Today I’m thrilled to host author Jean Ann Williams as she shares some behind the scenes about her latest release, Just Claire.
I gleaned from my childhood experiences to write the story of Just Claire. After I turned ten years old, my mother became depressed, and then later mentally ill. She shut herself away from me and my siblings behind the locked door of her bedroom. For sure Mom was changing into someone I feared and no longer trusted.
By the time I turned thirteen, I wanted but could never find information which would tell me what was wrong with Mom. Fearful my acquaintances at school would find out about my mother, yet I needed to talk with someone I trusted. The Lord sent two sympathetic best friends who listened to the true stories of my home life.
At age 40, the idea nudged at me to write a full-length book. I wrote the first draft with the mindset to help young people who were abandoned by a parent, whether physically or emotionally. Drawing from my deep well it was all there; the emotions of the disappointments and joys of childhood.
Since this was my learning how to write novel, it took twenty years before the publication of Just Claire. Toward the middle of the second decade, a contest judge read my story and suggested the second theme of school bullies. This made perfect sense, especially because my heroine, ClaireLee, longed for a better life outside of home.
Finally, with the judge’s suggestion, I fleshed out the story and polished it to the best of my capabilities. Then, I hired a freelance editor to give a general critique. When the editor finished, I sent the manuscript to Clean Reads. Within weeks, Clean Reads offered me a contract, but before I received it, I once again was in the process of editing my manuscript.
Learning over the years I should hire an editor for an in-depth edit, I finally had the funds to do so. After we completed months of work, this editor suggested a more kid-friendly title. “Your title is in the story somewhere. You just have to find it.” Just Claire became the new title, and I sent Clean Reads a signed contract with the updated version.
Readers of Just Claire have quizzed me as to how much truth I wrote into the story. And, here are a few of the answers. Yes, I lived through a parent loss as ClaireLee does in the book. Yep, I experienced problems with a bully in grammar school. Uh, huh, I’m the eldest of a large family. For the setting of the book, I actually did live in this tiny community of Northern California in the 1960s with a name change for story purposes.
Even though as a teenager, I couldn’t find a book to help me understand why my mother had changed, God sent adult mentors to encourage me and two friends who listened well. Just Claire is my gift to young people.
What is the accomplishment that you are most proud of?
Learning how to read! Unknowingly, I struggled with dyslexia, and I couldn’t read like the other students in my class. To my shame and during school hours, I was ushered from my fourth grade class and to a third grade room. I had attended this new school for only a week. Even though they did not handle this process well, thankfully, the school enrolled me in a phonics reading program. My teacher assured me if I worked hard, I would be reading soon. Early on in the program, and to encourage me as I stumbled through my phonics class, my mother told me a story for which I don’t remember. When I was pre-school age, Mom walked into our living room and halted her steps. There I was lying on the floor on my back, one leg crossed over my bent knee. I held an open book upside down. I was talking to myself, she said, telling myself a made-up story. Mom moved closer and leaned over me. “What are you doing, Jeannie Ann?” She said I answered without hesitation. “Reading.” My phonics teacher was correct. It took only a few months, and I learned how to read. A whole new world opened before me.
What is the worst/funniest/strangest thing an editor ever said to you?
Actually about seventeen years ago, I sent a picture book manuscript to a well-known publishing house. The story was about a Portuguese grandmother and her granddaughter making my cultural bread: Portuguese sweet bread. When I received the pages back from the editor, it was obvious she had NOT read the story. On the first page, she wrote in capital letters and red ink, “NO ONE WOULD READ A STORY TO THEIR CHILDREN ABOUT PIG BRAINS.” At first, I jolted in confusion. Next, I decided it was the worst rejection letter ever and, one day, if asked, I would share it with the world. Now, I chuckle every time I think of this note of rejection. Years after I read the editor’s note, I discovered pig brain is eaten by people within some cultures. The dish is called, and you guessed it, sweet bread.
What hobbies do you have?
For relaxation I enjoy target practicing with my Hoyt compound bow, climbing mountains and walking through the forest. I also play games like Scrabble with my grandchildren, and sometimes they win.
One mother damaged. One family tested. One daughter determined to find her place.
ClaireLee’s life changes when she must take charge of her siblings after her mother becomes depressed from a difficult childbirth. Frightened by the way Mama sleeps too much and her crying spells during waking hours, ClaireLee just knows she’ll catch her illness like a cold or flu which hangs on through winter. ClaireLee finds comfort in the lies she tells herself and others in order to hide the truth about her erratic mother.
Deciding she needs to re-invent herself, she sets out to impress a group of popular girls. With her deception, ClaireLee weaves her way into the Lavender Girls Club, the most sophisticated girls in school. Though, her best friend Belinda will not be caught with the likes of such shallow puddles, ClaireLee ignores Belinda’s warnings the Lavenders cannot be trusted. ClaireLee drifts further from honesty, her friend, and a broken mother’s love, until one very public night at the yearly school awards ceremony. The spotlight is on her, and she finds her courage and faces the truth, and then ClaireLee saves her mother’s life.
Where can we find you and your book?
Downloads available at Amazon: http://ow.ly/XmCJ5
Paperback version will be available at Amazon soon.
See the trailer: https://youtu.be/s8x5lJKZFHU
Jean Ann’s Site: http://jeanannwilliamsauthor.com/
Book Fun Author Page: http://www.bookfun.org/group/jean-williams-author
Author Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/Jean-Ann-Williams-848295125269670/?ref=hl
About Jean Ann:
Author Jean Ann Williams, the eldest in a large family, enjoys digging into her fascinating childhood to create stories for children. Having written over one hundred articles for children and adults, Just Claire is her first book. Jean Ann is a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, and she writes regularly on her Real Stories for Real Girls site. Jean Ann and her husband live on one acre in Southern Oregon where they raise a garden, goats, and chickens. Her favorite hobbies are hiking through the woods and practicing archery with her bow.
First page of Just Claire:
A Remote Area of Northern California in 1960
ClaireLee shivered in the snowy night, regretting she had only a cotton gown and thin robe between her and the cold. She leaned against the porch rail near the cabin’s open front door. Daddy had forbid her to stay any longer at Mama’s side. “Not enough room,” he’d said.
She didn’t believe his excuse.
But, then again, ClaireLee was somewhat relieved to not watch Mama twist about.
Yelling louder, Mama had been in more pain than with sister Lolly’s birth. Why is the baby taking too long?
ClaireLee stuck a fingernail in her mouth. She bit and pulled. It ripped with her skin and stung. I should be holding Mama’s hand.
Outside, in the back-drop of the wilderness, the Rushing River rumbled and at first muffled Mama’s groans. Her cries intensified again, and ClaireLee’s neck prickled. Mama’s not doing good. At three-year-old Lolly’s birth, ClaireLee had witnessed Mama’s short labor and delivery. ClaireLee now peeked inside the cabin to see if Lolly was okay under all the excitement. She and their two brothers huddled together in a corner of the bed in the small living room.
Sucking on the tender fingernail, ClaireLee no longer cared whether or not the baby would be a sister rather than a brother. She clasped her hands under her chin. Please, God, help my mother. Keep her and the baby safe.
At the end of her prayer, the wind blew softly.