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A Short Biography

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Professional Life: I taught English at Ozark Christian College, in Joplin, Missouri, for 28 years, from the fall of 1980 until the spring of 2008. In a four semester cycle, I taught Composition I and II, Writing and Research, English Literature, Children’s Literature, Analytical Grammar, and Advanced Speech for Women.

Although I loved my subjects and my students, I retired to do more writing and speaking, to spend more time with my family, and to travel with family and friends (including trips to encourage two missions in Cambodia). I have also spoken nationally and internationally at many retreats and seminars and enjoy running into many readers and former students. I have written frequently for both Christian Standard and Lookout, periodicals of Standard Publishing.

Years ago I wrote two non-fiction books, published by College Press, currently out of print but still available on Amazon. These days, I’m exploring fiction. My first novel, Tender Grace, was released by Bethany House January 30, 2009, and a second, Things Worth Remembering, was released in October, 2009. After a long contemplative period of “silence,” a first for me, I’m beginning to work on new speeches and a third novel, as time permits. Whether speaking or writing, I have loved telling what I’ve glimpsed of Him whom Jesus called “Holy Father” and “the only true God.”

Education: I attended OCC from 1964-66. I graduated from Missouri Southern State College in 1977 with a B.S. in Education. In 1984 I graduated from Pittsburg State University with an M.A. in English. I’ve also attended a variety of Christian Writers Conferences.

Personal Life: I met my husband Tony in our hometown of Muskogee, Oklahoma, when I was a junior in high school. Four years later, in 1966, we were married. In 1968 we moved to the Joplin, Missouri, area. Tony is the retired Vice President of General Services for Empire District Electric Company.

We have two daughters. Stacey works with high school students at Hart High School and ministers with her youth minister husband at a church in Southern California, and Leanne is a middle school counselor and associate superintendent of schools for Kirbyville schools near Branson, MO. Each daughter has given us three grandchildren, and being “Ma” and “Papa” to those six children has been one of our greatest joys.

When both Tony and I retired, Leanne started sweetly badgering us to move on five acres she would give us, down the hill from her in Branson. At first I said, no, woke myself up one night saying, “I’m afraid.” Well, we had lived in Joplin for 42 years. But here we are, loving Branson and living close to at least one daughter. We are surrounded by beautiful scenery, including a field of cows and a lake, which we view from our back porch and patio—so refreshing.

If I were forced to name hobbies, I could list several sports relating to water (most days I try to swim laps, my exercise of choice), but what I really spend most of my free time doing is reading and writing. Otherwise, I speak a little, enjoy the children and grandchildren, and sit on the back porch drinking a Diet Coke and watching my good husband till the garden.

Q&A

  • You have an unusual name. Is it a family name?
  • Mom named me after my dad, whose name is Jack. “Jackie” would seem her obvious choice, but Mom, whose name was very common, wanted something unique. She combined Jack with suffixes until she came up with Ina. I have my own theory. I like to think that Mom, who didn’t become a Christian until I was nine, was led by the Spirit to combine my dad’s name with a name God is sometimes called, Shekinah. Nice thought anyway. My name is often mispronounced, of course. Jackina has a long “I,” rhyming with china, and the accent is on the KI (Ja-KI-na).
  • Did you always know you were going to be a writer?
  • Not at all, but looking back, there were clues. I wrote my first story in the third grade; sadly, my next-door neighbor tore it up. On a youth group trip, I kept the younger kids occupied by telling them stories, and our pastor said, “Jackina, you’re a story teller!” When I was a 22-year-old mom, I kept a baby journal, recording the sweet things my two baby girls did so “I’d never forget.” I returned to college at 26 and majored in English because I liked “to read and write.” And I’ve been a daydreamer, which I considered a major character flaw, but I have come to realize story is conceived, born, and nurtured in the mind. And I’ve always mulled things over, asked “why” and “how,” and I wonder if that isn’t a writing imperative.
  • After writing and teaching non-fiction for so many years, why did you decide to write a novel?
  • I wrote it as an act of faith. Yes, I had taught composition as well as a variety of other English courses at a small Christian college for 28 years. During that time I also wrote quite a bit of non-fiction—articles for our quarterly college publication, a variety of articles for denominational magazines, and two non-fiction books that a local publishing company asked me to write, a delightful parenting book (at least it delighted me and several others) and a book of essays (both long out of print).

    But several years ago an editor friend of mine told me I should write a novel. I laughed (see the acknowledgement page of Tender Grace). I mean, I really laughed. I suppose he said it because in my non-fiction writing and in my speaking, I am a story teller by nature. But a novel is a long way from an amusing or tender anecdote. For years, literally, I shook my head at the very thought. Then, and perhaps this time it was more obviously the nudging of the Spirit, I thought—Well, why not try?

    When I was first asked to speak, also 28 years ago, I was so nervous I sometimes cried in my prayers asking for God’s help. But I just made myself do it because what could be nicer, I thought, than speaking for and about God? That’s how I felt when I decided to try speaking on his behalf in another medium, the novel—nervous and excited at the same time. Thus began a learning experience. I read everything I could about fiction writing; I read hundreds of novels, good ones that made a coward out of me but I forged on anyway; and I wrote a first novel that wasn’t marketable but the writing and critiquing of it taught me so much.

    It has been so stimulating to step out in faith, to learn something new, and to give what meager talents I have to the Lord.
  • Was it difficult to make the transition from non-fiction writing to fiction?
  • Very. I had to beat the teacher out of me! I might have illustrated with mini-stories, but as a teacher, I was laying out principles. You could list them: one, two, three. I did much the same thing in my essays and speeches. Non-fiction was in my blood, and it took me a long time to learn that as a novelist, anything I wanted to say had to be completely subordinated to “story.” I still have to be on guard for that, but it’s getting easier. On the other hand, much of my non-fiction training has been extremely useful. I wanted to write, and wanted my students to write, clear, tight, interesting essays. I loved words and their nuances, sentence structure and rhythms.
  • What type of relationship do you have with your readers? (Are you interactive, how often do you interact with them, are you accessible to them, etc.)
  • I’ve developed this web site so that there can be some accessibility. I’ve also been a speaker for 28 years, and though I haven’t been doing quite as much speaking in recent years, I am making myself available for a limited number of engagements and have several weekends booked for 2009. I’m perceived as very open and friendly (and most erroneously, energetic). People have said when I speak, “I’d love to live next door to you!” Boy, would they be disappointed! My girls smile, knowing how private I really am. But I hope to have a good relationship with readers, and I’m already inquiring of the Lord and others how I can be “out there,” but also have time for my personal pursuits and for my family. My web site and some personal appearances should help.
  • If someone gave you thirty seconds to pitch yourself to a radio host for an interview; what would you say?
  • Actually, I have a hard time saying even “Good Morning” in 30 seconds. Ask my former students! But I’ll try.

    When I was a mere 27 years old, my dad said the picture on my driver’s license looked like Lizzie Borden (the ax murderer). That has made all the difference.

    Just kidding. (He did say that, but it didn’t do anything but make me look my best when I have to get a new license.) Can you tell this is really stumping me? Okay, what follows is the real answer.

    I have loved being a daughter, sister, wife, mother, and grandmother. I have also loved being an English teacher for 31 years, though I’ve had a few students who have thought working at Taco Bell or being a prison guard would be more rewarding, and certainly more fun. They were wrong, of course. I have also been a speaker and non-fiction writer for 28 years, and recently I have made trips to two incredible missions in Cambodia. And now God has brought me to this place: the writing of fiction. As I said, it has been an act of faith and also an incredibly stimulating pursuit. There is nothing quite like story to spotlight truth and to beckon an audience to ponder it.
  • Your teaching career seems to have been a huge blessing in your life. What is one of your most memorable moments with your students?
  • I have had so many tender moments with students—you wouldn’t believe. In the 28 years I taught at Ozark Christian College, I mentored many students—mostly young women, but I once worked with a group of three guys, some of the finest young men I’ve ever known. What a great semester that was. We still love it when we run into each other.

    I was blessed with a good sense of humor and a natural appreciation of college-age students, so even when students didn’t happen to like composition, or British literature, or especially analytical grammar, we still managed to have a good time, even when I very much stayed on task! We laughed every single day, and some days we even cried.

    One student loved me and the subjects I taught so much, she became an English major, and I hand-picked her to take my place when I retired. She taught along side me part-time for my last two years, but then, before she could take over, she and her husband decided to be missionaries to Bosnia!!! Best laid plans are subordinated to God’s better ones.

    Some of my most precious students write me from places like France, Uganda, Japan, and China! They are all over the world, and they are among those of whom the world is not worthy. And so many former students right here in the United States write and tell me they want to write, too, or that they are speaking these days (I taught advanced speech for women) or that they’re reading to their kids like crazy (I taught children’s literature). Goodness, that makes me happy.

    Two young men (and their wives) I taught are on the ministry staff at a large church in California where my son-in-law also ministers. They have asked me to come out and do retreats for their women, many of whom are new Christians, and they want me to do this every spring and fall. (Whew! Thank goodness my grandkids are there!) That opportunity comes out of sweet relationships with students.

    I can’t name just one. The joy is cumulative.
  • What exciting things is God doing in your life right now?
  • Well, as of February, 2009—lots. Hearing from people about Tender Grace; revising and preparing to release Things Worth Remembering in October; working on book three; working on two speeches and two workshop presentations for upcoming retreats (I have a whole back log of speeches listed on my website and don’t write new ones often when I’m working on a novel); planning a fourth trip to two Cambodia ministries; speaking at several retreats; enjoying a family vacation, an annual summer highlight (Tony and I, and our two daughters and their families). And now my daughter Leanne wants her dad and me to leave the Joplin area where we’ve lived for 42 years and move two hours away to one of her fifteen acres overlooking Taneycomo Lake in Branson, MO. “Come on, Mom, you’re both retired now!” So we’ve found a house plan and just might do it, though after she started her begging, I woke myself up one morning shouting, “I’m scared!”
  • Do you have any words of encouragement you’d like to share with readers today?
  • My encouragement to you is something that is found in Tender Grace. Go with God into your future. He will show us tender graces if we will open ourselves up for that. Like Tom and Audrey, my husband and I are beginning “Act Three,” yet life still has so much to offer. One of my prayers is this: “Lord, let me live, really live, until I die.” I don’t know if that makes sense to you, but it sure does to me. How dearly I’d love to go from “life to life.”

    “I am the resurrection and the life. . . . Do you believe this?”

    Yes, Lord.