Hey folks! Today we have the honor of hearing from author Jo Marshall about her book series Twig Stories. A few months ago, Jo asked if I would review her books and now here we are. I hope you enjoy her insights.
(Note: My comments/questions are in bold and Jo’s are in purple)
Taylor, if I could first thank you for the opportunity to say hello to your fan base and followers, and tell them a little about Twig Stories and myself. You’re a kick to know, and I’m so happy you enjoyed reading my books, even though they are for young kids.
1) What gave you the idea for Twigs (the creatures)?
The western red cedars in my back yard. They’re huge and beautiful, and mesmerizing. They are full of wildlife, so it’s easy to imagine all sorts of creatures living there. To amuse my daughter, I used to pretend Twigs lived there, and watched us – similar to The Borrowers, only in trees. Around this same time, we also made up stories about fighting climate change impacts on forests like wildfires and bark beetles, and we wondered how stick creatures could survive such events. So naturally our stories evolved from our imaginary Twig friends.
2) Are there any books or authors that inspired you for this story? If so, what/who are they?
Well, yes of course. The Borrowers series by Mary Norton was great fun. Those were my favorite stories. I enjoyed the adventures, resourcefulness, and bravery of such tiny people. The strong friendships and kindness of the characters in Winnie the Pooh by A.A. Milne made a lasting impression, and Twigs emulate these qualities along with their courage and perseverance.
As far as feeling a responsibility to actually accomplish something with my writing beyond entertaining kids, authors like David Quammen, Bill McKibben, William DeBuys, and Tim Eagan, who write about environmental concerns, are a great influence. It’s what drives the stories’ purpose – to share royalties with conservation nonprofits.
3) Your message of environmental conservation comes across very strongly, but isn’t preachy. It can be difficult for authors with strong messages to balance what they want to say with a story. How did you approach that dilemma? What advice do you have for writers whose work is or may be perceived as overtly political/religious/what have you?
Twig Stories are all about the stories first. I concentrate on creating a wonderful story for kids in the 4th to 6th grade. That is always the objective. However, it’s impossible to create these stories without acknowledging the terrible events happening in the Pacific Northwest due to climate change. Taking it all at once can be overwhelming for young readers, so I made each story about only one impact at a time, so there is time to digest each idea. Kids are much more enlightened about climate change than we are, so, the theme is actually very easy for them to accept. It helps that the characters are funny and daring, and the adventures are full of dangerous animals.
Anyway, don’t all authors try to share some ideal or value with their readers? I’d have to advise any writer who wants to share a message to be sure the actual story comes first. If it isn’t any fun to read, who cares what you try to impart? You shouldn’t sell a reader short, either. Even young readers pick up the subtleties woven into a plot. There’s no need to shout it. And if a reader misses the point, perhaps it will come to them later. It’s ok. At least, I hope they enjoyed the story!
4) Does music help you at all in the writing process? Are there any songs or genres that specifically inspired ideas for Twig Stories?
Sounds funny, but I listen to Big Band music or movie soundtracks like The Bourne Identity when I’m developing a story. I like the tempo. Since the stories always take place over three days, I have to move the action along pretty quickly, so a fast beat is always in my mind while I write.
5) How did you approach the writing process? Did you use any special techniques or writing programs (besides Word)?
Because each piece of the plot has to fit together like a puzzle, I outline a story over and over, and set up a detailed timeline. I take notes on the characters, not only their appearance, but also their personalities to keep it all consistent. David Murray is a Disney and Universal Pictures freelance artist, and is the illustrator. His art is a wonderful inspiration. Sometimes I have trouble picturing a character until I see his version. He’s great.
Sometimes I use Powerpoint to storyboard a scene or chapter. It helps me sort out the action. I suppose that’s why so many fans say the stories would be great as animated features. Storyboarding helps a great deal.
Weaving endangered wildlife and climate change impacts into a story is relatively easy, since the stories take place where I live in Washington state, and nearby in British Columbia. Unfortunately, it is here that many species are facing extinction due to habitat loss. Forests are dying from bark beetle infestation and one result is devastating wildfires. Glaciers are melting at record rates and the warm winters contribute to floods and drought. Twigs have no choice but to confront the challenge of a warming world.
6) What made you choose self-publishing over traditional publishing?
After talking to a few agents and publishers, I realized the stories might become better through their process of editing and art, but I wondered if they would end up being my stories, or simply ‘marketable’ stories. Because my daughter had contributed so much of her own imagination developing them, I didn’t want to lose that innocence, either. When David signed on as the illustrator for the whole series, and not one publisher would guarantee he could stay on board, I knew I had no other choice.
The only down side is distributing the books on a wider basis. But since the goal is to donate more to conservation nonprofits, that isn’t really a consideration anymore. Many environmental nonprofits contact me now, and ask for Twig Stories book donations so they can use them for their fundraisers. That is really enjoyable. Just donating Twig Stories. I really get a kick out it, and it helps support their message of caring for our natural world beyond just sharing royalties.
7) Once Twig Stories is over, do you have other writing projects you plan to work on?
Well, Twig Stories seems never-ending right now. Leaf & Echo Peak will be out next year, and that completes the first four-book collection of stories. My daughter wants the next four-book Twig collection to take place in the redwood forests of Northern California and the Sierras, and after that she wants four Twig stories to take place on the Olympic Pennisula, and focus on marine life. So when I’m about 70, I figure I’ll have time to write that nonfiction study of Lake Tahoe that I’ve always wanted to write!
8) Do you have any other comments about Twig Stories, yourself as an author, the publishing process, or anything else?
One of my goals now is to find an excellent ‘freelance buyer’ for bookstores, so someone could actually represent my books across the country. If there are such professionals now (because of the changing industry), perhaps Twig Stories will enjoy that wider distribution market after all. If you know anyone like that, please give them my name and email!
I’d just like to add some links.
Facebook book page: http://www.facebook.com/twigstoriesbooks
Facebook author page: http://www.facebook.com/twigstories
Also, I offer a 20% discount, if they go through the website’s Twig Store page, http://www.twigstories.com. Otherwise the books are available on Amazon.com and most online stores. Here’s Amazon.com’s:
Leaf & the Sky of Fire (book 2) ~
Leaf & the Rushing Waters( book 1) ~
Please look for Leaf & the Long Ice, which just released on Thanksgiving.
Thanks, Taylor. I really appreciate all you’re doing.
Thank you, Jo, for reaching out and sharing your work with me!