In celebration of Women’s History Month, I interviewed Jody Smith, author of the inspirational and beautiful feminist fairytale, Princess Monroe and Her Happily Ever After. She shared a bit about her background, writing practices, and how the idea for her book came to be.
Kathryn Schleich: Where did you grow up? Did you always have the desire to be a writer?
Jody Smith: I was born in San Diego, California, and grew up southwest of Los Angeles in a beach town called Palos Verdes. I did not necessarily have a burning desire to be a writer, but as I’ve been getting reacquainted with my inner child, I am remembering how important writing, reading and imagination were to me when I was younger.
KS: Do you recall the first piece you had published?
JS: I do recall winning a blue ribbon for a report on Peacocks in 4H club. I must have been in 3rd grade or so.
KS: What is your educational background?
JS: I have a Bachelor of Science from Arizona State University. I majored in marketing and public relations.
KS: Describe your writing habits. Do you incorporate those habits into other realms of your life?
JS: I heard Cheryl Strayed say once she was a “binge writer.“ I concur. I am raising two girls and as much as I’d like to say I write every day, I don’t. I will go through phases of morning pages and/or consistency, then it will drop off because of life. But annually, I always get in a weekend of writing for myself. I have a handful of habits I try to incorporate every day. I call it my “most mornings“ routine. But as I said before, my life requires me to be responsive and I am far from perfect.
KS: What is writing advice you have ever received?
JS: Recently I was listening to Michael Che on the Conan O’Brian podcast. They were talking about creativity and the struggle of creating content daily/weekly. Conan said something that resonated with me. I am paraphrasing, but he said it took him 20 years to realize having the idea of a story is what makes you a writer. Yes, there is another step of getting that idea on paper, but many people can transcribe words. The idea is what really makes you a creative writer. My head is full of so many ideas, my biggest fear is I won’t have enough time to bring them all into form.
KS: On the other side, what advice would you give aspiring writers?
JS: If you want to be a writer, then write. It sounds incredibly simplistic, but like most things, writing is a practice.
KS: What would you like your legacy as a writer to be?
JS: I want my stories to be told from an empowered and fully embodied female protagonist. Most stories throughout history have been narrated by men, specifically white men. Women/girls have been seen through the lens of a masculine gaze. It’s been narrow and inaccurate. We are complicated, deep, incredibly intuitive creatures. I want to tell stories about women written and felt by a woman.
KS: When I was working on my master’s thesis on the image of Catholic women in Hollywood films, the concept of the male gaze in film, literature and elsewhere, was crucial to the feminist approach. You are right, women need to be able to tell their own stories! What are you currently working on now or future writing plans?
JS: As I mentioned, I hold all the ideas and not enough time. It is my biggest conundrum. But soon my girls will be out of the house and I can get to some serious work. They are literally my muses, so as they are now 12 and 15, I am working on a second fairytale in the young adult space. I’m also working on a business called Courageous Girl. I want to guide a generation of girls fully owning their creative power. Stay tuned for that …
KS: Let’s talk about your first incredible feminist fairytale for kids, Princess Monroe and Her Happily Ever After, that you published in 2018. The message within this gorgeously illustrated book is vital, one every child should hear. That said, how did the idea for Princess Monroe develop? In the acknowledgements, you mention your two muses, P and E. I am assuming they are your daughters and had something to do with the writing of this wonderful story?
JS: Prior to moving to Minnesota in 2010, I owned a furniture store and interior design business in Scottsdale, Arizona. When Payton, my oldest daughter, was 5, and Emma was 3, I closed my store and moved here to be home with them. Being with them all day, every day was new to me and I was mesmerized. My daughters were girly, but they were also strong, smart, and liked to build things. I wrote a blog post about this exact moment. The day the girls went back to school the original version of the story poured out of me. It was coming through me faster than I could write.
KS: The book’s characters are so ethnically diverse, which is wonderful. What experiences did that come from?
JS: I remembered being little and never “seeing myself” in the Disney princesses. But I was tired of the blonde hair, blue eyed princesses. I was determined for Monroe to be different. I always imagined her biracial. I think representation is important. I spoke frequently with the girl’s school librarian while I was making the book. She offered advice on what she felt was missing in the market and what she would like available for her kids. And who knows more than an elementary school librarian?
KS: I love how the book rhymes – it’s almost like a poem. How did you come up with that concept?
JS: My favorite author when I was a child was Dr. Suess. He had a cadence to his writing.
KS: At the same time, that’s not an easy thing to do! Did it take a fair amount of time? Or are you just a natural?
JS: To be honest, I’ve written in rhyme since I was a kid. But when I wrote the first draft of the story, it was in first person. I wanted it to be an experience where the reader saw herself in Monroe as she used “I” statements, but it wasn’t working. I was getting feedback that ages 4 through 9 preferred third person. They needed a character and a story to connect with. I found a woman named Laura Lee Scott who I refer to as my story whisperer. She helped me transition it over to third person and she also has quite a gift for rhyming. After that and about 50 rounds of edits, it was done. HA! Amazing how much work goes into a 26-page book, isn’t it?
KS: Revising is probably the most important part of writing as we edit, edit, and edit again. Another aspect that makes this book different is that the beautiful queen listens to her daughter and learns a valuable lesson. How did that come about? And I notice that all the ladies-in-waiting learn about themselves and what they aspire to be as well.
JS: It is incredibly important to me to make sure my daughters are comfortable talking to me. I believe they are my greatest lesson. In most fairy tales, the mother or stepmother character is horrible. They try to kill, trap or lie to their daughters. It has always rubbed me the wrong way. I had Monroe figured out completely, but Laura did a beautiful job of giving the queen a bit more dialogue. As for the ladies, as I was working on editing the illustrations, they became a bigger part of the story. Monroe’s entire message is to be who you are, completely. I wanted the ladies and the queen to be inspired by her and to come to the same conclusion.
KS: There is also a strong educational component – Princess Monroe’s interest in math or possibly being a veterinarian. How did you decide what possible careers to choose?
JS: Those are inspired by my daughters. All areas they expressed interest in or excelled in.
KS: There are so many wonderful messages in the book, including one of Princess Monroe learning about sustainable farming. Did such important topics evolve from questions posed by your daughters?
JS: The truth is Monroe, my California roots, and needing something to rhyme with Prince Charming is exactly how the sustainable farming stanza came to be.
KS: Any chance Princess Monroe will have a sequel?
JS: I don’t know. My muses are much older now. I feel like Monroe is a time capsule.
KS: It also demonstrates the importance of young girls feeling empowered and knowing they can be or do whatever it is that speaks to them. It’s a message for girls now and those of future generations. I purchased the book for five of my great nieces who are very much Princess Monroes in training and they absolutely love it! I also bought it for me simply because I adore the story and artwork. Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to talk with me!