Navigation menu

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Interview with Jacquelyn Speir, Q2 2019 Creative Nonfiction Essay Contest Runner Up

Jacquelyn Speir launched her writing career while working as a technical illustrator in aerospace publications at Kennedy Space Center. She illustrates many of her stories and articles for children, some of which have won awards. Her article about aerospace blimps—‘eyes in the sky’—was published in Essential News for Kids. She also co-wrote and illustrated a booklet about the writing process for Brevard County, Florida fifth graders. While her three sons orbited around the house, her career progressed into architectural design and freelance copy writing. Some years later, she and her husband—a quality assurance engineer and sports photographer—moved to Hawaii. Throughout their 23 years there, her numerous articles on Hawaiian culture, surfing, and wildlife appeared in an online newspaper and on various websites. Her short story “Roots of Change,” about a conflicted taro grower, was published in the 2007 Writer’s Digest winners’ anthology, and her essay “Word Search,” about a stroke victim and caregiver struggling to connect to each other, was published on the AARP Hawaii website.

Jacquelyn and her husband have returned to the Space Coast, where she is seeking an agent/publisher for her first middle-grade novel, Girl vs. Goat. She is currently working on her YA novel, Swimming with Gators, a story about kids growing up as first generation “space brats” while America was trying to put a man on the moon.

Read Jacquelyn's piece here and return to learn more about her writing process and where she gets her ideas.

WOW: Welcome, Jacquelyn, and congratulations again! Writing creative nonfiction can be such an abstract process. How did you first get the idea for your winning entry, “Scars—The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly?”

Jacquelyn: One day I was watching the TV show, "Dancing with the Stars," and thought: What if I changed “stars” to “scars”? That would make a great title or ending to an essay or story. So, as the idea developed, I started thinking about what the scariest, saddest, and worst days of my life had been. The process took me through some tough memories. But I’ve learned over the years that we can let adversity get us down or we can use it as rocket fuel for our writing. And that’s how “learning to dance with the scars” became the last line of the essay. My “dancing” has improved a lot with practice.

WOW: Great metaphor! You have an impressive resume full of writing credits and awards. What was the first award you ever won for your writing?

Jacquelyn: In the late eighties, when I first began taking my writing seriously, I entered a contest The Space Coast Writers Guild sponsored in conjunction with their annual convention. To my surprise, I placed first in the Children’s Writing category for my picture book Life is a Lot Like Picking Berries, a metaphor for life lessons. The next year I placed first in the same category for Turtle Egg Moon, a picture book about the life journey of a sea turtle. Though I’ve won several other contests with these manuscripts, I haven’t marketed them for a while, since I’ve been busy with other projects.

WOW: What a great list of projects already in the mix. Can you tell us a little about the middle-grade novel you are seeking representation for?

Jacquelyn: Girl vs. Goat is a contemporary novel about how Rebel-Ann, an ornery milk goat, teaches self-centered, irresponsible Casey Solomon that the choices and sacrifices we make can deepen our love for those who love us. The story takes place on a mini-ranch on the east coast of Florida, where missile launches and summer thunderstorms are the backdrop to the rocky road of a 12-year-old coming of age.

According to her parents, if Casey can’t handle her annoying little brother—whose food allergies prompted the acquisition of a milk goat—and manage her chores, then her dream of visiting her best friend in Key West, will never become a reality. At every turn, headstrong Rebel-Ann foils Casey’s attempts to succeed.

Having raised three boys, seven goats, two rabbits, two ponies, 150 chickens, and several ducks, cats, and dogs, I can relate to Casey’s dilemma. And, Rebel-Ann, the actual goat from which the story evolved, was more of a handful than all the other animals and kids combined.

WOW: What do you like most about writing for children/teens?

Jacquelyn: I enjoy reliving the feelings and adventures of those days and being able to give kids a few clues on how to navigate this difficult, yet amazing time of life. So, through my characters, I get to feel young again.

WOW: What was your revision process like for the essay (Scars)?

Jacquelyn: It’s my usual process: I write several drafts, then leave it alone for a week or so. Afterwards, I take a fresh look, edit for overall content, check sentence length and structure, obsess over finding the best descriptive words possible, and make sure the verbs do the heavy lifting. Then I give it to my sister to review. She points out my mistakes, and, as an engineer, is good at catching inconsistencies. I incorporate her suggestions and give it another long look. If it still affects me, I know it’s the story I wanted to tell—and I “go for launch.”

WOW: Hmm, not a bad idea to have an engineer as a proofreader! I love these practical pieces of advice on your revision process. I know we'll hear more from you in the future.

1 comment:

  1. Renee--Thanks for doing the interview and for providing a link to Jaquelyn's essay. I enjoyed it.

    Jaquelyn--Congratulations. Your story reminded me that we all have scars. Almost always, the invisible ones are the worst.

    Girl vs. Goal sounds intriguing. I'm not fond of goats, but your novel piques my interest enough to make me want to read it (in spite of the creepy-pupiled beast's prominence ;)

    Good luck snagging an agent/publisher. I hope it happens soon for you.


We love to hear from readers! Please leave a comment. :)