When you hear the term Young Adult books, you tend
to think of these younger people as being the readers of the books,
not the writers.
Jake Marcionette is doing his part to change that
Marcionette was only 12 years old when he wrote his
first book, Just Jake. At thirteen, that book was in book
store and on the New York Times best-seller list making him
the youngest author ever to gain that honor. Now 15, he has
recently released the third book in his Just Jake series,
Camp Wild Survival.
Not bad for a kid who openly admits that writing
started out as a chore for him, a job that his mother required
Marcionette to do daily, when he'd much rather have been playing
with friends or trying out video games.
"When I was younger I hated to do it," Marcionette
admitted. "My mom forced me and my sister to write and I couldn't
stand it. I started eventually writing about how my day was going,
how I was feeling, and I really started to love it. It really
became therapeutic, in a way. It gave me another way that I could
Still, it took a huge life shift to inspire
Marcionette to get really serious about writing a whole book, which
became Just Jake.
"I moved from Florida to Maryland and that was tough
for me, so I put all that into the book," Marcionette continued.
"That's really what the first book is about, the character moves
from Florida to Maryland. That's really how I got the writing bug."
He was trying to process the lifestyle change.
There was a new school, the problem of making new friends and
leaving old ones behind. A whole new series of expectations from
kids around him – and yet at the same time he was something of a
blank slate to the new kids. Even simple things like climate was
strange and new.
definitely a noticeable difference," Marcionette said. "Even just
looking at the terrain, from palm trees to pine trees. And the
cold. But there is definitely a cultural shift."
It is never easy to be the new kid at a school, and
Marcionette seized upon that feeling of displacement to write a
funny and sometimes touching book. It is one that he admits is only
"The book itself is loosely based on my life,"
Marcionette allowed. "Like, I gave you the example of when I moved
from Florida to Maryland. That actually happened to me. It's maybe
50/50. I definitely have to make some stuff up, just to make the
book funny and readable. But a lot of it is based on my life."
Which in itself is kind of interesting, because the
main character's name is also Jake. The stories involve Jake and
his family, his mother father and sister. What do his family and
friends feel about perhaps being the inspiration for what is
happening in the Just Jake books?
"I talk about my sister a lot in the book, and she
probably didn't like the way that she was portrayed," Marcionette
admitted. "But I think she's gotten over it. I change a lot of
names, so a lot of kids don't know it's them. I get that question a
lot: 'Is it me? Is this character me?' I can never tell any of
them. So it's a bit tough for them to really know."
So Marcionette had finished a book at merely
twelve. What then? How do you get it to the people? How do you
get it into book stores? It was a question that Marcionette had no
real answer to, so he did what any savvy modern kid would do when
faced with a life dilemma: he looked it up on the internet.
"I wanted to get my book published and I had no idea
what I was doing, so I went to Google," Marcionette explained. "I
typed in 'How to get a book published.' I kept reading that I had
to get a literary agent. I had no idea what or who that was, so I
just printed out a big list of them and started calling them up. I
called up a bunch of them. I got a lot of nos. Got hung up on a
"I was really fortunate that really far down on my
list was Dan Lazar," Marcionette continued. "I called him up and
got his secretary. He wanted me to email it to him. He really
liked it and I signed with him that night. Four weeks later I was
going to New York to meet four major publishers. I met with
Penguin. They really seemed to like it. That's really how the
Just Jake series was born."
it was crazy to actually see his book in the stores.
"It was surreal," Marcionette said. "You go through
the writing process and the publishing process, have all these
ideas, put them down on paper. Then you work with an editor, just
to get it to the point where you're finished and all that hard work
pays off in a way that you can feel it and look at it. It's really
a surreal moment."
What about seeing his name on The New York Times
"That was crazy. I've always read The New York
Times. I've always read The Book Review. Seeing your
name on it, it was really special."
One thing that had inspired the book was the fact
that as a reader, Marcionette had noticed that YA novels had a
tendency to be slanted towards girls. He thought there must be an
audience of boys like him to embrace.
"I think girls read more than boys, typically,"
Marcionette said. "Publishing companies really tend to gear a lot
of their titles towards girls to read, which is smart business and I
get that. But there are not a lot of books for younger readers
especially for boys."
For example, one of his favorite series as a reader
was somewhat written for a wider audience.
"For me, the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series was
what got me to love writing. And love reading. There's not a lot
of those type of books out there. I really wanted Just Jake
to be a book for kids, by a kid. For all kids. That's inclusive to
any kid. That any kid can just pick up and start reading and enjoy
After Just Jake became popular in 2013,
Marcionette went to work on follow-ups. The second book was Just
Jake: Dog Eat Dog, in which Jake and his class start a business
The newest one is Just Jake: Camp Wild Survival,
in which Jake and his family go to a survival camp being run by an
Australian reality TV show star. That character was not
specifically based on any specific TV star. "I'm a big fan of Bear
Grylls, Les Stroud and a lot of these reality TV survival men,"
Marcionette said. "It's a mixture of all of them combined."
his literary doppelganger, the real Jake and his family moved back
to Florida not that long after the big move that inspired the first
book. The character of Jake is always coming up with crazy
money-making schemes, as well, a trait that Marcionette admits does
not extend to real life. Well, except, of course, becoming a
"Definitely not to the extent that Jake [the
character] has," Marcionette said. "When I was younger, I opened up
an in-house mailing. I'd make these little mailboxes and my family
members could make notes and send them to each other around the
house. I charged like $0.25 a month. So, definitely there has been
some, but not to the extant as the character Jake."
Of course, life has changed in many ways over the
last three years.
"Schoolwise, I used to go to public school, and now
I go to public online school," Marcionette said. "I go to FLVS,
it's the Florida virtual school. It gives me flexibility to have
author visits and write. I love it."
The extra freedom and time have given him the
opportunity to hone his craft, Marcionette is certain. He feels
that the sky is the limit for the series and he wants to take
advantage of this opportunity.
"As I get older and as I experience more, my writing
gets better," Marcionette said. "I'm in an interesting position
that every book I think is the best book. I'm a better writer as
time goes on. My third book is better than second book, my second
book is better than my first book. That's not really how it goes.
A lot of series decline over time, but I have the opportunity to
ascend over time."
A huge part of the series is a group of funny and
ironic visuals, a mixture of illustrations, photos and documents.
Marcionette spends a lot of time working on both the editing of the
books and also helping to get the look of the books down pat.
"For the first manuscript, I used a lot of stock
photos. My first book was filled with stock photos that really gave
my illustrator, Victor [Rivas Vallai] a lot to go off of. In the
book, it's a mix of stock photos and real illustrations. The first
book was different, it was already fully illustrated with stock
photos, he just had to illustrate a lot of them. The second and
third books, it was really when I was writing it, I'd go, 'Oh,
here's a good place for a picture.' I'd just put in a side note:
'Put a picture of...' and describe what I'm thinking of."
So are we going to continue to follow Jake out of
middle school, into high school, then college, and eventually out
into the workforce? Marcionette is very receptive to the idea,
though he is taking it one step at a time.
"I would love to continue the Just Jake
series," Marcionette said. "Hopefully there will be a number four
coming out. But I'm definitely looking at maybe writing some new
stuff. Working on some new series and projects."
Now that he is growing older, will Marcionette stick
with the young adult genre, or does he see branching out into other
styles of books?
"I love where I am. I love the middle-grade
fiction. I just love all parts of writing. So, yeah, I'd love to
go maybe a couple of years younger, chapter books. Right now I'm in
the middle-grade fiction, so that's something that's always really
interesting to me. Maybe a couple for grades that are too young to
read the Just Jake series."
Like he said earlier, the idea reminds him of the
series that he grew up on. He hopes that his books may inspire
young readers to read and write.
"When I was younger I was a big fan of Diary of a
Wimpy Kid. I loved the series so much. I thought Greg was
hilarious. That was really just one of those books that got me to
Of course, tastes change as well, and as a reader
Marcionette has been branching out from his home turf.
"Now, my favorite book would probably be The
Godfather, by Mario Puzo," Marcionette said. "I love the
Lord of the Rings series. I love that medieval, mythical
genre. I'm a big fan of Game of Thrones."
Still, unlike so many popular YA titles like The
Hunger Games, Maze Runner, The Giver and Divergent,
Marcionette doesn't see writing about a dystopian future. Jake (the
character) is not likely to face the apocalypse any time soon.
"Not yet," Marcionette laughed. "Maybe someday, but
Just Jake is firmly in middle school."
Jake the character may be, but Jake the author has
moved past middle school. Still, he makes time for friends, even if
he doesn't see them every day in class. Most of them treat him no
differently than when he was just another kid in the neighborhood.
"They really treat me the same. It's kind of
frustrating that no one is treating me better," he laughed.
"Definitely everything has stayed the same. Everyone is real proud
of me, but there hasn't been this big difference."
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