Joanna Rowland- Award-winning Children’s Book Author
"The Memory Box, A Book About Grief" (2018)
"Always Mom, Forever Dad" (2014)
"Stay the Storm" coming May 2019
Tell us about yourself and your most recent title.
My name is Joanna Rowland. I live in Sacramento, CA with my husband and three daughters. I’m a teacher during the day. Right now, I teach transitional kindergarten. I write picture books for kids. My most recent title is "The Memory Box, A Book About Grief."
Tell us why you started to write for kid lit.
The light bulb to write went off back in 2009. I was about to be laid off from my job at the school where I taught. There was much uncertainty at the time and for many months I was feeling low. I just felt I had something more to give. During a training for Writer’s Workshop I loved how we analyzed mentor texts to help students write. I was inspired by a book by Jamie Lee Curtis, entitled "When I Was Little." I loved how that story went back and forth in point of view from when the girl character was very young to her present age of four. This style of writing inspired my first published book "Always Mom, Forever Dad," a story where the child goes back and forth in time with mom and dad in a loving way, due to divorce or separation.
Tell us about your Messy Muse- what inspired you to write?
When I first started writing, I wrote really bad young adult drafts. When I needed a break, for fun I would write picture books because they were shorter and I wanted to keep writing every day. I was at a Christmas gathering where a relative said she wished there were more positive books on divorce- her granddaughter’s parents were getting a divorce. I told her that I would write her one, not knowing that it would actually work out. So, I kind of stumbled into writing picture books.
A month before my positive divorce book was to be published, the dad of the little girl for whom it was written tragically passed away. I knew in that moment, that the little girl needed another type of book. So, in 2014, I started to write about grief. During my writing about grief, a girl I coached (who swam with my daughters) passed away from cancer. I had to get this book right. The book wouldn’t let me go. I really couldn’t write much of anything else until I figured it out. I left my agent during this time as well. So, I did feel like a mess. But this book kept calling me.
It took me two years to get the right words. There were so many drafts. It wasn’t always a memory box. And it wasn’t until one SCBWI conference that an editor looked at me and said it would be stronger if we don’t know who died. That was all my ears needed to hear. Now I could honor all the people that had passed away and not have to choose who it would be for. Eventually, even though I couldn’t get an agent with this book, it found the perfect home. In 2016, I got the most beautiful letter from my now editor offering publication. It’s the type of letter, as a writer, you always dream of getting.
Can you tell us a little bit about YOUR journey to publication?
I started writing in 2009. I received rejections until 2013 when I got my agent and the offer on my first book, "Always Mom, Forever Dad." In 2014 my first book was released. I left my agent in 2015 and kept writing my grief story, "The Memory Box." "The Memory Box" keeps getting rejected. In 2016 it finds the perfect home with Beaming Books.
Beaming Books is publishing my next book "Stay Through The Storm" to be released on May 7, 2019. I still do not have an agent and I am still writing, so we shall see what happens next.
Is there one story that you would say embodies your Messy Muse the most?
I think "The Memory Box, A Book About Grief" embodies my messy muse the most because of my journey in writing and life during that time. It can be hard to keeping writing about grief while going through it yourself. It can be hard to keep writing when you just get form rejections or worse, no response at all. It can be hard, it is hard, but life is hard and messy and beautiful so that’s why you keep writing. Because we all have something important to say. I do believe that going through all the great and hard times was essential for me to write the stories that I am currently writing.
Is there one story of yours that you love more than others? If so, why?
Right now I would say "The Memory Box, A Book About Grief" is my heart book. So many beautiful things have happened with it. It was out for one year on September 26th. My lovely illustrator, Thea Baker, drew some very special illustrations for families I know that lost a child. I had to leave my words vague in the book so the fact that my illustrator could honor them for me in pictures meant the world to us. During my book launch, two of those mothers came with their grief support group and to see that . . . let’s just say many tears were shared. I’ve been contacted by hospitals that are including the book in a box to give to families that lost a child and a hospital is planning on reading it during their Remembrance Day for families. To know this book is touching people and helping them during one of their most difficult times, is more than I could have hoped for.
Do you have any parting thoughts, words of wisdom or pointers for those writers who are listening that may be struggling with their own personal messiness?
Writers – don’t give up. It may take two months, or two years but don’t let go of the story that won’t let go of you. In the right time, it will find the right heart and home.
You can find my books at https://www.writerrowland.com/
You can find me on twitter @WriterRowland
Look for her new release in May 2019!
My next book "Stay Through The Storm" will be published by Beaming Books in May 2019 – With lyrical text and comforting illustrations, "Stay Through the Storm" is a deeply moving meditation on the power of friendship to carry us through difficult times.
When dark clouds gather in the distance, two friends come together to comfort each other through the storm. They shield each other through the rain, make a fort inside, and play games between claps of thunder. Through it all, they come back to a consistent plea: Stay. Stay through the storm.
A story to bring hope in times of trouble, Stay Through the Storm is a moving reminder that we're never alone even when things seem darkest.