Posts Tagged black authors

Author Spotlight: Joy Jones… plus a GIVEAWAY!

For today’s Author Spotlight, I’m pleased to interview Joy Jones, author of the debut middle-grade novel, Jayla Jumps In (Albert Whitman, 2020). Plus a giveaway!!!!

About the Book:

When 11-year-old Jayla finds out that her mother used to be a Double Dutch champion, she’s stunned. Who knew her mom, who’s on doctor’s orders to lower her blood pressure, could move like that? Jayla decides to follow in her mom’s footsteps, thinking that maybe Double Dutch can make her stand out in her big, quirky family. As she puts together a team at school and prepares to compete, Jayla finds that Double Dutch is about a lot more than jumping rope—and it just might change her life, in ways she never imagined. Full of hilarious family dynamics and plenty of jump-rope action, Jayla Jumps Infollows one girl’s quest to get her mom healthy and find her place in her community.

And now, without further ado, let’s jump into the interview! 

Interview with Joy Jones

MR: Welcome to the Mixed-Up Files, Joy! First and foremost, I need to tell you how much I enjoyed your book. It’s filled with heart, humor—and, of course—Double Dutch. What was the impetus for writing this novel?

JJ:  I’m so glad you liked it! I want the reader to have fun. I always feel great when I jump Double Dutch; I’m hoping the reader gets to feel a little bit of that joy–and maybe even decide to actually try it!

When I first came up with the idea to jump Double Dutch, I was trying to lose ten pounds. Now, I’m trying to lose twenty. Hmm… the weight loss has been a little tricky but I gained a great deal of creative capital. I got a stage play and a book out of the deal.  So what happened? Well, some co-workers and I were talking about losing weight and I suggested we jump Double Dutch during lunch. Everyone said they were already too fat to exercise so we never did it. But I thought it was a pretty good idea. Since I didn’t get to do it in real life, I did it in my imagination and wrote a play called Outdoor Recess about a group of adult women who form a Double Dutch team. When I was promoting the play, someone suggested that I actually get some women together to jump rope–and I did. That’s how DC Retro Jumpers got started. {Check out this video of the Team in action!}

Years later, I would talk to my agent in passing about the various exploits of DC Retro Jumpers. “You should write a middle-grade novel about Double Dutch,” she said. But because I had already done a play on the theme, and as the team’s founder who was often promoting our activities, I didn’t think I had anything more to say about Double Dutch. But she brought up the idea again, and this time I decided I’d try writing on that theme. That’s how Jayla Jumps In was born.

Combatting Loneliness

MR: Speaking of your book, Jayla, the 11-year-old protagonist, often feels lonely, despite being part of a large extended family. As an only child myself, I can absolutely relate to this. Did you experience loneliness as a child as well? If so, how did it affect you—and how did you cope?

JJ:  I’m the oldest in my family so there were a few years when I was the only child. My way of coping was to inform my parents that I wanted a baby sister. When I was seven, they delivered what I requested–practically on my birthday! My sister, Lorraine, was born on November 22nd; I was born on November 23rd. (I think that was the last time my parents gave me what I wanted. ) I also have another younger sister, Vita, who is an August baby. But was I lonely as a child? No, I always had a book at hand whenever I wanted company, or was feeling bored, or had nothing to do and nobody else was around. Sometimes I preferred a book even when people were around.

A Jump on Health

MR: The importance of exercise and healthy eating factors heavily in Jayla Jumps In, when Jayla learns that her mom suffers from hypertension, a health issue that affects 1 in 3 Americans. If not treated, uncontrolled high blood pressure increases your risk of serious health problems, including heart attack and stroke. What prompted you to focus on this particular health issue? What is the message—and ultimate takeaway—for your middle-grade audience?

JJ: Being physical is such a wonderful thing! All you couch potatoes, stop rolling your eyes. A physical body was made to be physically active! You’re zoned out on the sofa only because you haven’t yet discovered the activity that’s right for you. When you move, you stimulate your endorphins–the ‘get-high’ hormones in your body. Vigorous movement feels glorious! It’s not work, it’s pleasure. You do like to feel good, don’t you? As I like to say, not everyone likes to exercise but everyone likes to play.

Too many people spend too much time padlocked to a screen, watching somebody else do something fun. For many adults, we have childhood memories of being outdoors, playing a game that doesn’t require batteries or using our imaginations to entertain ourselves. But too many young people haven’t experienced the fun of physical movement, of outdoor play, or of at least actively exercising their own imaginations, rather than passively consuming someone else’s creativity that’s been packaged for sale.

I also do yoga, take frequent walks, swim, and dance–my favorite physical activity. I hope by reading Jayla’s story, young readers get motivated to try some old-school, screen-free fun. I’m not at my goal weight, but I am convinced that my good health is in large part due to being physically active. My mother has hypertension–she’s 89–and although sometimes we have to nag her about being consistent with her medication,  she regularly exercises and is in pretty good shape. She can still fit into the wedding dress she wore in 1952!

Team Spirit

MR: You founded the DC Retro Jumpers, an adult Double Dutch exhibition team, in 2004. What was your motivation for forming the team? Did you jump as a child, or are you relatively new to the sport? Also, what is it about Double Dutch that appeals to you most? I’m guessing it’s more than exercise.

JJ:  Yes, I jumped rope as a child, but single rope more than Double Dutch. Although I enjoyed it hugely, I think I get even more enjoyment now. Jumping Double Dutch gives a rush that’s both easy and exciting at the same time. Plus, my ego gets stroked because often people are surprised–and impressed–to see someone old doing it. During DC Retro Jumpers demonstrations, I love it when someone comes forward to jump. Usually, it’s been years since they jumped or they never learned how. But once they start jumping and they find the rhythm, the joy that suffuses their whole being is gratifying to witness. People on the sidelines are cheering them on, and cell phone cameras are recording their triumph. The experience hits all my pleasure centers: fresh air, having fun, helping others, ego strokes.

Renaissance Woman

MR: In addition to being a middle-grade author, you are a playwright, a poet, an educator, a journalist, a trainer, a motivational speaker, and you write non-fiction for adults. You’re also active in the DC Retro Jumpers. How do you juggle so many balls—and keep them in the air? Also, what does your writing routine look like? Enquiring minds want to know!

JJ: Some years ago I was working a job that sapped my energy, and my soul. I wanted to quit and spend my days lazing around in bed and reading novels. But my wallet said, “No, Joy, that won’t work!” So I started saving money aggressively. I managed to accumulate a nice stash that allowed me to leave my full-time job for part-time work. I landed a job at DC Public Library (an ideal place for a writer!), working 20 hours a week. This allowed me to have time for my creative pursuits.

My writing routine? Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha. Even now that I’ve got a less stressful schedule, the writing happens catch-as-catch-can. I used to believe one needed long stretches of time to get writing done. That’s nice, but life seldom accommodates me in that way. Usually, I write in stolen snatches of time. I always keep a journal with me, so I can write while in a waiting room, on the subway, during slow moments at work. If you keep doing a little bit of writing, eventually the bits and pieces become pages–and then the pages become books. I begin in longhand, with pen and paper for the first draft, then go to the computer to edit and refine.

Question from Jonathan Rosen

MR: Oh, and Joy? MUF member Jonathan Rosen has a question for you, so I kind of feel obligated to pass it on…

JR: Hi, Joy! Which version of the song “Double Dutch Bus” do you prefer—the original 1981 hit by Frankie Smith or the remake by Raven-Symoné, as featured in the 2008 movie, College Road Trip? (I should mention that “Double Dutch Bus is my go-to karaoke song.) <MR: Sadly, it is.>

JJ:  Shhh… I don’t normally reveal this, but I can’t stand that song. I cringe any time it is played when we’re doing a demo. But I’m sure when you sing it on karaoke night you rock the mic. <JR: Yes, people have noted my rockstar quality…>

And finally, no MUF interview is complete without a lightning round, so…

Preferred writing snack? Fruit.

Coffee or tea? Tea.

Cat or dog? Traditionally, I’ve preferred cats, but over time dogs have become more appealing. But I’m too lazy to keep a pet myself.

Favorite song? (And certainly not “Double Dutch Bus”! I’m partial to R&B oldies. Too many favorites to single out just one.

Zombie apocalypse: Yea or nay? Nay. Unless you count the way everybody is glued to their screens like zombies. In that case, the zombie takeover has already happened.

Superpower? I’m a pretty good listener; especially at hearing what’s not being said.

Favorite place on earth? Muir Woods in California. When I’m among those majestic redwood trees I feel like I’m in God’s living room, basking in His company.

Signature Double Dutch move? Pop-ups. That’s when you propel yourself straight up in the air while jumping. I never could do that as a child, so it’s been especially exhilarating to learn how to do it as an adult. Old dogs can learn new tricks!

If you were stranded on a desert island with only three things, what would they be? A library, a dance partner, and a box of Thin Mints Girl Scout cookies.

MR: Thank you for chatting, Joy—and congratulations on the publication of Jayla Jumps In. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and I know MUF readers will too!

And now… a fabulous

GIVEAWAY!!!

Joy has generously offered to gift a lucky reader with a signed copy of Jayla Jumps In. Just comment on the blog (and, if you’re on Twitter, on the Mixed-Up Files Twitter account) for a chance to win! 

JOY JONES is a trainer, performance poet, playwright and author of several books, including her MG debut, Jayla Jumps In (Albert Whitman & Company, 2020). She has won awards for her writing from the D. C. Commission on the Arts & Humanities, and the Colonial Players Promising Playwrights Competition, plus awards from both the D. C. Department of Recreation & Parks and the D. C. Commission on National & Community Service for outstanding community service. She is the director of the arts organization, The Spoken Word, and the founder of the Double Dutch team, the DC Retro Jumpers, which has led exhibitions and classes throughout metropolitan Washington and abroad. Joy often leads workshops on creative writing, communications and black history. Learn more about Joy on her website and follow her on Instagram and Twitter.

Black MG Magic

I firmly believe that it’s important to stand together against racism, and I’ve been making an effort to feature more black characters in my book talks and displays. Many of the book lists that I’ve come across featuring black protagonists have been full of great contemporary, realistic stories that deal with the experience of growing up black in America but haven’t had a lot of fantasy, sci-fi, or horror. So, here is a list of some of my favorite fantastical, magical, and spooky middle-grade stories featuring black heroes and heroines.

Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky Cover

Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky by Kwame Mbalia- This upper middle grade follows seventh-grader Tristan Strong who accidentally rips a hole into a parallel world where West African gods and African American folk heroes battle iron monsters. To return home, Tristan must help the heroes find Anansi, who can heal the rift that he’s created between the worlds.

 

The Jumbies Cober

The Jumbies by Tracey Baptiste- Eleven year old Corrine doesn’t believe in jumbies, evil shape-shifting creatures that are said to live in the woods near her home, but when her father begins acting strangely following the arrival of the beautiful lady Severine, Corrine begins to suspect that Severine might actually be a jumbie and that she and her father are in danger.

 

Gloom Town Cover

Gloom Town by Ronald L. Smith- To help his struggling single mom, twelve-year-old Rory gets a job as a valet for the mysterious Lord Foxglove, but he soon discovers that the eerie goings-on at Foxglove Manor will put the whole town in danger, and it’s up to Rory and his best friend Izzy to stop them.

 

 

Bayou Magic Cover

Bayou Magic by Jewell Parker Rhodes- When ten-year-old Maddy visits her grandmother in Bon Temps, LA, she discovers that she can summon fireflies and see mermaids, and when disaster rocks Maddy’s family, her magical gifts are the only things that can save her beloved bayou.

 

 

Dragons in a Bag coverDragons in a Bag by Zetta Elliott- Nine-year-old Jaxon discovers a package of dragons when staying with a relative for the afternoon. “Ma”, the mean old lady, who raised his mother tries to return the dragons to their magical realm, but a transporter accident strands her, leaving the dragons in Zaxon’s care.

 

 

Forgotten Girl Cover

The Forgotten Girl by India Hill Brown- Iris and her best friend Daniel are playing in the woods behind her house when they discover the abandoned grave of a girl named Avery who died when she was near Iris’s age. Shortly after the discovery, Iris begins having nightmares about a ghost girl in the woods.

 

The Last Last-Day-of-Summer cover

The Last Last-Day-of-Summer by Lamar Giles- On the last day of summer vacation, Otto and Sheed Alston accidentally freeze time in their small Virginia town. Now, they’ll need all their bravery and smarts to defeat the villainous Mr. Flux and save the day.

 

 

Shadows of Sherwood cover

Shadows of Sherwood by Kekla Magoon- In this futuristic Rbin Hood retelling, twelve-year-old Robyn Loxley flees to the forest following the disappearance of her parents. She bands together with a ragtag group of orphans and embarks on a mission to find her parents and stop the tyrannical Governor Crown.

Juneteenth Book Fest