Meet the Clever Picture Book Rhymer, Josh Funk

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CAROL GORDON EKSTER: Josh Funk is clever, kind, and funny. He’s in my on-line critique group and part of the New England chapter of SCBWI, where I am always happy to see him at kid-lit gatherings.  I am thrilled to highlight his talents and successes here at Writers’ Rumpus, where he has also done guest posts.

Josh, how you did work your way from a day job with computers and software to become a rhyming genius of funny picture books?

JOSH FUNK: Whoa! Way start out the interview, with a loaded question!

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While I appreciate the compliment, I hardly consider myself a genius. It’s true, my day job is as a software engineer. So how does writing rhyming picture books relate to math and science?

I tend to think of writing rhyming picture books as solving puzzles – just like writing software solutions. Each word is a puzzle piece and the book is the puzzle as a whole. Words all have a

 

jigsaw-piecerhythm, sound, and meaning. It’s my job to find the right combinations of words to create a complete story. Similarly, I use ‘For Loops’ and ‘Data Structures’ to create ‘Code’ that allows you to buy books from IndieBound.org.*

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that many rhymers are or were engineers and scientists. Rumpus Writer Paul Czajak was a chemist. Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen was an engineer. And I recently heard that Laura Gehl was a biology teacher. And I keep finding about more. It wouldn’t surprise me if Corey Rosen Schwartz used to work for NASA.

As far as funny, I’m gonna plead the Sendak**: I don’t write funny. I write – if people tell me it’s funny, that’s great.

* I don’t actually work for IndieBound, but it would bore your readers to explain what I really do.

** Maurice Sendak once said: “I don’t write for children. I write — and somebody says, ‘That’s for children!’”

CGE: You are a board member of The Writers’ Loft and will be the co-coordinator for the NESCBWI 2016 and 2017 Conference. Can you try to explain how and why you got so involved in the writing community? I just wonder where you find the time!

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JF: Living in New England, we’re very lucky to have such a wealth of resources for aspiring writers. I met Heather Kelly, Empress of The Writers’ Loft in 2013, about two months after she founded the place. The Loft was exactly what I needed at the time to further my writing life: A writer’s room of requirement. A writing conference with events spread out over an entire year.

As The Writers’ Loft was in its burgeoning state, I took a leadership role. And it’s been invaluable, from both writing and networking perspectives. The Craft Chats and Workshops have taught me so much. And the advice I got on querying and more has made all the difference in both getting published and finding an agent.

And co-coordinating the 2016 and 2017 New England Regional SCBWI Conferences also came about because of The Writers’ Loft. Loft Empress Heather Kelly co-coordinated in 2015 and will be continuing in 2016 and asked me to be her coordinate with her (it’s a two-year rolling commitment). So I will be coordinating with Heather in 2016 and with my successor in 2017.

Josh Funk
Josh Funk

CGE: Do you have a specific writing schedule or some strange writing habits you can let us in on? Tell us about your writing process.

JF: I don’t have any particular writing process or habits yet. I’m still developing them. I often don’t have time to write until the kids have gone to bed, but I know evening writing is not the best time for creativity. I’m not an early riser, so I’ll never be waking up at 4am to get my writing in before the kids wake up.

I guess the only interesting thing I do while writing is that I usually have a movie on. And I’ve had the most productive writing sessions when that movie is Scott Pilgrim vs The World. I just love that movie.

CGE: What have been your biggest joys and biggest disappointments on your journey to becoming an author?

JF: With three picture books on the horizon, I’ve had lots of joys lately. I’m in that euphoric state where everything is new and exciting.

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So, to kill the buzz, I’ll start with the disappointments. I think the biggest disappointment I had was at my first critique with an editor. I was still pretty new but I thought I was ready (and boy was I wrong!). The editor was completely polite and made excellent points, but the realization that I had a long way to go was not something I expected.

But, as Lisa Simpson once said, “The Chinese have the same word for Crisis and Opportunity.” I didn’t give up after that failed critique. I looked at that Crisi-tunity and kept writing.

And now it seems like something amazing and fun happens every few weeks. From the first email from an agent or editor that wasn’t a rejection, to the email that said “here’s an offer on for your book.” Chatting with all of the #NerdyBookClub teachers, librarians, writers, and readers on Twitter. Seeing the first sketch of a silly character I thought up as rendered by an actual artist. It’s all been such a thrill.*** And my first book isn’t even out yet.

*** Don’t worry, I’m bracing for the disappointment of that first Kirkus review.

CGE: Do you think you’ll ever veer off from the picture book world and try your hand at another genre? And what does the future hold for Josh Funk?

JF: The future? My first book, LADY PANCAKE & SIR FRENCH TOAST will be released from Sterling Children’s on September 1st (Book Launch at Porter Square Books on 9/1 at 7pm – all Writer’s Rumpus readers are invited! Kath in Australia, this includes you!) And let me note that Brendan Kearney’s illustrations have taken it to the next level of awesomeness!

Josh's cover

My second book, DEAR DRAGON, will be released by Viking/Penguin next winter (2016) and is being illustrated by Rodolfo Montalvo (I’ve seen some sketches, and they’re PERFECT).

My third book, PIRASAURS! will be coming some time later in 2016 from Scholastic, with illustrations from Michael Slack, who you probably know from Tammi Sauer’s Nugget and Fang, Monkey Truck, Elecopter, Wazdot?, and many others. To date, I’ve seen a single sketch of a dinosaur pirate and I can’t wait to see more!

And you can always find me hanging around Twitter, reading up on all the kidlit blogs written by teachers, librarians, moms, dads, and even kids. If you’re not hanging out with the #NerdyBookClub, you’re missing out. In fact, I’m going to be at nErDcamp in Michigan this summer with an all-star cast of educators, authors, and illustrators. Check it out!

As far as other genres, I haven’t written more than a page of anything that isn’t a picture book. For now, writing 500 words (or less) in a manuscript is about all I can handle.

Josh’s first book LADY PANCAKE & SIR FRENCH TOAST is now available for pre-order at:

IndieBound
Barnes & Noble
Amazon
Books-a-Million
The Book Depository
Chapters/Indigo

& you can mark it “want to read” at Goodreads.

Josh lives in New England with his wife and many many children. He is the author of the forthcoming picture books LADY PANCAKE AND SIR FRENCH TOAST (Sterling, 2015), DEAR DRAGON (Viking/Penguin, 2016), and PIRASAURS! (Scholastic, 2016).

Josh will be the co-coordinator of the 2016 and 2017 New England Regional SCBWI Conferences. He is also a board member of The Writers’ Loft in Sherborn, MA.

Josh is terrible at writing bios, so please help fill in the blanks. Josh enjoys _______ during ________ and has always loved __________. He has played ____________ since age __ and his biggest fear in life is being eaten by a __________.

26 comments

  1. Great interview. Glad to know more about you, Josh. I’m looking forward to reading your books. I love French toast, BTW! I’m a rhymer, too. Not all of my manuscripts, are in rhyme but several are. My background is teacher-26 years.
    So yes, this here is my 2nd career 🙂
    I taught English for a couple of years, PE for a lot of years, and finished up teaching Elementary Computer. How do those translate to rhyming picture book writer???
    Congrats on your success!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Penny, good luck to you in your writing career. I taught 4th grade for 35 years and being an author is the best and sweetest of second careers. Just go for it. Don’t worry about whether your experience translates to rhyming writer…just tell your best story.

      Like

  2. Josh, thanks so much for letting Carol interview you! You’re too modest when you post here. Or maybe that’s Paul. Neither of you are modest, come to think of it. Anyway, modest or not, you’re welcome here! Thanks for stopping by.

    On the topic of rhyming engineers, my husband is an engineer and a poet, though not all of his poetry rhymes. And I’m a science-y type and while I haven’t written rhyming picture books (yet) I’ve written lyrics for a couple of dozen songs for my YA novel; it’s insanely expensive to get permission to use published lyrics, so I figured I’d write my own. Plus I can bend them to my will, that way. Mwa-ha-ha…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Is it ironic to claim that I am WAY more modest than Paul? Cause I am definitely WAY more modest than Paul.

      Honestly, the rhythm is more mathematical than the rhymes, but the rhymes get all the attention. It’s flawless rhythm that makes a great *rhyming* picture book manuscript. And the rhythm is all math.

      Like

  3. Way to go, Josh and Carol! Can you hear me shouting form Texas? Thanks for all you do in the kidlit community, Josh! I think if I tried to write during a favorite movie, I’d find myself watching it and look down to find that “Holy Schnike” made it’s way into my manuscript. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Love this interview. Now I’ll need to check out Scott Pilgrim vs. The World and NerdyBookClub asap. Thanks for being an organizing force at The Writer’s Loft, Josh.
    Wish I was a natural rhymer, must be my lack of math/science skills, lol!

    Liked by 2 people

  5. One of Josh’s talents to add to the list in your awesome interview is that Josh, you kept the technological aspects of the NESCBWI 15 conference running smoothly. If there was a glitch or someone needed a microphone tune-up, Josh was the go-to guy. A Renaissance Man, for sure! If you can get John Green, Jandy Nelson, or E. Lockhart as presenters for next year’s conference, that would really be amazing! (Hint, hint. Although they are YA authors, not PB.)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Joyce! (Hey, Mama Funk, did you see that someone just referred to me as a Renaissance Man? Ha!)

      As far as the keynotes, I’ll try, Joyce, but the odds of getting one of them are about equal to the odds of getting William Shakespeare as a keynote… (I’m still working on that time machine).

      Liked by 1 person

    1. This will be my first nErDcamp, but I’m very much looking forward to it! I’m attending the original one in Michigan, but there’s also one in Northern New England over MLK weekend and I just saw one pop up in Long Island (in October, I believe).

      #NerdyBookClub is taking over the world!

      Like

  6. Josh and Carol, what a wonderful interview! Josh, I think it’s really interesting that your best writing sessions are when you watch movies…You’re an incredible rhymer and I agree with the scientist rhyming theory. My husband (an engineer) is incredible with rhyme. Thanks for sharing your writing journey.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. So, interestingly, MJ, I found out earlier this week (but after I sent Carol my answers) that DEAR DRAGON is being bumped until Fall 2016 by Viking/Penguin and PIRASAURS! is being bumped to Spring 2017 by Scholastic (both for good reasons, mind you, they’ll get more attention in those seasons).

      But I have to be honest, I’m happy about it because it gives me more time to spend with each new release on marketing, publicity, etc. three in a 12 month period (especially my first three when I don’t know what I’m doing) is a lot to handle.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Great interview Carol. As a fellow rhymer, Josh’s success is an inspiration. I was totally nodding my head at the concept that rhymers are often engineers and scientists. This is my background as well, and I’ve always said the same thing – writing in rhyme is like solving a puzzle. It carries the same satisfaction as an elegant piece of code. I’m feeling inspired to rhyme on!

    Liked by 2 people

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