Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Interview With a Game Master

Today we get to know Jody Feldman, our resident puzzle expert, better.

2k8: Can you tell us how the book came about? How did you begin writing it?

After that day when I was inspired by the 5th grader, reality struck. How do you go about writing a book that might, if you’re lucky and talented, stand the slightest chance of satisfying a reader firmly attached to the crown jewel of Dahl-dom? First step, start thinking about what made that book so special. Knowing I didn’t want to waste a million words listing those qualities when I could have been using other words to write my own book, I turned to a more relevant question. What passions did I have in me to write the best book I could possibly write? Cookies popped into mind. Pizza. Doughnuts. It was past lunch time.

I have been a subscriber to Games Magazine (games, as in crossword puzzles, brainteasers, etc.) since its inaugural issue. I’d love to say that at the moment when I was trying to figure out what to write about, the mailman delivered the latest edition, but it probably didn’t happen that way. At some point though, I remembered my love for word games and puzzles and brainteasers. I remembered looking through seasonal toy catalogues and getting all giddy at the possibilities within those pages. There was my passion. That was the next step in my inspiration.
(Wow! Can you imagine how fun the travel games with this woman would be?)

2k8: And how did it find a publisher? Give us the real dirt!

The honest and true dirt will date me. Make me face up to the fact that I am not 25 years old (even though there are still days when I *know* I must still be younger than the athletes in the NFL). Stalling. Stalling. Okay. I wrote the first words of The Gollywhopper Games (words that don’t exist in the story anymore) in 1989, longhand. I’d scribble a few chapters then type them up on my IBM Selectric with no memory chip. It did have one of those interchangeable erase cartridges, though.

I first submitted the manuscript on December 29, 1989. If you do the math, factoring in all those days it took to type a couple more tweaked versions, you’ll realize I didn’t let enough time go by between the moment I finished the first draft and the day I sent it out into the world. I was young. Very young. And there were no Internet communities to teach me how to become a real writer; that is, how to be patient, throw the story into a drawer, pull it back out after several months then start tearing it apart and rebuilding it again. And because I didn’t have that, I had no one to put me in my place. I fully expected a publisher to love the book, buy it and send me to easy street for the rest of my life. Hah! Naive or what?

What happened between 1989 and 2006 when I got The Call involved many hard lessons, a lot more writing, and at least two dozen Gollywhopper rejections. But I’d say it was at the SCBWI-LA Conference in 2002 where my real road to publication began. Several months before, in a moment of what-the-heck-am-I-going-to-submit-for-critique, I did an eeny, meeny, miny, moe and pulled The Gollywhopper Games from the depths of the drawer, that manuscript having been shoved deeper and deeper by about 15 subsequent novels. (Yes, I have drawer-loads of novels, many of which will forever be titled Homework.) I spruced up the first several chapters and sent it in. I was assigned the very wonderful critiquer and editor-in-chief Bonnie Bader who loved it and might have bought it except for the fact that it didn’t fit into the Grosset & Dunlap series personality.

It was at that same conference I met the woman who, four month later, was to become my agent. But even with an agent, it took three rewrites over three years to find the right house for the book. Would I have wanted it to happen sooner? Of course. But working it and waiting also brought me to my editorial, art and marketing team at Greenwillow and HarperCollins. And I can’t say enough about them.

2k8: Did anything surprise you or catch you off guard when you were writing your book?

With a degree and a background in advertising, I was well trained to be succinct, to use a minimum of words to create a maximum impact. Guess what? I was trained to write picture books. And I did. I wrote dozens of picture books (languishing in a drawer) because how could someone like me string together 50,000 words for a novel? In reality, it wasn’t the number of words that scared me. How did anyone find the ideas to generate that many words?

So when I got the idea for The Gollywhopper Games, I had no clue whether I could write a work of any length. I started, though. I wrote a first chapter and second. I jotted down ideas as they began flowing. I wrote a third chapter then a fourth. Before I could be scared again, I had a stack of manuscript pages more than an inch thick.

Even now, especially when I’m about 7,000 words into a new book, I have doubts whether I can find the ideas and the words to create something compelling enough to finish. And each time I write the last sentence, I’m surprised that I did.

2k8: Imagine you have an offer from your dream press to publish your dream book, no matter how insane or unmarketable it might be (though of course it might not be). What story do you want to write next/someday and why?

I don’t think my idea is insane. I don’t think it’s unmarketable. I do believe it’s too expensive. I would love to write a truly interactive book – a sit-down or lie-in-bed book with paper pages – that has mini computer screens embedded throughout so readers can actually play along with any type of games or puzzles I may choose to incorporate into future stories. Just imagine what else you could do with that combination of comfort and technology.

2k8: What question won't most people know to ask you? What is your answer?

Writers understand this question, but most others wouldn’t know to ask it. In fact, when you tell friends and family you’re writing a book or you’ve had a book accepted for publication, they see the glitz and the glamour. They have you booked on Oprah. They call you the next JK Rowling. They want to bask in the shadow of your stardom.

Here’s the question they don’t know they should be asking. It’s also a question all writers should ask of themselves. If you understand that it may take years to write a marketable book; and if you understand this is a lonely profession with a limited amount of support for your individual project; and if you understand there’s only a remote possibility that you’ll sell it; and if do sell it, you’ll probably sign for a modest advance, one that may take you years to earn out if you earn out at all; and if you understand that your chosen profession will put you up for severe criticism from national publications; then why in the world are you doing this?

My answer: I wouldn’t be happy if I didn’t.

Thanks Jody!


M.P. Barker said...

I love it! You definitely win the P&P (Persistence & Perseverence) medal, Jody! Can't wait to hear that those other novels will be coming out of the drawer and onto the bookstore shelves.

Anonymous said...

Congratulations on your release, Jody! I'm biking out to my bookshop this morning to look for it.

Great new look for the front page of the website, too. It's so inspiring to see all those great covers!

Rosanne Parry

Jody Feldman said...

I'm hoping to pull something out of my hat sooner than later. And biking! Sounds very healthy :o)