Six Questions with Janet Sumner Johnson
Janet Sumner Johnson lives in northern Utah with her husband, three kids, and a dog. She is the author of both middle grade novels and picture books, including The Last Great Adventure of the PB&J Society (Capstone, 2016), Help Wanted: Must Love Books (Capstone, 2020), and the upcoming Braver than Brave (Capstone, August 2022). When she isn’t writing, she loves eating cookies, playing the piano, and singing along with the radio at the top of her lungs. Visit her website to learn more about Janet and her books.
1. What kind of student were you? What were your favorite subjects?
I was a very studious and committed student. I pushed myself to work hard and get good grades, so much so that my parents would often remind me that grades weren’t everything. But I also loved sports, so recess and gym class and after school teams were an important part of my life as a student. My favorite subjects in school were science and math. I loved learning how the world worked in science. And I loved the logic and concrete solutions that came with math.
2. Do you work on multiple projects at the same time?
Yes! I always have several projects in the works. With picture books, I’ve found that I usually need to let stories sit for a bit at various stages. So often I have one that’s quite polished and I’m working on revising it with my agent. And I have one I’ve revised a bit, but still needs a bit of work before I dare show my agent. And I have a brand-new draft that I’m just pounding out that’s horrible but exciting. And since I write middle grade books as well, I usually have one of those I’m either drafting or revising. Picture books are great to work on between drafts of my middle grade!
3. When you begin writing a book, do you always know where the story is going?
By the time I begin writing a book, I have a good idea of where it’s going. Before I begin writing, I do A LOT of thinking. I ask myself many questions, and I take a lot of notes (though if inspiration hits, I’ll start a picture book without knowing the ending). Clearly, I’m a plotter. But the amazing part about writing is that often, my stories don’t end up at all like I originally planned. Brainstorming with critique partners can lead to new and fun ideas, and sometimes my subconscious has a better story that they sneak out bit by bit until my eyes are finally opened. I love the discovery that comes with the writing process!
4. Was this always the title for this project? If not, what other titles did you consider and how did you land on this one?
My upcoming book is titled BRAVER THAN BRAVE. That was not always the case! The working title was BRAVE. But since there are quite a few books that already have this title, I knew it wouldn’t stay. When my editor asked for alternate title ideas, we made long lists of ideas. A couple we considered include:
A New Kind of Brave
My Own Brave
The Bravest Kid
I didn’t love any of those, but fortunately, my brilliant agent suggested Braver than Brave which spoke to me right away. I made a slight change to the text to tie it in, then sent the idea to my editor who loved it!
5. What was the process or timeline for this book, from idea to publishing?
I got the idea and wrote the first draft of BRAVER THAN BRAVE in August 2019 while on a car trip. I tapped the draft into Notes on my phone since I didn’t have paper, then forgot about it. In February 2020, I stumbled onto it again and revised with my agent in March. She sent it on submission mid-April, and we had interest by May. Because of the pandemic, the offer didn’t come until August. In May 2021, I revised with my editor. First sketches came in August, and the final art was ready by December. We made some last-minute text changes in February 2022, and it releases on August 1, 2022.
6. If you read this book to a room filled with kids, what message would you want them to leave with?
I hope that kids—after reading or listening to BRAVER THAN BRAVE—will remember that Brave comes in a lot of different shapes. I hope they will feel inspired to be their own kind of Brave, and will worry less what other people may think. I also hope they will be understanding and accepting of others whose Brave looks different than theirs.
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If you are a traditionally published picture book or middle-grade book author or illustrator and you'd like to be featured in a future edition of SIX QUESTIONS, drop Mary an email.