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An Interview with Author Esther Jantzen

Esther Jantzen is a former high school teacher turned author. A long-time family literacy advocate, she published Way to Go! Family Learning Journal in 2006 (now out of print) and Plus It! How to Easily Turn Everyday Activities into Learning Adventures for Kids (2009). She turned to writing fiction after a 500-mile pilgrimage sparked the idea for her first novel for pre-teens. WALK: Jamie Bacon’s Secret Mission on the Camino de Santiago (July 2020) follows the missteps, adventures, and heroism of an 11-year-old boy on a pilgrimage across Spain with his home-schooling family. You’ll find Esther on her Amazon author page.

When readers turn the last page in the book, what do you hope they take away from it?
I’ve heard from some readers that they cried (“good crying”) at the end of WALK. That pleases me. I assume they were touched by Jamie’s spunk in facing a rash of disappointments, choices, and problems — and that they felt relief and pride in his kid-like humility as he meets the moment, encounters unexpected, happy results, and earns a touch of fame. I’m guessing that the readers’ tears were tears of joy because the family is unified at the end, proud of their youngest member, and understands that the whole Camino experience had cracked him (and each of them) open to a new generous way of being.

What unique challenges did this work pose for you?
The biggest challenge for me was making what was essentially a travelogue — characters going from place to place and seeing interesting things — into a compelling narrative with suspense, tension, betrayal, wins and losses, and plenty of growth in the characters. Those are the elements that make a good story.

Who is your main character, and what will readers like most about him?
The main character in WALK is eleven-year-old Jamie Bacon — a clumsy pre-teen whose natural curiosity snaps him out of grumbling resistance and awakens his integrity, awe, leadership, and willingness to help others. He’s up against a quarrelsome older sister, a bossy mother, and a mostly absent father as he discovers that friendships and attachments are fleeting because of the nature of a pilgrimage. Readers will like Jamie’s honesty, enthusiasm, imagination, and willingness to both stand up and back down. His troubles and adventures make him learn and change and ultimately lead to him keeping his word.

How does the story’s setting impact the characters?
The setting for WALK is mighty unusual: an ancient 500-mile route of rough trails, cow paths, woodland walks, scary highways, mountain passes, and urban streets that starts in France, goes over the Pyrenees, and winds through Northern Spain to the holy city of Santiago de Compostela. This location has been known for about 1200 years as El Camino de Santiago. The setting serves almost as a character — challenging, wooing, deceiving, confusing, wowing, and educating pilgrims.

What topics explored in WALK make the book a perfect fit for the classroom?
By design, I think many elements in the book make it a valuable teaching: 1) the hero’s journey narrative structure; 2) the geography, history, references to art, architecture, European literary classics; 3) its values orientation — toward compassion, personal responsibility, honesty, forgiveness, flexibility, initiative, and service; 4) as an introduction to another culture and some of its language; 5) the depiction of a certain parenting style, showing how sibling issues might resolve and the value of allowing children to have their own experiences; and 6) how students can document an experience, work collaboratively, study independently, and more. I was a long-time classroom teacher. I wanted this book to have multiple layers so teachers can emphasize what they think is most needed. And incidentally, I think WALK can be useful for parents, perhaps as a means to inspire them to risk a bit and do more expansive things with their children. Plus, home-schooling families may enjoy many aspects of the story.

Tell us how the book came about.
The idea to write a children’s book about the Camino came to me on my first walk in 2008: I wanted to convey to my family and friends, (and especially grandkids) a sense of the fun, beauty, physical challenge, freedom, and expansion I experienced. How hard could that be, I naively (arrogantly) wondered. Well, it took twelve years before WALK appeared in print. I had to learn how to write fiction (dialog, plot, setting, theme…); learn the conventions and scope of the middle-grade novel as a genre; and become informed about the history and legends of the Camino (which I did through both reading/research and returning twice more to walk the Camino). Further, I had to grasp what real editing and cutting of 30,000 words felt like. Then I experienced the challenge of seeking and not landing a traditional publisher. Eventually I had to face all the decisions, frustrations, and costs of independent publishing. Was it worth it? Absolutely, yes! I love the result that came from my collaboration with my cover illustrator, my graphic designer, mapmaker, and others.

What was the most rewarding aspect of putting this project together?
Three things, not one, from this project were incredibly rewarding: 1) the travel and research that I did to make the book as accurate as possible; 2) what I did to bolster my knowledge of children’s lit — reading several hundred Newbery Award and Honor books; and 3) the lifestyle change that I chose (selling my home and becoming a nomadic house sitter), because I so enjoyed the freedom of the Camino. This book feels like my legacy. I have other story/novel ideas, but who knows what will become of them.

What did you learn from working with the cover illustrator for WALK?
The trick to working with a cover illustrator, I found, is to walk a line between being very clear about what you want (and that clarity is not easy to come by), and trusting or allowing the illustrator’s artistic gifts and sensibility to shape something that may be far better than what you thought you wanted.

Looking back to the beginning of your writing/publishing career, what do you know now that you wish you’d known then?
I wish I had started earlier. I’m retired now, yet I have a dynamite idea I’d like to shape into a book. But it’s a complicated concept and would require years of research. Also, there are different priorities in the world now. I feel a strong responsibility to do work toward climate solutions. Writing another novel seems like an indulgence, almost misdirected energy. So I’m on the fence about what’s next for me, although marketing WALK will be a priority for a while.

KLWagoner150_2KL Wagoner (writing as Cate Macabe) is the author of This New Mountain: a memoir of AJ Jackson, private investigator, repossessor, and grandmother. Kathy posts to a speculative fiction blog at and writes about memoir at

2020 New Releases for SWW Authors #2

Parris Afton Bonds, Loretta Hall, Esther Jantzen, Dennis Kastendiek, and Paula Paul are a few examples of the dedicated members of SouthWest Writers. Each of these authors represents a different genre, but all pushed through the craziness of 2020 to see their work published. The releases in this post couldn’t fit into this year’s interview schedule, but look for interviews or updates for most of these authors in 2021.

A list of previously interviewed SWW authors with 2020 releases is included at the end of this post.

In The Barons (Lagan Press, July 2020), the second entry in the Texicans saga, New York Times bestselling author Parris Afton Bonds tells a tale of intrigue and loyalty stretched to the breaking point. Politics, plunder, passion, profit, and power collide in a new and bountiful land through the eyes of the Paladín family, a captivating, richly-painted cast of characters playing out their lives against the backdrop of history. Their loves, their desires, their perils and rewards — all rendered in service to create a new state in America’s southwest — take on an urgency and realism unlike any before.

With the third volume in her Texicans saga, The Bravados (Lagan Press, November 2020), Parris Afton Bonds weaves a spellbinding tale of love, hate, revenge, and reconciliation set against the milieu of the turn of the twentieth century. From the streets of Dallas to the oil fields of Louisiana and the blood-soaked jungles of Cuba, the Paladíns find themselves caught in the great struggle between the traditions of the past and the technologies that will shape the future. Can bonds of blood withstand such tides of change? What about the feuds of ages long past? With true-to-life characters, high drama, and painstaking authenticity, The Bravados is a masterpiece of epic romance.

Visit Parris at and on her Amazon author page.

Higher, Faster, Longer: My Life in Aviation and My Quest for Spaceflight (Traitmarker Books, 2020), by Wally Funk and award-winning nonfiction author Loretta Hall, tells the story of a unique American space pioneer. Since she was a girl in a Superman cape jumping off the family barn and stargazing from the slopes of Taos Mountain, Wally Funk has kept going higher, faster, and longer every time she saw an opportunity. She soared through the aviation program in college, landing herself a flight instructor position after graduation. From there, she set a record in astronaut testing. The scuttling of the Mercury 13 program didn’t stop Wally, who used her dreams to fuel an adventure-studded life. Traveling the world, shattering glass ceilings, and always keeping one eye on the stars, Wally relentlessly, joyfully reached higher, flew faster, and traveled longer on her way to space.

You’ll find all of Loretta’s books on her Amazon author page.

In September 2020, Esther Jantzen published WALK: Jamie Bacon’s Secret Mission on the Camino de Santiago, her first fiction book for children and young adults. This is the story of Jamie Bacon who’s angry at his parents for making him walk 500 miles in Spain as part of their homeschooling plan. He’s especially disappointed that his dad can’t come along, which means he’ll be alone with his mom and sister. But when Jamie meets Father Diego and hears the backstory of the Camino de Santiago, he becomes intrigued. And when he naively agrees to the request by two pilgrims to secretly carry a heavily taped envelope, unopened, all the way to Santiago de Compostela, Jamie is stuck with keeping his word and finishing the very long walk.

Visit Esther on her Amazon author page.

Dennis Kastendiek’s first novel, A Seven Month Contract at Four Thousand Per (September 2020), tells the hilarious story of Johnny, a small-town Kansas high school graduate who feels guilty after a prank results in his sister breaking a leg just before her community playhouse debut. Fortunately (or not), Johnny learned all her lines while watching her rehearsals. And when a talent scout passing through town sees a girl he thinks is the most gifted actress to be found on the plains in ages, shit really hits the fan for Johnny/Johnnie. Broadway, here he/she comes! Reviewers call the story “brilliantly written, with compelling characters” and “plenty of bumps and thumps to enlighten and delight.”

Murder is Contagious (February 2020) is Paula Paul’s sixth installment in her Alexandra Gladstone Mystery series. Several children have died in a measles outbreak in the village of Newton-Upon-Sea. Equally as frightening is what begins to look like an epidemic of murder that may be related in some way to the measles contagion. Dr. Alexandra Gladstone finds herself deeply involved in both threats. Not only is her own life endangered, but the lives of members of her own household are at risk. Her attempts to stop both epidemics are hampered by the reappearance of an old lover who threatens to reveal secrets from Dr. Gladstone’s past.

Visit Paula at and on her Amazon author page.

SWW Author Interviews: 2020 Releases

Connie Flores
Our Fascinating Life: The Totally Accidental Trip 1979
Sue Houser
BR Kingsolver
Knights Magica
Dr. Barbara Koltuska-Haskin
How My Brain Works: A Guide to Understanding It Better and Keeping It Healthy
Manfred Leuthard
Broken Arrow: A Nuke Goes Missing
Shirley Raye Redmond
Courageous World Changers: 50 True Stories of Daring Women of God
J.R. Seeger
A Graveyard for Spies
Lynne Sturtevant
Hometown: Writing a Local History or Travel Guide and The Collaboration Kit
Patricia Walkow
New Mexico Remembers 9/11

KLWagoner150_2KL Wagoner (writing as Cate Macabe) is the author of This New Mountain: a memoir of AJ Jackson, private investigator, repossessor, and grandmother. Kathy posts to a speculative fiction blog at and writes about memoir at

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