Writing materials

YA novelist Kelly Jacobson on reinventing writing and teaching – Lynchburg University

Dr. Kelly Ann Jacobson considers himself “one of those people who always knew they loved to write”. She was 5 years old when she wrote, illustrated and published her first book in her elementary school library. The second book, about a teddy bear, followed in third grade.

“I just wanted to tell stories,” she said in a recent interview.

Today, Jacobson writes young adult novels about dragons, mermaids, and aliens. Her process, she admits, is “a mess.” Fueled by lots of coffee, she writes in two hours, early in the morning. It takes him about three months to finish a book.

“I’m the kind of person [who will] write 30 books and only three of them will be published, and I’m more comfortable doing that than reviewing the same book 30 times,” she said.

“I learn by writing the whole book and then trying again. It’s a bit like that that I write because I have lots of ideas and I quickly get bored of everything.

Novelist and Assistant Professor of English Kelly Ann Jacobson

While writing her award-winning novel “Tink and Wendy,” which came out last year, Jacobson said she “knew the ending and the very first scene.” She also knew it would be “a kind of love triangle.”

The rest kind of happened.

“It’s like watching a movie and I’m writing it down,” she said. “And the movie is playing right in front of me so it’s weird for me to think about altering it in any way because that’s just what it is. I just hear a voice and then watch the whole movie and I write it for three months, then it’s the book.

Her own creative process is “very different” from the way she teaches her Nature Writing, Intro to Creative Writing and Fiction classes, says Jacobson, but there is one thing the novelist and her students have in common.

“I keep my journal of ideas and I make sure that my students [keep one] too,” she said. “I definitely write down all my ideas. Sometimes, because I’m a parent of two, I can’t come back to the idea for six months, and then I look back and I’m like, ‘What is it- he ?’ And then I find something.

There are no lectures when you take a creative writing course with Jacobson. Nor are there many books or articles. “I don’t use much reading in my class,” she says. “If I couldn’t use any of them, I probably would.”

She doesn’t want her students to feel suffocated by established — or perceived — notions of what constitutes a good story.

“Our idea of ​​a really good story is not representative of everyone,” Jacobson explained. “I’d rather hear the students’ voices than feel like their voices are drowned out by an idea of ​​what a story should be.”

This approach resonates with his students. Many of them attended a mock class she taught during her job interview last spring and were immediately sold.

Westover Honors Fellow Mac White ’25, a history major with minors in English and Medieval and Renaissance Studies, is even considering adding a minor in creative writing because of Jacobson’s class.

“She’s quickly becoming one of my favorite and most helpful teachers, and has been a huge help in revitalizing my love for writing,” said White, of Madison Heights, Va.

“She is always ready to help us and give us extra time. Plus, she never pressures us to share our work with the class, which fosters a more confident and calm environment. »

Alison Morrison ’23, an English major and creative writing minor from Luray, Va., agrees.

“I love how she’s so positive and open,” she said. “She really fosters a community in the classroom.”

Novelist Wiley Cash speaks with Kelly Jacobson’s fiction class in October.

Jacobson, who has won numerous awards for his work and teaching, especially enjoys teaching students who don’t like to write. She wants the experience to be fun, and she encourages her students to try new things, like writing in multiple genres or collaborating on a silly story to practice their skills.

It’s going to be bad, and it’s okay, she said. “I just want to create a safe space.”

She also wants her students to have a say in what and how they learn.

“I try to find ways for students to have more agency in their own learning in the classroom,” she says. She calls this “co-creation”: students have a say in the scoring rubric and the skills they acquire.

“I want them to do whatever they want to do. I’m here to help them do whatever it is,” she said. part camp counselor, because I’m kind of there to be a cheerleader and just to help them stop being so anxious about writing.”

This fear, Jacobson added, is quite common and she encounters it all the time in introductory classes or when talking to high school students.

That’s why her classes include lots of activities and games, and they always start with a prompt that “shows the students that they already know what we’re talking about, because everyone in my class has been a storyteller all their lives. , ” she says.

Major in English and Minor in Creative Writing Luis Echeverria ’25, a transfer student from Woodbridge, Va., appreciates the guests.

“The course helped my writing skills primarily by giving me a small window of time – 5-10 minutes – at the start of the course to really laser focus on a prompt Dr. Jacobson gave us,” he said. he declares.

It was surprising, he added, “how quickly I can fill a page in this window with decent material, which I can reuse for my main missions.

“Having this routine in every class helps people who are becoming writers, or those who are experimenting with writing, create a great habit of practicing regularly. I also had the chance to experience a lot of non-fiction, fiction and poetry through these prompts.

Zeke Maddox ’23, an English major with a criminology minor from Moneta, Va., is still looking forward to his fiction class with Jacobson.

“[She] approaches everything with a lot of energy and care,” the transfer student said. “I spoke to him once about how to deal with writing certain typefaces, and it was such an amazing conversation!

“She’s an incredibly energetic person, and…that energy keeps me engaged and makes me really excited to have her class.”

Jacobson, who grew up in Pennsylvania, held several jobs throughout his undergraduate career at George Washington University. She was a full-time event coordinator at a women’s country club while earning her evening master’s degree through Johns Hopkins University’s part-time program.

Later, she completed her doctorate at Florida State University between the birth of her two daughters.

The young family then moved to a small town in Alabama, where Jacobson spent a year as a visiting assistant professor and director of the writing center at the University of West Alabama. This summer they arrived in Lynchburg for his first gig as an assistant professor – a dream job.

“I can give the best classes,” said Jacobson, who also oversees student literary publication The Prism and is active in the on-campus queer affinity group. “I’m so lucky to be able to teach in multiple genres. I didn’t want to find a job somewhere teaching three fiction sections each semester. It would be really boring for me.

“I always say I don’t understand how I get paid to do this job because I love it so much!”

Jacobson began as a literary writer, publishing novels such as “Cairo en blanc” (2014), the collection of poems “I have conversations with you in my dreams” (2016) and the collection “An Inventory of Abandoned Things “, which won the Split/Lip Press Fiction Chapbook 2020 competition.

She stumbled into young adult fiction by chance when talking about her first novel, “Cairo en blanc”, with a group of gay young adults. They asked her if she also writes young adult fiction. The answer was no.

“And they were like, ‘We feel like there are no books that represent us,'” Jacobson recalled. “And I was like, ‘I’m an author. I can fix this.’ And then I changed my whole career.

Tink and Wendy cover

She now writes the kind of books she would have loved when she was younger – sci-fi fantasy adventures with characters she can relate to. “Tink and Wendy” is an odd retelling of the classic “Peter Pan,” but it’s more than that.

“I do complete reimaginings, like I’m basically stealing the characters from your version of the story and doing whatever I want with them,” she said. “I don’t feel indebted to the original.”

In his version, there’s a love triangle between Wendy, Tinker Bell, and Peter Pan, and there are mermaids dragging people to the bottom of the ocean to die. There are questions about gender roles, love and masculinity.

“The toxic elements of masculinity that I think are very present in the original story, I amplify them 100 percent in the book,” said Jacobson, who as an undergrad went from environmental sciences to English to women’s studies.

She admits that many of the gender studies theories she encountered in college made their way into her books.

A new novel coming out in the spring, “Robin and Her Misfits,” is a queer young adult retelling of the classic Robin Hood story. “It’s not speculative, it’s more action-adventure,” she said. “I sort of see it as a ‘Fast and Furious’ queer young adult girl gang edition.”

Another spring release is his thesis, the sci-fi novel “Weaver,” which is about aliens who lose their homes and are abused by humans. The story is told in the form of historical documents collected after the court decided who will receive the land, Jacobson said.

She is also working on a proposal she was asked to write for a textbook on young adult fiction. She’s still “in the thinking phase,” on that one, trying to decide what to do with it.

“I do a lot of research and try to figure out what I think about textbooks, because it’s a mix,” she said. “I’m inside mainstream academia and trying to change a lot of things within mainstream academia as well, and that can be an interesting thing to understand.

“But I think Lynchburg University is very welcoming to that. I feel very welcome here with all my ideas.