Ozette’s Destiny, by Judy Pierce
Today’s interview is with a mid-grade novelist, Judy Pierce. Stop by tomorrow when she’ll be teaching, How To Use Animals as Characters.
Where did you get the idea of writing the story about Ozette?
My journey into writing a children’s book is a little different than most authors. In the early 1990’s, I volunteered with a wildlife rehabber to help raise and release orphaned gray squirrels. My first squirrel actually became the Divine Miss Piddlewinks in Ozette’s Destiny. I thought, well, this will be easy. I’m a dog person. I won’t get attached to squirrels. How wrong I was! I raised a number of orphaned squirrels and fell in love with all of them. Each was unique, and they taught me so much! We moved to NC and it was there that I met my first white squirrel. Then my daughter got me started on an online game, and my character was a white squirrel I named Ozette after a lake in Washington state. I started writing little online stories about her adventures and soon had a following of about 200 readers who loved the stories and encouraged me to write a book. So I did! My husband has always told me that I have an overactive imagination. I think he is glad I finally put it to good use.
Farlandia is the world in which Ozette lives. Where did you come up with this idea?
I sensed that many people – including myself – were weary of all the turmoil in the world and in their own lives, so I created a world where I would love to live – a world ruled by compassion and kindness. I created a kind of family for myself through Farlandia and its residents. I didn’t want to create a world that was too “far out” so it has a lot in common with Earth World. Farlandia is my home away from home, and I think it is for a lot of my readers.
Did you create the world of Farlandia before you started writing the book?
They sort of evolved together. Farlandia has evolved as a place as the stories and characters have evolved. However, it took me awhile to come up with the name for my world.
What makes Farlandia unique?
Hmmm. In many ways, it’s similar to myths that different cultures have – where unicorns roam and elves and fairies exist. In physical appearance, it ‘s not so different from Earth World – just unspoiled. I think that makes it easy for readers to imagine themselves living there. When I write the little stories online, so many people write and share things they have going on in their lives and how much they love escaping to Farlandia. I think Farlandia is a wonderful yet familiar place for gentle spirits to find solace.
Farlandia is a lot like Earth World was before humans started messing it up. Jim and I are very into the environmental movement, and Farlandia is the world where I would like to live. Here is how I describe it in the opening chapter of the book: If you’re lucky enough to slip through the thin veil that separates Earth World from the magical kingdoms, you might encounter Farland, a vast territory of lakes, babbling streams, rolling meadows, mountains and gentle forests, ruled by Queen Beatrix. It’s an enchanting land, filled with fairies, elves, a wise and kind princess and animals living extraordinary lives. It’s also a land of unexplored adventures and magical moments.
And if you venture to the far western corner of Farland, you’ll find the most exquisite jewel in the territory: an old-growth forest called Farlandia, a lush woodland rich with giant hardwoods, evergreens, fern groves and flowing streams lined with lush moss banks.
Why will children want to read your book?
Of course I’m prejudiced, but I think it is a fun read, but more than that I think children will like reading it because it deals a lot with self acceptance. Ozette is forced to leave Earth World simply because she is different – she is a white squirrel – and she becomes a scapegoat when humans in Earth World start destroying the forests. Ozette has self worth issues which she slowly overcomes. She feels inadequate when she’s tapped to be Queen of Farlandia. I have a lot of favorite parts in the book, but one of my favorites is when Ozette says: “It’s just that I don’t feel worthy to be queen. I know nothing about ruling Farlandia and I have no qualifications. I’m not even very brave. I’ve never slain a dragon, and I wouldn’t even want to.”
I think many kids feel they are not up to the tasks life sets before them. I hope this book helps them feel okay about themselves, even if there are issues that make them feel “different” than accepted norms. I love Princess Abrianna’s response to Ozette when she tells her, “…How brave you are. Nothing happens by accident. Your journey led you to this place, this time. How can you not see the pattern here? Have faith in yourself, Ozette. The seeds of greatness are within you…”
As a child, I would have loved an adult to say something like that to me. But the book has some very humorous scenes, too, that still make me chuckle no matter how many times I’ve read them. And I think the book teaches some gentle lessons without preaching. For example, it talks about the importance of being prudent (after all, there are old squirrels and bold squirrels but no old, bold squirrels) but that you should not let fear keep you from experiencing some of life’s delicious opportunities. I hope it helps kids think about choices they’re making.
My mother was a very fearful person, and she passed that on to me, and I have had to learn to say “yes” to some of life’s delicious opportunities even though they scare me.
Did you outline the book before writing it or start with an idea and just go with the flow?
Gosh, I didn’t realize until I went to a writing conference and critique groups that many writers make outlines and all sorts of other graphs, etc. I was a bit horrified and intimidated. I think that works for many authors, but I just sit at my computer and ask Ozette where she wants the story to go. I rarely know what’s going to happen before it happens. I just caution her not to write us into a corner she cannot chew her way out of!
We don’t see white squirrels very often. Where do they primarily live?
Some are albino squirrels, but Ozette isn’t an albino. Ozette and her white relatives are just a genetic variation of gray squirrels. Most of them – including Ozette – have a bit of gray on their foreheads and a thin stripe down their backs. It always amazes me that even though they live in the woods, they’re still so pristine white.
I wish we had white squirrels where we live, but we visit them mostly in Brevard, NC. They are the town’s mascot, and the White Squirrel Festival is celebrated there every Memorial Day weekend. One of my favorite campgrounds is Ochlockonee State Park near Sopchoppy, Florida. They live in the campground and are quite friendly – I did my initial editing there last year, and this year I worked on my book proofs there. What fun to read the story to the white squirrels who scampered at my feet hoping for a handout as I looked for errors in the final proof! Several other towns in the US and Canada have populations also.
What do you hope children will learn from your book?
I hope they will learn that it’s fine to be different, that each of them has a journey to take, that loyalty and kindness are important in relationships and that the environment and the creatures that share our world are worth protecting.
What are you working on now?
I’m working on the second book in the series. It’s a challenge as I have to tell enough “back story” so folks who didn’t read the first book will not be lost but not so much that folks who read the first book will be bored. Plus, I have certain contexts in place, so I have to work within the confines of those, unless I can find a way to wiggle my way around them. I also want to write a picture book featuring Ozette for younger kids. I have an idea for it brewing in my mind right now.
How did you find your publisher?
That’s an interesting story. It was a case of being in the right place at the right time in my journey. This was my least favorite part of the entire process. I had planned on self publishing the book. That was daunting in itself as I am not computer literate, but I don’t do well with rejection, and I just wanted to get the book out to my family and friends who had enjoyed the little stories I had written about Ozette.
I joined the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and also joined one of their on line critique groups. SCBWI did not seem big on self publishing, so I decided to scout around a bit for a publisher. I found Pants on Fire Press quite by accident while I was looking at possible traditional publishers and getting frustrated at how many didn’t accept submissions unless they were agented. I had written three agents – did not hear back from one of them – and two wrote me nice rejection letters – but rejections just the same – both said the book was enchanting and well written but not what they were looking for. I just had a good feeling about POFP and thought what the heck, I can handle one rejection. So I sent them a query letter (took almost as long to craft that as to write the book!) and sent them three chapters, and I soon heard back that they wanted to see the rest of the manuscript. It turned out they were looking for a cute animal story and liked what I had written. The next thing I knew I was looking at a book contract. I know this isn’t the way it usually goes, and I still feel a little overwhelmed at the way it came about.
How long did it take them to publish Ozette?
They were amazingly quick, and this isn’t the norm when being published. I signed the contract the end of July 2012 and the book just came out spring 2013. It was an interesting journey as I had to take each hurdle one at a time – the editing process, proofing process, etc. But they were wonderful to work with, and I had so much input into each decision. As I told my publisher, this isn’t a learning curve for me, it’s a slow crawl up a steep mountain.
Have you always wanted to write for children? Other genres?
I have always said that each person is a novel that I wished I could write. I think most people’s lives are so interesting. I was a journalism professor and did a lot of feature writing, and I once actually wrote a few pages of a book about a squirrel. The chapter Up the Creek With a Paddle was born from that abandoned effort. But it took the encouragement of friends who loved the Ozette stories to really motivate me. I’ve always liked to write and have wanted to write a memoir for my children but haven’t gotten up the nerve to do that yet.
What age group will like your book?
That’s a great question, and one I’m not sure I can answer. Many of the early readers of the stories were adults. Some read the stories for themselves and others shared them with children and grandchildren. It ‘s marketed as a Middle Grades book, but it’s one that younger children could enjoy or parents could read to younger children as well. Adults who like fantasy fiction may enjoy it also.
How long did it take you to write this book?
Maybe it took me a year to finish it. I already had a lot of ideas, characters in place.
Many other authors are trying to sell their books, too. How are you marketing your book? Do you have any creative ideas that might help other authors?
I’m seat-of-the-pants on this one. I’m lucky because Ozette already had a fan base when the book was released, so many of them have bought multiple copies of the book, but I know I need to expand to a broader audience. My publisher has donated 25 copies to Library Thing for early reviewers to pick up and review. Could be a good thing – depending on the reviews! I’m donating copies to our local library and elementary schools in the area and hoping that some of my readers will feel motivated to donate copies to their libraries or schools also. I hope to do some school visits and will do several signings in my area at some point. I hope to do something with the book at the White Squirrel Festival. We’re going to a book signing at a festival in Winter Garden in mid-April – this was set up by my publisher – and is part of their spring festival. The hard work begins once the book is out! I’m just trying to get the word out but am open to ideas from folks on what worked for them.
How many words do you write a day/week/month?
Gulp. Well, I don’t have a set time to write which isn’t a good thing! I’m not that disciplined. (Do you sense that I’m a lot like Ozette?) I do my best thinking when walking or biking. When I have an idea for how I want to say something, a chapter I want to include, or have solved a problem with the book, I try to do a voice memo on my iphone so I can refer to it later. I would like to write some each day, but life interferes too much for that. I try to write each week, and I spend a lot of time fine tuning what I’ve written. When something comes to me and if I am at home, I drop everything and write until the flow stops. If I try to force it, I’m unhappy with it.
Two things I want to add: Hillary Clinton said it takes a village to raise a child. Well, the same is true of writing a book. It takes a lot of input, support and encouragement from a lot of different folks to make it a reality. An agent speaking at a conference said something that has stuck with me. She said everyone thinks that the purpose for writing is to be published, but that shouldn’t be your main motivation. You write because you have something bubbling inside of you that has to be said. I would recommend folks start a blog where you can write stories and get good criticism from a variety of people, not just family and close friends. Even if you’re never published, you will leave something of yourself in the world.
To buy OZETTE’S DESTINY Click HERE.
Originally from Washington state, Judy lives on 17- forested acres in the mountains of North Carolina with her husband, Jim, and rescued dogs. After earning her master’s degree from the School of Journalism at Southern Illinois University, Judy moved to the SE and taught mass communication courses at the university level.
Her interest in herbs led her to also teach adult education classes on their uses, and she has published extensively on incorporating herbs in cooking, medicines and cosmetics.
She was instrumental in expanding a conservation education program for the island of Guam and has published numerous articles on the environment.
Judy’s writing is influenced by her love of nature and work with Bichon Frise rescue and wildlife rehabilitation. When she’s not writing, she loves to garden, bicycle, hike, camp, photograph white squirrels and visit family on the West Coast.
Tales from Farlandia: Ozette’s Destiny was written after Judy had been writing short stories for several years for an online group. After much urging, her friends convinced her she should write a book about the lovable white squirrel. Ozette is a composite of the white squirrels in Brevard, NC, and at Ochlockonee River State Park in Florida.
Ozette, a rare and beautiful white squirrel, must flee Earth World when she is wrongly blamed for the destruction of their sacred forest simply because she is different. Clutching only a golden acorn, which was gifted to her by her beloved grandmother, Ozette escapes to Farlandia, a magical kingdom where her grandmother has said the young squirrel will find her destiny. With innate innocence and sweetness, Ozette quickly forms close friendships with the residents of Farlandia including zany elves, fairies and animals, and soon finds herself tapped to be the caretaker of this old-growth forest. Forging strong alliances through the challenges of life, Ozette and her magical friends will have you laughing and crying as you follow them through adventures that will warm your heart with gentle lessons of kindness, loyalty and self acceptance. And, as a charming goodbye gift at the end of the book to delight all ages, the author sends off her readers with real recipes for many of the fantastical treats that the Farlandia residents enjoy.