An Interview with Janice about Lucky Little Things
What is your book about?
It’s about a middle-school girl named Emma who gets a mysterious letter that promises her good luck for the next 30 days. She doesn’t know who sent it or why, but she notices that her luck really does change. So it’s about her trying to find out if the letter is real or fake, and who sent it to her in the first place.
How did you get the idea for this book?
Well, usually when I write books for adults, I take ideas from real life, then I think about them for weeks or months, trying to figure out how to make them into a story. This idea was totally the opposite of that.
I was sitting at my desk one morning, trying to write, when I started to daydream about lunch.* I wanted to go to the vegetarian place near my house, where the young woman behind the counter was always so friendly to me. Usually I put a dollar in her tip jar, but what if one day I put $20 in her jar? She would be so surprised and happy, it would probably make her day, and she wouldn’t even know who gave her such a big tip.
The idea of doing something anonymous to make her happy made me feel good. Then I got the idea to add a note to it, something that said, “This $20 is the start of a good luck streak for you.” So then she would feel lucky, and she’d start seeing more of the lucky things that happen in her life.
I went to lunch that day and tipped my usual dollar. After I ate, I was supposed to go back to my desk and keep working on the adult novel I was writing. But I couldn’t get rid of the idea of an anonymous note that promises you luck. So I put aside my adult novel and started writing this one.
We moved neighborhoods since then, and I realize I never tipped the young woman $20, even after I wound up getting a whole book out of her. I need to go back and do that soon!
(* Much of writing involves daydreaming about lunch.)
How long did it take to write Lucky Little Things?
Writing the book took about four months. But ALL I DID for those four months was write. I ignored everybody and everything while I got this story down, because it was coming to me so quickly. When inspiration flows, you need to be at your desk ready to catch it.
Did you always want to be a writer?
Yes. Since I was three years old, I wanted to write books. I don’t even know how I came up with the idea to be a writer, because I’ve wanted to be a writer for as long as I can remember. I still have one of the “books” I wrote when I was three or four, called “Janice and the Giraf.” It’s…not great writing.
How did you pursue your dream of writing when you were in middle school?
I wrote stories in between classes and after school. I was always starting new stories, even if I didn’t finish the old ones – I still do that sometimes. I submitted my work to the school magazine and got published for the first time in 8th grade. I also kept a journal (until someone read it and made fun of me for it), and I read constantly. It probably helped that I was incredibly lonely and had few friends, because writers need a lot of alone time.
What advice do you have for kids who want to be writers when they grow up?
My advice is to make sure that’s what you really want. Do you want to be a writer? Or do you want to be a famous, published author? Do you love the act of creating something new? Or do you only love the praise? If you want to be a writer, almost nothing can stop you. You don’t have to have raw talent. If you don’t have raw talent, you can still develop skill and discipline, and your talent will increase.
My other advice is to tell your parents or guardians that you want to start to become a writer, and ask for their support. This means they encourage you and cheer you on, they keep an eye out for programs or readings that might help you, they help you research opportunities and exercises. This doesn't mean that they read everything you write, or try to edit or criticize your work.
Why did you go from writing for adults to writing for kids?
I didn’t do it on purpose! When I started thinking about this idea, I just heard Emma’s voice in my head, and she happened to be twelve. I never thought about writing for kids before this – maybe for teenagers or young adults. But I love writing for kids now, and I have a second kids book coming out in 2019.
What’s the difference between writing for adults and writing for kids?
In terms of the process – sitting down in front of a computer, and typing words, and then deleting them and typing new ones, and then doing that about a million more times – it’s exactly the same. I didn’t do anything different when writing this book. I even daydreamed about lunch.
A kids book is just like a book for adults, except for a few small things.
Kids books are shorter, and the vocabulary is easier.
They’re about kids.
There’s no adult stuff in them.
That’s it. In terms of story, characters, dialogue, setting, theme, and every other creative part of writing a book, they’re exactly the same.
The big difference, for me, is this: When I write about adults, I am thinking like an adult, and when I write for kids, I get to think like a kid. I get to walk around the world seeing things the way a twelve-year-old sees them, and that’s super fun for me. I didn’t enjoy my middle school years too much, so it’s satisfying to go back and do them over in my head. I often feel like I’m twelve anyway, so writing for kids is a great way to channel my immaturity.
What is the next book about?
My second book for kids is called Let Me Fix That For You. It’s about an eighth-grader named Glad (short for Gladys) who does favors for the popular kids so they’ll like her more. I bet you can guess how well that works out for her.