Monday, May 19, 2014

How to Outrun a Crocodile When Your Shoes Are Untied Blog Tour

Author Jess Keating was kind enough to answer the interview questions that my second grade students thought of when I asked for their help with an interview. 

Q & A from Suzanne Costner's Class!

1. Why did you choose the title/how did you think of the title?

The title came to me! I was outside hiking (I love to hike to get ideas moving), and the phrase "how to outrun a crocodile when your shoes are untied" just popped into my head! I jotted it down in my notebook right then and knew I had come across something special to me. This leads to question #2!

2. What was the inspiration for the story?

Once I had that phrase in my head, the idea of Ana followed very quickly. I instantly pictured a young girl dangling from a tree, with a crocodile snapping at her feet. But instead of being afraid, it was just a normal day for her. She was more annoyed than anything! From there, the idea grew into what it is now. I knew I wanted to write a story about a brave, funny girl who felt like she was constantly struggling to be her true self. I think that's something we can all relate to, and at its heart, my book is about embracing the things about yourself that you think are weird. That's what makes you you!

3. Why did you decide to write this book? (Rather than a different story or perhaps a nonfiction book about animals.)

What a great question! Ana's story just seemed too funny and real to pass up. The two things that I'm most passionate about are animals and writing, and I've always enjoyed having both in my life. When I graduated university, I actually started writing nonfiction books first. I enjoyed teaching kids about animals, just like Ana. Then I started to get this squirmy-wriggly feeling inside my head. I had always loved reading fiction, and have a special place in my heart for funny middle grade books. It was then I knew that I wanted to try writing a middle grade book of my own. Of course, that didn't stop me from filling it with animals and science!

Now that I was able to get Ana's story out into the world, I was eager to start writing both fiction and nonfiction again. I just love them both so much. My first nonfiction book for kids is called PINK IS FOR BLOBFISH, and it will be published in 2016!

4. How long did it take to write?/When did you start on it?

This book took me about 8 months to write, and then even longer to revise. I have notes saved from 2011!  How old were you in 2011? One important thing to remember about writing is that you get better with practice, so never feel bad if it takes you a long time to figure your story out.

5. Will there be another book about Ana?

Yes! Ana's next adventure will be out in January 2015! I'm very lucky to get to keep writing about my favorite animal lover.

6. Did you have a grade-level or age group in mind as your target audience?

When I'm first drafting a new book, I try not to think about the audience too much, because that can get in the way of finding the story. But once I have an idea of who I'm writing about, I do keep in mind who I'm writing for. Middle grade readers are my favorite readers, because they are constantly curious and love to laugh.

7. Did you consider doing the story differently - like making the parents work at an aquarium rather than a zoo?

Are you guys mind readers?! The title of the next book is called HOW TO OUTSWIM A SHARK WITHOUT A SNORKEL—and guess what—it takes place in a new aquarium exhibit! I won't spoil the details, but I can say that I wanted Ana's parents to be zoologists so they would have a full spectrum of animals in their life, including the scaly reptiles. Lots of people love cute, furry animals, but I wanted Ana to show off the brilliance of some not-so-furry creatures. Crocodiles and snakes can be cute, too!

8. Why did you decide to make the grandfather the famous one in the family instead of one of the parents?

You know, it's funny. Sometimes as a writer your own words can surprise you. Shep Foster was one of those surprises! I knew I wanted Ana to face the spotlight, but wasn't sure how to do it. Then *poof*, Shep appeared fully formed in my mind. His character was so larger than life, from his loud gestures to his bright Hawaiian shirts, I didn't question it. And now he's one of my favorite characters!

9. You explained the reason for Ana's name. If you do another book, will you explain why Daz is named after a monkey?

This is an excellent idea, and I will do my best to uncover the story behind Daz's name soon!

10. Ana has so many problems to deal with - her best friend moving to New Zealand, the Sneerers, being shy, etc. How did you decide which situations to include in the plot and are any of them based on a real-life experience?

It was tough to decide what to include, for sure. It's very important when you're writing to keep the pace moving, so I tried to find a balance between "oh no!" moments for Ana, and chances for her to catch up with life.

There are definitely moments in the book that are based on real life. For example, I visited New Zealand for a month and it was one of the greatest adventures I've ever had. I wanted Liv to have her own adventure, so I sent her there too! I've also spent lots of time working with animals, so many of those moments worked their way into the plot. I actually cut a scene where Ana was sprayed by a skunk (which also happened to me!)

11. In your research did you find out the best way to outrun a crocodile?

Tie up your shoes! ;-)

12. Do your hands ever get tired from all the writing and typing?

They do! I usually write at a standing desk, so I'm able to move around more while I type. Writing by hand usually makes my hands hurt more, but it's so worth it if your story is stuck. Something about having a pen and paper in front of you gets the words flowing. Try it!

Thank you so much for the great questions, guys! Happy reading!


About the book:
What would middle school be like if you lived in a zoo?

Ana didn't ask to be named after an 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! All of which gives the Sneerers (the clan of carnivorous female predators in her class) more ammunition to make her life miserable-and squash any hope of class tennis stud, Zack, falling in love with her. Ana tries to channel her inner chameleon and fade into the background, but things are changing too quickly for her to keep up.

About Jess Keating:
As a zoologist turned middle grade and picture book author, Jess Keating has been sprayed by skunks, bitten by crocodiles, and been a victim to the dreaded paper cut. Her debut How To Outrun A Crocodile When Your Shoes Are Untied is coming in Summer 2014 from Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, with a sequel to follow. Her nonfiction picture book, PINK IS FOR BLOBFISH, will be published by Knopf in 2016. 

She has a Masters degree 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. 
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  1. Thank you so much for having me, everyone! I'm so impressed with your Jedi mind skills! Happy reading! :D

  2. And the kids are impressed that you recognized their Jedi powers. LOL Thanks for including us in the blog tour!

  3. Great interview, 2nd graders (and Miss Jess). Can't wait to read the book!