Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Jo Knowles Interview


Today’s TMT Blogiversary Blog Tour Stop is at SharpRead!
Visit Colby’s blog to read about his favorite mentor text!

Earlier this year on one lucky day, Jo Knowles contacted me and asked if I wanted 
a copy of her newest book See you Harry's- WOW! How generous! I was so excited to 
read it and it did not disappoint. Check out our review to learn more about the book.  
Today, Jen and I have the honor of being able to interview the amazing, kind, 
wonderful Jo Knowles about See You at Harry's, which comes out today!!
See You at Harry's

Teach Mentor Texts: Many of your books focus on really tough topics- where do you get your ideas for your books?

Jo Knowles: No matter how many times I’m asked this question, I always struggle to answer. Often the idea comes from a small spark–a phrase, an image, the wisp of a memory. Slowly whatever that is turns into a question I often don’t know the answer to. And then the story starts to form around that question as I struggle to answer it. When I start writing, I feel as though I am writing toward the answer, and as the story unfolds, I get closer and closer to fully understanding it.

See you at Harry’s is your 4th novel, but your first middle grade novel.  What made you choose to write a middle grade novel instead of a YA novel?

Well, to be honest I didn’t know I was writing middle grade! That was dopey on my part, since Fern was in middle school. I guess when I write, I’m not really thinking about what category the work will fall in. I just write the story. I also didn’t set out to write the story that wound up becoming See You At Harry’s. I wrote the book in memory of my brother. I had this grand plan to rewrite our story and give it a happier ending. But you know, the story takes a turn. I fought it, but as the scene returned again and again, I realized the book I set out to write was not the book I was meant to write. So, I followed my heart and wrote toward that deeper place my heart was guiding me to, painful as it was.

When did you decide to become an author?

Ha ha. You make it sound so easy! I think there were little whispers throughout my life that were guiding me this way, but in the beginning I went to school to become an editor. When I was in graduate school studying children’s literature, I decided to take a class on writing for children because I thought it would be easier than some of the academic classes I was taking, with less reading. I couldn’t have been more wrong! But even though it was a lot of hard work, I found I enjoyed it more than anything else. So I asked if I could write a YA novel for my masters’ thesis. It all started from there.

Many authors contend that to be a great author you have to be a reader. Do you agree or disagree? Why or why not?

Well, there are always exceptions. I’m sure there are some great authors out there who don’t read at all. But I bet the majority of great writers are great readers. In fact, whenever I read someone I love, I like to find out what they like to read and read all those books, too. Yes, I think reading helps you become a better writer. But I think reading also helps you become a better person. With every story we read, we become a little more aware, a little more compassionate, a little more awake–and sensitive–to the world around us.

Are you reading anything good right now? Do you have a favorite genre?

Honestly if it’s well-written and engaging, I’m in. I have four books going right now. I tend to leave them at different places around the house and in my car so I always have something if I find myself with some spare time. In my car I have David Gil’s INVISIBLE SUN. In my bedroom I have Jack Gantos’s DEAD END IN NORVELT. In my living room I have Holly Black’s BLACK HEART, and on my laptop I have a manuscript I’m reading for a friend, Robin Wasserman, which is oooooooh my gosh brilliant. These books include: science fiction, middle grade humor, urban fantasy, and horror. I’m all over the map. :-)

What is the best writing advice that you ever received and what advice would you give an inspiring writer?

Jennifer Richard Jacobson once advised that at any stage of writing when you think you are “done”, ask yourself, “Is it true yet?” and that has been the best guide to my writing that I have ever had. As to giving advice to other writers, I like to steal Donald Maass’s advice to be a storyteller, not a status seeker. And to that I add my own: If you want to be a writer, write. Write the best, truest, stories you can. Don’t write to the market. Don’t write what you think will be a best seller. Write the story that your heart demands you to write, in the way only you can write it.

At Teach Mentor Texts, we are all about promoting literacy and spreading the love of books.  How do you finish the statement: Writing is...?

Freeing.

What about: Reading is...?

Life changing, life saving.

Thank you so much Jo for being part of our blogiversary!
Thank you also to Candlewick for being awesome and publishing great books!

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