by Margo L. Dill
Jody Feldman, the St. Louis award-winning children’s author of The Gollywhopper Games series and The Seventh Level, may have enjoyed working as a treasure hunter, a codebreaker, a movie director, an artist, and an inventor. But the most exciting part about writing is she can explore all those occupations and adventures with the characters in her books.
Q: Your first novel was The Gollywhopper Games–which you never intended to be a series. So, what happened?
Jody: It joined a colony of rabbits and learned to multiply. OR I got lucky. When you write a stand-alone, your mind, even briefly, entertains the fantasy that the book will become popular enough to beg for more. (Or at least, my mind does.) That’s pretty much what happened.
I believe it all started when The Gollywhopper Games found its way on what’s now the Indie Next list. Credit goes to several booksellers, and I’m still thanking them. Soon after, a librarian in Texas discovered my little book and suggested it for nomination on the Texas Bluebonnet Award list. I was told that when Texas notices you, big things can happen. Other states will mine the Texas list for book to include on their own. The Gollywhopper Games ended up on at least 16 state lists and won in Arizona and Georgia. Sales went up. When that happened, it suddenly made good business sense to take The Gollywhopper Games out for another spin.
Q: How many books are in the series now?
Jody: The Gollywhopper Games: The New Champion comes out on April 22, 2014. The Gollywhopper Games: Friend or Foe, about the same time in 2015. That may be it. There may be more.
Q: What are the challenges in writing an unplanned series?
Jody: When my publisher acquired The Gollywhopper Games and confirmed my original suspicion that it would, indeed, be a stand-alone, I let my main character and his full arc ride off into the sunset. I didn’t need to plant any open-ended issues with him or with the events that had fueled his story. Fast forward a few years, and you know what happened. I was offered the opportunity to write two follow-up books. That assignment, though, had me wishing:
1. That I had given my main character some unfinished business
2. That I had planted some material to serve as the basis for a continuing thread
When you’re reading a series, don’t you love that “aha” moment when one tiny element of a previous book comes back and becomes important to the next part of the saga? I wanted that, but it didn’t exist. I did the only thing I could. I started wracking my brain over how to work around that slight hiccup, and I came to an important realization. The Gollywhopper Games, the event itself, was, in fact, its own character. I could move on with a whole new cast of kids, and the one constant, The Games, could provide what I wanted. So I’ve woven a bit of a behind-the-scenes, warts-and-all look at The Games throughout books 2 and 3.
Q. What’s a typical school visit like for you?
Jody: Pure joy with a raspy voice by the end of the day.
More specifically, I love, love, love going into schools. I love everything about them. I love talking to teachers and librarians/media specialists between sessions. I love the kids who rush up to ask one more question even when they’re already supposed to be out the door. I even love the rare occasions when I’m faced with cafeteria food for lunch.
During the most typical school visits, I do three large-group sessions about how I came to be an author, how I happened on writing children’s novels, what particularly inspired me to write my books, and where I get ideas in general. I also touch on character development, the importance of revision, and occasionally, I speak to requested topics that underscore the schools’ current curriculum.
Some schools opt to replace one large-group session with a workshop geared for a particular class or a smaller group. Schools can currently choose from several workshop topics: the importance of detail, character development, idea generation, and world building.
Then comes the Q&A, my most favorite part of each session. It’s fun to talk about what the kids want to hear, and I’m often thoroughly surprised by some of the questions even now, even when I thought I’ve heard it all.
Q: Since your novels are about a type of game, this makes me wonder if you like to play games? If so, which ones? Do you like to watch any games or game shows?
Jody: One of my earlier memories was when my first-grade teacher gave the class a logic puzzle of sorts that, I now assume, was a way to keep us quiet and busy while she needed to finish some other task. It backfired when I came up to her about three minutes later with the answer. That puzzle, a Bennett Cerf riddle book, my mom working crossword puzzles daily—oh, and let’s throw in Encyclopedia Brown—may have launched my love of games, riddles, puzzles and all things that need figuring out.