This interview originally appeared in the January 2022 edition of Children’s Book Insider, the Children’s Writing Monthly
Author Johnny Ray Moore is a dual threat in kidlit: he can write in verse and in prose. The author of six published picture books, Moore’s newest book is a diverse, heartfelt lyrical celebration of winter, spring, summer and fall along with the joys of fatherhood in the aptly titled Seasonal Adventures (Reycraft, June 2021), illustrations by Cbabi Bayoc. The book was hailed by Kirkus as “a pure ode to nature and sincere Black boy joy.” Moore lives with his family in Raleigh, NC.
PJ McIlvaine: When did you realize you had a way with words?
Johnny Ray Moore: I realized it when I was in the third grade, because I started making excellent grades in the Language Arts and anything literary.
PM: Did you plan on being a kidlit writer as an adult?
JRM: No. I did not. My plan was to write no more than three children’s books for the sake of the challenge and settle for writing poetry. But, I became hooked on the beauty of children’s books, especially board books.
PM: What were your writing and reading influences growing up?
JRM: I had no “writing and reading influences growing up!” My family and I were very poor. I did not have the “extras” during my childhood that so many other children enjoyed. I just had a BURNING desire to learn.
PM: What is your daily writing routine like?
JRM: I don’t really have a daily writing routine. My day starts at about 5 a.m. At that time, I prepare to exercise; I look over my List of Things to Do; I read and study some of my writing resources; and, if I am approaching a writing deadline, I will then work on what is at hand. But I do not make it a habit to write each day or to write, routinely, even.
PM: Are you an outliner?
JRM: No. I am not an outliner. The way that schools teach to outline DESTROYS my creativity. So, I just make a rough list of things I will include in the various things I write.
PM: Since you write in both prose and rhyme, is there one format you prefer over the other?
JRM: No. I have no preference. Of course, I do find it so much easier to write prose. But I do work at making my prose read like poetry, and i work at making my poetry read like prose.
PM: How many drafts do you do before you decide a work is ready for the world?
JRM: I do not have a specific number of drafts that I do before deciding a piece of writing is ready for the world. At times, it does take me 3 to 5 days to complete a single poem or a short writing project. I make it a point to let my completed writing project simmer for a couple of days. During that simmering period, I will do a bit of rewriting of the piece. And, I NEVER rush a piece of writing.
PM: Where do you get your ideas from?
JRM: My writing ideas come from life, in general; from things people say and do; from things I read and even write; from Nature; and from the essence of my five senses.
PM: Do you get writer’s block?
JRM: No. I do not get writer’s block. I don’t even believe in writer’s block. Writer’s block is really due to a person not spending enough time thinking about what he or she wants to write. Also, a person could be tired, physically and mentally. Therefore, the effects of what I just mentioned may keep that person from writing as he or she may wish to write. The cure for “writer’s block” is to analyze why you are feeling what you are feeling and power through it all.
PM: What was the seed for your latest book, Seasonal Adventures?
JRM: The seed for my latest book, Seasonal Adventures, was my desire to share some things about Spring, Summer, Fall and Winter in a way that young children would be able to relate to and enjoy. I have always been a lover of nature. And, I wanted to entice young children to experience some of what I experienced as a child.
PM: Did you have any input into the illustrations?
JRM: No. I did not have any input into how Seasonal Adventures would be illustrated. From a writing standpoint, I made it my business to create images in words that any illustrator could work with. I was the foundation on which the illustrator could create and/or build as he felt would be best for the book.
PM: From first draft to publication, how long did the process take?
JRM: I received the contract for Seasonal Adventures on 21 February 2020. Seasonal Adventures was released on 30 June 2021. I cannot give you an accurate date for the completion of the first draft, though, because I had written Seasonal Adventures as four separate board book manuscripts originally. Each board book manuscript was written at different times. They were Welcome to Spring, Welcome to Summer, Welcome to Fall; and Welcome to Winter. But Reycraft Books felt that those board book manuscripts would make a much better picture book. So, I agreed!
PM: You’ve published several books. Did the process differ with each book and what did you learn from each one?
JRM: Yes. The process did differ with each book I’ve written. In writing Howie Has a Stomachache, only 100 words, I worked extremely hard to write a complete story with a beginning, a middle and an ending. The shorter the word count is in my books, the more difficult the writing was. In writing So Many Questions, a much longer picture book that contains prose and rhyming verse, I struggled to move the story forward in a timely manner and not be boring. All in all, from the various lengths of all of my children’s books, I learned to pay very close attention to my intended audiences. Plus, I knew I had to communicate stories that would INSPIRE and EMPOWER.
PM: Do you have an agent?
JRM: No. I do not have an agent, currently. I once had an agent for about two years. When my contract with that agent had ended, I did not care to sign with another agent. By the way, I have sold my last six children’s book manuscripts without the representation of an agent.
PM: How do you get your material to editors without an agent?
JRM: I spend quality time researching children’s book publishers that I feel may be interested in the types of manuscripts that I write. I study various publishers’ mission statements; I study their submission guidelines; I study their book catalogs; and, I learn a little about the main people who are instrumental within the various publishing companies that interest me. Once I find a publisher that I feel is a good fit, then I submit my manuscript.
PM: Are you an extrovert or introvert? It seems to me that to be a successful writer, you need to be a little of both!
JRM: I am a bit of both, thank you.
PM: How do you keep your enthusiasm and passion alive when the querying process/publication can be as slow as a tortoise (and even slower during the current pandemic)?
JRM: I keep my enthusiasm and passion alive by enjoying other areas of my life. I love interacting with my family—exercising; biking; gardening; working on projects around my home; playing my bass guitar and my kalimba—just to name a few other things I do. Therefore, I am not bothered by how long it may take for me to hear from a publisher that I have submitted a manuscript to. Writing is a part of my life. It is not and will never be something that will consume and control my life, or spill over into other areas of my life.
PM: Has your family been supportive of your writing?
JRM: Yes. My family has been and is still supportive of my writing.
PM: Do you find it hard to juggle work and family like so many of us?
JRM: No. I have never found it hard to juggle work and family around what I do as a writer. Because, my family has always come first. Even from the very start of my writing career, I would not allow ANYTHING to interfere with my family life. And, I continue to keep family time separate from the business of writing.
PM: What are you currently working on?
JRM: I am currently working on an early reader series for young children; a middle grade novel; and a novella. While I am working on the writings I have mentioned, I change the pace, often, by writing a few poems I feel I must write.
PM: Do you have books in other genres besides picture books?
JRM: Yes. One of my books, But Still, We Dream, is a novel in verse. Unfortunately, that book is out-of-print. And, I wrote the bestselling, board book classic, The Story of MLK, Jr. My King board book, only 200 words, has sold well over 103,000 copies and is still selling very well.
PM: What do you see yourself writing (genre wise) five years from now?
JRM: Five years from now, I see myself writing more board books; another collection of poems; a chapter book; and a novella. PM. What book do you wish you had written?
JRM: I wish I had written Baby Shark (Meet Baby Shark), the board book. As simple as that book is, it really captures the attention of young children!
PM: And what book do you wish you could rewrite?
JRM: It would have to be Howie Has a Stomachache. It was the first children’s book I got published. And, I would rewrite that book in lyrical verse.
For more, visit Johnny’s website: http://www.johnnyraymoore.comTags: author interviews, writer interviews