Darlene Beck-Jacobson: Bringing Stories to Life

I am thrilled to interview my friend and fellow Creston Books author, Darlene Beck-Jacobson.

blog tour photo

Teacher, speech therapist, and freelance writer, Darlene’s stories have appeared in Cicada, Cricket, and other magazines. Her debut historic middle grade novel, Wheels of Change (Creston Books), hits bookstores on September 22, 2014. She has also been working on another historic middle grade novel, A Sparrow in the Hand, exploring the coming of age of two sisters growing up in the coal mining area of Pennsylvania during the 1920’s. A chapter from this novel appeared in the March 2001 issue of Cricket magazine. You can also read this story on her website: http://www.darlenebeckjacobson.com 

Here’s what Kirkus has to say about Wheels of Change:

Changes fomenting both locally and nationally during the final year of Theodore Roosevelt’s presidency are seen through the eyes of feisty, bighearted Emily Soper, daughter of a carriage maker in Washington, D.C.

Twelve-year-old Emily loves helping her father in his barn; she even dreams, in futility, of becoming a blacksmith like her father’s beloved employee, Henry. She and her best friend, Charlie, ponder such things as gender roles, women’s suffrage and “horseless carriages.” She dutifully tries to become a lady even while working on a secret that uses her “masculine” skills. As the year progresses, Henry falls ill, and Emily and her family are subjected to the uncertainties of changing times as well as some nasty treatment from white supremacists. Resemblances to To Kill a Mockingbird are strong, especially during a tea party hosted by Emily’s mother. A nice touch: Throughout much of the book, Papa teaches Emily—and vicariously, readers—new vocabulary words. The strength of the text lies in Jacobson’s ability to evoke a different era and to endear readers to the protagonist. The prose is straightforward and well-researched, heavily peppered with historical references and containing enough action to keep readers’ attention.

Readers will empathize with Emily as she goes through her own changes, and they will applaud her heroism in more than one chapter. (author’s note, photographs, recipes, bibliography, websites) (Historical fiction. 8-11)

Darlene, thanks so much for taking the time to do this interview.

It’s my pleasure, Robin.

Let’s start at the beginning. When did you know that you wanted to be a writer, and more specifically a children’s book author?

I’ve loved writing since I was a girl. I wrote letters to everyone I knew and made up stories in my head. Even as a student, throughout school, I was crazy enough to actually enjoy the writing or essay portions of exams. I began writing short stories in the late 1980’s into the 1990’s. Even though the stories were for adult publications at first, there was often a child narrator or main character. I think it may have been my own inner child directing me. There’s something about giving a voice to young people that appeals to me. It was a natural progression to want to write a book for young people.

How did you end up gravitating toward middle grade historic fiction?

It just seemed like a good fit. I love hearing stories of the past from people who lived it. I grew up listening to my dad recount his WWII experiences as a POW in Japan. I listened to my mother tell her childhood stories of life as a coal miner’s daughter during the depression. These are the personal stories you don’t read about in history books. Creating characters in those long ago settings brings the era to life for me.

I think Middle Grade kids like to hear about kids from the pastwhat they ate, wore, the games they played, and what they worried about. While many of the things seem strange to modern children, there is much that remains the same: friendship, family, getting along, fairness, righting wrongs and fighting injustice.

I LOVED Wheels of Change! I could not put it down. It has a timeless feel, akin to Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie, and from page 1 found myself rooting for 12-year old Emily Soper, who unlike some of the adults in her life, was unafraid to take a stand for what is right. What makes Wheels of Change even more special is that it was inspired by the real life experiences of your grandmother, Mary Emily Soper. When did you realize that you wanted to tell her story?

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There were two family facts I discovered while researching my family tree. One was that my paternal grandmother’s father was a carriage maker in Washington DC at the turn of the Twentieth Century. The other was that grandma received an invitation to a reception held at the White House by Theodore Roosevelt. She attended that reception and met TR. The story grew from there.

While this was the catalyst for Wheels of Change, I want readers to know the story is NOT a biography of my grandmother’s life. Everything else that occurs in the story is made up. I like to think of it as a re-imagining of grandma’s childhood. The grandmother I knewand the Emily Soper in WOCare two entirely different people.

You also explore the socio-economic, political, and industrial changes facing the United States in the early twentieth century. Was this your intention at the outset?

It was. I wanted to show how change affects us all and can bring welcome and unwelcome things into our lives. It’s up to each of us to decide the importance of those changes. We can’t stop changeit still happens all around us. But, if we make it work for us, we can see a better outcome.

From start to finish how long did it take you to write and research Wheels of Change?

It took about five years from the “idea” to a picture book that was too long and complex, and then to the final middle grade manuscript.

I’ve been fortunate enough to read your picture book, Together on Our Knees, about a young abolitionist, Matilda Joslyn Gage. Can you tell us how you became interested in her story?

I found Matilda’s name on a poster of The Alternative Alphabet For Big and Little People under the letter G. When I researched her online, I discovered she was a prominent abolitionist and suffragist who worked alongside Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, yet few people know about her. There are some wonderful books written about her adult life: She Who Holds the Sky by Sally Roesch Wagner, and Sisters in Spirit also by Sally Roesch Wagner. There is nothing featuring her as a child. Together on Our Knees is my attempt to rectify that.

Can you share some insights into your writing process? What’s a typical writing day like for you?

One of the few consistencies in my process is the first draft which I always do with pen and paper. I lose a measure of creativity trying to get the original ideas down on a computer, so I don’t use one until I have a written draft. That frees me up to make mistakes, scribbles and jot down ideas in margins or on sticky notes as I go. I try to write something every daywhether it’s a blog post, letter, a few pages of editingand on days when I can’t or don’t write, I read or review ideas or plot points in my head to keep the story going, and to work through problems I’ve encountered.

How did you meet your agent?

I am especially happy to answer this question for you Robin since you and I share the same agent: Liza Fleissig of the Liza Royce Agency. I met herand her co-agent Ginger Harrisat our NJSCBWI annual conference in Princeton, NJ in 2010. I pitched the idea for WOC to Ginger who requested 30 pages. Liza then asked for the full manuscript and made an offer of representation not long after that.

Liza selling the book to Marissa Moss of CRESTON BOOKS is another serendipitous thing we share, since your books, The Case of the Missing Carrot Cake, A Wilcox & Griswold Mystery (illustrated by Deborah Zemke), and Hildie Bitterpickles Needs Her Sleep (illustrated by Chris Ewald), will be coming out with CRESTON next year. It’s fun having that connection.

I couldn’t agree with you more! 🙂

Do you have any words of wisdom for new writers?

Two things always come to mind and have become a sort of life philosophy with regards to writing: Nothing ventured, nothing gained, which means you can’t be afraid to dive in and write, edit, pitch, ask for critiques, and do what needs to be done to get your manuscript out into the world. The second is, persistence. How many times did Edison fail before he got a light bulb to work? How many other authors faced multiple rejections before a success? If you learn your craft, do the revisions that are necessary and keep trying to improve your writing, YOU WILL GET PUBLISHED.

Lastly, how can your fans get a hold of you if they would like you to do a school visit?

Twitter@dustbunnymaven

Website: http://www.darlenebeckjacobson.com

Blog: http://www.darlenebeckjacobson.wordpress.com

If anyone is interested in pre-ordering Wheels of Change, it is available on Amazon or Barnes & Noble, and at a number of independent bookstores.

Darlene, many thanks for doing this interview. And congratulations and much success with Wheels of Change.

It’s been a pleasure Robin. Thanks for having me.

And to learn more about Darlene, Wheels of Change, and toys and candy from the early 1900’s, please don’t forget to stop by Tara Lazar’s awesome blog, Writing for Kids (While Raising Them), www.taralazar.com, on September 19, 2014.

Children’s Author Blog Hop

This week I am participating in the Children’s Author Blog Hop.  For this Blog Hop, participating authors were asked to answer four identical questions and then invite three more children’s authors to join in the “Hop.”  And I am thrilled that my fellow Creston Book author, the incredibly prolific Darlene Beck-Jacobson, was kind enough to invite me.

darlene&me

Me & Darlene (2013 NJ SCBWI Annual Conference)

Darlene’s first novel, Wheels of Change (Creston Books), is hitting bookstores in 2014.  Many of Darlene’s books, including Wheels of Change, explore how family and history converge through children’s eyes.  In Wheels of Change, a young girl’s attempt to save her family’s business leads her on an adventure that lands her a visit with Theodore Roosevelt.  Darlene is also working on a current, contemporary middle-grade novel, The Art of Imperfection.   A chapter from her middle-grade novel, Sparrow in the Hand, which explores the coming of age of two sisters growing up in a coal mining area of Pennsylvania during the 1920’s, appeared in the March 2001 issue of Cricket Magazine.

Darlene blogs about kidlit, crafts, recipes, and activities for children.  You can follow her wonderful blog at: http://darlenebeckjacobson.wordpress.com and follow her on Twitter @dustbunnymaven.

My invitees to the Blog Hop are three of my favorite authors:  Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen, Anita Nolan, and Rosanne Kurstedt.  (See more about my amazingly talented invitees and their awesome books below.)

Here are my answers to the questions.

What are you working on right now? 

Over the last few months, I’ve been working on revisions to my early chapter book, The Case of the Missing Carrot Cake, A Wilcox & Griswold Mystery (Creston Books, release TBD).  It is the first book in the series about two hard-nosed mouse detectives, who are MFIs, Missing Food Investigators.  In their seminal case, they’re on the hunt for Miss Rabbit’s carrot cake.  (Please note the names of the animals have been changed to protect the innocent.)

I’ve also been working on a number of picture books, including one about three mischievous peacocks who reside on the grounds of the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine in New York.

How does it differ from other works in the genre?

Generally speaking, I try to write books that appeal to kids of all ages.  My early chapter book detective series brings the humor and fun of old cop shows to the elementary school crowd.

And in terms of my peacocks, there’s only one other picture book to the best of my knowledge (fingers and toes crossed it stays that way!) about the peacocks.  And it is a very different picture book from the one currently on the market.  There’s mischief and plotting and even the world’s best mac ‘n cheese.

Why do you write what you do?

A few years back, I started working on a YA novel, but somehow I always seem to gravitate back to picture books and early chapter books.  I am also a foodie and a fractured fairy tale fanatic.  (The Big Bad Wolf and I go way back. :))  Somehow food, fairy tales, and lots of silliness seem to seep their way into many of my writings.

What is the hardest part about writing?

Once I know where I’m going, the actual writing is easy.  It’s the rewriting, tweaking, and re-tweaking of the manuscript that is always hard for me.

Now for the best part!  Here are the amazingly talented writers that I’ve invited to the Blog Hop.

Sudipta-Bardhan-Quallen1

ddm-coverSudipta Bardhan-Quallen has over 24 published titles under her belt, running the gamut from picture books to fiction and non-fiction for both children and adults to an upcoming middle grade chapter book series, Spectacles of Destiny, and to speaking and teaching engagements.  Her latest picture book Duck, Duck, Moose! illustrated by Noah Z. Jones is coming out January 2014.  You can visit Sudipta at www.sudipta.com, or at her blog, http://www.nerdychicksrule.com, which she shares with author Kami Kinard, and on Facebook, https://www.facebook.com/pages/Sudipta-Bardhan-Quallen-Childrens-Book-Author/67021696384, and on Twitter too! @SudiptaBQ

Anita Nolan writes middle grade and young adult novels and speaks frequently on the writing process at writing conferences, the Pearl S. Buck Writing Center and other venues.  She is the author of a historic fiction chapter book written for an educational publisher and articles for children’s magazines.  She was editor for Sprouts, the magazine of the NJSCBWI when it was published and has edited children’s fiction for an e-publisher.  You can visit Anita at http://www.anitanolan.com, or her blog, http://anitanolan.wordpress.com, and on Twitter too! @anitanolan

rosannekurstedtbloghop

And I thoughtRosanne Kurstedt has a Ph.D. in education and is the acclaimed author of the self-published book, And I thought About You (illustrated by Lisa Carletta-Vietes), an honorable mention recipient at the New England Book Festival and the New York Book Festival.  She was also the recipient of a 2013 Barbara Karlin Grant Letter of Commendation.  In addition, she’s the author of a professional book for teachers, Teaching Writing With Picture Books as Models (Scholastic, 2000). You can visit Rosanne at www.rlkurstedt.com, or at her blog, http://rlkurstedt.wordpress.com, and on Facebook, https://www.facebook.com/AndIThoughtAboutYou, and on Twitter too! @rlkurstedt

Let the Blog Hopping continue!  Happy writing and reading!