This article was originally posted here.
For years, writer, poet, and published author, Deja L. Jones has quitely lurked in the shadows despite maintaining a rather fruitful career as a contributing writer for some of the biggest digital news site at night including Black Girl Magik where she serves as the editor-in-chief all while molding the minds of teenagers as an educator at a local high school during the day. The selfless Trenton, New Jersey native, is stepping out of the shadows and putting her best foot forward with the upcoming release of children’s book, Jack Be Nimble.
I had the chance to speak with Deja about her ongoing Indie Gogo campaign for her new children’s book, Jack Be Nimble, her organization Curate Your Life, diversity in the field of literature, self-publishing and more. Check out the full interview below!
Your professional background includes producing original editorial content for popular online news sites all while being a full time educator. Juggling those responsibilities along with your recently launched organization, Curate Your Life, and its’ many entities. How do you find time for it all including your book, Jack Be Nimble, and maintain your mental health?
“Sheesh when you say it like that it does sound like a lot, but self care days are extremely important to me. Notice I said days. There are days when I just close up shop at least on the Curate Your Life and editorial work that I do and just focus on maximizing ME TIME whether it’s catching up on shows I missed, actually taking the time to cook meals rather than eating out, or spending time with friends and not talking about work or anything work related. The best advice someone gave me a long time ago was to be all in, no matter where you’re at. So if I’m at work, I’m focused on work and not Curate Your Life or writing books. If I’m working on a book, I’m focused on the book and not Curate Your Life or work. If I’m putting together a project under Curate Your Life, I’m focused on that and not work or books I’m working on. I have to compartmentalize my priorities because my brain never stops working. Ever. For example, right now I’m campaigning for Jack Be Nimble, preparing for Curate Your Life Summit 2018, doing some script work for a production company and preparing to be a co-host on a new talk series coming to Newark in September. I’d go stir crazy if I tried to jumble all these things into a single day in a single setting.”
You are a very busy woman! What inspired you to author Jack Be Nimble? How did illustrator Chase Walker become involved with the book? Did you intentionally chose a male lead character? If so, why? Expected publish date?
“As an educator and an adult I value the innocence of our children. We have to preserve it and most times we don’t know how given the climate of our country. I was inspired to write Jack Be Nimble by a smaller relative. I’m a very observant person and when left to his own device without the interference of adults, he is black boy joy personified. I’d watch him play with ants in a very curious way as if he was trying to figure them out. This was also his first year on Little League and it inspired me to write this story. I wanted to add elements of our culture and history to the story by adding facts about Jackie Robinson and I wanted to make it for our people by incorporating this relationship between the black men in the main character Jack’s life.
Before I tell you how I met Chase, I want to first say that there are some perks to online dating other than dating. It’s hard to find illustrators of color who do phenomenal work who aren’t affiliated with a publishing house because that’s a whole other beast to tackle. You have to go through their agents who tell you they’re not accepting clients and authors who aren’t also affiliated with the same publishing house. There’s just so much. Meeting Chase was serendipity. I was searching on art school’s portfolio databases like Pratt, MICA and even U of the Arts trying to find someone with the style I was looking for and couldn’t find a single person of color. Ironically I received a message on OkCupid from Chase, which is where I met him, who saw that I was a writer. Over time, he was interested in learning more about some of the things I was working on and at the time I was sort of figuring out a contract with another illustrator I found via Pratt Institute she was a white woman, but when I started talking about Jack Be Nimble he was like I you gotta let me do the illustrations for this. So choosing him wasn’t intentional at all, but it was the absolute best thing for Jack Be Nimble. His portfolio is phenomenal! Most of the projects I work on target women of color so I work with women of color, so it only made sense to work with a man of color on a book that targets boys of color.
Our expected publishing date is May 2018 and we have quite a few locations in mind.”
Major publishing houses’ push toward diversity has seen steady growth in the past few years, not only amongst partnered authors but culture representation as well. What made you choose self-publishing route?
“I can agree that a lot of publishing houses are looking for more diverse storylines, but what I’m also finding is that being diverse to them is more than just being another race other than white. When looking at submission requirements on publishing websites, they want your work to have a specific element of diversity that they’re looking for in that moment such as an LGBT character or storyline, a disabled character or a storyline about someone with a disability, or a Native American character and Native American storyline. Sadly, Jack Be Nimble being a story about a little Black boy and the Black men in his life, and Black culture and Black family traditions isn’t the trending “diverse element” publishing houses are currently seeking. So I chose self-publishing because I wanted this story to as authentic as possible. I wanted to work with Chase and not have an illustrator assigned to me with little creative control. The traditional route is the most lucrative, but you’re not really in control of the direction you want things to go in.”
You are currently raising money via IndieGoGo to finish the production and distribution process. For those who may not be able to contribute to the campaign financially, what others ways can they help?
“Yes as a self-publisher you are in 100 percent control of everything dealing with your book. That includes marketing, booking tours, buying copies to sign and sell, and the production and distribution fees. Right now I am campaigning so that Chase and I can finish the illustrations which isn’t cheap when you factor in art materials, formatting and layout. Also for distribution so that we can actually have copies for the launch dates and locations. While you can certainly donate via IndieGoGo, I understand that being able to contribute financially isn’t doable for some and in that case I just ask that you constantly spread the work, share it with your social media network, friends and family, even local businesses to help us meet our goal. We really want to make Jack Be Nimble a reality because we really want to highlight the importance of relationships between Black men. We want to bring Black men together with this book and Black children.”
Header photo credit belongs to Korey Carter
Are you interested in contrbuting to the official Jack Be Nimble IndieGoGo campaign? All donations of $10 or more will be eligible for array of thank you gifts including items such as a limited edition Jack Be Nimble baseball cap! For full details click here to be redirected to the campaign’s office homepage. Stay connected with Deja L. Jones across all social media platforms including Facebook, Twitter and Instagram as well as her platform Curate Your Life. Learn more about Deja’s organization Curate Your Life on its website http://www.curateyourlife.org or click here to be redirected.