The Kidlit Interview Series
As a middle grade author and zoologist, Jess has been sprayed by skunks, bitten by crocodiles, and been a victim to the dreaded paper cut. She has a Masters in Animal Science and a growing collection of books that are threatening to take over her house. She lives in Ontario, Canada, where she loves hiking, watching nerdy documentaries, and writing books for adventurous and funny kids.
How To Outrun A Crocodile When Your Shoes Are Untied poses the question: What would middle school be like if you lived in a zoo? Ana didn't ask to be named after the anaconda. She didn't ask for zoologist parents who look like safari guides. And she definitely didn't ask for a twin brother whose life goal seems to be terrorizing her with his pet reptiles. Now, to make matters worse, her parents have decided to move the whole family INTO the zoo! Now how is she going to avoid the ruthless teasing of the Sneerers (the clan of carnivorous female predators in her class) – and more importantly, ever get class tennis stud, Zack, to fall in love with her?
Beatrix Potter! Sure, you may know her for writing about rabbits in petticoats and gullible puddleducks, but Beatrix was wicked smart and tenacious, too. When she was young, she wrote a diary in code. You'll need that kind of savvy to survive a zombie apocalypse. She also had a whole bunch of land put into trust, so we'd have someplace to stay and survive while the zombies were pillaging the villages. Insider fact: Beatrix Potter inspires me so much I named a character after her! Read the book to find out about my Beatrix!
2) Look, I got a time machine on eBay! Where do you want to go? (Said time machine may possibly malfunction and leave you there. Possibly. It was *very* cheap.)
I would love to go back in time millions of years to see the dinosaurs. If the time machine malfunctioned and couldn't make it that far back, I think I could make a pretty good living as a lady gunslinger in the Wild West.
3) What’s your favourite thing about writing for kids?
I love writing for kids because they pick up everything. They are so smart, and they are especially good at observing (and not filtering) their own feelings. By writing for them, I get to explore those parts of myself, and dig into all those questions I had as a kid. I also love their humor! Writing How To Outrun A Crocodile When Your Shoes Are Untied was such a great opportunity to create some hilarious situations with kids and animals. I think all writers try to live many lives in their writing, and by writing for kids, I get to play around in a time that's always so full. Full of fun and humor, but also full of heartfelt emotions and newness. I love it!
4) A witch has cast a spell on you (sorry about that) and you’ve woken up as a character in a children’s book – what’s your special talent or power?
I can talk to animals like Snow White! The birds help me do my laundry, deer carry messages for me, and squirrels do my hair. I probably smell a bit, but who cares, I've got an animal army at my disposal.
5) What’s the scariest or strangest thing you’ve ever done?
Scariest: I once had to jump backward off a waterfall of undetermined height in the pitch black of an underground cave in New Zealand. As someone who has a fear of heights, and quite likes to see where I'm about to leap, this one about did me in.
Strangest: I had to stop traffic to save a duck that had imprinted on me and followed me driving home from my job at a wildlife rehabilitation center. Picture me pointing to the open door of my car on the side of the road, saying sternly "Get in!", while the duck begrudgingly hops into the backseat, quacking in indignant protest. Can't make this stuff up.
6) What’s something you wish you’d known about writing when you started out?
The more you write for publication, the harder it is to get those inner editor voices out of your head while you write. For me, I find it tricky to flip out of 'the business of publishing' (talking to awesome editors, planning due dates, nitty gritty) to the 'creative world of actually getting words on the page'. You need both sides of the coin to succeed, and it's an ongoing learning curve for me.
What’s something you wish you’d known about publishing?
Things take the time they're going to take. Sometimes, (usually), this means they're going to take quite awhile. You can want things to hurry up, but as Gandalf says, "So do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide.
7) What would your daemon be?
A wolf! When I was little, I used to always talk about my 'pet wolf' that followed me everywhere. He would run alongside my bike, and snarl at my brothers when they ate my dessert. Embarrassing revelation: I still picture my wolf daemon beside me when I'm in scary situations.
8) My books don’t have dragons, but they do have... CROCODILES! But also super smart and brave 12-year-old girls, adorkable boys, famous naturalists, smelly hippos, a stuffed unicorn named Steve, safari hats, a supermodel, hilarious shenanigans, and one very mouthy African Grey Parrot named Charles Darwin.