The Canadian Writers' Collective

Writing, and writerly tangents

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Interview: Jacqueline Guest

by J.A. McDougall

Imaginative, well written stories are vital to every member of our family. Individually, we exploring our personal stages in what may hopefully be a lifelong romance with literature. Occasionally we are able to celebrate books and authors together.

A few months ago, I took my two oldest children to meet Alberta children’s author, Jacqueline Guest who was visiting our local Indigo store. My son led the way when he saw that beside Jacqueline was a table laden with hides and relics related to her newest book, Wild Ride. The story, set in Banff, introduces young readers to the issue of poaching. The four of us had a lovely chat about her books. She was completely at ease speaking to the children about their schools and the subjects they like to read about. I discovered that her books are set in western Canada and that one book is set just twenty minutes from my house.

Her personality was such that I felt comfortable enough to ask her a few questions myself. I told her that I was new to writing and would someday like to write a novel. When I shared with her my Cup of Comfort news and that I had an opportunity to participate in a signing in that same store this fall, she actually hugged me! Only another writer can truly appreciate how exciting it is to have something of your own appear in print, and in the bookstore.

This month I interrupted Jacqueline’s tour schedule to ask her a few questions about her life and career as a children’s author.

Where do you usually begin with a new story? An interesting character? An unusual situation?[Jacqueline Guest] A new story starts with one incident that fires the imagination. For instance, my new children's history book, Secret Signs, is set in the depression and is about a boy who travels across the prairies by hopping freight trains with an old hobo. To get by they use the secret hobo signs which were symbols that told travelers where they could get a free meal, or where it was safe to sleep in the barn, etc. These symbols were real and were used in Canada, the US and Europe. I knew boys would love the idea of a runaway living by his own rules and using a secret code to get by. The idea for this book came to me when a friend gave me one of the 'Hobo Signs' as a birthday present. She thought it was merely a cute tile to hang up on the side of my house. (It was the symbol which meant a kind hearted woman lived here.) I laughed and told her it wasn't just a tile, it was a book! And Secret Signs was born.

Having read Free Throw and Wild Ride I notice that you have no trouble speaking from the perspective of young characters of both sexes. Is it as easy as it appears? [Jacqueline Guest] As I get older, (MUCH older!!!!), it becomes harder to keep up with kids interests and the vernacular. The problem with gender is another tough one. Guys aren't all that different, believe it or not, and writing from a male perspective, I try to imagine what pressures are brought to bear on a teen. The responses are sometimes tough to get correct, but again, I imagine what the character would do, then write it.

One of the things I found surprising when I met you, was how at home you appeared promoting your books. You have an engaging way of dealing with both adults and children. Does marketing come naturally to you? [Jacqueline Guest] No, marketing doesn't come naturally. It is a skill you have to work on, but when you know and believe in a product, it makes it easier.

You have a fabulous website that seems to be geared to children, parents, and teachers. Do you rely on others to help build your marketing strategy or do you lead the process alone?[Jacqueline Guest] I decide on how I want it to appear and I have a Techie do the actual computer stuff. (I just drive it, I don't build it!)

How much time do you spend writing each week versus touring and promoting? [Jacqueline Guest] I used to spend more time writing than anything. (It's always that way when you are passionate about something!), but lately, I have been very busy with promotion and tours. When I don't write, I have withdrawal problems! The guilt is terrible! I work best to a deadline and seem to always need one. If I don't have one imposed on me by a publisher, I set one for myself. This assures I will make the time to write and justifies my ditching other things.

How long does it take for you to complete the research for one of your books? What about one of the history based stories like Belle of Batoche and Secret Signs? [Jacqueline Guest] Research can take a lot of time. However, I love learning new things and don't mind if it takes months of reading and sourcing out information to add that one special line to a book. Sometimes, it's that one line that makes the book real for the reader and that makes all the late night reading worthwhile.

I checked out your tour schedule this month. Wow! Where do find the energy for so much travel and promotion? Do you miss the writing process while on tour? [Jacqueline Guest] I am very busy this month. I take my computer with me and write in my room before bed. It's a bit of a bear when you are tired from presenting all day, but I feel truly fortunate to be an author and refuse to complain!

For you, do you find it hardest to get started on a new book or more difficult to complete it? [Jacqueline Guest] Finishing a book is tough. The editing process can be very tiresome.

With respect to getting the work done, how do you maintain enthusiasm for a book you are writing? Do you love it all the way through? Can you tell me about lulls you have to work through sometimes? [Jacqueline Guest] Books sometimes take on a life of their own, no matter how well plotted out it is. When this happens it's exciting to see where the characters will take the story.

What do you read? [Jacqueline Guest] I read lots of everything. Kids books, adult, mysteries, humour, whatever! Mark Twain, (Sam Clemens), is my fav author. (That guy was a hottie!!!!)

How do you keep yourself tuned in to your audience? [Jacqueline Guest] Kids are amazing! I ask questions and then really listen to what they say. This allows me to see what is important to the audience and I can then gravitate in that direction.

Regarding your school presentations, what are your desired outcomes for the students and for informing yourself? Do the visits and presentations motivate you to write? [Jacqueline Guest] Kids are the reason I do this. I truly believe the future begins with literacy. Our kids need to be able to read and comprehend and that means reading books, not seeing the movies. If I can impress on them that reading the book Harry Potter is more interesting and will actually help them more than seeing the movie, maybe they will pick up the book and give it a shot. It only takes one good book to capture a child's imagination. Then the second book is no problem.

Thanks Jacqueline!


Blogger Patricia said...

wonderful!!!! I love this, it's great!!! I am sooo going to buy her books, thank you so very this!!!! so incredibly well done..xoxo

Sun Oct 22, 02:40:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger Anne C. said...

We should all move to log cabins in the foothills.

In the meantime, I'll be on the lookout for Secret Signs.

Sun Oct 22, 03:00:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger ania vesenny said...

i love reading interviews, thank you so much! i'm tempted to buy the books now, but i guess i should wait till my kids are older ;-).

Sun Oct 22, 04:17:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger Tricia Dower said...

I like this Jacqueline Guest! I can relate to so much of what she says about writing. If my kids were still young, I'd be buying her books like crazy.

Sun Oct 22, 05:27:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger Andrew Tibbetts said...

Yup- she's fun! I'm going to pick up something by her. My youngest son is 13 and unlike his older sibs and parents, he doesn't love reading. So I'm always on the lookout for books he'll enjoy.

Sun Oct 22, 06:49:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger Steve Gajadhar said...

Great interview!

Mon Oct 23, 04:55:00 pm GMT-4  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

thanks for taking the time to write this! Very helpful for 'new' writers.

Wed Nov 22, 05:56:00 am GMT-5  

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