December is a month filled with anticipation and expectation, with wonder and magic. To celebrate these days, I’d like to introduce you to J.A. Smith, more familiarly known as Jeannie, my friend and a fellow writer whose first children’s book- Poppa’s Treasures — was released at the end of November. Smith is a retired educator, having taught French in grades 7-12 for more than 33 years. She and her husband have been married for 51 years and have two sons and two “extra-special” grandchildren. A resident of the Dayton area for over half a century, Smith also spends a significant part of the year at their second home near Lake Erie, in Port Clinton, Ohio.
Her first literary endeavor, Shore Lines, is a collection of reflections on her life at the lake. Her new book, Poppa’s Treasures, is a children’s book written to help young people and parents deal with the grief of losing a loved one. In full disclosure, Jeannie and I have been colleagues and friends for more than thirty years. I’m thrilled to introduce you to her as a debut author in 2024.
Janet Irvin: Welcome, Jeannie, to my author’s corner. I’ll start by asking how long have you wanted to write.
Jean Smith: I really don’t know how long I’ve wanted to write. I do know I’ve always felt pretty comfortable writing but mostly just speeches or cards and letters to friends.
JEI: What experiences in your life prompted you to compose the essays in The Shore Lines?
JAS: Shortly after I retired, a very dear friend of mine gave me a beautiful blank book as a Christmas gift with the instructions to write why and what I liked about living on the lake. Every now and then, I’d write an essay and then file it. For my 75th birthday, as a gift to myself and others, I decided to compile them in book form.
JEI: Your new book, a children’s book but one that resonates with adults as well, Poppa’s Treasures, is at once sad and uplifting. Why did you write this story?
JAS: Poppa’s Treasures was inspired by a true event. When my mother passed away ( and that was over 30 years ago), my youngest son was just thirteen at the time. It was the very first time he had dealt with a death and he was very reluctant to enter the room where she was laid out. In my very best St Exupery‘s The Little Prince imitation, I told him that what was there in the casket was just a shell, that all her good stuff was gone. It was in my own grieving process that I realized that all her good stuff was not gone; in fact, she left little treasures for us that comforted us with a sense of presence. With Poppa’s Treasures, I wanted children to understand that although a loved one may be gone, there’s a way to fill their absence.
JEI: Can you explain the process it took to bring either of your books into print?
JAS: The process of bringing both books to print was verydifferent. The Shore Lines was self-published. My husband used to own a printing company so I was fortunate to still have some contacts to work with. With Poppa’s Treasures, I needed an illustrator and I knew I wanted to make it available to more than just family and friends. I found Braughler Books which met both those needs. Braughler Books is a hybrid publisher which meant that I had a financial responsibility as well.
JEI: What was the most challenging aspect of the writing process?
JAS: The most challenging part of writing was opening myself up to criticism from those I respect and love. The first time I had someone read the whole book or the whole story, it was like being emotionally naked with nowhere to hide.
JEI: How long did it take to complete the first drafts of each work? How long until publication?
JAS: Completion of the two drafts was totally different. For The Shore Lines, my stories spanned more than ten years. However, once I started working with my contact at the printer and infinite revisions, I had the book in hand within a few months. With Poppa’s Treasures, I wrote the first page about ten years ago, filed it, and then left it alone. Last October, after receiving compliments and encouragement from The Shore Lines, I reopened that dusty file and started working earnestly on it. By May, I was under contract with the publisher. I did have personal help with editing and with creating scenes for the illustrator. By the end of October of 2023, the book was in hand.
JEI: What writing plans do you have going forward?
JAS: Obviously, I’m very slow at establishing my writing goals but I am very encouraged by positive feedback. Invariably, people assume I’m already on to my next book and I’m a little embarrassed when I come up blank. However, I am thinking about entering one of my reflections from The Shore Lines into some kind of competition.
JEI: How have your years as a teacher informed your ideas and your approach to writing in general?
JAS: My last 25 years of teaching was at Alter High School and I was pretty involved in their Kairos retreats. Not only did I write several speeches of my own but I also worked with many students in writing theirs as well. Nonetheless, I found myself always writing albeit student or teacher recommendations, critiques, parent letters, course introductions, and proposals.
JEI: Where is your favorite place to write?
JS: Writing for me is singular, so solitude is the most important. However, most of The Shore Lines was, indeed, written in full view of Lake Erie shorelines. As a side note, it’s not uncommon for me to jot down thoughts while exercising on the elliptical!
JEI: You and your family spend a lot of time at your condo on the shore of Lake Erie? What makes it so special?
JAS: Lake Erie offers me many gifts and opportunities that I never take for granted. There is just something special about water for me. Morning coffee on the patio ranks right up there at top of my list. I am also fortunate to have a creek in my backyard in Dayton. It’s a different kind of flow, but it still has some of the magic.
For more information on Jean Smith and Poppa’s Treasure’s
, contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org