Guest Blog Post With Author Darlene Beck Jacobson

I had wanted to post this during Anti-bullying month in October, however, my fall and concussion kind of ruined my plans (more on that in my blog post next week)! In the beginning of the pandemic, my friend Darlene Beck Jacobson’s 2nd MG historical fiction novel, WISHES, DARES, & HOW TO STAND UP TO A BULLY (Creston 2020) published. (And it recently received the 2021 National Council of Teachers of English Notable Verse Novel Award for 2021)!  

WISHES, DARES, & HOW TO STAND UP TO A BULLY is about 11 -year-old Jack, who recently learned that his father is MIA in Vietnam. As if that wasn’t upsetting enough, his Mom announces that she, Jack and his younger sister will be spending the summer at his Grandparents. What Jack originally thought would be a boring summer turns into a magical adventure involving a wish granting fish (Yes!) 😊, new friendships, but also a new bully.

An unexpected find in his father’s boyhood bedroom leads Jack to discover a diary that his father kept when he was around the same age. This diary from his father’s past just might have the surprising answers to Jack’s current problem. But will Jack be brave enough to do the right thing and handle the results if they do not go as he hoped.

This novel in verse lyrically weaves Jack’s discovery that summer and how it changes the lives of all involved in this heart-rending story. During this holiday season, WISHES, DARES, & HOW TO STAND UP TO A BULLY would make a great gift 😊

So now, here is Darlene Beck Jacobson sharing how the idea for the story came about and why she involved the unexpected twinkle of magic in Jack’s story.
Welcome Darlene! Thanks so much for doing this guest post!

Hi Kathleen! Thanks so much for hosting me on your wonderful blog. And thanks for wanting to know about the origins and writing choices I made for my latest book WISHES, DARES, & HOW TO STAND UP TO A BULLY (Creston 2020).

On one particular morning in late spring of 2018, I awoke with the name JACK and a number of four letter words circling around my thoughts like a mantra. The more these words circled, the more they took shape and began shouting at me. “Here’s the title!” “Here’s the premise…of a boy missing his father who is at war.” I repeated these words, phrases, like a song I wanted to memorize so I wouldn’t forget.

Before I headed to the shower or did anything in my normal morning routine, I raced out of bed, grabbed a notebook and pencil, and wrote down everything circling my brain. Pages and pages filled the notebook, including a list of four letter words I hoped to use in the story. Several pages later, when I felt relief that I hadn’t lost this dream – this gift every writer hopes for – I breathed a sigh and began my day. 

This was the beginning of the writing journey that became WISHES, DARES, AND HOW TO STAND UP TO A BULLY (Creston 2020). As I began writing the story, and listening the Jack’s insistent voice and the way he talked, it became apparent that I had to tell the story in a non-traditional way. His emotions and feelings were laid bare in his desire to express all he was going through one particular summer. Free verse seemed the best way to capture this stream-of- consciousness story telling.

It wasn’t until JACK met a girl named JILL that I knew the story was bigger than just a boy missing his Dad. As the duo did their best to avoid the bullying from Jill’s brother CODY, I realized the story needed to be set in the past where they were freer to roam and play unsupervised.

How did I end up including the magical element of a fish that grants wishes?

This aspect of the story surprises me every time I think about it. I’ve never written magical realism or fantasy before. I didn’t plan on doing so with this story. Until they caught the one- eyed fish named FRED. At that moment it was as if the fish was talking to me and letting me know he wanted to be part of this tale. Jack had already been wishing for his Dad to come home, so it seemed like a great idea to make the fish a granter of wishes. And, it became the perfect vehicle for discussions of being careful what you wish for because every wish has a consequence, and doing the right thing instead of the easy thing.

The free verse format was very freeing in itself because I didn’t have to work in a linear fashion to tell the story. Each day Jack and I would sit down with a poem title and he would “spill his guts” regarding his thoughts on that word or idea. I could move the poem around to where it made the most sense in the story. It was exciting and joyful to write this way. I hope readers enjoy the end result.

Well I’m sure they will, Darlene! Thanks so much!            *Visit my blog next week to learn about The Snake, The Kitchen Ninja, and My Concussion….. 

Bio and social media for Darlene: 

Darlene Beck Jacobson is a former teacher and speech therapist who has loved writing since she was a girl.  She is also a lover of history and can often be found mining dusty closets and drawers in search of skeletons from her past. She enjoys adding these bits of her ancestry to stories such as her award-winning middle grade historical novel WHEELS OF CHANGE (Creston 2014) and WISHES, DARES, AND HOW TO STAND UP TO A BULLY (Creston 2020).

                Darlene lives and writes her stories in New Jersey. She’s caught many fish, but has never asked one to grant her a wish. She’s a firm believer in wishes coming true, so she tries to be careful what she wishes for.

                Her blog features recipes, activities, crafts, articles on nature, book reviews, and interviews with children’s book authors and illustrators. Twitter: @DBeckJacobson