Welcome James V. Jacobs, author of No Ordinary Season to my blog.
Tell us about your book and how the story came to be.
I was inspired by my older daughter Angel’s participation in cross country. She—along with her high school teammates—worked so hard, running and training in the summer of 1986 that they entered the season that fall in such good condition that they went on to win the conference championship. I was also impressed by the fact that earlier in my daughter’s career as a runner, she was just considered average, but she proved through hard work she could excel. I first wrote the story in long hand, and as often happens, other things in life got in the way, so I put it up. When I retired in 2004, I was determined that I wanted to spend my time writing, so I dug out the story. It didn’t take long for me to realize that what was developing was a tale about more than cross country. That sport was simply a vehicle to deliver a subtle message about teen angst, bigotry, and taking a stand for right. In other words, I had a YA novel that dealt with values. Not in a preachy way, but displayed through the choices and actions of my main character, Cassie Garnet. Of course, what with the revolution in technology, 2016 is a far cry from 1986, requiring me to update the story to the present. What I believe I created is a novel that combines values with realism. How do I know about teen angst, especially as experienced by young women? Well, my wife and I raised two daughters, and the best answer I can give is that my involvement with their growing up gave me good experience and a reference point to tell this story. Also, it would be remiss of me not to mention the counsel I received from my editor Erin Liles and the mystery writer Susan Van Kirk. They were a huge help.
What three words best describe your main character?
underachiever, developing, committed
Do you have a method for creating your characters, their names and what do you think makes them believable?
My method is simple: At least for No Ordinary Season I observed the young people around me and those I had in class—46 years as a teacher. The book I am working on now, which is being written under the working title Beat Not the Air, is based more on my experiences as a kid growing up in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s. I call it a YA novel for old baby boomers. Names? I try to pick names that are common to the era. I had to “modernize” a number of the names in Season to fit this time. Truthfully, the names of my characters don’t contain any hidden meanings. As far as believable, I listen to the language of the time, observe the trends, and research that which I don’t know much about or don’t understand. In the case of No Ordinary Season, when I was nearing the final draft, I put a hard copy of the manuscript into the hands of my beta readers—five teenage young women—and sought their unvarnished input. Believe me, they didn’t hold back, and I took their advice seriously.
Do your characters follow your plot path or do they take on a life of their own? Do you keep them in check?
Martin Litvin was a writer from my hometown who had some measure of success, but had a wealth of experience. He once advised me to “write the story, and then put it together.” I start with a good grasp of who my characters are, at least in a general sense. For example, I knew when I started Season, Cassie would be a high school student struggling to overcome the “stigma” of being mediocre—striving to be significant. But that was about it. I took off writing the story, and over time I standardized place and time, refined the plot, and allowed the characters to develop with the story. But, yes, there are times when I have to pull back some of my characters. For example, in Season, I was forced to rein in Cassie, because she was becoming a little too “rebellious”. Certainly, she is no saint, but she is for sure not an out-of-control hedonist either. She, like most teens, is struggling as she approaches adulthood.
Have you ever suffered from writer’s block? If so, how did you overcome it?
No, I never had a problem with it. I think maybe that’s due to the method of writing the story first and then putting it together. In my case—and this is strictly in my case—I view the novel, novella, or short story as being like construction of a building. It begins with the architectural drawing—the rough draft—that gives an overview, and then as it develops it becomes a schematic, as fine points and details are created and sanded to bring the story alive, just like the building comes to completion. I would also mention that I do a great deal of my writing when I am walking or jogging— head writing. Then, upon returning home, I immediately put those thoughts on paper.
What types of books do you like to read?
Although I have great respect for writers of fantasy, futurism, the magical, and the supernatural, I don’t read those books. I like stories about the life most of us experience. The writers who I have read the most are the black writers: Ralph Ellison, Zora Neal Hurston, James Baldwin, and Richard Wright. Yes, I know, that they don’t seem to fit the YA genre, but that’s who I like the most. I also have been influence by John Steinbeck, Philip Roth, Saul Bellow, Flannery O’Connor, and I especially like Larry McMurtry’s The Last Picture Show. I also like the “cozy” mysteries of Susan Van Kirk; not well known out of mystery readers’ circles, but an entertaining author who weaves a quiet message within her who-done-its. Of course, most of these writers have written about young adults, but with more naturalist themes and settings. Mind you, I am in no way comparing myself to any of these great authors, but those are the kinds of book I like to read.
What do you like to do when you are aren’t writing?
Spend time with Hattie, my wife, and with our daughters, granddaughters, and sons-in-law. I read a lot too and jog 20 miles a week, often with Sweetie, our dog.
What’s next for your writing? Are you working on a new story?
I am working on the previously mentioned Beat Not the Air and a novella with the working title, Freeing Jocko. As I said, Beat Not…is a YA novel set in the early 1960’s.
Freeing Jocko is for older readers.
What is the best piece of writing advice you’ve received?
This came from both Susan Van Kirk and Martin Litvin: As much as is possible, make writing a job. Set aside time. Discipline yourself to write even when you don’t feel like it or aren’t “inspired”. Also, read a lot, because reading and writing are welded together. Finally, I try to carry around something to write with and something to write on, so that any ideas I have I can jot down and not forget.
No Ordinary Season will be coming out sometime between mid-December to early January. I don’t have a release date yet. My book can be found on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, on my publisher’s website (fatherandson.com), in some book stores, and it can be ordered from me at my website, jimjacobswriter.com. I should add that those who order directly from me will receive a discount.
I have had the pleasure of reading this book. My Review: I loved it. I love reading books where I can connect with believable characters. If I can run like that when I'm not in shape, what could I do if I am really fit? Maybe C.R. Simon can help me answer that question. Cassie is a typical teenager that readers can relate to. She deals with problems most teenagers face. Enjoyable read. I look forward to reading more books by James.
Zach tore into Jake. The two swung wildly, mostly hitting nothing but autumn air, but every now and then landing a blow. Then Zach tackled Jake. The two tumbled to the edge of the bank and rolled around like a couple of groundhogs trapped in a drain pipe. A huge crowd gathered around them, yelling first for one, then the other. I rushed from the car and pushed my way to the front along with Marlo.
Now, the two gladiators were on their feet circling each other, fists up and ready. Jake swung
and missed. Zach smacked him in the right eye. Jake grabbed the right side of his face—his check and eye socket. Then Zach drove a right-handed fist into Jake’s nose. Blood shot out, and down tumbled Jake, butt over elbows into the chilled water of the Mississinewa.
Oh, God, I thought, I hope he’s not seriously hurt.
Fortunately, the river was down and running slowly. Jake rose and stood knee deep in the water flowing past him. His white shirt was spotted with red polka dots as drops of blood dripped onto his chest. Jake blotted his bloody nose with his shirt sleeve, and then started up out of the Mississinewa, slipping on the bank and back into the river.
I rushed to him. “Jake, are you all right?” I said, wading into the river, then wrapping my arms around him and his soaked collar. Ignoring the blood, I pulled him down to me and we kissed.
“Hey, what the. . . you’re my date,” said Zach.
Jake and I kissed even harder. Actually, I felt kind of bad for Zach. He’d been a good sport, and I’d used him. But an apology would have to wait. Right then, I was busy. I mean, like my dad says: All’s fair in love and war.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
JAMES V. JACOBS was educated at Marion College (now Indiana Wesleyan University) and Western Illinois University. He worked in the Civil Rights Movement with Urban League affiliates in Indiana, and taught fifth grade in the Galesburg, IL public schools for thirty-five years. He also taught writing at Carl Sandburg Community College.
Jacobs has received awards for his teaching and commitment to human relations. They include Award of Excellence from the Illinois Math and Science Academy, League of Latin American Citizens (LULAC)Teacher of the Year, Honored Teacher Award from the University of Iowa, Outstanding Alumni Achievement Award from Indiana Wesleyan University, Outstanding Dedication to Education Citation from Boston University, and the Human Relations Award from the Galesburg Human Relations Commission. Jacobs was also part owner of HRC, Inc., a business that dealt with issues of racism through education and conflict resolution.
Jacobs’s essays have appeared in The Prairie Journal and The Zephyr, and he has had an essay and short story published in the literary/art magazine Phizzogs. Additionally, Jacobs authored A Teacher’s Guide to Voices of the Prairie Land.
No Ordinary Season is his first published novel.