Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Interview with Jesse Florea

Today is the first in a series of interviews leading up to the Northwest Christian Writers' Renewal, May 17-18, at Overlake Christian Church in Redmond, WA. My first guest is Jesse Florea, editorial director for youth publications at Focus on the Family, for Clubhouse and Clubhouse Jr. magazines. He co-hosts the biweekly "Official Adventures in Odyssey" podcast.

You can learn more about the conference here.

1. How in the world did you ever decide to pursue a career in publishing? Why children’s stories?

Up until my sophomore year of high school, I pictured myself as a junior high teacher. But that year I took an introduction to journalism course and fell in love with writing. I started writing sports stories for my local weekly newspaper in Louisville, Colo., and continued to cover high school sports for 26 years (all through college and even during many of my years with Focus on the Family). As far as children’s stuff, I’ve always have a passion for children to know what and why they believe in Christ. Kids need to have a firm foundation of faith before their teen years when they’re bombarded by the media, friends and peer pressure. My position at Clubhouse and Club Jr. lines up perfectly with how God made me. I always say I haven’t worked a day in my life, because I’m having too much fun.

2. What do you see as the one thing lacking from submissions that cross your desk?

Engaging child characters. The best children’s writers respect children and challenge them in their writing. They don’t write “down” to the audience. They don’t have Mom or Dad or grandma swoop in and solve every problem. Many stories I see don’t give children that respect. Whereas books in the mainstream marketplace do. Strange, huh?
Also, I need humor!!! Kids love to laugh. Studies show that children laugh more than 300 times a day, compared to about 20 times a day for adults. Help kids fill their laugh quotient by writing humor.

3. What types of stories or articles are you seeking right now? How far in advance do you plan each issue’s material?

For Clubhouse, we need personality stories of ordinary kids doing extraordinary things for God. Takes research and interviewing, but totally worth it. Quizzes, especially humorous ones, would also be great. Clubhouse Jr. needs Bible stories and rebus stories. Or write a rebus Bible story—it’s a win-win. We work five months ahead but plan eight months ahead—even longer for Christmas and Easter where we get lots of stories.

4. What advice would you give a writer trying to break into a children’s magazine?

Study the publication. Know the voice, style and length of stories it publishes. Also, Sunday school take-home papers are a great way to start. I sold my first two children’s stories to Sunday school take-home papers. Try your writing out on kids. One of my writers pays his son to be his editor. Any story that he sells to Clubhouse, his son makes 15 percent.

5. If you could write any story in the world, what would that look like?

I’m a huge sports fan, so it’d probably be something related to Christianity and sports. Recently, I’ve been blessed to work on a few of these types of projects. I helped write a Jeremy Lin biography during the height of Lin-Sanity last year. And a book I wrote on New York Yankees pitcher Mariano Rivera just came out in April. Plus, I did a Playing With Purpose: Baseball book with a couple of friends that highlighted the good guys in that sport.
Maybe one day I’ll branch out and write fiction . . . but right now that scares me.

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