During summer I was able to visit my family in Iowa, and I got to meet a picture book author I had been online friends with--Rebecca Janni (pronounced Yahni). Rebecca is author of the Every Cowgirl Series (Every Cowgirl Needs a Horse, Every Cowgirl Needs Dancing Shoes…), Jammy Dance, and her latest picture book Spin. What’s even neater is that Rebecca’s younger sister and I used to take piano lessons at college together from the same instructor. So when I found out Rebecca wrote these books, I knew I had to personally meet her. Our children are pretty much the same ages, and so we had a wonderful afternoon together.
|Tina Cho-left, Rebecca Janni-right
- How long have you been writing?
I always loved to write since I was a young child. I kept a journal, played with short stories, and wrote poems.
2. How did you get into writing?
I read lots of picture books to my kids, and I wrote my own story, Jammy Dance, for them. It was one of my first manuscripts. After bathtime, we used to have a “di-dee dance,” and that is how this story was born. I met a local author, plugged into SCBWI and a local writers’ group, and attended some conferences. The writers and illustrators I met have become lifelong friends.
3. How did you create your character, Nellie Sue, the cowgirl?
At age four, my daughter was learning to ride her bike without training wheels. She wore long brown braids, cowboy boots, and a vest. I would say things like: “How’s my bicycle cowgirl? Get back in the saddle. Hit the trail.” I brainstormed how bikes and horses were alike with my aunt. I was inspired by a Mark Twain piece called “Taming the Bicycle.” My story, Bicycle Cowgirl, eventually became Every Cowgirl Needs a Horse.
4. How did you make the Cowgirl books into a series?
Credit for the series goes entirely to my editor Steve Meltzer and agent Jamie Weiss Chilton. I had endless ideas for Nellie Sue’s adventures, but I never would have presumed they would become a series! I was thrilled when my editor asked for a sequel, and Nellie Sue Gets Back in Line became Every Cowgirl Needs Dancing Boots.
My seven-year-old daughter and I rode one day of RAGBRAI, an annual great bicycle ride across Iowa. As we encountered the highest hill of our 44 mile ride, she said, “It’s not as big as it looks.” I loved her perspective and hoped that she would see the hills of life in the same way. With God, mountains can be moved. So SPIN is about a simple bike ride, a life ride, and even our spiritual journeys.
6. What types of marketing activities have you done?
My release parties have been tied into book fairs so that sales benefited schools. My advice is to live the book at each release party.
For the first book, Every Cowgirl Needs a Horse, my publisher, Penguin, made stickers and activity pages for school visits and bookstore signings. For Every Cowgirl Needs Dancing Boots, we held a square dance at a historic barn in our town. When the fourth book came out, my publisher sent me on a book tour. Every night I boarded a plane to visit schools and bookstores in cities I'd never visited before.
7. What are you working on now?I’m working on the launch party for SPIN, picture book manuscripts about adoption, a garden party, a new character, and a refugee story.
Thank you so much, Rebecca, for letting me interview you! She is such a sweet person with whom I could talk for hours! She and her family have gone through a lot, both good and bittersweet. She gave her first picture book signed to her father, who was in hospice with brain cancer. When she signed her second contract, she dedicated Every Cowgirl Needs Dancing Boots, to him, with whom she had had the first dance.
Rebecca and her husband also adopted a boy from China, one who fit in with their other three children perfectly. His description was that he, too, had lost a father and liked picture books! Rebecca is fluent in sign language and was the perfect mom for Joshua, who was deaf. Since then, he has had surgery and received hearing devices to help him.
Growing up in Iowa, Rebecca Janni learned that biking was the best way to get around the neighborhood and reading was the best way to get around the world.
Author of Spin, Jammy Dance and the Every Cowgirl series, Rebecca divides her time between teaching at Grand View University, visiting schools and libraries, volunteering, and writing for children—all of which take a back seat to motherhood. She loves the joyful chaos of life with her family—her much-loved husband James, their four children, Andrew (17), Anna (15), Jacob (11), Joshua (10), and Mickey Dog. Through it all, she believes God has a plan, and it is good.