Surviving in the YA World
by Jay S. Jacobs
When you hear the term Young Adult books, you tend to think of these younger people as being the readers of the books, not the writers.
Jake Marcionette is doing his part to change that conception.
Marcionette was only 12 years old when he wrote his first book, Just Jake. At thirteen, that book was in book store and on the New York Times best-seller list making him the youngest author ever to gain that honor. Now 15, he has recently released the third book in his Just Jake series, Camp Wild Survival.
Not bad for a kid who openly admits that writing started out as a chore for him, a job that his mother required Marcionette to do daily, when he’d much rather have been playing with friends or trying out video games.
“When I was younger I hated to do it,” Marcionette admitted. “My mom forced me and my sister to write and I couldn’t stand it. I started eventually writing about how my day was going, how I was feeling, and I really started to love it. It really became therapeutic, in a way. It gave me another way that I could express myself.”
Still, it took a huge life shift to inspire Marcionette to get really serious about writing a whole book, which became Just Jake.
“I moved from Florida to Maryland and that was tough for me, so I put all that into the book,” Marcionette continued. “That’s really what the first book is about, the character moves from Florida to Maryland. That’s really how I got the writing bug.”
He was trying to process the lifestyle change. There was a new school, the problem of making new friends and leaving old ones behind. A whole new series of expectations from kids around him – and yet at the same time he was something of a blank slate to the new kids. Even simple things like climate was strange and new.
“There’s definitely a noticeable difference,” Marcionette said. “Even just looking at the terrain, from palm trees to pine trees. And the cold. But there is definitely a cultural shift.”
It is never easy to be the new kid at a school, and Marcionette seized upon that feeling of displacement to write a funny and sometimes touching book. It is one that he admits is only partially autobiographical.
“The book itself is loosely based on my life,” Marcionette allowed. “Like, I gave you the example of when I moved from Florida to Maryland. That actually happened to me. It’s maybe 50/50. I definitely have to make some stuff up, just to make the book funny and readable. But a lot of it is based on my life.”
Which in itself is kind of interesting, because the main character’s name is also Jake. The stories involve Jake and his family, his mother father and sister. What do his family and friends feel about perhaps being the inspiration for what is happening in the Just Jake books?
“I talk about my sister a lot in the book, and she probably didn’t like the way that she was portrayed,” Marcionette admitted. “But I think she’s gotten over it. I change a lot of names, so a lot of kids don’t know it’s them. I get that question a lot: ‘Is it me? Is this character me?’ I can never tell any of them. So it’s a bit tough for them to really know.”
So Marcionette had finished a book at merely twelve. What then? How do you get it to the people? How do you get it into book stores? It was a question that Marcionette had no real answer to, so he did what any savvy modern kid would do when faced with a life dilemma: he looked it up on the internet.
“I wanted to get my book published and I had no idea what I was doing, so I went to Google,” Marcionette explained. “I typed in ‘How to get a book published.’ I kept reading that I had to get a literary agent. I had no idea what or who that was, so I just printed out a big list of them and started calling them up. I called up a bunch of them. I got a lot of nos. Got hung up on a lot.
“I was really fortunate that really far down on my list was Dan Lazar,” Marcionette continued. “I called him up and got his secretary. He wanted me to email it to him. He really liked it and I signed with him that night. Four weeks later I was going to New York to meet four major publishers. I met with Penguin. They really seemed to like it. That’s really how the Just Jake series was born.”
Still, it was crazy to actually see his book in the stores.
“It was surreal,” Marcionette said. “You go through the writing process and the publishing process, have all these ideas, put them down on paper. Then you work with an editor, just to get it to the point where you’re finished and all that hard work pays off in a way that you can feel it and look at it. It’s really a surreal moment.”
What about seeing his name on The New York Times best-sellers list?
“That was crazy. I’ve always read The New York Times. I’ve always read The Book Review. Seeing your name on it, it was really special.”
One thing that had inspired the book was the fact that as a reader, Marcionette had noticed that YA novels had a tendency to be slanted towards girls. He thought there must be an audience of boys like him to embrace.
“I think girls read more than boys, typically,” Marcionette said. “Publishing companies really tend to gear a lot of their titles towards girls to read, which is smart business and I get that. But there are not a lot of books for younger readers especially for boys.”
For example, one of his favorite series as a reader was somewhat written for a wider audience.
“For me, the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series was what got me to love writing. And love reading. There’s not a lot of those type of books out there. I really wanted Just Jake to be a book for kids, by a kid. For all kids. That’s inclusive to any kid. That any kid can just pick up and start reading and enjoy it.”
After Just Jake became popular in 2013, Marcionette went to work on follow-ups. The second book was Just Jake: Dog Eat Dog, in which Jake and his class start a business grooming animals.
The newest one is Just Jake: Camp Wild Survival, in which Jake and his family go to a survival camp being run by an Australian reality TV show star. That character was not specifically based on any specific TV star. “I’m a big fan of Bear Grylls, Les Stroud and a lot of these reality TV survival men,” Marcionette said. “It’s a mixture of all of them combined.”
Unlike his literary doppelganger, the real Jake and his family moved back to Florida not that long after the big move that inspired the first book. The character of Jake is always coming up with crazy money-making schemes, as well, a trait that Marcionette admits does not extend to real life. Well, except, of course, becoming a best-selling writer.
“Definitely not to the extent that Jake [the character] has,” Marcionette said. “When I was younger, I opened up an in-house mailing. I’d make these little mailboxes and my family members could make notes and send them to each other around the house. I charged like $0.25 a month. So, definitely there has been some, but not to the extant as the character Jake.”
Of course, life has changed in many ways over the last three years.
“Schoolwise, I used to go to public school, and now I go to public online school,” Marcionette said. “I go to FLVS, it’s the Florida virtual school. It gives me flexibility to have author visits and write. I love it.”
The extra freedom and time have given him the opportunity to hone his craft, Marcionette is certain. He feels that the sky is the limit for the series and he wants to take advantage of this opportunity.
“As I get older and as I experience more, my writing gets better,” Marcionette said. “I’m in an interesting position that every book I think is the best book. I’m a better writer as time goes on. My third book is better than second book, my second book is better than my first book. That’s not really how it goes. A lot of series decline over time, but I have the opportunity to ascend over time.”
A huge part of the series is a group of funny and ironic visuals, a mixture of illustrations, photos and documents. Marcionette spends a lot of time working on both the editing of the books and also helping to get the look of the books down pat.
“For the first manuscript, I used a lot of stock photos. My first book was filled with stock photos that really gave my illustrator, Victor [Rivas Vallai] a lot to go off of. In the book, it’s a mix of stock photos and real illustrations. The first book was different, it was already fully illustrated with stock photos, he just had to illustrate a lot of them. The second and third books, it was really when I was writing it, I’d go, ‘Oh, here’s a good place for a picture.’ I’d just put in a side note: ‘Put a picture of…’ and describe what I’m thinking of.”
So are we going to continue to follow Jake out of middle school, into high school, then college, and eventually out into the workforce? Marcionette is very receptive to the idea, though he is taking it one step at a time.
“I would love to continue the Just Jake series,” Marcionette said. “Hopefully there will be a number four coming out. But I’m definitely looking at maybe writing some new stuff. Working on some new series and projects.”
Now that he is growing older, will Marcionette stick with the young adult genre, or does he see branching out into other styles of books?
“I love where I am. I love the middle-grade fiction. I just love all parts of writing. So, yeah, I’d love to go maybe a couple of years younger, chapter books. Right now I’m in the middle-grade fiction, so that’s something that’s always really interesting to me. Maybe a couple for grades that are too young to read the Just Jake series.”
Like he said earlier, the idea reminds him of the series that he grew up on. He hopes that his books may inspire young readers to read and write.
“When I was younger I was a big fan of Diary of a Wimpy Kid. I loved the series so much. I thought Greg was hilarious. That was really just one of those books that got me to love reading.”
Of course, tastes change as well, and as a reader Marcionette has been branching out from his home turf.
“Now, my favorite book would probably be The Godfather, by Mario Puzo,” Marcionette said. “I love the Lord of the Rings series. I love that medieval, mythical genre. I’m a big fan of Game of Thrones.”
Still, unlike so many popular YA titles like The Hunger Games, Maze Runner, The Giver and Divergent, Marcionette doesn’t see writing about a dystopian future. Jake (the character) is not likely to face the apocalypse any time soon.
“Not yet,” Marcionette laughed. “Maybe someday, but Just Jake is firmly in middle school.”
Jake the character may be, but Jake the author has moved past middle school. Still, he makes time for friends, even if he doesn’t see them every day in class. Most of them treat him no differently than when he was just another kid in the neighborhood.
“They really treat me the same. It’s kind of frustrating that no one is treating me better,” he laughed. “Definitely everything has stayed the same. Everyone is real proud of me, but there hasn’t been this big difference.”
Copyright ©2016 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: February 12, 2016.
Photos by Nick Bergmann © 2016