Breakfast with Jacqui
It’s Breakfast time! Enjoy the latest in our bi-weekly visits with creative mothers from the blogosphere: Meet Jacqui Robbins, children’s author, blogger, and mother of two. Jacqui is funny and down-to-Earth — just what you need in order to start your day with a smile and a dollop of inspiration. Sunny-side up, please!
CC: Please give us an intro to who you are, what you do, and your family headcount.
JR: My name is Jacqui Robbins. I’m a children’s author, sometime teacher, and parent to Tinkerbell, age 6, and Captain Destructo, who is 2 in every way. I live in Michigan with my kids and husband and two cats, a fish, and, lately, two families of attic squirrels against whom I battle daily. I am a 37-year-old who feels 25 or 98, depending on the day.
CC: Tell us about your children’s books and other creative endeavors.
JR: My first book, The New Girl…And Me, illustrated by Matt Phelan, came out in 2006 and Two of a Kind (also illustrated by Matt) comes out this summer. I was a first grade teacher for many years and my books all reflect how hard social drama can be when you’re six. In The New Girl…and Me, it’s Shakeeta’s first day at school. Mia would like to show Shakeeta around, or to learn more about her pet iguana, but how do you start talking to someone who might punch you in the head?
Two of a Kind is about mean girls. You know those two girls in your class who won’t let anyone play with them and are somehow still the most popular? Yeah, them. What if they finally let you play but then they made fun of your best friend?
Right now I am working on a chapter book. It’s a mystery/adventure story with a hint of romance but not too much. I’m in the first draft stage, so I’m still in love with it.
I’m also writing a non-fiction book with my sister called Egghead and Monkey Girl Kick It Old School, in which two sisters (us) raised in the heart of feminism realize they never learned to do any traditional women’s work and can barely feed themselves, and set out to learn everything they need to be domestic goddesses, and to teach it to other domestically challenged souls, while maintaining their fundamentally feminist attitudes.
CC: What prompted you to start a blog? What keeps you going?
JR: I always blogged. I used to write regular group letters, then e-mails and send them to all my friends and family. But I was insecure. I thought you had to be, I don’t know, famous or INVITED to blog, so I came late to the game. Also, it took me a while to find the voice of Jacqui’s Room. I’m a picture book author, but I’m also a novel lover and kind of snide. I wanted to talk seriously and hopefully helpfully about writing, but also be goofy about the classics and pretend to interview Salman Rushdie. When I realized I wanted the blog to be like the meeting rug in my classroom, a place where I hold forth, but everyone can comment and be welcome, it flowed from there. Now I keep going because people are (gasp!) reading it. Also, I am addicted to the internet.
CC: What goals do you have for your writing? How would you define your “life’s work”?
JR: Wow. That second question is hard for me because I always thought teaching was my life’s work and I’m not sure it still isn’t. I guess I hope my books tell kids, “Yeah, I know it’s hard. But you’re not alone and you know what? It’s gonna be okay.” And I want to make people laugh those laughs where you smile for a while afterwards. That’s the most important thing.
CC: How has motherhood changed you creatively?
JR: I’m more scatterbrained. I’m also more efficient. That’s a paradox I think only a parent can understand. My books are shorter, because I read to my own kids and I know bedtime is long enough already. I have a broader understanding of human emotions, which is very good for writing. But I’m also exhausted and frazzled and that’s bad. In the morning, I wrestle two kids into snowpants, hats, gloves, boots, coats and carseats, grab two lunches, homework, break up three arguments, find the library book, scream, “Whatareyoudoingupthereyou’resupposedtobebrushingyourteeth?!” and “Noyoucan’twearyourfairywingstoschoolputdownyourbrother’sorangejuice!” and get everyone off to where they need to be and then, heart racing, face frozen in a scowl, and every muscle tense, I sit down and tell myself, “WRITE! BE CREATIVE! You have ten minutes. GO! AAAH!”
CC: Where do you do your creative work?
JR: Hee hee. Here is a photo of my office from the summer. It’s even worse now, but I’m working on it, I swear. Meanwhile, I write on the sofa and at my local coffee shop a lot.
CC: Do you have a schedule for writing? Did the pressure of writing under a book contract change your time management strategies?
JR: I DO have a schedule for my writing. I make schedules for my writing all the time. Then I lose them or blow them off or one of the kids barfs and, well, you know. Sigh. Lately, I have been trying a timer: I sit down and write until it goes off. It works for me, this forced discipline. I’m a fast writer, if I’m focused, which helps. My books were all contracted as finished manuscripts, so I haven’t had contract deadline pressure. In fact, having the first book contract was very freeing for me in terms of feeling like “Hey! I’m a writer. I deserve time to write.” So even though I don’t keep a schedule, I respect my need to write and my need for time to do so.
CC: What do you struggle with most?
JR: Balance, or more specifically, my neurosis over the lack of it. Because there IS no balance, I think. My work is clearly much better when I am 100% focused on it and my family is palpably happier when I take a week off writing. So I struggle with the constant feeling of not giving things/people that are important to me everything they deserve.
CC: Where do you find inspiration?
JR: People assume I’m inspired by my own children, but really it’s my students. This is good, because at some point, my daughter is not going to think it’s so cool that her mom writes all these books about little girls who can’t make friends. I’m inspired by the difficulties my students have socially. Also, coffee helps.
CC: What are your top 5 favorite blogs?
JR: Ack. This is hard. I read a lot of writer blogs, but I also like to read blogs by people whose lives are totally different from mine. I’m going to go with the top five that make me smile and spend the rest of the week worrying I hurt someone’s feelings.
- Yield and Overcome has musings, poetry, and laughs from a writer, father of four, and recently rediscovered good friend.
- Bookie Woogie is new to me. It’s a father and his children reviewing books and they are funny and honest and charming.
- Bossy cracks me up.
- Elise Murphy (who’s in my writer support group Rock Sugar Beets) blogs about writing and life on the farm. Math for Writers is my favorite post of Elise’s.
- Picture books get little respect in the writing world, but Boni Ashburn writes all about them at Life on the Bookshelf. Her own book, Hush Little Dragon, is fabulous.
CC: What is your greatest indulgence?
JR: Books. I love them. Our shelves are overflowing and sagging and I love running my fingers across the titles and sighing happily. My friend, Erika Mijlin, wrote Feldman and the Infinite, a play about a guy who stole 15,000 books from the New York public library. He had books in the bathtub. I’m not there yet, but it doesn’t sound so bad.
Also, I never drank caffeine until my son was born. Now I am addicted to overpriced foamy coffee and soy milk drinks in big ceramic mugs.
CC: What are you reading right now?
JR: I just started City of Thieves, by David Benioff. I’m also in the middle of Shadow Country, by Peter Matthiesson, which is lovely, but as dense and murky as its Florida Everglades setting, so I take little breaks from it to read Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson and the Olympians series, which I recommend to everyone ages 9 to 100.
CC: What advice would you offer to other mothers struggling to find the time and means to be more creative?
JR: Two thoughts, one internal, one practical. First, make sure you are not the one sabotaging yourself. Make sure that if something is important to you, it’s not last on your to do list. Put it first, and then believe that you deserve that time and that your family/your day job/the world will keep spinning if you disappear for 30 minutes.
Secondly, one of my new year’s resolutions this year was to do something every day to make the next day easier on myself. It’s worked out really well; before I relax for the night, I do one thing on my to do list for the next day. Then, the next day, I’m all, “Hey! I already did that! Look at all this extra time I have!”
CC: Wonderful, Jacqui — thank you!