Thursday, February 4, 2010

Special Guest Today!

About two months ago, an old friend I reconnected with on Facebook asked if I'd be interested in taking part of a blog tour. We chatted online, and as a result, I'm happy to be taking part in the Sydney Taylor Book Award Blog Tour today!

Seeing as I talk about nearly everything else here, this seemed to be fair game, and in the process, I got to know a wonderful writer. Today I am happy to introduce her to you. Her name is Jacqueline Jules, author of Benjamin and the Silver Goblet, silver medalist in the STBA young readers category.

EL: As a writer, it's fair to say that your subject matter somehow chooses you, rather than the other way around. How and where did you get your start as a 'professional' writer? (in this case, 'professional' means actually getting paid for what you produce--I believe anyone who writes as a mean to communicate can call themselves a writer!)

JJ: My first children’s book The Grey Striped Shirt was published in 1995. Before that, I had published poetry, short stories, book reviews, and local newspaper articles. In grade school and high school, I dreamed of being a writer, but I didn’t actually do much writing. In college, I got a B.A. in writing and became more diligent about actually putting words down on paper. I have been writing seriously now for over thirty years. But while I do make some income as a writer, I can’t really support myself as a writer. Right now, it is more accurate to call me a “published author” rather than “a professional writer.” (Though I wouldn’t be disappointed if that status changed one day.)

Your excellent definition of a writer—anyone who writes as a mean to communicate—really intrigues me. In our society, everybody needs the skills of a writer. The ability to write an effective business e-mail is essential in the workplace. In my current teaching job, I am a writing coach. Though I do some whole class lessons, I spend most of my time one-on-one, helping individual students express themselves in written form. Last October, I participated in The National Day on Writing. This day, created by the National Council of Teachers of English was designed to call attention to the importance of writing in everyday life. At my elementary school, classrooms brainstormed to come up with lists of all the different ways people use writing in their lives and their jobs. I compiled those ideas into a long scroll of over eighty-five unique items and wrote about this eye-opening lesson at Schoolwide Blog.

Writing is not a talent reserved for authors and journalists. It is a means of communication everyone needs to succeed in contemporary life.

EL: I see we share a common love of puzzles and the use of such as a metaphor as a way to describe your writing process! But what particular ideas set the process in motion for you?

JJ: I am a person who loves to play with words. They spin in my head until I can arrange them in an order that pleases me. Some people are passionate about gardening or birding or cooking. I am passionate about words. And just about any activity can trigger a writing project for me. I think of ideas while I am driving, taking a walk, doing dishes, taking a shower, reading a book or the news. Conversations with friends come back to me at a later time and inspire poems. A student or teacher can ask me a question that makes me decide to write a story on that topic. I don’t run out of ideas. I run out of time and energy to pursue all the ideas I have. Writing calms my psyche. Especially poetry. When I write a poem, I often cage thoughts that have been nagging me. Behind the bars of a poem, troubled feelings can be contained and tamed. It’s my adult method of self-soothing, like a pacifier or a thumb.

EL: What challenges do you face as a writer? Meaning: what are those things that stand in your way when you have a particular idea you want to get across?

JJ: It can often take a very long time to get a story or an idea right. I often think of my first drafts as caterpillars, crawling creatures hungrily nibbling on leaves. Sometimes those first drafts need to spend months or years in the cocoon stage until they emerge as wet butterflies, ready to learn how to fly. Every time I re-write a story or a poem, I am more pleased with it. I enjoy the process of rearranging words to tell the same story in a better way. However, it can also be discouraging to re-write something for years and years, hoping that this time it will connect with an editor and have the opportunity to find readers.

EL: I love that faith is an overarching theme in your work. Is that by design or happenstance?

JJ: Many of my ideas for books have grown out of my work as an educator. For many years, I worked in Jewish education. I wrote Once Upon a Shabbos, my first story for Jewish preschoolers, to perform at a Tot Shabbat service. The Hardest Word, the first book in a series about the giant mythological bird, the Ziz, was written for a family Rosh Hashanah service where I was the featured storyteller. My bible series began ten years ago, when I was working as a synagogue librarian. A religious school teacher asked for a good picture book about Abraham. I couldn’t find an attractive one young children could relate to. So I began researching and writing. The result was Abraham’s Search for God which was followed by Sarah Laughs, and Benjamin and the Silver Goblet.

In the fall, Miriam in the Desert will be released. Lately, I have been getting ideas for bible stories when I go to Shabbat services on Saturday morning and read the weekly Torah portion.

EL: You have a wonderful career that spans a love of education in multiple settings. Have you achieved everything you wish to accomplish? If not, what more do you hope to do?

JJ: I haven’t begun to achieve everything I want. I’d like to finish two middle grade novels I have been working on for years and I’d like to start writing the one in my head. Though my poetry has been published in over sixty journals, I do not have my own published collection, which is high on my list of goals. And of course, I’d like to publish more picture books, a medium I truly adore.

For more information about this fabulous author, visit Please also check out the wonderful pages at Association of Jewish Libraries blog at, and to the official Sydney Taylor site at


Madelyn said...

When Jackie talks about working to get a story right, she isn't kidding. She's one of the hardest working people I know, especially when it comes to revision! Thanks for a great interview!

Anonymous said...

This was a really great interview. Good insight into the author as an artist. A creator. It is always so interesting to learn how each writer approaches his or her craft.

Thanks so much!!!!

Phyllis Sommer said...

what a lovely interview! these books are some of my favorites, and i am a big fan of "the hardest word" - thanks for doing this!

Heidi Estrin said...

Great interview! Thanks for being part of the blog tour, Betsy!

Jess Horwitz said...

Thanks Betsy and Jackie! I really liked "listening in" on your discussion about writing. Great interview!

Enid said...

Yes Thank you so much for this wonderful interview. I have been a fan of Jackie's books for I guess 15 years!