Jacqueline Jules is the award-winning author of 23 children’s books, including Zapato Power: Freddie Ramos Takes Off (2010 CYBILS Literary Award for Short Chapter Book, Maryland Blue Crab Young Reader Honor Book, ALSC Great Early Elementary Reads and Beverly Cleary Children’s Choice Award nominee), Unite or Die: How Thirteen States Became a Nation (2010 Library of Virginia Cardozo Award), Benjamin and the Silver Goblet (2010 Sydney Taylor Honor Award), Duck for Turkey Day (Washington State Children’s Choice Book Awards list, TN Volunteer State Award), and No English (DE Diamonds list, TN Volunteer State Award list). A former school librarian, Jacqueline now works part-time as a writing resource teacher at K-5 elementary school. In her free time, she enjoys walking around her Northern Virginia neighborhood with a small notebook, jotting down ideas for poems and stories. To learn more about her books, visit her website.
Let the conversation begin!
Describe your writing journey, from aspiring writer to published author.
I began by submitting poetry to magazines and literary journals. I also did some free-lance pieces for local newspapers and published a few short stories. I am a firm believer that you have to work your way into the publishing business like in any entertainment business. Most movie stars do commercials before they get their big break. Writers should submit to magazines and get some publication credits before approaching agents and bigger publishing houses. Dream big but start small.
Outliner or Seat-of-the-pantser?
Instead of outlining, I do a question and answer free-write before I begin and whenever I’m stuck. Some of the questions I ask include: What is this character like? What is her/her problem? How will the problem be solved? What does the setting look like? Etc. Etc. I just let my fingers bang on the computer keys, typing out every possible direction the story or characters could go. One idea leads to another and eventually I come up with a character and storyline I like.
What piece of advice would you give the younger you?
I would tell myself to be more patient.
When you have 30 minutes of free-time, how do you pass the time?
I usually exercise. I take a walk or use exercise equipment. Exercise is my pacifier. It keeps me sane.
The best part of waking up is?
I love waking up on a summer day knowing I have a full day ahead of me to write. In the summer, it is not unusual for me to start working around 8:30 a.m. and write until midnight, taking a few breaks to eat or exercise.
What was the last movie or book that made you angry?
It’s been a number of years since I’ve seen this movie, but it still makes me angry when I think about it. Pay It Forward had a tragic ending I was not prepared for and it really annoyed me. I also disliked the ending of Cold Mountain. I have no use for sad endings that seem unnecessary. I am not entertained by unrelenting suffering. If I want to be depressed, I can watch the news.
What advice would you give to new writers?
In addition to the advice I gave above when describing my journey from aspiring to published author, I would advise new writers to read as many children’s books as they can, particularly titles that are similar to the ones they want to write. Knowing the children’s market is invaluable. Joining SCBWI and attending writing conferences are also tremendously helpful. I have a list of links for aspiring writers on my website here.
Ever written a book that never got published? Ever think you’ll give it a second chance?
I’ve written several books that have not been published. (Far more than I’d like to admit.) I have every intention of going back to those manuscripts and giving them another try. In 2013, I have a book coming out that I worked on in different re-incarnations for about 20 years. While the final product doesn’t share any lines from the original, the idea or essence of the story is the same. Sometimes, it takes a long time to get a story right. Other times, a story’s time simply has not arrived. Once, I attended an award ceremony for a book that had been in the author’s drawer for 20 years before finding a publisher. I believe in saving all my manuscripts in hopes of being able to dust them off (and revise) when the right opportunity arrives.
When was the last time you were nervous?
I am always a bit nervous before an author appearance. However, the more often I speak, the better I feel before a school visit. It is a privilege to be invited to talk about my books at a school assembly. I always want to do a good job. So of course I can’t help worry a little about whether or not the Powerpoint will work or the microphone or my voice, etc.
Ever had something happen that you thought was bad, but it turned out to be for the best?
Many years ago, I worked as an assistant in a private library which served adults. When my boss decided to retire, she suggested I pick up some library classes and she would recommend me for her job. I went back to school for two years. When I had almost completed the program, I found out that the job I wanted had been given to someone else. I was devastated. Afterwards, almost on a whim, I applied for a job as a school librarian. Working every day with young readers not only gave me material to write about, it made me understand what young readers enjoy reading. As a school librarian, I became a voracious reader of children’s literature. It was the best thing that could have ever happened to enrich my career as a children’s author.
What do you miss most about being a kid?
I miss having time to relax. I used to spend hours playing Monopoly or putting together jigsaw puzzles. In the summer, I spent entire days at the pool. When you are a kid, you allow yourself quiet time to think or to play. I don’t allow myself much free time. I always seem to want to accomplish something.
If you could choose to stay a certain age forever, what age would it be?
I think I’d like to stay in my mid-fifties forever. It is a good time of life. You know yourself better and have put many past mistakes and anxieties behind you. But not being quite sixty, you still feel relatively young.