our differences, Josie is number four out of five kids, like me. I reflected a lot about the emotions I experienced at her age – eleven – and growing up in a chaotic household of seven, and how certain scenarios can make you feel invisible or misunderstood, and other times you’re so grateful to have a bunch of people nearby when you need someone. I worked hard to give Josie lots of layers to her character. She’s a worrier, a strong competitor in her sport, and has a good heart. She’s concerned about her recent growth spurt and how it’s affecting her gymnastics skills and making her stand out from her peers when she wants to fit in. And of course, Josie’s an animal-lover, and she has an instant connection with Hamlet the pig. As I wrote the book, I tried to create scenes and moments that reflected all of these aspects of Josie’s character so that she had a satisfying emotional journey throughout the book.

4. That's great that you were able to draw on and reflect on your own experiences. What was your plotting process like for this book and what did you learn about the plot of a story from the process?

I’m a pantser and generally only know a few things when I open up a blank document. After I’m into
the book a little bit and understand more about the characters and plot, I’ll sometimes sketch out drawings and notes to better understand where I’m going with the book, or specific scenes I want to add in later. In THE UNLIKELY STORY OF A PIG IN THE CITY, I had a vague idea with how it would all end because I knew what was going to happen to the pig. But the rest of the story came as a bit of a surprise during the writing process, such as the ornery neighbor, Mrs. Taglioni, and the importance of gymnastics to Josie’s character. First drafting is always a bit of a mystery to me, and much of this book’s plot was polished during the revision stages. I combed over and over the book. Scenes were moved around, characters were deleted and other ones added. It follows an Act I, Act II, Act III structure, as does Book 2. Also, I intentionally started the book on the day something different happens – Hamlet the pig shows up at the Shilling household on Thanksgiving  – which was a craft tidbit I heard Judy Blume speak about years ago at an SCBWI conference, and I wanted to give it a try in my writing.

5. That's a great tip from Judy Blume that I never heard of. In the reviews of your books, there are a lot of comparisons to Charlotte’s Web. Do you feel any pressure regarding your story since that one is so well-known and beloved?

Not really, but I do consider the comparison an honor, and I still pinch myself that the books share the same publisher. I love Charlotte’s Web and, in a way, my debut is a modern-day homage to it, but the stories are different. While Charlotte’s Web has a focus on Wilbur and his adventures in the barn with Charlotte and the farm animals and not the inner thoughts of Fern, THE UNLIKELY STORY OF A PIG IN THE CITY is a first-person narrative and very much Josie’s story of her complicated life in a big Midwestern city, and some of her pig adventures inspired by my real-life experiences too.

6. Okay, here’s a burning question because I’m a contract writer—nothing nearly as excited as your international travels for your work. Share about your job as a freelance writer and how this this helped you in writing stories. Also my burning question: How do you juggle your freelance writing deadlines with being productive in writing this manuscript, working with the publishing deadlines I’m sure you had, and now writing a second book?

Well, I was a freelance writer for maybe ten years before I signed with a literary agent. Writing on a variety of topics, in various formats, and having an editor and deadlines certainly helped me grow as a writer. As someone who is passionate about nature and animals, I enjoyed learning about important conservation issues from experts, and this interest spilled beyond my non-fiction pieces into my stories as well. My freelance work shifted a bit to social media marketing while I was juggling working on my debut novel. What was trickier for me was more the family/personal juggle, versus the writing juggle. My son was about two years old when I signed with my agent. Over the next three years, I landed a two-book deal with a major publisher, we moved several times, and I got pregnant and had a daughter. I was perpetually exhausted! Having two kids under the age of five while revising a debut novel and trying to tackle social media marketing for a major brand was one of the hardest experiences I’ve ever been through. One day I just realized that I couldn’t do everything, even with the help I had. So I made a decision to not renew any client contracts and nowadays I evaluate freelance work on a case-by-case basis. When I wrote my second book earlier this year, I took a few writing retreats (I love the Highlights Foundation UnWorkshops and the Library Hotel in NYC for weekend escapes). Because I have a lot of things on my plate between family and work, I often time my writing sessions to maximize my productivity in short, 25-minute focused sessions. I use the GrooveOtter.com website, which follows the Pomodoro Method. I also wake up super early! If I’m on deadline, I’m usually at my desk by 4:30am with a strong cup of black coffee in hand. On social media I talk a lot about my life being less about balance and more like a DJ mixing board with a series of levers that rise and fall in various seasons.

7. You made me tired just reading it and remembering my own prior crazy life. Your agent is Alexander Slater at Trident Media Group. Share how he became your agent and what your road to publication was like.

Over seven years, I queried over 100 agents with 6 different manuscripts. With each book submission and as the rejection letters piled on, I got a little closer to the end goal – more full requests, then more revise & resubmits. I put in a lot of time growing as a writer (I still do). Literary Rambles was hands-down one of my favorite resources when I was in the querying trenches. I found the agent and author interviews so helpful in figuring out who might be a good fit for my manuscripts and career. Finally, in 2014 with one particular manuscript, I received four offers of literary representation. Alex was not the first or last agent to offer, but he was passionate about my writing and having me as a potential client. When I weighed the decision, I just knew in my gut that Alex was the right fit for not just that particular manuscript, but for what I hope to be a long career as a children’s book author. Signing with Alex and Trident Media Group was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made in my writing career. While one of my manuscripts on submission didn’t get picked up by a publisher, THE UNLIKELY STORY OF A PIG IN THE CITY sold in a few weeks, at auction, in a two-book deal. Not only does Alex champion beautiful books for the right publishing home, he’s intelligent, professional, knowledgeable, approachable, connected, kind, supportive, and honest, which are all important factors to me in a successful agent/client relationship.

8. I saw on your website that you’ve already been to ALA and BookExpo America. How did you get invited to these awesome events and what was your experience going to them? What tips do you have for other debut authors who would like to attend these events as a debut author to become more well-known and promote their books?

I attended BEA awhile back as a member of the press, but ALA was as a debut author. I teamed up with two other middle grade authors – Leah Henderson and Patricia Bailey – and we pitched a panel to ALA-Annual, which was selected for the PopTop stage. Leah, Patricia, and I are part of a group of debut authors called The Class of 2k17 (www.classof2k17.com).We presented on the importance of Location in middle grade novels and did a book signing afterwards (my publisher supplied all the ARC’s). I had an incredible experience connecting with librarians and other industry people at ALA. For any debuts interested in attending the big conferences, keep an eye on the deadlines (oftentimes they are FAR in advance of the actual event) and team up with other authors in your genre/network/debut year to create a proposal. And of course, loop in your publisher and agent.

9. That's a great idea to come up with a proposal with other debut authors. You also have a schedule of book signings in October and early November to celebrate the release of your book. How did you schedule that or did your publisher do that for you? What was the strategy for the places you’re going?

I scheduled almost all of them. My launch party was at my local NYC indie bookstore, Books of Wonder, and the other events currently on the calendar are connected to my history in some way, where I have spoken first-hand with the bookseller and have friends/family in the area who plan on attending and spreading the word, bringing their kids. I send out a bunch of postcards to local schools in advance of a signing and offer free Skype visits the week or two before a city visit to connect with young readers and promote the event. For several events, I’m part of a middle grade author panel, which I find really inspiring. I love having a dialogue with other creative people, and talking up my favorite books.

10. Besides what we’ve discussed, how are you marketing your book?

I offer several bonus materials on my website, including a Classroom Curriculum Guide that’s aligned with Common Core grades 3-7, which was created by a wonderful education guide expert (Marcie Colleen). I frequently Skype/visit schools, which I love doing! I donated many of my author copies of the book to Little Free Libraries and school libraries. I created a book trailer, which is on my YouTube channel and premiered on Mr. Schu’s website. I offer a monthly e-newsletter to subscribers and am intentional with my social media sharing, often posting behind-the-scenes content. I had custom book swag made that I hand out at book events. I connect with media and bloggers, and have a regular rotation of blog interviews, podcast chats, giveaways, and press articles publishing this year (the most recent contribution was my debut author interview in the Children’s Writer's and Illustrator’s Marker 2018 Edition, which just hit shelves). I created content for the Harper Stacks website (the school and library hub). I also read widely and often, and I try to be a positive, listening, and learning member of the children’s book community.

11. Wow! You're doing so much. That's great. What is your favorite social media platform for connecting with other authors and readers? Why?

Instagram. I love visual platforms in general, but I’ve found it’s a great way to connect with authors, bloggers, booksellers, libraries, and educators (not so much middle grade young readers themselves – that I do through Skype/school visits). I’m a huge fan of the Instagram Stories feature because you can showcase behind-the-scenes snippets into not just writing life, but life in general. I find myself most drawn to authentic accounts on Instagram and try to keep it real on mine too.

12. What are you working on now?

I just finished the sequel to THE UNLIKELY STORY OF A PIG IN THE CITY, which is in copyedits now. It will publish in Fall 2018. Right now I’m polishing up an unrelated middle grade Book 3 proposal, which will hopefully be ready to send to my agent soon!

Thanks for sharing all your advice, Jodi.

You can find Jodi at:
E-Newsletter Sign-Up: http://eepurl.com/cWnavj

Jodi has generously offered THE UNLIKELY STORY OF A PIG IN THE CITY for a giveaway. To enter, all you need to do is be a follower (just click the follow button if you’re not a follower) and leave a comment through November 18th. If your e-mail is not on your Google Profile, you must leave it in the comments to enter either contest.

If you mention this contest on Twitter, Facebook, or your blog, mention this in the comments and I'll give you an extra entry. You must be 13 years old or older to enter. The book giveaway is U.S. and
and Canada.

Middle Grade Monday was started by Shannon Messenger. You can find the participating blogs on Greg Pattridge's blog .

Here's what's coming up:

Monday, November 13th I have an interview with debut author Heather Kaczynski and a giveaway of her YA science fiction DARE MIGHTY THINGS

Tuesday, November 14th I am participating in the Gratitude Giveaway Hop

Monday, November 27th I have an interview with author and follower Stephanie Faris and a giveaway of her MG chapter book PIPER MORGAN PLANS A PARTY

Wednesday, December 7th I have a guest post with debut author Amanda Searcy and a giveaway of her YA psychological thriller THE TRUTH BENEATH THE LIES

Hope to see you on Monday!


Greg Pattridge said...

Jodi's story to publication is about never giving up despite the rejections. Thanks for the interview. Her new book sounds like a winner. (And be sure to change the link for MMGM to gpattridge.com. Shannon was nice enough to steer people my way this week but this won't happen in the coming weeks. Thanks!)

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Being compared to Charlotte's Web is a big honor. Wild the story is based on a true event involving a pig.
Awesome about the release of Full Dark!

cleemckenzie said...

Charming. I love the cover and the title, and, of course, the link to Charlotte's Web--a true classic tale.

Congratulations to the anthology authors. I love that the proceeds of this book go for such a wonderful cause.

Pat Hatt said...

Being based on real life is neat indeed. Have a friend who wants a pet pig, I tend to roll my eyes haha Never figured instagram was super useful.

Patricia T. said...

Such a charming story that is sure to become a favorite with readers. The story and the interview with Jodi was very interesting! I love the backstory and the similarities to Jodi's experiences. I look forward to reading the story and sharing it with our 11-year-old granddaughter, who loves all animals. Perfect release timing for the holiday gift giving!

Elizabeth Seckman said...

That is a great tip. I love Judy Blume.

Jodi is a hero. I cannot imagine writing, moving, and parenting. Wow.

Brenda said...

Can't imagine being able to hide a pig in your dorm, but it sure makes for a wonderful inspiration for the story. Really enjoyed hearing about Jodi's experiences and look forward to reading The Unlikely Story of a Pig in the City. Have a lovely week Natalie.

Cherie Reich said...

Congrats, Jodi! What an adorable cover! I enjoyed the interview.

Jemi Fraser said...

Love that there was personal experience with the pet pig!!! :) Sounds like a fun story

Andrea Mack said...

Thanks for an interesting interview! I like animal stories so I'm going to look for this one!

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

Jodi's book sounds great. I can't wait until my granddaughter is old enough so I can read her something so fun.

Cathrina Constantine said...

Congratulations to Jodi. I love the cover and her book sounds sweet!

And Congratulations to all the authors of the release of Full Dark! Wishing them much success.

Dorine White said...

I can just imagine what trouble having a piglet in a crowded NYC apartment would bring. Sounds fun.

Angela said...

Great interview. Congrats on your book Jodi.

Kristin Lenz said...

Congrats on your debut, Jodi! I love the real-life experience that led to your story. Good luck with that DJ mixing board!

Julie K Rubini said...

Great interview and sounds like a wonderful debut novel for middle grade readers (and the rest of us!) Congrats to Jodi and welcome to this amazing world of writing for children.

Sherry Ellis said...

Sounds like a charming story! Congratulations to Jodi!

Cynthia K said...

love it - thanks for sharing your great story!

Danielle H. said...

Thanks for such a detailed interview! I love the idea of this book and that it's published by the same company that published charlotte's Web. I always try to put animals as important parts of my stories because they mean so much to me. I shared on tumblr: http://yesreaderwriterpoetmusician.tumblr.com/post/167233705792/jodi-kendall-interview-and-the-unlikely-story-of-a

Angie Quantrell said...

Hmmm. Lost my post! I apoligize if something weird shows up! I just discovered this book on display at the library and had to read it! LOVED it! Well written, emotionally deep characters, large family dynamics. Glad to hear there is a book 2 coming next fall! Congratulations! Angelecolline@yahoo.com

Jarm Del Boccio said...

Wow! Thanks for sharing your journey with us, Jodie. And proving once again it’s important to write what you know. Can’t wait to read about Hamlet and his adventures!

Mary Holm said...

Yay! Charlotte's Web is my absolute favorite kids' book of all time. Jodi's story sounds like a fun new spin that I would have loved it as a kid. I ADORE that cover. Good luck, Jodi! Please enter me in the giveaway. I tweeted about the giveaway here: https://twitter.com/maryfranholm/status/927956830487056384. Thanks, Casey!

Heather Villa said...

Loved everything about this interview. I will most certainly post this on Twitter.

Rosi said...

This book is getting a lot of buzz -- probably with very good reason. Thanks for an interesting interview.

Loni Townsend said...

Thanks for featuring Full Dark! :)

Jodi's book sounds like one I should pick up for my daughter. It was a great interview!

Melissa said...

Thank you for mentioning our anthology. I'm a hurricane Harvey survivor, so the cause is dear to my heart.

I love the kids' book. Anything with a pig is sure to be a winner!

Stephen Tremp said...

it's great to meet Julie and best wishes to her. I do love those cute little piglets that stay small and would have one for a pet as long as it was potty trained.

♡♥♬ Carolsue ♡♥♬ said...

This sounds like a cute book! I follow you on GFC as Carol Ezovski.
digicats {at} sbcglobal {dot} net

♡♥♬ Carolsue ♡♥♬ said...

I posted this on Facebook.
digicats {at} sbcglobal {dot} net

Unknown said...

What a great interview! Thanks for sharing Jodi's story, and I can't wait to read her book! I also shared this interview on twitter, because as a writer, I got so many helpful tidbits out of it.

Chrys Fey said...

Doing freelance on a case-by-case basis is a good idea.

Full Dark looks like a great collection.

Beverly Stowe McClure said...

What an adorable story. Hamlet. Perfect name. Enjoyed the interview. Congratulations, Jodi.

Unknown said...

What a great idea for a story! I'd love to win the book and I mentioned the contest on Twitter. monicachess26(@)gmail(.)com

Sharon K. Mayhew said...

Jodi's book sounds wonderful and what an honor to have it compared to Charlotte's Web!

Unknown said...

Thanks for a great interview. As a fellow writer in the revision stages, I found Jodi's perseverance inspiring. Happy to retweet!

Looking forward to reading the book!

Suzanne Warr said...

This book sounds so lovely, and I adore the cover! Great interview and advice, as well. Thinking Jodi should teach a class on how to be a power-house debut. :)

I tweeted the giveaway, and my email is spartan_writer (at) yahoo (dot) come. Fingers crossed!

Ruth C. said...

I was at that same SCBWI event and also remember Judy Blume giving that advice! Wild that that one little comment stuck in the minds of more than one person in the audience. (The way I summarize Blume's remark is by putting it this way: "It was just like any other day...and then it wasn't.")

DMS said...

This book sounds adorable! I love that it was inspired by real life events. :) Adding this one to my list!