Interview with Elizabeth Singer Hunt
Elizabeth Singer Hunt is the bestselling author of the hugely popular Jack Stalwart series. Her love of adventure and travel is what inspired her to create her globe-trotting children’s book character, nine-year-old Secret Agent Jack Stalwart. More than 1 million books have been sold worldwide and the series has been published in multiple languages. It has been selected by the British Education Secretary as a “must read” for boys, and honored by the Moonbeam Children’s Book Award for “helping to inspire children to read, to learn and to dream.” Elizabeth kindly shared some tales of her own adventures and her path to literary success. You might want to take notes…
Nicki Richesin: Your bestselling Jack Stalwart book series is very informative, action-packed, and great fun. When you first created the character of Jack Stalwart did you want to write specifically for reluctant male readers?
Elizabeth Singer Hunt: Absolutely. I was a reluctant reader when I was young, and always struggled to find books that I liked to read. So, with the Jack Stalwart series, I wanted to create an empowering, action-packed adventure that would keep the pages turning for any child – whether it be a boy or girl. The font is slightly easier to read and the chapters are a bit shorter than average. I have also tried wherever possible to use language and words that aren’t too confusing or hard to pronounce. I have received quite a few letters and e-mails over the years from parents of reluctant readers thanking me for getting their children interested in reading – many of them dyslexic. So from that standpoint, I feel like the series has been a great success.
NR: With your clever nine-year-old Jack, you’ve combined two of your favorite action-adventure-spy heroes Indiana Jones and James Bond. What do you think it is about these characters that fascinates readers (and viewers) to this day? Why do you think the franchise has endured over decades?
ESH: Great question! In my opinion, Indiana Jones has stood the test of time because it blends exoticism (in terms of not only the treasure that is being sought, but also the locale it’s being sought in) with non-stop suspense. Will he find the map room before the bad guys?! How is he going to get the Ark off that plane?! Will he escape the Nazis?! Will his felt be melted?!
As a 10-year-old from Louisiana, I was absolutely fascinated by Raiders of the Lost Ark. It was and still is my favorite movie of all time, and changed my life forever! As I grew up, I wanted to live the life of Indy. I wanted to travel the world and become an archaeologist. As I grew older, I changed career paths, but I never forgot about the locales visited in the movie. I have traveled since to many of them, and, in fact, consciously and/or subconsciously decided to feature many of them in the Jack Stalwart series. The last two books, Book 13 (Nepal) and Book 14 (Egypt), were pivotal locations for Indy as well as for Jack.
In the case of James Bond, everyone loves a ‘spy’ and everyone loves watching a character try to foil the bad guys with hi-tech gadgets. Melding the cultural exploits of Indy with the gadgetry of James Bond into ‘Jack’ was a no brainer for me.
NR: You’ve spoken of your great love of Thailand and Southeast Asia. What is it about the culture that touched you so deeply? Have you made the trek there with your children yet, and if so, what were their impressions?
ESH: I first visited Thailand about fifteen years ago and my life was changed for a second time. I spent days trekking through the foothills of the Himalayas, staying with Lahu, Akha and Hmong hilltribe families. I rode elephants and rafted down rivers on bamboo rafts. I swam in lakes and waterfalls and slept in huts where there were spiders bigger than my face. And I spent days kayaking amongst the now-dwindling mangroves of the south, and in and out of ‘hongs’ in the limestone karsts that jut out of the Andaman sea. (Ironically, the same ones featured in James Bond!) Literally everything about my first trip to Thailand was a new experience for me, and one that I vowed to continue to experience.
Since then, I have visited the other countries of SE Asia too (including Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam) but the country that continues to be my favorite is Thailand. I love the sights, sounds, smells, food and language of the country. In fact, I still practice speaking and reading Thai language! Now that my children are older, I am planning to take them to Thailand (in February 2013). With any luck, they will love it as much as I do and want to return again and again.
NR: You grew up in Louisiana. Would you consider writing a book about Jack Stalwart in New Orleans- perhaps wrestling an alligator who swallowed Mardi Gras jewels? Now that you live in the San Francisco Bay Area, of course you could also write about his adventures there or would you prefer to continue his international man of mystery tour?
ESH: Funny that you should ask about Louisiana. I have decided to take a break from the Jack Stalwart series – 14 books is enough for the moment – and write a new series of stories set in Louisiana. The series will still have all the things that I love – treasure hunting, mystery and exotic locales – but with some alligators, ghosts and ghouls sprinkled in.
NR: You started publishing your books through a company you founded Chubby Cheeks Publications. What advice would you offer aspiring writers who would like to self-publish?
ESH: To steal a Nike phrase …. Just do it! There is nothing more rewarding than writing, publishing and selling your own book.
When I started my company, there was no such thing as an ebook or what is now called ‘print-on-demand’ publishing (where you pay online for your book to be printed).
Today, there are so many choices from a traditional publisher to a do-it-yourself approach, that there’s almost no excuse not to follow your dreams. The biggest advice that I would give someone who wants to get their book published is to DO RESEARCH.
This research should be two fold. 1) You should research the marketplace to see whether a book like yours already exists. For example, if you’re writing a ‘time travel’ book, you should make sure that yours is different enough to stand out from all the other time travel books out there. 2) You should ask many, many people of your target audience to read your book and provide feedback – both positive and negative. If you’re writing a children’s book, don’t ask Aunt Sally to read it. She’s not your target reader!
The latter is a tricky step that most people avoid because they don’t want criticism. But it’s an extremely important step. You need to think of your book as a product – no different than a pair of shoes or a bag of potato chips. If it’s not to their taste, too expensive, too confusing, or not interesting enough, then you need to know that and adjust accordingly. You’ll be spending your hard-earned money on its publication and you have to make sure it will appeal to as many people as possible. And if you’re planning to send your manuscript to a prospective agent or publisher, the same rules apply. Do your research before you submit.
NR: You have completed an action adventure film for children. What was the most difficult part about writing a screenplay as opposed to your books?
ESH: Screenplays are a totally different animal than books, and so much fun to write! While authors tend to like to give as much detail as possible in terms of the setting, action and dialogue, screenwriters have to do the exact opposite. Restraint is the name of the game. Most people would be surprised to see how little dialogue is actually included in a script. There’s just no time for it. That’s why a good actor is necessary. He or she has to convey everything about that scene in only a few words.
NR: If you could be reincarnated as your favorite character from children’s literature, who would it be and why?
ESH: As I mentioned before, I was a reluctant reader and so as a child spent very little time reading the ‘classics’. Rightly or wrongly, I spent a lot of time at the movies, so I might change that question above to ‘If you could be reincarnated as your favorite MOVIE character, who would it be and why?’ I think after the above, we know the answer to that … Indiana Jones!
NR: Do you have a certain story you’ve been dying to tell, but that you haven’t written yet?
ESH: I’d like to write a fictional story related to the Vietnam War. My father fought there as a Marine and it’s something I’d like to explore.
NR: Which projects are you currently working on and what can we expect from you next?
ESH: There are three book projects currently, and two multi-media projects. On the book front, I want to continue to write the Louisiana series that I mentioned earlier. I am also going to write a spin off series for Jack, his brother and Kate (the girl featured in Book 14). I also want to dust off a draft of a time travel story for kids that I wrote a long time ago to see if it has ‘legs’.
In addition to that, I am working to create a Jack Stalwart app that I hope will be ready early 2013. There’s also a producer interested in turning Jack Stalwart into a feature film. With any luck, 2013 will be a busy and productive time!
For more information, visit: www.elizabethsingerhunt.com
Nicki Richesin is the editor of four anthologies The May Queen, Because I Love Her, What I Would Tell Her, and Crush. She is a regular contributor to Huffington Post, Daily Candy, 7×7, Red Tricycle, and San Francisco Book Review. Nicki has been reading to her daughter every day since she was born. For more information, visit: www.nickirichesin.com.