Today, I’m thrilled to share my recent conversation with prolific Catholic author Diana R. Jenkins. Diana has worked creatively and tirelessly to craft great resources for our families. Check out all of her books here and visit her website here.
Q: Diana, welcome to CatholicMom.com! Please begin by sharing a bit about yourself for our readers.
Thanks for interviewing me. I’m not a mom, but I love your blog. It’s inspiring for any woman and for anyone who works with children.
About me: I’m a former special education teacher who’s lived and taught in Indiana (my home state), Michigan, Arkansas, and Texas. I’m not really a wanderer, but I followed my wonderful husband around as he got his education and worked at different jobs in his field which is medical physics. Now we live in Ohio and I try to write full-time.
Q: What prompted you to begin dabbling in writing, and particularly for children?
When I was a kid, I loved reading. (Still do!) That love made me want to create stories and poems like what I’d read. Writing was one of my favorite childhood activities. I always thought it would be wonderful to be a published writer, but as a kid I didn’t think that would ever happen. Besides, I was planning to grow up and be a martyr. Or at least a saint. When I was in eighth grade, it struck me how important teaching was, and from then on I had that career in mind. However, I continued to write for fun throughout my school years and even later as an adult.
About twenty-five years ago, I decided to see if I could make my old dream come true. (The getting published dream – not the martyr one!) I submitted various kinds of writing – poetry, essays, educational articles, short stories, greeting cards, and more — but I experienced the most success and the greatest satisfaction when writing for kids. It was like a different way of teaching. Eventually I retired from classroom teaching and focused on writing.
Q: You’ve had such wonderful success in recent years creating a beautiful body of work with Pauline Books and Media. Please introduce our readers to a few of your recent projects.
Thank you! I’ve been really blessed to work with Pauline for years – first as a regular contributor to their wonderful-but-no-longer-in-print magazine My Friend then later as a book author. A couple of my books with Pauline actually got started in My Friend. For example, I used to write a comic strip for the magazine which was about a group of friends facing the problems of life with faith and character. Pauline later gathered all the original strips (illustrated by the talented Chris Sabatino) along with some additional material into the book Stepping Stones: The Comic Collection. Another comic strip I wrote for the magazine was about a brother and sister who travel through time and meet various saints. These were collected into Saints of Note: The Comic Collection with the original beautiful artwork by Patricia Storms plus biographical information about the saints. Pauline has also published a book of my plays and included my work in several short story collections.
My most recent project with Pauline was Goodness Graces! Ten Short Stories about the Sacraments. That was a difficult book to write, but it was a labor of love. I tried to create compelling fiction that would hold kids’ interest while teaching them about each sacrament, developing their appreciation for the sacraments, and helping them relate the sacraments to their own lives. I hope readers find the book meaningful and enjoyable, too!
Q: I know that you are an advocate of the concept of “theatre for teachers” and an accomplished playwright too. Please say a few words about how this particular form of literature can impact children intellectually and spiritually.
Theatre in the classroom (or other educational settings) benefits kids in so many ways! It develops language arts skills, teaches content in a nonacademic way, encourages teamwork, enhances self-esteem, etc., etc. Most importantly, plays are an effective way to teach good values and inspire kids to live their faith. The fun of performing a play – even if that means simply reading from their desks – opens kids up to the good lessons we want them to learn. They’re not turned off by what they perceive as preachiness. Instead, they’re drawn into the play, relating to the characters and actually acting out their challenges. That helps them see how abstract moral and spiritual concepts relate to their real lives. My plays are all humorous, but I want them to do some serious work!
Q: You and I share a common love of the saints in our writing. What resources do you use when you are researching the life of a saint? Who are your personal patrons?
I have lots of books about the saints – and yet I’m always buying more of them! I use “grown-up” resources like Butler’s Lives of the Saints, but I also like kids’ books about the saints. Though they’re written simply, they seem to really bring the saints to life. When I’m researching a saint, I look at every reference I have, and I do online research, too. Much of the information I find will not end up in what I’m writing, but I want to have a good feel for the person. I want to be able to make the saint “real” to my readers.
I find many saints personally inspiring. Since I was a kid, I’ve loved Thérèse of Lisieux. I could relate to the “little way” then – and now it means even more to me. I admire Saint Bakhita for her forgiveness, which is something that’s difficult for me! As a teacher, I connected with Don Bosco. And I’m awed by the kindness of Blessed Frederic Ozanam and Mother Teresa of Calcutta.
Q: Of all the books and plays you have written, do you have a favorite?
I have a special place in my heart for the Stepping Stones kids. They’re like old friends! Besides the comics, I also wrote a novel about them called The Stepping Stones Journals. In that book, the kids are assigned a journaling project at school so the story is told in their own words. That makes their experiences very personal and helps readers relate to their challenges. They can really see how the characters struggle with right and wrong and use their faith as a guide.
Q: What inspires your characters and what do you hope readers will learn from their time with your books?
In writing fiction, I try to create characters that seem real – characters with the same feelings and thoughts and fears and problems and needs that we all have. That’s why I prefer to write stories in first person. It’s the best way to get inside my characters and bring them to life. I hope readers will relate to those characters, lose themselves in their stories, and get inspired to really live their faith and be better people.
Q: What projects do you have on the horizon?
I’m always doing magazine work and fooling around with possible book manuscripts. Lately the great people at Pauline and I have been kicking around some ideas for a future book project. I hope to soon have some news to share about that!
Q: Are there any additional thoughts or comments you’d like to share with our readers?
Thanks again for interviewing me. I really appreciate it!
One last thought I’d like to share: Life can be really challenging for today’s kids. They need to know God loves them. It’s up to us adults to show them that love and guide them on their faith journey.
Copyright 2012 Lisa M. Hendey