This month we welcome author Jacquetta Nammar Feldman to our interview series. Her debut middle grade book is Wishing Upon the Same Stars, recently launched from HarperCollins (February, 2022). Look for her next book coming in 2023!
Where did you grow up, and how did that place (or those places) shape your work?
My family moved down to Texas from the Midwest when I was young just like my main character Yasmeen Khoury in Wishing Upon the Same Stars. Being from a Palestinian immigrant family hadn’t seemed that unusual in Minnesota since I’d been surrounded by my extended family and a big group of cousins. But in Texas, it didn’t take long for me to feel different than classmates and neighbors whose customs and traditions were very different than mine. Though my debut isn’t autobiographical, many of Yasmeen’s sentiments closely mirror my own at that time.
Did you always want to be an author, or did that come later?
I’ve been writing poetry for a long time, but I never thought about publishing any of it. Wishing Upon the Same Stars, about a middle grade girl, began as a poem that kept going and going. I didn’t know how to write Yasmeen’s story at first, but with the help of excellent classes at the Writing Barn, SCBWI, and the Writers’ League of Texas, I was able to turn what I was writing into a middle grade manuscript.
If someone were to follow you around for 24 hours, what would they see?
My husband and I are empty nesters and we both work from home, so our days follow a predictable pattern. We sit at our desks for long stretches of the day; we cook lunch and dinner together, and in between, we often hike with our three dogs. I get a lot of story ideas while I’m hiking! There is something about the steady rhythm of my feet on the path, the variation in the Texas Hill Country landscape, and the joyful way my dogs run off-leash that gets new ideas flowing. Little bits of dialogue and small interactions among characters spring into my mind, and I dictate them into my phone. Then I go home and try to craft scenes out of what I’ve thought about.
How does your everyday life feed your work?
In addition to working with my editors at HarperCollins, I’m an MFA student at the Vermont College of Fine Arts in Writing for Children and Young Adults. Much of my study involves analyzing picture books and novels for craft techniques, then writing critical essays about them. Reading critically to see what works and doesn’t work for other authors has helped my writing and revising so much! It has allowed to me look at my process through a more objective lens.
Tell us about some accomplishments that make you proud.
I’m the proud mother of three grown sons, first and foremost. It’s such a blessing to see them out in the world developing into who they are meant to be. I’m also proud that Wishing Upon the Same Stars is out in the world for middle grade readers. It’s my hope that readers will be inspired to new kinds of friendships, just like Yasmeen.
What surprises you about the creative life?
I’m always surprised by how deep the creative well is, even when I’m sure it is not. There have been times in my writing journey when I thought my well was all dried up, but then something shifts my perspective and allows me to dig deeper and access new creative space. Often, inspiration happens when I read something amazing written by someone else. Nothing gets my mind working again creatively like reading!
When a reader discovers your work, what do you hope they find?
I hope that readers from a variety of backgrounds will find themes that resonate with them and characters they identify with in my work. I also hope to include a bit of humor in my stories that will make readers laugh.
Who are your favorite middle grade authors?
I love Gary D. Schmidt and Kate DiCamillo! They both write with a lot of thematic repetition, which is something I tend to do as well. I like the way their stories make me think and feel. They linger in my mind and heart for a very long time.
Did you have any useful mentor texts for your recent book?
Habibi, by Naomi Shihab Nye!
What’s your favorite Middle Eastern dish?
It used to be mjaddara, a rice and lentil dish. But fun fact—if you’ve read Wishing Upon the Same Stars—I reached my lifetime consumption quota of lentils and now I’m allergic! My second favorite dish is makloubeh, which is also made with rice. But I make it vegetarian with eggplant instead of with meat or chicken.