What do you love most about your creative life? Why?
Growing up as a very quiet, shy kid I felt overlooked an awful lot. I never really felt like I had much of a voice. Of course, I wouldn’t have worded it that way, but I guess my overall feeling was that no one really listened to me. Heck, half the time I felt like no one noticed I was even there.
The thing about feeling invisible, though, is that it makes you an observer. I think I’ve always watched and listened to people and imagined their “back stories” in my head.
As a kid I used to wonder why other kids or teachers or, well, everyone really, acted the way they did. Why was Mrs. R. such a LOUD TALKER. Why was S always so grumpy?
I created some pretty fantastic reasons which I’m sure were all untrue. But that’s probably when I started becoming a writer.
Now, I do have a voice. I can write down all those back stories and give them center stage. I can write a story about a kid who’s always grumpy, and I can show my readers why and maybe get them to think about the kid sitting next to them who seems sad and distant. And maybe the next time they have a chance to say something to that kid, they will.
I mean, I’m not writing to teach. I’m writing to encourage thought. To entertain, but to challenge, too. Isn’t that what we all do?
For the first time in my life, people are asking me questions. They want to hear me. It’s a heady and overwhelming feeling. I admit sometimes I want to go back to that invisible time.
But even that quiet child-me that still lives in my heart gives me a little tug and says, No. Listen. I have something to say. This creative life lets me speak and be heard, and I’m extremely grateful for that.
Why is your agent the right agent for you?
My agent, Barry Goldblatt, believes in the better me–the me that I often don’t believe exists. Usually when I give Barry a new project, I feel pretty confident that this time he’s going to love it on the first go. But so far, that has never happened.
But for me, once I get over the initial overwhelmed feeling of failure, I realize he’s right. I didn’t go where I needed to go yet. And Barry’s feedback is the permission I need to go there—to explore the complexities I may have been afraid of, or tried to convince myself weren’t there. Barry’s feedback makes me feel safer about taking that journey.
In your own words, could you tell us about your latest book?
Jumping Off Swings (Candlewick, 2009) is told from four points of view—two girls and two boys. It explores how one girl’s pregnancy affects each of them in different but profound ways.
What can your fans look forward to next?
I recently sold my third novel, Pearl, to Henry Holt. It’s about a girl whose grandfather dies, unleashing some big family secrets that end up changing her relationships with those she loves—and herself—in unexpected and life-altering ways.
Read a previous Cynsations interview with Jo.
The Craft, Career & Cheer series features conversations with children’s-YA book creators about positive aspects of their creative and professional lives.