Six Questions with Vicki Johnson
Vicki Johnson (she/her) is a children’s book author, and a former band nerd, White House staffer, and nonprofit director, among other life adventures. Her debut picture book is Molly's Tuxedo, illustrated by the incredible Gillian Reid (Little Bee Books, June, 2023). Born and raised in rural Georgia, Vicki is a proud first-gen graduate of Smith College and Emory University School of Law, and an MFA candidate in Writing for Children & Young Adults at Vermont College of Fine Arts (VCFA). Vicki was a 2022 Lambda Literary Fellow, a 2020 PBChat Mentee, a 2020 WNDB MG mentorship finalist, and a 2018 grant recipient from the WV Div. of Arts, Culture & History and the National Endowment for the Arts. She's an active member of SCBWI and was a nominee for the Sue Alexander Award for most promising new work. Vicki is currently working on her middle grade novel and texting cat photos to her college kid. Find her overly-supportive posts on twitter @vickijohnson and IG: @vickijohnsonwrites. Read more: www.vickijohnsonwrites.com
1. When did you first realize you wanted to write for young readers? How did you begin your journey as an author?
I was a voracious reader growing up but never once contemplated being a writer. I never took a single creative writing class in college which I do regret now. But like many, when I had my daughter and began reading to her every day, I began to think about it. I heard about NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), and those 50,000 words were the beginning.
2. What’s the best piece of advice a mentor has given you?
My friend, editor extraordinaire Emma Dryden of DrydenBks, said to me several times over the years: “Keep going.” It is such a simple phrase but I have found myself repeating it to others and to myself. This business like no other requires tenacity and persistence. You never know how close you are to success! Seriously. Keep going.
3. What are you working on? What’s next for you?
I have another picture book manuscript I just finished that I’m really excited about. I’m also finishing up developmental edits on my middle grade novel with my agent.
4. Where did you get the idea for Molly's Tuxedo? What was your inspiration?
I had seen a few stories online where girls or nonbinary kids of a variety of ages were scrutinized in a negative way for wanting to wear a suit – by adults or their classmates - and it reminded me of my own struggles with wanting to dress in a way that made me feel comfortable ever since I was a little girl. I decided I had to write those feelings down somehow. I wanted to honor kids’ choices and self-awareness in a joyful way. As a parent, I also wanted to contemplate it from the parent’s perspective in a way that was empowering for both child and caregiver, reading it together.
5. What was the process or timeline for this book, from idea to publishing?
Jan 2020: I’m big on New Year’s resolutions and I wanted to try to write picture books. I had only written middle grade fiction before that. This was my very first picture book.
March 2020: I had 3 PB manuscripts by this time, so I decided to find someone to look at them and bid on a manuscript review through the annual Writers for Hope fundraiser. I worked with an amazing author who thought this was the strongest concept.
June 2020: I submitted my manuscript to a mentorship program, PBChat, and was happily paired with an excellent mentor who worked with me off and on for the next couple of months to get the manuscript more organized and in shape.
October 2020: At the end of the mentorship there was a showcase where editors could express interest. Several did. Exciting!
December 31, 2020: I happily signed with my amazing agent, Zoe Sandler, who already had my middle grade novel and was contemplating it when this picture book came to fruition.
January 2021: We went on sub with interested editors.
February 2021: I accepted my book deal with Little Bee Books!
6. If you could tell readers one secret about this book, what would it be?
Molly’s cat looks suspiciously similar to a cat who lives in my house. Illustrator Gillian Reid is very sneaky with the Easter eggs throughout the book!