Jane grew up by a woods in Mequon, Wisconsin––a perfect place for her imagination to roam. After graduating from Northwestern University, she performed street theater throughout the Midwest. She moved to Brooklyn, New York, with her husband, and was inspired by their daughter to write for kids. In 2010, she published her first middle-grade novel, Nature Girl. She was the 2013 Thurber House Children’s Writer in Residence. She has written dozens of social studies and science books, and many more middle-grade novels, including The Desperate Adventures of Zeno and Alya, which was honored by the CCBC in 2014. Her most recent work is the chapter book series, The Escapades of Clint McCool. Jane is an active member of Society for Children’s Books Writers and Illustrators, where she is the editor of the SCBWI-WI Blog and a frequent presenter at workshops.
My Writing Journey–A Long and Winding Road
When I was a child, I was always making up stories. We lived near a woods close to Lake Michigan. Mud, sticks, stones, flowers, and streams could build any world we wanted. Some were based on beloved books like Swiss Family Robinson, Boxcar Children, and Winnie the Pooh. Some were my own particular escape to a more exciting existence. It never occurred to me to write anything down, even though I come from a family of writers. My grandmother was a novelist. My great aunts were newspaper women. Our house was full of my mother’s beloved books and my dad’s inventions. He was an engineer who loved finding creative solutions to everyday problems. I didn’t know what I wanted to do––only that I wanted more.
The theater seemed to be the answer. Inhabiting characters enabled me to live multiple lives. I majored in theater at Northwestern University. There I learned to pursue my dreams, no matter what. After I graduated, I joined Chicago Free Street Theater.
We performed all over Chicago and throughout the Midwest. I learned a lot about people and even a few dance steps. But working in the theater had drama both on-stage and off. I reached my limits as a performer, however not as a creative person.
I met my husband when we were co-winners in a ten-minute play contest at Actors Theater of Louisville. (He was working in the literary office. I was working in the costume shop.) We moved to New York City, where I continued to write plays, essays, short stories, novels. But I couldn’t find my creative voice until our daughter was nearly nine. Her love of reading inspired me to write something for her. Now I understood why my other attempts had fallen short. I had been writing to please myself. The best books never forget to engage the reader.
Writing my first middle-grade novel, Nature Girl, was similar to my character’s journey. Like Megan, I was scared (that I wasn’t good enough), lonely (because everyone has to write all by herself), and even hungry (if I told myself I couldn’t eat lunch until I fixed that paragraph). Megan and I both had to learn the importance of persistence. In fact, I inserted a character named Trail Blaze Betty to remind Megan and me that the only way to fail is to quit. That theme would continue throughout the rest of my novels.
One reason I love to write middle-grade is because it is such an important time of transition for kids. Although they are confronted by their fears, their lives contain the magic of friends, family, books, and humor. Most important of all, as Megan discovered in her journey, is the power of Nature. Certainly these things have always been true for me.
After living in New York City and Brooklyn for thirty years, my husband and I returned to the home where I grew up. My husband works as a theatrical producer and consultant, so the theater is still in my life. We love to travel to see our daughter who lives in New York, and to places all over the world.
But my favorite journeys are the ones in my mind. Planning the story, living in each character, solving the puzzle of rewriting––and exchanging ideas with my readers.