I'm pleased to welcome Jody Lamb to Michigander Monday!
Debbie: Jody, please tell us a little about yourself.
Jody: I love Michigan and I’ve lived in the Detroit area my whole life. I’m also a lifelong lover of stories. As a little girl, I hurried through my homework every night for more precious time to write screenplays for my tiny toy animals to act out in the elaborate village I created for them in my parents’ basement. I loved the way I could I solve problems for the families the way I wished I could in my own family.
I’m a fan of books, writing, dogs, peppermint ice cream, ear-to-ear smiles, insides-twisting laughter and my family. By day, I’m a corporate public relations manager. I earned a journalism degree from Michigan State University. I’m also passionate advocate for kids with alcoholic loved ones.
Debbie: And, of course, we want to know all about your book.
Jody: Easter Ann Peters’ Operation Cool is a middle-grade novel for ages 8 to 13 years. It’s about a 12-year-old girl named Easter Ann Peters who has a plan—Operation Cool—to make her seventh grade year awesome and erase years of being known only as a quiet, straight-A student who can’t think of a comeback to her bully. When the confident new girl, Wreni, becomes her long-needed best friend, Easter lets her personality shine. The coolest guy in school takes a sudden interest. But as tough times at school fade away, so does a happy life at home. Easter’s mother is drinking a lot, and Easter works double overtime to keep their secret in the tiny lakeside town. Operation Cool derails, fast, and Easter must discover a solution. Told by the lovable Easter character, it’s a witty, tender and heartwarming story of friendship, fitting in, first crushes, family drama and hope.
I wrote this book because it’s the story I would have enjoyed as a young girl. When I created the Easter Ann character, I knew I just had to keep going with the story because I wanted to know what would happen to her. Also, because alcoholism is a problem in my large family, and I know that millions of kids are coping with the destructive effects of alcoholism in their lives, too, I wanted to create a realistic story that could spark a little hope. After reading nearly every book written about alcoholism and its effect on families, I was shocked to discover that researchers estimate that 10 to 25 percent of American kids live with at least one parent who abuses alcohol.
I hope that young people will enjoy getting to know the Easter character and perhaps identify with her struggles at school and at home. I hope they’re moved by her determination and hope. For readers with alcoholics in their lives, I hope that they’re reminded that they are not alone and that they’re inspired by Easter’s discovery of the solution to improve her life situation. For readers who do not have alcoholics in their lives, I hope they’ll gain a more solid understanding of what alcoholism is, how it affects others and sensitivity to what their classmates, teammates and neighbors may be coping with at home.
Debbie: Other books or projects on the horizon?
Jody: Yep! My first young adult novel is in progress. After reading nearly everything written about alcoholism and its effect on families, I believe there’s great need for contemporary, effective books on the subject for young people. I’m currently writing two non-fiction books for kids related to coping when loved ones are addicted to alcohol or other drugs.
Debbie: Upcoming appearances?
Jody: Yes! Gosh, I’m smiling so big right now. I’m having a celebratory reading and book-signing event on Sunday, November 11 at 1 p.m. at the Barnes & Noble in Brighton. Everyone is invited. Additional events are currently being scheduled for early next year. I’ll have those posted on my website, http://www.jodylamb.com/ and on www.Facebook.com/JodyLambAuthor.
Debbie: Do you have a favorite Michigan bookstore? And/or a favorite Michigan library?
Jody: I haven’t been to a Michigan bookstore I haven’t loved! However, I’ve spent the most hours in Barnes & Noble in Brighton. I’m the grownup in the children’s section giggling over a picture book or two and carrying a skyscraper of middle-grade books. They make a mean grilled cheese sandwich there, too, by the way. Nicola’s in Ann Arbor is pretty spectacular, too, and they’re very supportive of Michigan authors.
My favorite library is the Salem-South Lyon District Library. The library’s staff is always helpful and accommodating when I request a meeting room. Tens of thousands of words of my manuscript were written within those library walls. Thank you, SSLD Library! They’re extremely generous with encouragement as well as meeting space for the South Lyon Writers group, which I joined three years ago. If not for the South Lyon Writers and its sweet-souled, talented writers, I’m not sure my novel would exist today. They patted me the back just when I need it most and politely kicked me in the behind when my manuscript was ready to be shared with the publishing world.
Debbie: How about a favorite place in Michigan?
Jody: I adore our beautiful mitten of a state. My very favorite place to be in the world is in a Michigan park. It’s where I wrote most of all four drafts of my novel manuscript.
When I first began writing again as an adult, when I sat down to pen or key my homework assignments at home and at coffee shops, I froze. I was distracted by the usual stresses around me – the deadlines, the people, the carpet needing vacuuming. So I went to the park. Right away, when I unpacked my notebook and pen, I actually felt lighter, as crazy as that might sound. My work stresses and family drama weren’t with me there. Expectations and obligations. Worries and insecurities. They all slipped away. There, if only for a minute or two, I’m a writer with a notebook full of blank pages and a pen full of ink. It’s how I always thought grownup would feel. Being there is good for my writerly soul, like eating ice cream, and I am so grateful for that free feeling.
Debbie: Do you have a Michigan event or happening that you love to attend?
Jody: Autumn is my very favorite time of the year here in Michigan. The Pure Michigan commercials almost don’t do it justice, as goosebumps-inducing as they are. I spend a lot of time outside enjoying the weather and the scenery this time of the year. There’s something about the crispness of the air. Also, in Michigan, there’s always opportunity to help good causes and have fun, too. You’ll find me at 5K events and fundraisers throughout the year. Of course, I’m a big Michigan State football and basketball fan, too.
Debbie: A few fun Michigan people we should all know about?
Jody: Is there a word count limit on this response? J Michigan is blessed with tons of talented writers and artists. The Michigan chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators is full of wonderful people (many Debbie Diesen-esque people!) who are very friendly and always willing to offer advice to novices. I’m so grateful for the encouragement, inspiration and friendship I found in this group.
Sarah Perry, a children’s and YA author, and historical novelist Darci Hannah are my favorite Michigan authors. Darci has a dog she calls her yard panda. Yard Panda has a blog. That’ll give you an idea of Darci’s fun personality.
Debbie: How long did it take you to write this novel?
Jody: This novel began as a short story homework assignment in a Washtenaw Community College creative writing course in the summer of 2009.
I was 26 and I had quickly moved up the corporate ladder in marketing and PR but I enjoyed little satisfaction in the work. Someone told me I’d have to settle for life as it was because that’s what you do at that age. Get married already. Keep climbing the corporate ladder. Gear up for the next 30 years of your life. That’s what everyone does….
But I was missing something. I studied many grownups around me. They’re full of regrets and they give up on dreams. I didn’t want to be that kind of grownup but I’d never felt so lost about changing my life. It was a bona-fide quarter-life crisis. One day, I read all of my childhood diaries and cried over the grand plans I had for life in grownup land. Little kid me would be so disappointed! The next day, the only thing I could think to do was enroll in a creative writing course at Washtenaw Community College.
Quickly came my first draft of a middle-grade novel manuscript. It was cathartic. I felt like me, again, for the first time in more than a decade.
I kept working on the novel, giving a lot of my non-working time to learning how to write better for kids. Two years and four drafts later, I mustered up my courage and sent it out. It was rejected 30 times by agents and editors. A few of them told me to drastically change it and I feared I may never be able to share it with young people. Other people told me writing a novel is a waste of time. Finally, the marvelous Jennifer Baum of Royal Oak, Michigan-based Scribe Publishing Company liked the story and believed in the subject and in me
In this rapidly evolving world of publishing, my advice to aspiring authors is to write the story that they want to read. Pay more attention to your heart than what the publishing industry editors and agents say about what they’re looking for to be the next big hit. The best story is going to be the one you love. And of course, don’t ever give up.
Debbie: Great advice! Last question. Some folks in Michigan refer to themselves as Michiganders; others Michiganians. For our ongoing vote tally: are you a "Michigander" or a "Michiganian"?
Jody: I use Michigander because it’s more unique – just like our state – the wonderful mitten and its hat, the Upper Peninsula.
Debbie: Jody, we'll add you to the Michigander column! Thank you so much for joining us today for Michigander Monday!
You can learn more about Jody and her debut middle-grade novel, Easter Ann Peters’ Operation Cool, on her website – www.JodyLamb.com. Jody hopes you’ll say hi and connect with her at Facebook.com/JodyLambAuthor and Twitter.com/jodymlamb. She loves meeting fellow story lovers! The novel is now available for purchase in bookstores and on Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com. There’s also a Kindle edition. And be sure to check out the book trailer for Easter Ann Peters' Operation Cool!