Six Questions with Jennifer Freedman
Jennifer Freedman has worked for international media in the United States, Europe, and the Middle East. A Michigan native who grew up in Southern California, she lived in Europe for three decades, raising three beautiful children in the Netherlands, Belgium, and France. Jennifer and her two dogs and two cats now live in Costa Rica, where she works as an editor and writer. In her spare time, she cooks, reads, studies Spanish, and shoots down enemies in World of Warplanes. Toby's Tale (Pen It! Publications, 2021) is her first middle-grade novel. She's now hard at work on the sequel, Toby's Travels. Visit Jennifer's website to learn more about her writing projects.
1. How did you begin your journey as an author?
I feel like I’ve always had a story to tell. I decided around age 12 that I was going to be a journalist. I also wrote poetry as a child, so I guess writing was in my blood. But having children kick-started my decision to become an author. I began Toby’s Tale when I was on maternity leave – no outline or plot, I just went where the story took me. It turned into a much bigger project than I expected – 69,000 words! I really enjoyed creative writing after years of being a “just the facts, ma’am” journalist!
2. Who was your favorite author when you were a child? Why?
Ludwig Bemelmans! I’ve always been a huge fan of the Madeline series. I love Madeline’s spirit and her cleverness, her feistiness and her rebelliousness. I love that the series is set in Paris (one of my favorite cities) and I love the illustrations and the way they balance order and disorder. I passed on my love of Madeline to my three children: I have half of the books memorized because I read them so often as bedtime stories!
3. What are you working on? What's next for you?
I’m busy writing the sequel to Toby’s Tale – Toby’s Travels. Its main theme is diversity – recognizing, respecting and valuing others, even if they’re different. For instance, one of the main characters is a deaf dog named Ray, and another character is a disabled dog named Luna. Toby’s Travels also deals with overcoming biases (in Toby’s case, toward cats!) and learning to stand up to bullies. My rhyming picture book, Ashley’s Rescue: A Miracle Breakdown, will be published in 2023. And I’m already scribbling down ideas for the third book in the Toby series, to be called Toby’s Triplets.
4. Where did you get the idea for Toby's Tale? What was your inspiration?I
I started Toby’s Tale, intending to write a short story, after a friend’s mother found a little white puppy. And then it just sort of blossomed into something else. That short story ended up being the subject of my picture book, and Toby’s Tale became a novel. My inspiration, or motivation, was being a mother. I wanted to write a book that I could read to my children, that taught lessons and values while still being fun and exciting – the kind of book I would have loved reading (or having read to me) as a child.
5. What was the most challenging thing you faced while writing/researching this book?
There were two things, actually: time and technology. I was working full-time as a journalist and commuting 45 minutes each way to my office in Brussels. I was also both mom and dad, because my husband was working abroad. So it was a struggle to find time to write. Being on maternity leave with my youngest gave me five months to really get going on the book. And the technology part, well, it literally took years for me to figure out how to publish on Amazon – I was self-published before getting a contract with Pen It Publications in 2021.
6. Where do you get inspiration for your characters?
Most of my characters are dogs, and every dog I’ve ever owned appears in Toby’s Tale. It’s sort of my personal tribute to the joy they gave me, and writing about them brought back many beautiful memories. The inspiration for Ray in Toby’s Travels is my oldest daughter’s (late) beloved deaf dog, and I interviewed her so I could correctly describe his character, eccentricities and even his body language. Toby’s nemesis, Thurman Snipe, is based on an animal control officer I knew many years ago, who was almost as awful. And Toby, well, he just created himself.