MG Book Talk with Jessica Brody, talented (and prolific!!!) author of AMELIA GRAY IS ALMOST OKAY

With twenty books (thus far) ranging from middle grade to adult, nonfiction to fiction, online classes offered through her Writing Mastery Academy (including a Save the Cat! Novel Writing Course), Writing Tips, and Blog, Jessica Brody is a superstar in the kidlit world. With her incredibly busy schedule, I’m thrilled she’s here to talk with us about her new middle grade novel, Amelia Gray is Almost Okay. And trust me, her replies are every bit as clever and entertaining as the main character in her amazing book. Before jumping in with the Q and A, here’s an enticing blurb about the book:

Twelve-year-old Amelia Gray has changed schools thirty-nine times (!!!) because of her dad’s job, which doesn’t leave a lot of time for making friends. But that’s okay. Amelia loves her “life on the go” with Dad and their adorable supermutt, Biscotti. She’s been in enough middle schools to know that friendships are messy, and who needs that?

But when her dad announces that he wants to stay in their new town for the whole summer—maybe even forever—Amelia realizes she’s going to have to do the one thing she’s never had to do: fit in.

So she gives herself not one but three total makeovers, to try out a few personalities and hopefully find her “thing.” Is she Amie, a confident track star? Mellie, a serious journalist? Or Lia, a bold theater kid?

Juggling three identities is hard, and Amelia soon finds herself caught in the kind of friendship drama she has always managed to avoid. Yet despite her best efforts, she still can’t answer the most important question of all: Who is the real Amelia Gray?

Laura: Jessica, a hearty welcome to Writers’ Rumpus! The tagline for Amelia Gray is Almost Okay is “If you could reinvent yourself, who would you be?” I can honestly tell you that it’s best one I’ve ever heard! I’m 100% sure that middle schoolers everywhere will identify with Amelia’s identity crisis. What inspired you to write about this theme? 

Jessica: I love the idea of reinvention. A fresh start. I’ve reinvented myself quite a few times in my life. I started out wanting to be an author (at age 7), then I went to school to study economics and became a financial analyst. Somewhere in there, I tried being a pop star for a few years (no joke!) and then I finally realized my true passion was writing novels. (Who knows what my next reinvention will be!) I was inspired to explore a theme that celebrated our multi-passionate selves in a world that often tries to pigeonhole is into one thing or place or clique or label. We are so much more!

Laura: I’m passionately anti-clique, so your answer really resonates with me. The voices of all the tweens in this MG novel are so spot on, and none more than your plucky main character Amelia with her first person, present tense narration. There is a lot of narration in this book, but it’s so well written and delightfully cringeworthy, I was gripped by both her thought process and actions. How did you tap into the 12-year-old mind so well? Are you willing to share your secret? 

Jessica: Haha. I wish I knew the secret! Honestly, my characters’ voices just appear to me (whether they’re 12 or 18 or 40!) I never feel like I’m trying to write a 12-year-old, I try to tap into who this character is as a person. What do they like, what do they not like? What big dreams do they have? What are they afraid of? What kind of problems are they dealing with? How do they think those problems can be fixed? I actually don’t think much about their age apart from what would be appropriate elements for their story. But if I had to guess, I’d say I never really grew up past middle school and so some part of me is still trapped there emotionally. LOL. Maybe that comes through in the writing? 🤷‍♀️

Laura: It definitely does! Amelia’s little dog Biscotti has her own identity crisis, according to Amelia. It’s hilarious how every person who meets Biscotti has a different theory about what mix of breeds he is. It became clearer and clearer to me with every description of the dog’s antics that you are a dog lover! It takes one to know one, as I am, too! Can you share a picture of your three dogs? Is one of them the model for Biscotti or for other dogs in the book? Lastly, do dogs (or other pets) appear in all your books? 

Jessica: You caught me! I’m a huge dog lover! And funny enough, I haven’t really featured a dog as a big character in any of my novels until now! My best friend is always telling me, “You need more dogs in your novels!” I often do little voices for my own dogs as if we’re having conversations, so my friend thought it might be funny for me to put that in a novel someday! (Now I have!) Here’s a picture of two of my own floofamus-maximuses (the third one is camera shy!) None of them really look how I pictured Biscotti. However, my aunt had a dog named Mojo who I used as a model for Biscotti. Here’s his picture!

Laura: I vote that you put dogs in all your novels! Moving on, I love your title, Amelia Gray is Almost Okay. Though Amelia is not 100% okay, there is not nothing “almost” about how she dives into every identity she tries on for size and barges straight into one crazy situation after another. Does writing scenes like this come naturally to you? What is your writing process? FYI: I’ll be using Amelia Gray a mentor text in an upcoming post I’m tentatively calling “Don’t Fall into the Almost Trap!”

Jessica: Funny enough, the title came WAY later in the process! We didn’t have a title until the book was almost ready to print!

I do love writing those kinds of chaotic scenes that feature quite prominently in this book, but they’re often the hardest for me to write as they require a lot of juggling of things (characters, motivations, dialogue, setting, props, etc.) The ideas of the scenes themselves come pretty naturally (I do love a comedy of errors!) but the writing of them is much more challenging. Most of those comedic scenes in the novel took many drafts to get just right. The scenes that came the most naturally for me in this book were the scenes where it was just Amelia and Biscotti, having a “conversation” on their own. Probably because that’s what most of my day is like with my own dogs!

Laura: You’ve written and published a remarkable number and range of books, mostly for children, some for adults, nonfiction and fiction alike: can I just say WOW?!? When did you catch the writing bug? Can you describe how your journey to publication has evolved from your first book to your 20th? 

Jessica: It’s been a wild ride for sure! I caught the writing bug when I was 7 (see question number #1!) But somewhere along the way, I convinced myself that writing wasn’t a “real” job. It was just a hobby. So I got a “real” job as a financial analyst (it even came with dental insurance!) And although I did enjoy that job, the writing bug was still in me. So when I got laid off from my job, I decided to give the writing thing a fair shake and set my sights on getting my first novel published. Fast forward three years and my first novel was releasing in stores, and I haven’t stopped writing since. (Although I still don’t have dental insurance.) 😊

I’ve learned so much along the way. I wouldn’t say that writing a novel is any easier than it was at the start, but I know more, and I know to trust the process. I can recognize those moments when things feel hard and hope feels lost and the book isn’t coming together and since I’ve been there so many times before, I can remind myself it’s all part of the process, it’s temporary. You’ll get through it. And eventually I do. So although the process feels smoother and perhaps a bit more equanimous (vocab word alert!), it’s never without its challenges and plot puzzles to solve. But I think that’s what keeps me coming back for more. I do love solving puzzles!

Laura: I love solving puzzles, too! Which is why I’m willing to tackle the constant changes in WordPress. What advice do you have for pre-published authors? 

Jessica: First off, I love the term “pre-published.” I strongly believe that there’s no such thing as an “aspiring writer” If you’re a writer, you know it. It lights you up from inside. You see stories everywhere. You live in a world of words. I meet writers who say, “Well, I’m trying to be a writer.” Or “I’m an aspiring writer.” To me, that’s like saying, “I’m an aspiring human being.”

Don’t let labels like “published,” “award-winning,” “bestseller” or any other take away what is rightfully yours. You don’t have to wait for something to happen to you before you can own this part of yourself. You don’t require any validation except your own. No one thing or accomplishment makes you a writer. You make yourself a writer. So the next time someone asks you what you do, own it! Be it! Declare it to the universe. Say, “I’m a writer.” Because you are. 😊

Thank you for this super fun interview!!!!

Here’s a fun video about the “process” of writing the book:

Instagram: @jessicabrody

Twitter: @jessicabrody

YouTube: @jessicabrody1

Writer Laura: OMG, that video is hilarious – and such a great teaser about Amelia’s decision to try on three different identities for size!!! A thousand times thank you for your candid and and humorous answers, Jessica! Your responses really resonated with me, and I’m sure they will with our Writers’ Rumpus readers, too.


    1. Thanks, Nancy! When I saw the video, I knew I had to include it in this post. It’s absolutely spot-on for the main character in this book!

      Liked by 1 person

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