Jennifer's Bio

For School Reports

Author Photo


Jennifer Kay is a Pen Name (a name used to publish books and interact in the publishing world). It is not the name on my birth certificate, nor is it the full name my mother used to scream when I was in trouble as a child. For my family's privacy, that name will remain a secret along with my address and phone number. To prevent identity theft (which adults fear more than the boogy man), I also won't answer questions about my date of birth, hometown, or family member names. Any other questions are fair game, so if you have a question not answered below, please e-mail it to

Where did you grow up?

I grew up in the country near the Kettle Moraine Forest. I didn't live on a farm, but our house was surrounded by them. We lived so far from town that there was no cable tv or pizza delivery. And this was before internet or cellphones were invented. My parents loved the quiet, but I read a lot to escape to more exciting worlds.

What was your family like?

My parents are two peas in a pod, still happily married after over thirty years of marriage. They both worked outside of the home, often leaving me in charge of my two younger sisters after school and in the summer. I'd credit both parents for my ability to craft stories, though neither of them do the same. My dad is the writer, and my wild imagination definitely came from him. But he is more interested in reading the news and nonfiction, saving his imagination for woodworking and construction projects. My mom is the reader, and she gave me my love for all stories (especially movies), though she is much more likely to precisely follow her crafting patterns than imagine a design of her own.

Those of you with siblings already know that growing up together in the same house isn't always a picnic, and my home was no exception. But hang in there, because someday your siblings will be more important to you than all your other friends combined. I wasn't close to either sister as a child, but that changed once I moved out on my own. My sisters were the first fans of my writing, and they are still my test readers.

What did you read as a child?

The first series I loved were historical ones like Little House on the Prairie and Anne of Green Gables, which is ironic because now historical fiction is one of my least favorite genres. In elementary school I discovered mysteries with Nancy Drew and Trixie Beldon. I would ride my bike over a mile to the bookmobile every week in the summer to get the next installment. It wasn't until junior high school that I first read Lord of the Rings and fell in love with fantasy. Unfortunately many of the great modern fantasy series like Eragon, Harry Potter and Percy Jackson weren't written until I was an adult (but of course I've read them!). I didn't discover science fiction until college, when a co-worker recommended Ender's Game.

What do you read for fun now?

My daughter and I read a lot of graphic novels, and some of our favorite series are Amulet, Zita the Spacegirl and Lumberjanes. I enjoy reading middle grade, young adult, and adult books in a variety of genres, but my favorites tend to be mystery, heist, and fantasy. Some of my favorite authors are Shannon Hale (middle grade), Rick Riordan (middle grade), Ally Carter (young adult), Jennifer Lynn Barnes (young adult), Marie Lu (young adult), Leigh Bardugo (young adult), Janet Evanovich (adult), and Sue Grafton (adult). Of course there are hundreds of other amazing authors that I love to read, so this list is only the tip of the iceberg.

Did you always know you would become a children's author?

No. As a child I never really thought about how the books I loved were published or even considered that writing books was a career. I was convinced I would become an astronaut when I grew up. My dad often pointed out that I had terrible motion sickness, but his practical suggestions didn't phase me one bit.

The astronaut career didn't work out for many reasons, so instead I decided to become a structural engineer to design buildings and bridges. I didn't take any fiction books with me to college, nor did I write a single creative paragraph the entire five years I was there. As a kid I ranked pretty high on the dorky scale, so my college years were spent breathing math and science.

After the first week of experiencing real life crunching numbers in a cubicle, I craved a creative outlet. By the time my first paycheck arrived, I had located my local book store, joined a mystery book club, and started writing my first novel. That horrible first manuscript was an adult murder mystery, but it didn't take me long to realize that children's literature was a much better fit for my natural voice and imagination.

How did you become published?

Publication is a goal I am still working towards, but I think the basic path is the same for everyone. One day you are inspired by an amazing idea that simply must be written down, but it takes significantly longer than you expect to actually write that first novel (if you even finish it at all). Butt in chair, guys, that's the only way to get it done. Then when you're done, you make everyone related to you read your baby and praise your wonderfulness.

But just around the corner is the harsh feedback that your first draft isn't so wonderful. How could it be when you have no idea what you're doing and you haven't practiced writing a novel before? The path divides here. Some authors will continue to work on that first manuscript until it shines and others will call it a good practice effort and move on to a new story idea. In my case I moved on to middle grade fiction, then later experimented with young adult fiction, picture books, graphic novels, and nonfiction.

In any case, you get better by reading writing craft books, reading tons of recently published books for the same audience, and writing every day. This step can take many years (for me it was about four years and three completed manuscripts). It's a good idea to also obtain critiques from people not related to you and begin to network with other writers. I belong to SCBWI and MWA. When you have a completed, polished manuscript, you can send query letters to agents and begin accumulating rejection letters. Every author has them, so don't get discouraged. I filled a shoebox. Eventually, if you keep at it, the stars will align and you will find the perfect agent for you.

But the work isn't over then. Your agent will have suggestions for revising your manuscript and will point out writing weaknesses you didn't know you had, so you can continue to polish that manuscript into a gem. Once the pitch is perfect, your agent will begin to submit to editors, and you'll realize that those rejection letters aren't quite behind you. There will be better feedback from this level of rejection, but still plenty of heartache. I like to think of this phase as the toughening of an author's skin.

Of course having an agent is no guarantee of publication. I had a wonderful relationship with my agent and still ended up parting ways with her after several years with no sales. Here the path again divides. Some writers pursue self-publication to get their story out into the world. I decided to deepen my study of writing craft at Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults. There is no right or wrong path. Choose what works best for you.

If you keep your fingers and toes crossed, and of course continue to write and rewrite, eventually your publishing offer will come. When mine does, you'll be the first to know!