Judith L. Roth writes poetry, picture books and middle grade fiction for children. She lives in Elkhart, Indiana. Her latest picture book, GOODNIGHT, DRAGONS has just been released from Disney Hyperion (February 2012).
Hello Judy, and welcome to Peggy’s Pages!
Can you tell us a little bit about GOODNIGHT, DRAGONS, and what inspired you to write it?
JLR: Oddly enough, it was frustration. I had two novel-in-verse books that were being seriously considered by two different publishers (they had me do revisions), and within two weeks, they were both finally rejected. When I got the second rejection, I sat down at my computer and told myself, “I’m going to write something they have to publish,” and I just started writing. I sent it to my agent within a couple of days, and he got two bites days within sending it out. I wish this was a process I could repeat!
GOODNIGHT, DRAGONS is not your first children’s book. Please tell us something about your other published books. And can you tell us about your road to publication—what inspired you to write for children, and how did you get started?
JLR: I’ve always wanted to write books since the time I realized that authors were people and not magical beings. I continued to love children’s literature well past the time when I should have been reading adult literature. I took an ICL course (Institute of Children's Literature) while I was attending college and began submitting. I went to a lot of conferences. I had a lot of encouragement from editors and other writers, and I had poetry and nonfiction and curriculum and songs published, but I couldn’t seem to crack the fiction arena. Finally, about 25 years after first submitting children’s fiction, I had a story accepted. Then a book. Then another book. Then an agent. Then a book to a bigger publishing house. Then two. It was a really long road, but I was determined I was going to keep trying.
My first picture book, Cups Held Out, is about a child who goes with her father to Mexico to gain some small understanding of poverty. It talks about their reaction to their experience that one day.
My second book, Julia’s Words, is about two girls, one hearing, one deaf, who become friends while at a camping ground. They learn how to navigate the complexities of communication and friendship.
Goodnight, Dragons, is about a boy who is called to tame dragons rather than slay them. He senses they won’t be so grouchy if they are shown kindness. It’s a goodnight book, although it didn’t start out as one.
When you have an idea for a book, where do you go from there? Do you outline, or just jump in and start writing?
JLR: In the last few years, I’ve started a new way of beginnings. I don’t wait for an idea. I just start writing, and soon words appear on the computer screen that interest me, and I go further, dig deeper. Sometimes the words don’t interest me, so I leave them in my file as simply freewriting. I don’t know how efficient this is, but it’s fun!
Since you have an agent, Judy, can you tell us something about how your book is marketed? Is this entirely up to your agent, or do you play a part in the marketing?
JLR: My agent is in charge of marketing my books. (I do it for anything else.) He is open to suggestions about where I’d like him to send them. He also tells me if he thinks something isn’t ready, or how it can be made more marketable.
Having written your story, how difficult is it to turn it over to the illustrator? Do you have any input on choosing an illustrator for your books, or on the illustrations themselves?
JLR: It’s exciting to see what an illustrator will do with it. No, I don’t really have anything to do with choosing an illustrator. The editors tell me who they think will be good and then we hope together that the illustrator will agree to work on the book. No input on the illustrations at all.
Please tell us a little bit about yourself. Did you always want to be an author? What other interests do you have besides writing?
JLR: Yes, always. Other interests include traveling, reading, music, gardening, learning foreign languages, a bit of kayaking, watching my boys become young men, enjoying the beautiful world God made.
What books did you enjoy reading as a child?
JLR: I read whatever I could get my hands on and enjoyed most of it. I remember Edgar Eager’s Magic Series. When I read mysteries, it was about Trixie Beldon. For career series, it was about Sue Barton. I discovered Madeleine L’Engle when I was in fifth grade, and quickly became a fan. I liked the way she made characters from one series show up in another series. A book that really moved me when I was in junior high was Mrs. Mike.
Do you have any new books coming out? What are you working on now?
JLR: My novel-in-verse for Viking is due at copyediting in three weeks. The title is up in the air, but the working title is Serendipikitty. It’s the story of a girl and her father, who are trying to figure out how to be a family again since her mother died three years ago. A kitten dropped off at their door begins to show them the way. The book is scheduled to be out in 2013.
What tips or advice do you have for aspiring children’s writers?
JLR: Be ready to persevere. If you don’t love it, it probably won’t be worth it. Read as much as you can. Join SCBWI and go to conferences. Join or start a critique group. Write.
Do you have a website where readers can learn more about you and your books?
JLR: Yes. It’s www.judithlroth.com. Thanks for asking! Right now I have a contest going on the site that will end with two people getting a free book of one of my first two picture books. The contest will wind up February 29th.
Thank you so much, Judy!
I received my copy of GOODNIGHT, DRAGONS the other day, and I asked my 5 year old grandson if he wanted me to read it to him. He was busy playing at the time and promptly said "No." So I started reading it out loud, to myself. After the first page he dropped what he was doing and sat next to me, absolutely into the book until the end. A kid-friendly testimony to GOODNIGHT, DRAGONS!
by Judith L. Roth
illustrated by Pascal Lemaitre