This is my new friend Jo Ramsey. She's a really fun, talented lady, and I had the chance to interview her this last week.
Me: Jo, we just met, and I'm excited to learn more about you. Tell me about yourself, your career, and all that good stuff.
Jo: I'm a former special education teacher; I graduated university in 1992 and after that taught, worked as a teacher's aide, and substituted for almost seventeen years. When I moved from Maine to Massachusetts in 2009 to marry my second husband, I couldn't transfer my certification, so now I work part-time in my father-in-law's office. I've been writing since I was five years old, and during junior high, high school, and college, I wrote about 20 young adult manuscripts, all of them longhand in spiral notebooks.
Me: I wrote one book longhand in a spiral notebook, and that was enough to cure me of it. You must have fingers of steel. But sorry - I'm interrupting. You were saying?
Jo: My first publication wasn't until 2002, when a phonics-based reading program I'd written was published by Oxton House, an educational publisher based in Maine. The program, which was published under the name Kimberly Ramsey, is calledStories from Somerville, and is used in districts in at least a dozen states. Other than creating that program, I had stopped writing for several years, but in 2004 I started again. My first young adult novel, Connection, which is book 1 in my urban fantasy series Reality Shift, was published in January 2010. Since then, books two through four in that series have also been published, along with books one and two in my other urban fantasy series The Dark Lines. Those are all published by Jupiter Gardens Press, and book five in Reality Shift and book three in The Dark Lines are under contract. I also have two books currently under contract with Featherweight Press.
I live in Massachusetts with my two daughters from my first marriage, my husband, and two cats.
Me: I'm a homeschooler and a huge, huge supporter of phonics. Can you tell me a little about your method?
Jo: My program uses a phonics sequence developed by Dr. Phyllis Fischer, who was my adviser at university. The sequence begins with the consonant sounds, then short vowels, then what we used to call "magic E" words or "silent E" words, and so on. She also has a program, but hers doesn't come with any reading materials, only speed drills where the student reads the same few words in random order over and over, with the goal being for them to do so within a certain amount of time. I needed some phonics-based reading materials to accompany her program for my students, and since my budget at that school was too small to be able to buy any reading materials, I wrote my own. The stories are fiction, following a group of kids who sometimes make poor choices but who end up being friends and starting a band. When I taught reading, I introduced new sounds and "sight words" with flashcards, then had the students read the story round-robin style, each taking one line. My program also has comprehension and phonics worksheets (the phonics sheets are sold under the title "Say, Read, Spell"), so after reading the story we would do part of the comprehension questions, then a phonics worksheet. We worked on the same story every day for a week so that the students were solid in their knowledge of the sight words and the phonics sounds they were meant to learn.
I'd say the program worked pretty well. During the first six months I used it, one child, who was so delayed that no one believed she could make real-time gains in any area, gained six months reading skills. One of the boys gained eighteen months of skills during that time. (All based on testing that their classroom teacher did.) And one girl, who came into my program right when I started using it, was unable to even spell her own name correctly when she started with me, in the fall of her second grade year, because her phonics skills were so poor. A year and a half later, at the end of her third grade year, she was reading and writing at grade level.
Me: What are you working on right now?
Jo: I'm working on a paranormal novel about a fifteen-year-old boy who is assaulted and is turned into a werewolf during the attack. And I'm about to start revisions on Reality Shift 6.
Me: Have you yourself ever been turned into a werewolf?
Jo: Not that I'm aware of, though I do feel a little weird during the full moon sometimes...
Jo: I have more than one favorite part. I love writing the stories, because it's so much fun seeing my imagination come to life on the page. I like knowing that my books are encouraging kids to read, at least according to feedback I've received. And the feedback is the third thing at the top of the "favorite" list. I really love hearing from readers.
Me: What would you say is your favorite part of being an author?
Me: If you were stuck on a desert island and could only take twenty books with you, how would you get those twenty books to the island?
Jo: I guess they'd have to be on my smartphone's Kindle app, since that would be small enough to have with me.
Jo: I don't really have much of a ritual. I like to have something to drink--a cup of herbal tea or hot chocolate, a diet cola, or a bottle of water. Otherwise, there doesn't seem to be anything that makes me more productive; some days the writing happens and some days it doesn't.
Me: I've discovered that many authors have their own little ritual or set of habits they go through in order to really write. I am most productive when I have a tube of ChapStick close at hand - can't write with dry lips - and usually a glass of ice water and some sunflower seeds. What do you need to really get in the groove?
Thanks for being my guest today, Jo!
If you would like to know more about Jo Ramsey that I didn't ask her here, you can go check out her website. You can read her bio, learn about her books, and all kinds of fun stuff.