J. Duddy Gill finds humor in weird places and under odd circumstances. She loves to make people laugh, especially kids. ‘The Secret of Ferrell Savage’ is her debut novel and she hopes it’s the first of many, many more to come.
For what age audience do you write?
‘Ferrell Savage’ is a humorous story for ages 8 to 12. While it’s mostly realistic, I’d consider it a rather tall tale, as some of the events in the story are greatly exaggerated.
Henry: Ferrell → Feral. I see what you did there.
Tell us about your latest book.
‘The Secret of Ferrell Savage’ begins with Ferrell entering a sled race to impress a girl he likes and, for reasons that go beyond his control, he gets her attention and becomes a celebrity in his town. A jealous racing competitor threatens to reveal a secret about Ferrell that even he, Ferrell, didn’t know: he’s a descendent of the infamous Colorado cannibal, Alfred Packer. But it’s actually not a gruesome story at all. The main thing that Ferrell has in common with his great, great, great uncle is that they both became unexpected legends.
Henry: If I only had a dime for every time I tried to impress a girl by entering a sled race…
What do you hope readers will get from reading that book?
I hope they get a good laugh. I also hope they’ll be inspired by the way Ferrell follows his heart and doesn’t overthink things. He’s got a good perspective on life.
What aspect of writing do you find most challenging?
Sometimes, when the scenes aren’t coming to me and the story gets all jammed up in my head, it’s hard to sit down and sort it all out.
Henry: Yup, been there. That’s where belonging to a critique group is so helpful.
What is a powerful lesson you’ve learned from being a writer?
You have the write the story that’s there inside you. It may not be the story that everyone will like, but someone will like it. Write it for yourself and for that person.
Henry: I agree that you have to write from the heart. But in the end, if you want to be traditionally published, then an agent and an editor must agree that the story has wide appeal.
What has been a memorable experience that you never would have had if you had not been a writer?
I sent an advanced reading copy to my mom and I didn’t tell that I’d dedicated the book to her. She called me and left a message on my answering machine, crying, telling me how special she felt. I will keep that message on my machine forever.
Henry: Nice. My books are also dedicated to my parents (and others).
What advice would you give to aspiring authors?
Write the story you want to read.
Henry: But again, what if there’s no market for my dystopian board book, The Very Hunger Games Caterpillar?
Do you have any favorite quotes?
“It takes a heap of loafing to write a book.” – Gertrude Stein
Henry: Then there’s “All you do is sit staring at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead.” – Gene Fowler
Do you have any strange rituals that you observe when you write?
I have to have clean teeth and fresh breath while I write. I keep a roll of dental floss next to my desk.
Henry: I did NOT see that coming.
If you could have one superpower, what would it be?
I would like to sing so beautifully that it makes people feel happy and peaceful. As I am now, I don’t sing very well at all.
Henry: My bad singing has a side benefit. I can peel paint or disperse a pack of feral pigs.
If you could have three authors over for dinner, who would it be?
E. B. White because he had such a beautiful way at looking at the world. Plus, he was hilarious. Do you mind if I just have one? It’s so hard to choose just two more among all the others that I love so much.
Henry: That’s fine. I’ll use your spares to invite Maurice Sendak and J.R.R. Tolkien to my place.
What is your favorite creature that exists only in literature?
I’m going to have to say my favorite creatures are talking pigs and spiders. I learned a lot from Wilbur and Charlotte.
Henry: There’s a number of talking pigs in literature: Wilbur, Winnie the Pooh, Babe, Napoleon (Animal Farm), and Olivia. And let us not forget the Three Little Pigs or the five little piggies that correspond to a baby’s toes. Have you ever wondered why one little piggy eats roast beef?
What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
I love sharing stories with family and friends and just hanging out with them. I also like to spin wool, knit, and weave. When my kids were little I was obsessed with making all of their toys – dolls, animals, silk scarves, puppets – out of all natural materials. I don’t go as often as I’d like, but I enjoy bike riding or skiing in the mountains.
What would you like it to say on your tombstone?
I just hope they spell “Duddy” right and don’t make jokes about my being a “fuddy duddy”. I’ve heard them all.
Where can readers find your work?
Under my bed – I have three completed manuscripts collecting dust under there. Also, look for ‘The Secret of Ferrell Savage’ at your independent bookstore, that’s always best. When my next book sells I’ll surely announce it on my website: www.jduddygill.com .
This interview is also posted at the San Diego Children’s Books Examiner.