Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Author Interview with Jacqui Murray

Thank you for popping in today. We are again on location, this time in the Tech Lab where Jacqui Murray teaches, so grab yourself a desk. There is a lot of information Jacqui will be sharing and I know those with school aged children and grandchildren, you’re going to want to take notes!

Deanna: Jacqui, thank you so much allowing us time to be with you on your blog tour. Tell us a bit about YOU as a person that your readers might not know.

Jacqui: Thank you for having me; this tour is just beginning and I look forward to meeting so many readers. I was born in Berkley California to Irish-German parents. After receiving a BA in Economics, another in Russian and an MBA, I spent twenty years in a variety of industries while raising two children and teaching evening classes at community colleges. Now, I live with my husband, adult son and two beautiful Labradors and I write. I write how-books, five blogs on everything from the USNA to tech to science, and a column for the Examiner on tech tips.

Deanna: What made you want to become a writer?

Jacqui: My non-fictions books are all inspired by the same circumstances. When my daughter wanted a book on how to get into the Naval Academy, all she could find were books that told her how hard it was, how selective they were, how very few could achieve it. My daughter brushed them off, but I wondered how many kids would be discouraged by that approach and decided to write a book explaining how to achieve the goal, not why kids couldn’t. I stressed how teens can solve the problems that stood in their way rather than why they couldn’t, how they could get where they wanted to go rather than why they couldn’t get there. That worked for my daughter and I had no doubt it would work for others. From what I hear from readers, it’s true.

My tech workbooks are the same. When I went back to teaching, I could find no workbooks for teaching technology to K-5. There were how-tos, but not geared for students of that age group. So I decided to write them. I geared the books for parents with nominal computer skills, homeschoolers and lab specialists. It outlines the method I use in my classes that gets kids from the most basics of computer skills in kindergarten to Photoshop by fifth grade. I’m not surprised that the method works, and is now being used in school districts all over the country.

So, to sum it up, what happened was I had no choice!

Deanna: I find this fascinating. Tell us about the workbooks and how they can be used.

Jacqui: Because I have taught technology to youngsters for so many years, I was asked to edit a series of six K-5 technology workbooks. Geared for parents and homeschoolers, they provide a year's-worth of age-appropriate computer lessons at each grade level that meet or exceed national standards like ISTE. Each includes thirty-two multimedia projects in programs such as MS Word, Publisher, Excel, PowerPoint, Google Earth, keyboarding, computer hardware, vocabulary, as well as training on how to solve the most common computer problems faced by kids as they learn technology. Their unique combination of projects and skills, introduced according to a proven timetable, enable me to morph the thousands of students I teach from computer novice to accomplished in six years. Every year, I hear over and over from parents how even their second graders are now independent in their computer work--showing their parents how to do skills. I include step-by-step lesson plans with examples and reproducibles, homework for grades 3-5, an extensive list of age-appropriate edutainment websites, vocabulary builders and collaborations with classroom units of inquiry.

Deanna: What workbooks are best for home-schoolers and which ones are best for teaching in a larger classroom?

Jacqui:  These six 32 Lesson workbooks are perfect for homeschooling and parents who want to extend their child's education. My two newest workbooks, 55 Technology Projects for the Digital Classroom are geared for a classroom teacher or a lab professional.

Deanna: Are these books for a specific age group?

Jacqui: The 32 Lesson series is for grade kindergarten through fifth grade. The 55 Technology Projects volumes are for kindergarten through eighth grade.

Deanna: Parents are always looking for the best curriculums, workbooks and subjects to best teach our children. What makes your workbooks stand out from the rest?

Jacqui: I'm glad you asked that question because, they absolutely do stand out. They start kids in kindergarten with age-appropriate and challenging skills in programs such as keyboarding and KidPix, and that wonderful online reading site, Starfall.com. By fifth grade, after following the logical progression presented in the series, kids are photo-editing in Adobe Photoshop, creating professional world tours in Google Earth and sharing ideas on education-safe wikis. By the time I send them to sixth grade, they're ready to use technology as an equal partner in their education.

Deanna: Do you write under a pen name?
Jacqui:  Yes, I do, because I am both a fiction and a non-fiction writer. My non-fiction is under my own name. My fiction I think will be under a pen name once it’s ready for prime time. That will help differentiate my different writing styles.

Deanna: What’s your favorite non-fiction book that you’ve written?

Jacqui: Without a doubt, it’s Building a Midshipman: How to Conquer the USNA Application. There are lots of how-to books on getting in the Naval Academy, but they’re quite dry and impersonal. Mine is from the perspective of a woman who did it (my daughter!) and how she accomplished such a lofty goal. It’s very down-to earth and should give confidence to any teen, male or female, considering a military academy as their college of choice.

Deanna: Do you read in the same genre that you write in?

Jacqui: I sure do. First, I love non-fiction books. I read lots of biographies and how people accomplished the impossible. With my fiction, I love action/thrillers that show how people solve problems when under stress, and how they come up with unique solutions to never-before-solved problems. The human mind fascinates me. We’ve done so much no other species has managed to accomplish.

Deanna: How did you find your publisher.

Jacqui: They found me! They were writing a tech series of workbooks for kids grade K-5 and asked my assistance editing it. When I was ready with my own tech books, I naturally offered them to Structured Learning first. It’s been a great relationship ever since.

Deanna: Do they market your books for you?

Jacqui: Like most publishers these days, the work is on the author to do the marketing. I am active in many social networks. I offer a site called Ask a Tech Teacher where I answer readers’ tech questions. These are usually common problems, like how to add footers to Word pages. I also write a column for the Examiner.com which enables me to plug my work a couple of times a week.

Deanna: How much time do you spend on your writing?

Jacqui: If you mean straight writing—the fun stuff--that’s about eight hours a day during summer, but not so much during the school year when I’m teaching. I force myself to do a few hours a day of marketing also. Most of my publicity is word of mouth, and that takes a lot of words!

Deanna: What have you found to be the hardest part of writing?

Jacqui: The hardest part of my non-fiction books is the picky stuff that’s part and parcel to editing. With my fiction endeavors, it’s the characters. It’s a challenge to keep each character true to their personality, be in their POV during their scenes and not just mouth the words. I almost have to sit differently or wear a different hat, change my hairstyle—whatever reminds me I’m different. I have to say it’s also the most fun.

Deanna: What type of fiction do you write?

Jacqui: I call it scientific fiction. It continues my love of spreading knowledge to kids, but is geared for high school or college. I pick science topics and weave them into the plot so readers learn about them while they’re engrossed in the story. So far, I’ve covered DNA computers and Harry Potter’s invisibility cloak (oh yes, it exists and is a great plot twist).

Deanna: Tell us about the fiction books that you have written.

Jacqui: After the success of my how-to book Building a Midshipman: How to Crack the USNA Application, I turned to my second passion: fiction. My first fiction novel, To Hunt a Sub is a techno-thriller about nefarious characters using brainy science to steal America's Trident submarines and how an equally-brainy female grad student stops them. It won the Southern California Writers Conference Outstanding Fiction Award last year and is in the final stages of rewrite. I have an excerpt available on Scribd.com. I am currently writing the sequel, To Hunt a Cruiser.

Deanna:  Doesn’t it take a lot of time researching that?

Jacqui: Absolutely, but it’s a lot of fun. I get to explore new worlds of my choosing. I know more trivia than anyone I know thanks to my fiction books.

Deanna: What's next for you? Is there anything else that you are involved in?

Jacqui:  I'm pretty busy right now getting my two-volume technology integration books out and finishing up the rewrites for To Hunt a Sub. When those are completed, I will continue to do whatever I can to breach the barriers that prevent technology from being available to all children's education. It's too important; kids should be involved in it at as early an age as possible.

Deanna:   Where are your books available.

Jacqui: My books are available on Amazon.com and the publisher's website http://structuredlearning.net. The ebooks are available on http://www.scribd.com

Deanna:  Do you have a website and/or blog where readers can find out more?

Jacqui: I don't have my own website, though lots more information (including freebies from the workbooks) is available on the publisher's site, http://StructuredLearning.net I have a blog with loads of free lessons and tips at http://AskATechTeacher.com. I take questions from readers and detail skills they'd like to learn so you're likely to get almost anything on my blog.

Deanna:  Is there anything else that you would like to add or share?

Jacqui: I've enjoyed the opportunity to interact with you and your readers. Please feel free to send me any questions, ideas, your own tips, either through my publisher at jacqui.murray@structuredlearning.net or through my blog. I love helping parents and kids make technology part of their education toolkit.

Deanna: Jacqui, it’s been a pleasure to have you with us today and I think our readers have found you very interesting also, especially those with school age children and grandchildren. I hope they contact you for more information!
Readers - Jacqui is doing a Contest Giveaway: A Free Tech lesson bundle if you email her at AskATechTEacher@structuredlearning.net and mention this interview. Please also tell me which grade level you’d like your bundle to cover.

Please feel free to leave a comment here to chat a bit with Jacqui and be sure to email her for the giveaway! Jacqui, what a fabulous giveaway!


  1. Welcome Jacqui - please make yourself at home today, relax and have fun with your visitors!

    Visitors - thank you for stopping in! I hope you enjoy my guest author today, she has some pretty awesome books available!

  2. Hi Jacqui. Nice to meet you. Sounds like a wonderful prize. My kids are grown now. I sure could of used then when they were school age. Your books sound very interesting an valuable.
    Sue B

  3. Thanks, Sue. Mine too! I live vicariously now through my students. Computers have made the world so different from when mine were young.