Jared Reck, who completed coursework in the Writing for Children and Young Adults program at McDaniel College and currently teaches as an online adjunct lecturer in the program, published a young adult fiction novel called “Donuts and Other Proclamations of Love” with Knopf Books for Young Readers by Penguin Random House.
It’s his second book. The first, “A Short History of the Girl Next Door,” landed him a six-figure deal. The Times caught up with Reck, spoke about his new book and what young writers can do to publish a book of their own.
Q: What is “Donuts and Other Proclamations of Love” about?
A: “Donuts” is a book about food trucks, festivals and first loves. But it’s really about a young man who knows exactly what he wants. Oscar Olsson hates school, struggles to read, wants nothing to do with college. And soon, none of that will matter. Oscar and Farfar, the Swedish grandfather who’s raised him, run a food truck together, selling rullekebab and munkar (Swedish for donuts). And Oscar’s ready to get through senior year and focus on the food truck full time.
What he doesn’t plan for is the future valedictorian, the one girl he can’t stand, roping him into a year-long service project. And there’s no way to plan for a moment that could take all of it away.
I love writing characters who are passionate about something — whether it’s basketball or baking — young people who plan and dream and work their butts off to make it happen. But I also love figuring out where we end up when our paths suddenly change.
Q: What inspired you to write this book?
A: I’ve taught eighth-grade ELA for the past 16 years and all of my writing starts with characters, based on the fiction-writing process I’ve used with my students for years. We start with a simple tool called a Main Character Questionnaire, where you ask your character 15 to 20 basic interview-style questions and write down whatever they tell you, almost like you’re recording the conversation. I usually write 20 to 30 pages of my character just talking to me before I ever even try to begin chapter one.
For “Donuts,” I knew I had this young man who hated school, loved cooking and baking, and worked on a food truck with the Swedish grandfather who had raised him. I had no idea where the story was going, but I loved these two characters, and I had pages and pages of the two of them together — from the character questionnaire to sentences and scenes I’d written in front of my students in my classroom — working on the food truck or playing Mario Kart in their apartment in Gettysburg. Dumb stuff that made me — and hopefully my students — happy.
Q: What do you hope readers take away from the story?
A: More than anything, I just want readers to love these characters, Oscar and Farfar and Lou, as much as I do. But also that people’s lives are messy and complicated and almost never go according to plan, but you’ll never regret working hard, flinging yourself, at what you love.
Q: What led you to become a children’s author?
A: I didn’t set out to be a writer. When I first stepped into my middle school classroom over 16 years ago, I had zero plans to ever write a novel — never considered that I was even capable of writing one. I really just wanted to be a good teacher. And for me, that meant running a successful workshop — a classroom of creativity and laughter, one where students discover a love of writing and a love of books.
That led to years of writing in front of and alongside my students, every day, and absorbing the same lessons on craft and structure and the process that real authors use. It also led to years of falling in love with incredible young adult fiction right along with my students, by simply reading next to them every single day. So even though I never set out to be a writer, I know it never would have happened at all if I hadn’t first become a teacher.
Q: Any plans to write a third book?
A: Yes! I’m working on it right now. And, if I’m lucky enough, I’ll be able to write a fourth and a fifth and a sixth.
Q: What’s something you learned in McDaniel’s Writing for Children and Young Adults program that helped you write your books?
A: Honestly, the most important thing I got from the McDaniel program was the confidence to keep going. Which can’t be understated — finishing a book is hard. But I had two incredible professors who were also award-winning children’s book authors, and for the first time, I was surrounded by other working adults who were harboring the same dreams as me. Outside of my classroom, it was the first writing community I’d ever been a part of, and it was exactly what I needed.
Q: As an instructor, what’s something you want students pursuing the same career path to know about writing children and young adult books?
A: Two things: First, my all-time favorite writing quote, from Stephen King’s “On Writing” — I use this on day one of my classroom every year: “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There’s no way around these two things that I’m aware of, no shortcut.”
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Second, it’s OK to fake it. Seriously. I now have two novels out in the world, and I still feel like I still shouldn’t really call myself a writer. But even if you feel that way, and I bet most of us feel that way, go ahead and pretend like you’re a real-live writer anyway. Join an organization like the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, take a class or a workshop, find a writing friend or two, do your research, keep reading and writing, and pretend that you’re already so successful that you can write about whatever the heck makes you truly happy. Remember, I wrote about food trucks, and donuts, and a Swedish grandfather who takes no prisoners when it comes to Mario Kart.