Allison's Book Bag

Interview with J. Bean Palmer

Posted on: September 4, 2014

J Bean & Chris PalmerMany authors write their first book for a special person in their life. For J Bean Palmer, this was her granddaughter. Although J. Bean wrote a lot as a child and in the business world, she really began to pursue a career as an author when her first granddaughter was born seven years ago. That’s when, J. Bean decided to give a birthday gift of a book, a tradition she has continued ever since with the Cape Cod Witch series.

J. Bean’s adventures of flying small planes, as well as canoeing and hiking in the rugged western mountains of Maine, serve as fodder for her Elsbeth books. As does an abiding appreciation for the stunning seascapes and quaint villages of New England. She also calls upon her family’s long history in New England. And with a degree in Environmental Science, she can even weave in a message of care for the environment.

As for Chris, he draws on his experience as a short-order cook on Cape Cod, a Boston cab driver, and an Internet business executive in California in contributing the poems that are sung or spoken by several characters in the stories. He makes some use of his education in philosophy.

A significant inspiration for the Cape Cod Witch series is Huckleberry Finn. J. Bean wanted to write an adventure story in the vein of the classics, and something for both boys and girls. But with magical elements that presented new realties and an environmental theme. Magic has also been something which interested her. Like millions, she love the Harry Potter books and Eoin Colfer’s Artemis Fowl series. Her favorite movie, which she has seen too many times to count, is the Wizard of Oz.

Individual volumes of the Cape Cod Witch series have won regional awards, as well as honorable mentions for more general literary categories. Tomorrow I will be reviewing the most current book in the Cape Cod Witch series, Call of the Castle Ghostlies, which Palmer co-authored with her husband. Save the date: September 5!


ALLISON: Were you introverted or extroverted as a child? Has this changed? Why or why not?

J. BEAN: We both were more introverted as children and thankfully this has changed.

I was with a very extroverted friend at a church rummage sale in a tiny Maine town, and my lovable friend just started talking to the woman next to her. This was shocking to me as I’d been taught never to talk with strangers — “bothering” people was a definite no-no in my family. But I saw how this stern, New England woman lit up and virtually came to life when spoken to out of the blue.

My friend’s friendliness was a gift. That day I realized many people are shy and talking with them can be a gift, which I, in turn, try to give every chance I get. Introversion gone!

ALLISON: You like outdoor activities. What are your most memorable moments?

J. BEAN: A life lesson when white water rafting was made memorable for Chris when realizing we all had to pull together, into the waves, to keep the raft and us afloat. For me, my first solo flight in a small plane at a dirt airstrip in Rangeley, Maine. She won’t mention almost overshooting the runway, but will say the sunset that evening was spectacular!

ALLISON: What indoor activities do you like? For example, what’s your favorite game?

J. BEAN: A discussion with friends, card games and charades are favorites for Chris. For me, enjoying anything enjoyed by the younger ones–Crazy Eights, Candy Land, Tic-Tac-Toe.

ALLISON: You like animals. Is your house a menagerie? What animals do you have? Your favorite? Least?

J. BEAN: Great question! In a way our house is our environment. We have eagles, beaver, bobcat, fox, wild turkey, deer, woodchucks (which we try not to encourage) and lots of birds (including hummingbirds, which we do encourage) on our property. The hummingbirds are almost tame and are favorites. We love the deer and eagles, too. The woodchucks would have to be our least favorite, because we have a large garden and don’t really want to share all of it with them.

In the middle of a recent winter, a snow-white weasel climbed up and into the living room of the renovated barn in which we live, visiting us twice! This is the same species as the white stoat in the book, so he is our most favorite of all.

ALLISON: What are more unusual traits about yourself?

J. BEAN: I’m particularly fond of frogs.


ALLISON: What five words describe your series?

J. BEAN: From a Ypulse Book Editor review: “It’s ‘Sabrina the Teenage Witch’ crossed with Sarah Plain and Tall” (counting each title as one word!)

ALLISON: Talk about the co-authoring experience. What different backgrounds, interests, and skills do you bring to the writing process? How do you balance your different personalities and abilities? How do you resolve differences in opinion?

J. BEAN: I am the series creator and conceives and writes the first drafts. Chris edits and contributes his interests in poetry, history and philosophy. We write, edit, re-write, edit, re-write, edit, etc., until we’re both happy with what we have. It’s mostly persistence. Despite blood on the tracks (just kidding) we simply keep at it.

ALLISON: When did you get interested in environmentalism? How do you balance an environmentalism message along with an engaging plot?

J. BEAN: I’ve always loved the woods and lakes. “Touching” nature is one of my greatest pleasures. Where we live, one can take off in a canoe or kayak almost anywhere and discover all manner of heart-breakingly-lovely, secret spots.

I became aware of problems in the sustainability of the environment when growing up in the 60’s. In college I wanted a career where I could make a difference in the world, so environmental science was a natural for me. (OK, pun intended.) Environmentalism to me is simply an interesting part of life, so weaving it into an engaging plot is easy, like … a walk in the woods.

ALLISON: What parts of your family’s history did you draw upon to write your series?

J. BEAN: Quite a bit, including the use of old family names for book characters, fourteen generations on Cape Cod, and Cahoon family history back to the old country (Clan Colquhoun). Not specifically part of our own family histories, but the backgrounds of the three castle ghosts and the King Charles land grant, for examples, are historically accurate.

ALLISON: Did you have to do any science research? Or did you draw simply on your own knowledge? What science knowledge might learners gain from your story?

J. BEAN: We researched the Gulf Stream and the Northern Drift, which are scientifically and historically accurate. We researched the geography and the plants and animals of Scotland (the history of the red deer and the wolves, for example, and the geologic formation of Scotland), and these are scientifically accurate.

ALLISON: Why did you add a magical element? Especially when some families will steer clear of books with magic, why not just stick to a realistic story?

J. BEAN: We like to say our stories are just above the surface of reality. Our education is in science and history and we want the reality we write about to be scientifically and historically accurate. We want the magic to be in the realm of “magical realism,” which “portrays fantastical events in an otherwise realistic environment and tone, and brings fables, folk tales, and myths into contemporary social relevance.”

We believe this kind of story can encourage insight and independent thinking about one’s own world. And from what our readers tell us, this can be some of the best kind of fun there is.


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I am focusing this year on other commitments. Once a month, I’ll post reviews of Advanced Reader Copies. Titles will include: Freddy Frogcaster and the Flash Flood by Janice Dean, One Two by Igor Eliseev, Incredible Magic of Being by Kathyrn Erskine, Dragon Grammar Book by Diane Robinson, and Wide as the Wind by Edward Stanton.



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