#TuesdayTalk with Jeff Szpirglas and Danielle Saint-Onge. Jeff and Danielle’s most recent chapter book, X Marks the Spot, launched this May.
When did both of you first start writing? And how about writing as a team?
Jeff: I’ve been doing this since I was in grade 1 when I wrote my first book about snakes. I still have that book about snakes. Now I just occasionally get paid to do something I love.
Danielle: When I met Jeff, I knew I wanted to collaborate on books, just like Stan and Jan Berenstein. As we started reading different books to our primary students, we wanted to write stories that reflected our own students and their lives, while being true to the realities and dynamics at play in the classroom.
Where do you find topics for your stories?
As primary school teachers, we encounter story ideas just about every day. We also draw upon our own childhoods – for instance, in Something’s Fishy, Jeff certainly had a rabid passion for reptiles and animals that translated into Jamie’s character. X Marks The Spot was inspired by field trips to the outdoor education centre.
Do you have a routine when it comes to writing? How do you divide the work between the two of you?
Most of our stories begin on car rides to Hamilton or Waterloo or Pittsburgh to see our families, particularly when our children are sleeping. Once the idea has been mapped out in the car, we plan it out chapter by chapter on the computer. Jeff really, really likes to do the typing (guess who’s typing now), while Danielle excels at talking. It’s an effective partnership.
What do you look for in a good story?
We generally go for a story with a funny hook, and one that represents the experiences of the students in our classrooms. Jeff also likes gross things.
Have either of you had an odd job in the past? What was it?
Jeff: It’s required of every Hamiltonian to work in the steel industry, so I spent a summer in a steel yard. I’ve also shovelled manure, lifted rocks, and worked carnival games at the CNE. My hobby is making Danielle watch scary movies with me. It’s tremendous fun.
Danielle: I’ve always had jobs working with kids, whether at a camp, teaching swimming lessons, or wrangling our two twin toddlers.
What one place in the world would you love to visit?
Danielle: Japan. I studied the culture in grade 4 and have wanted to go ever since.
Jeff: One day we’ll get to Madagascar. Or Burma. Or India. Thankfully we’ve already traversed a few continents together. These days we’ve been visiting random locations in Pittsburgh where all of those zombie movies were filmed.
Do you have any guilty pleasures? Tell us!
Danielle says that Jeff’s guilty pleasure is our pet cat, Penelope. He frequently texts Danielle pretending to BE the cat. Jeff says that Danielle’s guilty pleasure are murder mysteries, particularly scary ones.
What’s your favourite board game?
Danielle: Trivial Pursuit. My family did not want to play with me because as a child, I memorized all of the cards.
Jeff: Does Jenga count?
What advice would you give to an aspiring author?
Write, every day and often, about whatever makes you happy. Your writing should represent you and the things you are passionate about. And don’t give up if a publisher doesn’t have a place for your book. Who knows what the future will bring?
Jeff Szpirglas and Danielle Saint-Onge have co-written three books for the Orca Echoes series: Something’s Fishy, Messy Miranda and X Marks the Spot. Jeff has written several other books, including the award-nominated You Just Can’t Help It! and a terrifying new novel called Evil Eye. Danielle has a master’s degree in social anthropology and is a crusader for equity in the classroom. Jeff and Danielle are married and live in Toronto, Ontario, where they teach students of diverse cultural backgrounds, spend their time writing stories and taking care of their twin babies.