Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Judith L Roth: Serendipity and Me

I'm so thrilled to have the chance to interview middle grade author, Judith L. Roth about her writing process and how she got her agent. Her debut middle grade novel, Serendipity and Me was published by Viking in February. Here's the Amazon description:

Sara has always loved cats. She surrounds herself with pictures of cats, stuffed cats, even cat-headed slippers. But she’s never been allowed to have a real cat of her own. Her father has always told her no, for reasons he won’t explain.

So when a fluffy snowball of a kitten darts through their front door and into her life, Sara believes her dream might finally come true. But convincing her father to break his strict No Cats policy seems impossible. She has less than a week to persuade him that this kitten is exactly what their lonely, broken family of two needs to heal.
Told in lyrical, spare verse, Serendipity & Me is a sparkling novel that elegantly handles the topic of loss for a middle grade audience.
And now for the interview with Judy:

Share a little about how you ended up as a writer.

I remember writing my first poem on my blackboard at home when I was about 8. I still remember the poem, but I won't repeat it because it was pretty awful! When I got a few years older, I realized the wonderful children's books I read were written by people, and since I was a person, maybe I could write them too. Ever since that realization, that was my dream career.

I got my first publishing credit (a poem) before I graduated from college. Although I was able to get poetry and nonfiction published in several different areas, it took me decades to break into the children's fiction world.

How did the idea for your story emerge?

The girl's voice came to me through her poems. The thought that her mother had died just appeared in the main poem. Serendipity and Me began as a picture book called Serendipikitty. I felt my way through the story as I wrote. When an editor told me she thought I had more to say about the father and daughter and suggested I write it as a novel-in-verse, that's when the hard work began. I had to find out who these people were. They didn't even have names at that point.

What was the most challenging aspect of writing your book?

Trying to incorporate the revision suggestions that the editors had. I like to work alone, and it's hard hearing what the story needs from an ultra-interested party. It's hard to satisfy them and still keep your footing in the story. My editors were very kind and smart and easy to work with, but that was the most challenging part for me, I think.

Also, figuring out the timeline of when things happened. It's strange to me to make up time when things happen. It's easier if it comes of its own accord. This might have been more of a problem since it started as a picture book and had to be made into a more concrete period of time.

Each book I write teaches me something about the world, myself or the process of writing. What did you learn through writing your book?

That it's so much easier to revise a picture book! I know some people won't agree with me, but I find a smaller canvas easier to work with.

I also learned from my editors that I need to become more conscious of putting the reader into the story with details of the environment and the characters. In the early drafts, I relied too much on poetic inferences instead of fleshing it out for the reader.

Could you tell us a little about how you got your agent?

Stephen Fraser was an editor at HarperCollins when I sent him the picture book version of Serendipity and Me. He called to ask me if it was still available, so I knew he was fairly serious about it, even though he didn't end up taking it to the editors' meeting. When I heard he became an agent, I asked him if he remembered me, and he said yes, that I could send him that manuscript to look at again. I did, and he and Jennifer De Chiara decided to sign me. He was able to sell Goodnight, Dragons for me first.

Because I love reading as much as I love to write, I’m always curious about what other people like to read. Do you have any favourite books?

Billions. But two that have struck me recently are The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak and The Sky Is Everywhere, by Jandy Nelson. I would have loved to have written either of those books.

Is there anything else you’d like to share about your book or an upcoming project?

I knew there was something touching about this kitten story when a writing friend was reading the picture book version of Serendipity and Me aloud to another writer--and she had to stop because it was making her cry. There's something affirming about tears. Is that awful to say? But I don't think of it as a sad book, maybe because the death took place several years before the time setting of the book.

Right now I'm working on an historical novel--not in verse, not in first person. Very different from what I usually do.

Thanks, Judith!

I hope you all enjoy this interview as much as I did! It's always interesting to hear about how a book comes to be published. A fun fact I learned from Judy is that the cat in the story was loosely based on a real cat named Jasmine. 


  1. Awesome interview. I have a hard time hearing my manuscript needs changes too, though I am learning to listen and see that the changes are necessary. So interesting how Judith got her agent.

    Good luck with your book.

    1. I agree, Natalie! It's so hard to see what needs to be changed.

  2. Thanks for sharing and congratulations on your book. I will be sure to read this one. Very cool on how you got your agent!

  3. Thanks for sharing word about this book, Andrea. The sparse (but seemingly so perfect) word choice in verse novels astounds me.

    Judith, thank you for sharing bits of your journey.

    1. I am always amazed by how simple and beautiful verse novels are.

  4. I just want to hug that kitty on the cover! Sounds great and now I wonder if my eight-year-old would enjoy it!

  5. Hi, agent-sister Judith. What a great book you wrote!

  6. Thanks for all the kind words and well-wishes, everyone. And thank you, Andrea, for posting this. Happy writing!

    1. You are very welcome, Judith! I enjoyed learning about how your story came to be and how you got your agent.

  7. I love hearing the inside story. Thanks for posting Judith's interview here. I just finished reading Serendipity and Me--I couldn't put it down! I love the voice. Nice job, Judy!

  8. That cat is soooo adorable. Great interview girls!


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