Meet Rising Star
Author John Bray!
AD: First off, congrats on your debut picture book, THE END, which releases this month with Starry Forest Books. Can you share a bit more about this delightful story?
JB: THE END is a slightly meta story about endings, beginnings, and the space between the two. It’s also sort of a mashup between Semisonic’s “Closing Time” (a late 90s classic) and “Little Gidding” by T.S. Eliot (modernist poet and author of everyone’s favorite “Prufrock”). More than anything, it’s a different, humorous perspective on endings, and I think that’s something we could all use from time to time.
AD: Yes! What a perfect description! I love how it got me thinking about endings in a whole new light and reminded me that endings are just the beginning of something else with lots of exciting stuff happening in between! Artist, Josh Cleland, perfectly capture the fun and humor in the story, too!
Let’s start with a speed round…
- Top three favorite children’s books of all time? Need a House? Call Ms. Mouse! (George Mendoza, Illustrated by Doris Susan Smith), Monkey with a Toolbelt, the whole series (Chris Monroe), and Shadow (Suzy Lee).
- Coffee, tea (or neither)? Coffee. Always coffee. I have very strong feelings about tea.
- Where is your safe place? Running. So anywhere and everywhere, I guess.
- Dogs, cats, (or neither)? Dogs. More specifically: My office mate, Lilly.
- Early bird or night owl? Early bird.
- Three words to describe what it takes to make it in the kidlit world… Patience, Creativity, incredibly-thick-skin (that’s one word because hyphens are magic)
Okay, now down to the serious stuff….
AD: Please dish us the dirt on who you are and your journey into the fabulous world of children’s books.
JB: So much dirt to dish. I’ll give the truncated version. I found my way to children’s books by way of the Young Author’s program in third grade (my book: The ABCs of Origami). That sparked my love for writing, and I’ve been writing ever since. However, between then and now, there was college, a job in marketing that I did not enjoy at all, working as a freelance writer (which I still do and enjoy), raising a son (also still in process), and a slew of other things. But children’s books were always there, either taking shape on the page or in my head.
AD: Did you always know you wanted to be an author? Have you explored other paths or had/have other jobs?
JB: Yes. But no. I originally went to college with a law focus (English, Pre-law). A series of big life events (so many of them) led me away from that path. In hindsight, it was the best thing that could have happened. I’d make a terrible lawyer. But my filing would be impeccable.
AD: Funny how we find our way back to our true passions. 🙂
AD: What topics or themes do you tend to focus on in your writing? Favorite genres you like to write in?
JB: This is such a difficult question. I think I gravitate toward making the intangible more tangible, but that’s not necessarily a focus. More than anything, I like the idea of telling a story kids want to get lost in in only 32 pages. Something fun.
AD: Breaking into the publishing industry is not easy! What’s been the biggest challenge you’ve faced thus far? What have you done to persevere?
JB: The hardest thing was just putting myself out there. Spending time and energy to create a story I believe in only to have it rejected over and over again.
AD: Yes! Being vulnerable as a creator is one of the hardest parts and as creators (and humans), we tend to focus on the flaws of our creations or areas for improvement. This helps us grow and develop, but we need not forget the many things we are doing well. With this in mind, what has been your biggest accomplishment or something you are most proud of thus far on your writing journey?
JB: Editing! I’m a notorious over-writer. Always wordy (which probably comes through in some of these answers). But I’m slowly becoming much better at cutting. Ruthlessly cutting. It’s a lot easier to say “kill your darlings” than it is to actually kill them.
AD: I completely relate!
AD: In a similar vein, what do you feel are your strengths as an author? What makes your writing unique to you?
JB: I spend a lot of time focusing not just on the story or the words I use to tell it, but on how those words feel when you say them. How they clump together and flow, either out loud or in your own head. That doesn’t mean unnecessarily big words or onomatopoeias. It’s mostly about how the words fit together. Their relationship and rhythm. I think the experience of reading (or hearing) a book should be as exciting and engaging as the story itself.
AD: Yes, the feeling of the words is so important as is reading the story out loud so you can get a sense of this. Thanks for the reminder!
AD: What inspires your work?
JB: Anything and everything. Usually it’s something fairly random (odd sayings, quirky word combinations, or, as with THE END, song lyrics). And then the other part of that inspiration is time. Letting that little piece of something sit and grow before I try to write my way into a story. It doesn’t always work, but I always learn something along the way.
AD: Tell us about your creative process and what you do to keep ideas flowing or what you do when feeling stuck?
JB: Running is a big help. When I have nothing to think about but putting one foot in front of the other, it clears my head and makes room for new ideas. I also run in the early morning when it’s quiet, and I think that adds to the experience. But sometimes, you just get stuck and you have to redirect that creative energy. For me, that means baking or drawing or helping my son (who is very mechanically minded and not at all interested in writing so much as a single sentence) solve a problem with one of his many projects.
AD: Having a clear mind is so important for creativity and inspiration. Glad you have your outlet with running. Double win that it’s a healthy way to clear the mind as well!
AD: What sorts of things have been most integral in your growth as an author?
JB: Three things: 1) An almost daily practice for 15-20 years. 2) My friend Sue (a 10-year friendship and one of the best things to come out of Twitter), who always helps me get out of my own head so I can move forward with my writing. 3) Parents who supported creativity and the arts as much as they supported math and science. There was no “that doesn’t sound like a financially safe career path” in my house growing up. But, in all honesty, I’ve been surrounded by supportive people from just about every angle, and I’m beyond grateful for their encouragement and belief in me and my work over the years.
AD: A support system is huge! It can be a roller coaster so having people who are there for the ride can keep us moving forward and motivated.
AD: What advice do you have for fellow kidlit creatives?
JB: Just. Stick. With it. If you have a story to tell — in pictures, words, or both — keep at it. Children want stories. They need them. It’s not an easy or fast road for most people (me included!) but if it’s something you’re passionate about, keep at it and remember that rejections aren’t personal.
AD: Right on! I remember a quote (I forget who said it) but it was something along the lines of-the only way you won’t succeed is if you give up. I wholeheartedly believe that. Anything is possible if you just stick with it! Alright and finally, where can readers find out more about you and your work?
John, thank you so much for joining us for this special Spotlight feature on Rising Stars in KidLit! Congrats again on your debut, THE END.
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Speaking of snagging a free book…..
TO ENTER THE GIVEAWAY:
A random winner will be selected to receive a signed copy of THE END plus a bonus activity book!
The deadline for this contest is Tuesday, September 13th at 9AM EST. The winner will be contacted on Tuesday, September 13th and announced on Twitter.