Writers@Work: An Interview with Author Jacqueline Houtman
7 January 2020
Note From Rochelle
After spending Christmas week dealing with multiple sewage backups in my basement, I took a week off of work and social media to rest and hang out with my family. When I returned, I spent Saturday setting up my 2020 bullet journal. (You can see photos on Instagram.) But my goals page is still empty. Even though I have ideas about how I want my life to be different and better, I feel overwhelmed. I’m not quite ready to commit to a path or share my goals for the New Year.
If you get frustrated by the pressure of the New Year’s hoopla: stop and take a deep breath. Change is possible. But big goals get accomplished by taking tiny, daily steps. Try out a few of those steps this week. Write for 30 minutes. Research a new project. Read about a topic you’re interested in. If your small steps work and you feel energized taking them, take that as information: maybe this is a path to embrace. If the steps don’t work, try something else. But above all, be gentle with yourself.
Today’s tip features an interview with author Jacqueline Houtman, who will appear at Boswell Book Company in Milwaukee on Wednesday, January 8 at 6:30 PM.
Writers@Work: An Interview with Author Jacqueline Houtman
by Rochelle Melander
Congratulations on having your book, Troublemaker for Justice, voted a Best Book of 2019 by School Library Journal and Kirkus Reviews! Can you tell our readers a bit about the book and how it came about? You published a similar book in 2014 called Bayard Rustin: The Invisible Activist. Can you talk about how the two books are connected?
Mike Long edited a book of Bayard’s letters and first had the idea to write a biography for younger readers. He had a lot of help from Walter Naegle, and the two became coauthors. They submitted the manuscript to QuakerPress, who thought the content was great, but it needed some work to be engaging and accessible to younger readers. Chel Avery from QuakerPress contacted me, because she enjoyed my middle grade novel, and because she knew I was a Quaker. (QuakerPress wanted Bayard’s Quaker upbringing and beliefs to be front and center, as they should be.) The book was published by QuakerPress in 2014 as Bayard Rustin: The Invisible Activist. As a nonprofit publisher, they didn’t have the resources to give the book wide exposure, so after a few years, we regained the rights and submitted the manuscript to City Lights Publishers, who reissued the book (with a few tweaks) in August 2019 as Troublemaker for Justice: The Story of Bayard Rustin, the Man Behind the March on Washington.
You wrote this book with two coauthors. Can you talk about what that process was like? What advice would you give to authors going into a coauthor situation?
We each have our own skills and perspectives. Michael G. Long is an associate professor at Elizabethtown College who has written and edited numerous books about peace and social justice activists, so he has a wealth of historical knowledge. Walter Naegle was Bayard Rustin’s partner for the last ten years of his life and is archivist of the estate, so obviously, that makes his contributions priceless. I’m a Quaker children’s writer.
It was a very pleasant experience, at least for me. I can safely say the book is better than any of us could have written alone, and much easier. For example, I thought we needed to have more on Bayard’s childhood, so Walter sent me a cassette tape with a two-hour interview with Bayard talking about his childhood. The hardest part was locating a cassette player.
As far as advice, I would say to respect each other’s knowledge and opinions and make decisions together, but know when it’s appropriate to defer to the other author(s).
What events or activities in Rustin’s life inspired you?
Wow. So much. He seemed to have a hand in every major movement of the time. Not just civil rights, but labor rights, gay rights, antinuclear and anti-war movements, the rights of refugees and the promotion of democracy all over the world, to name a few. What inspires me, and really connects with my own Quaker faith is that he didn’t really differentiate between those causes; to him they were the same. As a Quaker, he believed in the unity of the human family and that all members of that family are equal. All those movements have the same basis—the right of each human being to live in peace and justice.
You juggle a lot of things, as a freelance science writer and group fitness instructor. How do you make time to write? Do you have any wisdom to offer our readers?
The last couple of months have been tough, with the holidays and preparing for a bunch of school visits and other presentations. I’ve been taking on a few more fitness classes, too—Zumba, Aqua Zumba, and BollyX. As a writer with a flexible schedule, I am often the first choice to substitute when another instructor can’t teach. Fitness is important for my mental and emotional health, which hit home this summer with an ankle injury. Those of us with sedentary occupations really need to get moving, which can also do a lot for writer’s block.
Wisdom, hah! I could use some. I started a Bullet Journal after reading a post by Kate Messner. Setting aside time to read and write are important and I’m rethinking my Bullet Journal strategy to make bigger blocks of time to prioritize reading and writing.
What are you reading now?
I’ve just started Veera Hiranandani’s The Night Diary, and I’m also working on Kendra Levin’s The Hero Is You: Sharpen Your Focus, Conquer Your Demons, and Become The Writer You Were Born To Be. Always looking to improve as a writer.
About the Author
Jacqueline Houtman is a freelance science writer and author of the award-winning middle-grade novel The Reinvention of Edison Thomas. She earned a PhD in Medical Microbiology and Immunology from the UW-Madison. Her science writing for adults and children has appeared in World Book Science Year, FASEB’s Breakthroughs in Bioscience series, and Cleveland Clinic Magazine, among other academic and educational publications. She is also an AFAA-certified group fitness instructor.
Starred reviews for Troublemaker for Justice: The Story of Bayard Rustin, the Man Behind the March on Washington.
School Library Journal