Janae Marks is the author of the highly acclaimed middle-grade novels From the Desk of Zoe Washing-ton and A Soft Place to Land. Her next book, On Air with Zoe Washington, will be released next February. We loved From the Desk of Zoe Washington's thoughtful plot, realistic characters, and compelling writing, so we were thrilled to interview Janae Marks this month!
Rapunzel Reads: What inspired From the Desk of Zoe Washington?
Janae Marks: I was actually first inspired by a podcast! Back in 2014, I listened to the first season of the podcast Serial, which told the story of a man who's in prison after being convicted of murder, but many people believe he's innocent of the crime. The podcast got me thinking about wrongful convictions--when someone is convicted of a crime they didn't commit. Since I like writing for kids, I started to wonder what it would be like to be the child of someone who may have been wrongfully convicted. Zoe was born from there! Because I love watching baking competition shows for fun, I decided to make her an aspiring pastry chef.
RR: The characters in From the Desk of Zoe Washington are layered and feel completely real, particularly Zoe
Author photo credit: Jerri Graham Photography
JM: Of course I love Zoe, the main character. My favorite secondary character is probably the grandmother. I love her relationship with Zoe and how she's there for Zoe throughout the book.
RR: Do you have any tips for aspiring writers?
JM: Read a lot! You can learn so much about storytelling from reading. It's especially helpful to read books that are similar to what you want to write yourself. Then when you're ready to write your own story, keep writing and focus on getting to The End!
RR: What is your favorite thing about being an author?
JM: I love making up stories, and I love connecting with readers!
RR: The relationships in From the Desk of Zoe Washington--including with Trevor and both of Zoe's parents--truly ground the story and make it incredibly relatable. How did you create these interactions?
JM: I was inspired to write about Zoe and Trevor's relationship after thinking about how much friendships can change during middle school. It's such a transitional time in a kid's life, and sometimes friendships transition too. I wanted to explore that with Zoe and Trevor, and I liked the idea of writing about a friendship that's in trouble. As for Zoe's parents, I tried to put myself in their shoes. I also tried to make them realistic, imperfect people, who love Zoe and want the best for her, but may not always go about it the right way.
RR: What books inspired you when you were growing up?
JM: Growing up, the children's sections of bookstores and libraries weren't nearly as big as they are now. But I loved The Baby-Sitter's Club series by Ann M. Martin. Those stories definitely inspire my books today.
RR: What are you planning on writing next?
JM: Right now I'm working on the first draft of a middle grade novel that will come out in 2024. It's contemporary fiction, but with a bit of magic! But before then, the sequel to From the Desk of Zoe Washington - called On Air with Zoe Washington - will be released on February 14, 2023. I hope you enjoy reading more of Zoe's story!