I’m always inspired by authors who balance writing with running organizations that promote literacy, and I’m thrilled to introduce Cynsations readers to Joy Jones, author, non-profit director and double Dutch jumper!
Congratulations on Jayla Jumps in! The story has a lot of interesting layers. What was your initial inspiration for writing it?
Jayla Jumps In (Albert Whitman, 2020) is about a girl who starts a double Dutch team. I actually started a double Dutch—not as a girl but as a grown woman. And I started the team for other adult women who wanted to jump rope. DC Retro Jumpers primarily does demonstrations all around town.
Our claim to fame isn’t that we’re such outstanding performers. What we do is we make you the star of the show. We get people in the audience to jump, both kids and adults—often for the very first time. The exhilaration people feel when they jump is like the exuberance of confetti and champagne all in one. And it’s very contagious. I was hoping to capture some of that joyful contagion in the book.
However, I resisted writing the book at first. I had already written a play about the subject called Outdoor Recess. My agent thought double Dutch would make a good children’s novel. I agreed, but I didn’t think I had anything new to say about double Dutch. I’m so glad I gave myself the opportunity to play with the idea and see where it led me!
What were the challenges (literary, psychological, logistical) in bringing the text to life?
The main challenge is always maintaining the discipline to write. My favorite definition of discipline is ‘remembering what you want.’
What do I want?
To complete a book. Therefore, I must staple my butt to a chair and cover a white page of paper with black ink. Whenever I get lazy, I remind myself of what I truly want. That motivates me to get back to work.
In terms of publishing, how did you navigate the process of finding the right home for your story?
I got lucky. Very lucky. The editor of my last book, Fearless Public Speaking (Sterling, 2019), moved to a new publishing house. She invited me to send her the latest thing I had completed. I sent her Jayla Jumps In and she liked it. She was the first editor I submitted it to.
It was by far the quickest turnaround I’ve ever experienced. Normally, I send a manuscript out zillions of times before I get a hit.
This isn’t your first book for young readers. Your picture book, Tambourine Moon, illustrated by Terry Widener was published by Simon & Schuster in 1999 and you’ve written nonfiction for teens, as well as titles for adults. Do you have strategies for switching between genres and age levels?
Not really. The principles for good writing apply to audiences of every age. My goal is always to tell a good story.
What advice do you have for beginning children’s-YA writers?
I highly recommend joining a writer’s group. Belonging to a group imposed a friendly discipline. Even when I thought I wouldn’t have anything to write…once the deadline of the monthly meeting was upon me, I got busy and came up with something to put down on paper.
The other thing a beginning writer must do is to take the long view. The writer’s life is not a sprint, it’s a marathon. Rejections and slow going are part of the process. Just keep going. Write, submit, repeat.
What craft books were most useful to you and how?
I like books that not only teach the craft, but also talk about the soul and psychology behind being a writer. Lots of people say they want to write a book but that desire has to be harnessed to something deeper and more disciplined than just desire.
My favorite works on writing:
- Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg (Shambhala, 1986)
- Tales from the Script: 50 Hollywood Screenwriters Share Their Stories – a documentary video by Peter Hanson and Paul Robert Herman (Dey Street Books, 2010)
- Comedy Writing Workbook by Gene Perret (Players Press, 1994)
- Walking On Alligators: A Book of Meditations for Writers by Susan Shaughnessy (HarperOne, 1993)
- Stein on Writing by Sol Stein (St. Martin’s Press, 1995)
- If You Want To Write: a Book about Art, Independence and Spirit by Brenda Ueland (1938, Gray Wolf Press, 1983)
Tell us about The Spoken Word and the Story Gift Project.
The Spoken Word started as a performance poetry group. We have since branched out into other areas but the mission is to address needs in the community through the arts.
The Story Gift Project gives free new books to people who might not otherwise own books. This year, I’ve given books to patients at St. Elizabeths Hospital; Computer CORE, an adult literacy program; girls enrolled in Double Dutch For Fun; and attendees at DC Retro Jumper’s event, Learning Through The Ropes.
Joy Jones is a trainer, performance poet, playwright and author of several books including Private Lessons: A Book of Meditations for Teachers; Tambourine Moon, which was selected as one of the best books for children by the black caucus of the ALA and featured on the Bernie Mac Show; and Fearless Public Speaking.
She has won awards for her writing from the D. C. Commission on the Arts & Humanities, and the Colonial Players Promising Playwrights Competition, plus awards from both the D. C. Department of Recreation & Parks and the D. C. Commission on National & Community Service for outstanding community service.
Joy Jone’s provocative op-ed on marriage trends for The Washington Post, “Marriage is for White People”, went viral. She is the director of the arts organization, The Spoken Word, and the founder of the Double Dutch team, DC Retro Jumpers, which has led exhibitions and classes throughout metropolitan Washington and abroad. Joy often leads workshops on creative writing, communications and black history.
Check out a video of the DC Retro Jumers in action at the Cherry Blossom Parade.
Gayleen Rabakukk holds an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College and is the former assistant regional advisor for Austin SCBWI.