Author Interview & Review: The Scoop on Jodi Kendall

by Veronica Vivona
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Jodi Kendall’s debut novel, The Unlikely Story of a Pig in the City, became an instant hit with middle-grade readers last year. Now, her follow-up novel, Dog Days in the City, was just released to the general public! We were thrilled to have the opportunity to read this book (after obsessing over the first one). Check out what we thought of it here:

Review of Dog Days in the City by Jodi Kendall

In the first novel of the Josie Shilling series, The Unlikely Story of a Pig in the City, readers follow middle-schooler Josie as she tries to take ownership of a pig named Hamlet. Josie, who lives in Ohio, learns a lot about herself, her family, and about her true passions in life. Fast forward to the sequel, Dog Days in the City, where readers find Josie a little older and on a different path than before.

Josie, who was a gymnast in the first novel, switched her focus to volunteering at an animal clinic. And although the sequel follows Josie after she finds an abandoned box filled with puppies, there’s much more to it than that. This story is about changes, both good and bad. It deals with some of life’s cruelest moments in the most beautiful ways possible. It demonstrates the toughness of a great friendship, the strong bond of a large family, and the importance of animals in the lives of humans. This novel shows a true vulnerability that is a rare to find in any other kid’s novel.

This book features relationships in some of the best ways. Josie’s life is filled with different kinds of relationships and through those relationships, she finds herself. These relationships, which include both humans and animals alike, give Josie a wide array of feelings. She learns a lot in this novel and evolves as a person.

Life happens; things change. Readers will love Josie’s passion for animals as that is at the forefront of this novel. Beyond that, the story itself is a charming tale of love and changes, happiness and hurdles, and the evolution of life. Dog Days in the City by Jodi Kendall will appeal to any reader who has ever found love for a pet. It’s a beautiful take on life’s roller coaster of a ride and will bring tears to your eyes in all the best ways possible.

Q&A with Jodi Kendall

We were thrilled at the opportunity to interview Jodi Kendall for ourselves! We learned all about her love for animals, her passion for writing for kids, and her desire to never give up on her dreams. Read all about it and more below:

Tell us a bit about yourself! What do you do?

Hi there! Well, first and foremost, I’m a mom to two little kids, ages two and six. We live in Manhattan. In my professional life, I was a freelance writer for over a decade (some of my past clients include the National Geographic Channel and Nat Geo Wild, and different magazines). I transitioned to focus solely on book projects two years ago. These days, I’m usually hanging out with the family, writing something, or walking the dog.

What is The Unlikely Story of a Pig in the City about and why were you inspired to write it?

When I was thirteen, my college-aged brother rescued a runt farm piglet destined for death. He snuck it into his dorm room in a football helmet and a few days later, over holiday break, showed up at our house with a squirmy pink piglet in his arms. Dad wanted it out. Mom was sympathetic. My siblings and I rallied together on a mission to save her. The adventures we had over the next few months, as the tiny piglet grew into a 180-pound hog, have now become family legend. The Columbus Dispatch even wrote an article about our pig in 1994! (You can see old footage of our actual pig here.)

This experience of bonding with a pet (the piglet was the first in a long line of ducks, hamsters, rabbits, dogs, fish, and a green iguana that joined our family of seven over the years) contributed to my lifelong love for animals and the unique relationships we have with them.

You have a sequel coming out soon! What is Dog Days in the City about and how is it different from your first novel?

Yes! It publishes on 10/2. I’m so proud of this book and can’t wait for it to hit shelves. Dog Days in the City picks up seven months after the first book ends, so it’s a summer story about friendship, family, change, and of course, DOGS!

The first book had a lot of cozy winter holiday elements with gymnastics and pig adventures. In the sequel, now-twelve-year-old Josie Shilling has quit her gymnastics team and volunteers at the local animal clinic, the one place she truly feels like herself. But then, a mysterious box appears on the clinic’s front steps and Josie suddenly finds herself in charge of a litter of adorable, mischievous puppies! There’s no way her parents will let her keep them. So, Josie has two weeks to find them a forever home. But finding one home for Hamlet the pig in the last book was hard enough. Now she needs seven!

On top of that, her family dog Sugar is getting older, and Josie’s family is fighting more than ever, and being twelve isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. This summer will bring unexpected changes for Josie, as she learns about growing up, letting go, and loving your pack no matter what.

Do you have plans for a third novel (whether in the series or separate)? If so, what details can you give us?

I am working on a third book proposal right now, but the story is unrelated to my first two books. I can’t give too many details quite yet, but I can tell you that there’s a whole new animal adventure! A lot of people ask me if I’ll write a third Josie Shilling book and right now, I don’t think so. I do have one to two ideas percolating in the back of my mind if there was enough interest from my publisher, so never say never I guess!

The National Geographic Channel has been a big part of your life. Can you tell us about your time there and what you did for them?

Sure! I was a freelance writer for the National Geographic Channel digital media team for quite a few years. During my contracted time there, Nat Geo Wild was just getting up off the ground, so I had the opportunity to research and contribute loads of content for them in the early-stages of the launch. I wrote everything from articles, to blog posts, to web copy to app work. While on assignment, I traveled to Malaysian Borneo and studied orangutans and elephants in the rainforest, tracked wild whale sharks in the Gulf of Mexico, took behind-the-scenes tours of countless zoos and aquariums, and had the time of my life.

You have an obvious love for animals, to the point where your novels focus on them. When did you first discover this love and in what ways has it impacted your life?

I’ve loved animals for as long as I can remember. I mentioned before that we had a lot of family pets in my childhood home, but I also loved observing animals in the wild. Some of my earliest and best childhood memories are of camping in Colorado. My dad was a professor during that time and had summers off. We didn’t have a lot of money, and being a big family of seven living outside a large Midwestern city, camping out West was a wonderful adventure. In Rocky Mountain National Park, I was amazed by the curious chipmunks, the giant, soaring birds of prey overhead, and seeing white-tailed deer for the first time. My experiences in the great outdoors always stayed with me, but for a long time I didn’t know how my love for animals would manifest in my professional life.

I explored a degree in zoology back in college, but I didn’t enjoy a lot of the prerequisites. In my heart, I always wanted to be a writer, but breaking into the field felt overwhelming and impossible. Somehow, through a series of starts and dead ends and restarts and turns, I’ve found my own way to blend two things that I love together: writing and animals. These days, I’m an advocate for several animal rescue non-profits here in the USA and I became a vegan over a year ago. We adopted a chihuahua and foster homeless dogs when we can. I’ve traveled to Mississippi twice this year to volunteer with Rocking R Ranch & Rescue, an amazing equine non-profit.

Animals have enriched my life in countless ways, so naturally that influences my creative work. I try to be a voice for the voiceless and live my life in the most compassionate way possible.

You seem to love writing for kids! Do you think they will always be your audience or do you see yourself branching out into the adult market in the future?

Nope. Zero interest right now. I love writing for kids and I still have so many ideas I’d like to explore on the page. But… I have dabbled in screenwriting and I think it’d be awesome to write a full-length movie script one day.

Can you tell us a bit about your writing process and how you create your novels?

When I have an idea for a book, I brainstorm for a bit. I journal, draw pictures, storyboard, and map out different plot points. Sometimes I play around with writing from different point of views and in first and third person. I daydream and let the story live in my head for a bit. Historically, I’m a pantser and this makes first-drafting very difficult for me because I tend to wander around in the narrative, trying to find my way, and then the finished book ultimately goes through many, many revisions to polish it up. With this new project, I’m trying to find a balance of outlining the main plot points so I have greater direction, but allowing myself room for creative exploration.

Which writers/novels have inspired you the most and why?

I have an eclectic taste in books. I enjoy everything from high-fantasy to non-fiction. I find the work of Katherine Applegate and Sharon Creech very inspiring as both a reader and writer. I want to hug books like Wishtree and Saving Winslow! They’re so touching and beautiful and deep.

What has been the biggest struggle for you as a writer?

My struggles change. Ten years ago, it was ideas. Not having enough, or having trouble making a good idea come to life. I had passion and drive but needed experience. Right now, I have dozens of ideas and never enough time. I’m a busy mom, and I’m marketing a book on the shelves, prepping for my second book to release in a few weeks, confirming author events and visits, answering marketing requests, and trying to work on a third book in the background. So, I have to protect my creative writing time or it’ll never happen. I have to turn off social media and minimize distractions and tell myself, “Okay, just breathe and write the next thing.”

Is there a fun fact about yourself, unrelated to books and writing, that might surprise our readers if you were to share it with them?

Hmm! This is a fun question. Well, I told you I’m vegan. I’ve been trying to teach myself the banjo (unsuccessfully) for a few years now. I love driving and am a sucker for a good road trip – the farther, the better. And I’m obsessed with Jeep Wranglers. I’ve owned three and had to sell each one for different reasons. If I ever move out of the city, the first thing I want to do is buy another Wrangler. Sometimes for fun I look through the used classifieds just to see what’s out there. The big deal breaker for me is the transmission – it has to be manual. I’d never buy an automatic.

What advice would you give to struggling writers out there who are trying to accomplish their dreams?

Rejection is part of the journey. It doesn’t necessarily get easier, but for me, I am more understanding with how subjective this whole industry is. Not everyone is going to like my writing or my books. That’s okay. Hopefully they’ll connect with a different book. Listen to constructive feedback and glean from it what you can. Grow in your craft. Read a ton of books, in all genres, join a critique group, and keep writing.

What do you want readers to gain from your novels?

Empathy and kindness… Respect for all beings… A deeper connection with the greater world. Hopefully a lot of love.

Your career seems boundless! Where do you see yourself going from here?

Wow. Does it? That feels good to hear. Thank you for feeding into my grand ambitions! (Ha!) Sometimes, I have these wild ideas and then a little voice tells me inside, well, that’ll never happen. But I’ll speak life into my dreams. I’d love to have more books published. I want to sell a movie script one day. A picture book too. I love visiting schools… I’d love to have the opportunity to travel around the country (and other countries, maybe?) meeting as many young readers as I can. I’ve wanted to be a published author since I was a little girl. It may sound cliché, but this really is my dream. And I take the responsibility very seriously. If I can keep writing novels for the rest of my life, growing in my craft and reading wonderful books and connecting with others over stories, that would be a soul-fulfilling gift.

Do you have any final words of wisdom that you would like to share with our readers?

I’ll leave you with one of my favorite quotes: “The arts are not a way of making a living. They are a very human way of making life more bearable. Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow, for heaven’s sake. Sing in the shower. Dance to the radio. Tell stories. Write a poem to a friend, even a lousy poem. Do it as well as you possibly can. You will get an enormous reward. You will have created something.” -Kurt Vonnegut

Dog Days in the City was released to the general public on October 2nd, 2018.

To learn more about Jodi Kendall, check out her website and follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram!

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