I am absolutely thrilled today, to welcome another guest to Trees Are Not Lollipops. Jo Marshall's lovely children's books would appeal to any child and I've often wondered where she gets her ideas and the lovely illustrations. Her environmental theme is also dear to my heart, as readers of Treespeaker would know. I should mention, too, that the royalties from Jo's books are shared with environmental nonprofit organisations involved with climate change research, protection of endangered wildlife and nature conservancy.
So who is Jo Marshall?
She’s a fairly obscure writer of children’s books about tiny, stick creatures called Twigs. Her stories are like her hobbies – puzzles and mysteries to be solved and enjoyed each step of the way. She hopes her stories are good enough to be worked, or read, again and again. Jo is a person fascinated with how all things work – the universe, nature, weather, and climate change impacts on her world. Other than that, she’s a non-descript mom of two great kids, a wife of a husband deeply involved in cyber-security (a puzzle all its own), and a fan of NPR, BBC, and PBS programs.
What made you decide to become a writer?
My daughter Ali Jo and I made up wild stories about stick creatures that lived in the forest behind our house. I wanted to capture this special time with her, so it wasn’t a great leap to write the books. It was a shared experience for us – setting up the website and creating its content, publishing the books as an indie, interacting with environmental nonprofits, researching climate change in our region, and just running the business part of it. The process has helped us understand more about why a changing climate matters. It is a fantastic educational experience for Ali Jo, and we’re both grateful Twig Stories received such an enthusiastic reception.
Has there been any one person/writer who has influenced you more than any other?
Yes. Both are writers of stories I read again and again. I never tire of their characters’ adventures or qualities. Mary Norton, author of The Borrowers series and A.A. Milne, author of Winnie the Pooh.
Can you tell us a little about where you live and how it has influenced what you write?
Well, I always hesitate to describe Washington and the Northwest Pacific coast of the U.S. It sounds like I’m exaggerating. But I’m not. I live near rainforests, volcanoes, glaciers, alluring Pacific beaches, breathtaking mountains, vast forests of towering trees, enormous rivers, clear blue lakes, serene, magnificent wetlands, and a huge variety of wildlife that inhabit these places. This is the setting for Twig Stories, and is completely inseparable from the stories. It’s difficult to write a novel about this region without creating a huge landscape, too.
Why children's books?
I joke that it’s the extent of my vocabulary. But actually, my stories are fantasy novels for 8+ readers, not picture books. For years, I read books with children from 1st grade to 6th, one on one and in groups. Right around 5th & 6th grade, I found a gap between childish novels that became too easy to read and YA novels. I don’t know about other children, but my daughter was not ready for YA novels at 10. So I wrote a more complex novel that was a fun adventure with a topical subject to fill that gap. It’s a narrow, miniscule niche for kids that enjoy fantasy intertwined into a natural world.
What made you decide to publish an ebook?
Actually, it was just part of the design team package - a paperback and Kindle version - that Createspace offered when I enlisted their help for indie publishing. I hadn’t given it much thought until then, but I’m very happy now it is an ebook. It’s great that kids have a choice of how they read the books, especially during vacations. A Kindle is much easier to carry when travelling than paperbacks, I think. I worried about the quality of the illustrations on the Kindle, and there is a difference in the quality, but not much of one.
What, in your opinion, makes a good book?
Well, the story of course primarily. A story that will bring a reader back to read it again and again – a book you want to keep on your shelf, and give to your child to read when they’re old enough. Second, it needs to be formatted well. That would include, of course the look of it, for example age appropriate line spacing, interesting layout, and, if it works, illustrations. And it should be edited well so that kids are learning language skills, albeit subconsciously! It’s nice to have a cover that captures the imagination of a child, too.
The illustrations in your books are beautiful. Can you tell us a little about the illustrator?
Yes, his name is David Murray. He’s been very kind and patient with my weird requests over the last two years that I’ve know him. David is an animation artist for Disney and Universal Pictures. His screen credits include Mulan, Tarzan, Lilo & Stitch, Brother Bear, Curious George, and many others. He heard about my stories, and offered to help me out. David tells me he enjoys illustrating Twig Stories, although he’s always really busy professionally, so I think these books are sort of a diversion and a hobby for him. He never flinches at my wild ideas for an “action” scene. Fortunately, his wild ideas are even better than mine! He’s also an author of three books, the Majesty series, which are complex fantasy novels similar to The Narnia Chronicles. He also wrote an e-book, Retroshock, which is more science fiction. David lives in Ocoee, Florida with his family – right next to Disneyworld, of course.
What other writing projects do you have underway?
Leaf & the Long Ice will be out this fall, so all the editing and publishing prep for that keeps me really busy right now. This story is about Leaf’s younger twin brothers, who are lost on a shrinking glacier, and Leaf must go rescue them. The next release is Leaf & Echo Peak, which should be out next year, by summer, I hope. In Echo Peak the Twigs must decide what to do when a volcano threatens to erupt, and destroy their forest. It actually finishes up the ‘Leaf series’ nicely, because it’s all about rebirth and adaptation to change – very similar to the events of Mount St. Helens, which I witnessed. I’m always taking notes and outlining the next ‘Fern series’ of Twig Stories. (That’s Leaf’s little sister. I think she’ll grow up a little, and have a Twigfriend.)
What do you most like to do when you’re not writing?
Talk to my kids. Seriously. I love hearing about what they are interested in, how their minds work, and listening to all their advice about what I should do with my books, website, and facebook pages. (I usually take their advice, by the way.) Next, I like to sit on the back deck with my husband and stare at the beautiful forest in our back yard, watch the wildlife, and talk to him about the kids.
Where can we buy your books and find out more?
Nearly any online store has my books, such as Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble. They are available in paperback and Kindle versions, worldwide.
On my website, if you go to the ‘Twig Store’ page, there are discount codes and direct links to the publisher for books via their E-store. That’s a less expensive, quick, and easy way to get them, too.
My books have a ‘look inside’ feature on Amazon.com, so you can get a better idea of the writing style, and if your child might enjoy reading the book.
Here’s some links:
The Twig Stories website is www.twigstories.com
My facebook author page is: http://facebook.com/twigstories
My book/fan page is: http://facebook.com/twigstoriesbooks
Many thanks to Jo for her interesting answers and for providing so many beautiful illustrations to go with her interview.