October 18, 2018

Birth Stories for Books: MOSTLY THE HONEST TRUTH, by Jody J. Little

Periodically, from now until next October when my two new books come out, I will be running a series of blog posts called "Birth Stories for Books: Posts About Paths to Publication from Published Authors and Illustrators." I'm so happy to welcome Jody J. Little, and her debut novel, MOSTLY THE HONEST TRUTH, as the debut for this series of posts! Jody calls her path to publication a journey of wonder. Here it is:

A Journey of Wonder
by Jody J. Little

Always be on the lookout for the presence of wonder. E.B. White

Getting a book published is hard.

Writing is just plain hard.

It’s really a wonder that we do it. The number stats are not on our side.

-I’ve attended 12 SCBWI conferences.
-I’ve worked with 13 amazing critique partners.
-I’ve read 20,290 middle grade novels (made-up number).
-I received 27 agent rejections.
-I wrote the 1st draft of my debut in 2008.
-It was my 2nd full-novel manuscript.
-It was rejected by 23 editors.
-I did 24 full revisions before it sold.
-I’ve cried 4096 times (made up number, probably higher).
-I was 50 years young when I received a first offer from a publishing house!
-I’ll be 52 when it is released on March 12, 2019.

I think wonder is the key to most writers’ journeys.

My wonder began when I was seven years old. I gleefully came home from school and announced that I was going to be an author when I grew up. I held my first story in my hand and showed my mom. It was brilliantly titled, The Nut and the Boy. Each page was lovingly adorned with a crayon-colored illustration. Here’s an exclusive excerpt:

Onse a pon a time ther was a boy. He whet to the store he said to his mom which fish shed I pik. don’t pik a fish pik a nut a nut yes a nut o.k. but nuts make a spot.

This brilliance was followed by many other stories like, Tommy Turtle and Fanny Fish, Me the Dime, Melvin Goes on a Trip, and The Glerp.

By fourth grade, I was writing my first chapter book. It included the characters from the Boxcar Children and was set in the time of Little House on the Prairie. I worked on it every spare moment I had while in school. When my fourth-grade teacher asked if she could read it, I anxiously handed over the forty pages I had written, filled with wonder of what she might say. Would she love it? Would she tell me I was talented? Would she share it with the class? There was little to wonder about when she returned my story. I received a verbal lashing for my spelling, particularly my inability to distinguish long vowels from short vowels, and how with short vowels you must double the final consonant before adding -ed or -ing. That conversation is tearfully vivid in my mind. Clearly, if I couldn’t spell, I couldn’t write.

In looking back, I wonder if this moment instilled a misbelief in me, one that took me years to overcome. I never once thought of pursuing writing as a career. I was a good student, I loved school, and I followed in the footsteps of my parents and became a teacher. I taught middle school for nine years, and then had two wonderful children and decided to stay home. Up until my kids were born, my adult writing life consisted of required college papers, comments on student papers and report cards, emails, grocery lists, and thank you notes.

Being a stay-at-home parent is something I’ve never regretted, and I have fond moments of those years, but it was also isolating at times. I missed the professional world. I missed having a sense of self-purpose. I felt directionless. I started to wonder about writing, so I enrolled in a correspondence course through the Institute of Children’s Literature. During and after the course, I sold a handful of stories and articles to children’s magazines. A second course a few years later, offered me the guidance to write my first full-length children’s novel. I sincerely believe that these courses, along with The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators are responsible for putting me on my path to publication. I attended my first regional SCBWI conference in 2005 and joined an online critique group soon after. I continued to write and submit short stories, articles, and puzzles for magazines, selling a few of them, and all the while dabbling with that first novel.

Then in 2007, I submitted the novel to the Delacorte Contest for First Time Novelists. I didn’t win, but I was a finalist and was assigned an editor to work with on revisions. I was certain this was going to be the trigger for getting my novel published, but after a year, the editor left Delacorte leaving me no contact information and no directions on who to contact. I was crushed. I was certain that this writing business wasn’t meant to be. At least not for me.

Fortunately, my critique group would not allow me to quit. They’ve never allowed me to—not when I returned to teaching—not when my first novel didn’t sell. Never. They became my writing backbone, sending me virtual high-fives and real chocolate when needed. They knew all my stats on rejections, but they didn’t pay any attention to those numbers. They cheered with me when I landed my agent. They encouraged me when my chapters needed work—a lot of work. They are the best, and I never wonder about writing without them.

Published by HarperCollins
Last fall, on September 6, the second day of school, almost nine years after writing the first draft of  Mostly the Honest Truth, my phone rang. I was right in the middle of a math lesson, but when I went to silence my phone and send it to voicemail, I noticed the number was from New York. I checked the voicemail while the students were at recess. It was my agent, telling me to call him back. He said he had good news and bad news. I had forty minutes left in the day before I could call him, and I have no memory of how I made it through those forty minutes. I do recall exactly what he said, though, because I had dreamed of this conversation for years. It remains the best phone call of my life.

Hi Jody! I’ll start with the bad news. You’re no longer an unpublished author. The good news is you just received a two-book offer from HarperCollins!

I still have a long road to travel on my publication journey. Having a two-book deal is all-sorts of stress which I never imagined, but it’s what I’ve dreamed of, too. My books are going to be bound, and sitting on bookshelves, and in the libraries of teachers, and in the hands of young readers.

And I’m still filled with the wonder of what will happen around the corner.

How many more books will I write?

Will my students like my book?

What would my fourth-grade teacher think if she read it?

I’m pretty sure all the spelling is correct.

Thank you, Jody, for such an inspiring story! You've taught us to wonder, and then to persist and persevere to bring the stories we believe in to life. I can't wait to read MOSTLY THE HONEST TRUTH when it comes out next spring! 

Jody J. Little is a third-grade teacher who loves sharing her joy of books and reading with her students. She lives in the beautiful city of Portland, Oregon with her family and an immortal pet rabbit. MOSTLY THE HONEST TRUTH is her first novel and will be published by Harper in March 2019. It was recently selected by the American Booksellers Association to be included on their Indies Introduce List for Winter/Spring 2019. You can pre-order through multiple vendors at HarperCollins. Visit Jody on Facebook @jodyjlittleauthor or follow her on Twitter @jodyjlittle


  1. Really enjoyed this, thank you. Hopeful and inspiring about the work and support and time it takes to write.

  2. Congratulations on book contracts Jody! I literally got chills when I read your agent's words to you, and good job staying the course. - Ellen B

  3. Thanks, Jody and Dawn. I love reading these stories. And, I love the art. Looking forward to reading Mostly the Honest Truth.

    1. Thanks, Estela. I've sure enjoyed hosting this series. I've learned so much and been greatly inspired! Looking forward to hosting your story later this year!