Jackee Alston uses her degrees in range ecology and wildlife conservation to spout off names of plants and animals at random. It annoys some people. She is a Master Gardener, a botany instructor, co-editor of the Gardening, Etc. column in the local paper, Operations Coordinator for the non-profit, Rocky Mountain Seed Alliance, and the founder of the Grow Flagstaff! Seed Library. When not writing books for teens and tweens or doing the things above, she is hiking, growing food, spending time on a lake, traveling, and especially helicopter mothering her three teenage children, two dogs, and dozens of chickens and ducks. Occasionally she gets to watch movies and likes to pick them apart afterwards. Most people find that annoying too. She lives in Northern Arizona, the ancestral lands of the Hohokam, Hopi, Western Apache, Pueblos, and Dine peoples.
Passion #1: Writing
I always feel torn between two worlds: English and Biology. I’ve finally learned to accept it, but this website may feel like two worlds in one space. That’s because it is. If you’re only interested in getting writing advice or knowing about my writing life, then click here.
Passion #2: Plants
I always feel torn between two worlds: English and Biology. I’ve finally learned to accept it, but this website may feel like two worlds in one space. That’s because it is. If you’re only interested in getting gardening/farming advice or knowing about food sovereignty, then click here.
Jackee Alston didn’t have much access to fairy tale and mythology books, so she used to read those sections in the World Book Encyclopedia because they fascinated her. Mostly, she read anything she could get her hands on and it brings her great satisfaction to see her son doing the same thing. When not reading, she would spend most of her time outside, getting to know animals and plants. She wasn’t very good at sports, but since her brothers were, her parents had their hands full chasing them around for games and meets. After high school she went to university to be a wildlife biologist, yet she always had one foot in creative writing and one in the sciences. She was one English class away from a double major in English and Zoology when she took her major professor’s advice and dropped English to buckle down and prepare for graduate school. After finishing her M.S. in Botany and Range Science, she worked as a biologist studying birds and mammals then went back to school to start a PhD. She had a year left when she knew she wasn’t living true to her dreams, so she started writing and stopped traipsing all over the sagebrush looking for pygmy rabbits. This allowed her more time to write, volunteer at her church, and to also be there for her two-year-old daughter and chemical engineer husband (who traveled a lot). Her first manuscript was a young adult (YA) fantasy that will never see the light of day. Occasionally she dreams about going back to rewriting her second, third, and fourth attempts at YA and middle grade (MG) novels. She has so many ideas she loves, she’ll likely be writing a manuscript a year until she dies and still not be satisfied she has done the best by those shiny ideas. Jackee calls Northern Arizona home, an area which is the traditional lands of the Hohokam, Pueblos, Western Apache, Hopi, and Dine peoples. She still enjoys the outdoors, especially gardening, hiking, and kayaking. When not outside, she is writing about the outdoors or fictional adventures.
Birthday: April 10th. She was born on Easter and it has never fallen on her birthday since.
Favorite Food: Her husband’s sourdough bread.
Favorite Hobbies: Gardening; kayaking; reading; watching movies; hiking; napping.
Movies she’ll watch over and over again: The Harry Potter series; Lord of the Rings series; North and South… and pretty much any classic retold by the BBC.
Authors she’ll read over and over again: J.K. Rowling; Jane Austen; Elizabeth Gaskell; Pam Munoz Ryan; Jennifer A. Nielsen; Laini Taylor; Brandon Mull; Rick Riordan; Barbara Kingsolver; Michael Pollen; Brene Brown; Kate DiCamillo; and Sarah Pennypacker.
Living people she admires: Jane Goodall; Russell M. Nelson; Ruth Bader Ginsberg; the neighbor down the street who puts tireless hours in teaching people how to grow their own food; Barbara Kingsolver; Lee-Ann Hill; and that guy who opens the door for people at the grocery store because it’s just kind.
Favorite nightcap: Currently milk with a little vanilla syrup.
Causes I Support
- Benson Food Initiative
- Coconino Master Gardener Association
- Rocky Mountain Seed Alliance
- Native American Food Sovereignty Alliance
- Women Empowering Northern Arizona
- Northern Arizona Food Bank
Q: What’s your ideal day?
Regular day: Get up really early, spend an hour immersed in a spiritual practice, another two hours writing new words, then a big breakfast on the patio. Afterwards, I need to be out in the vegetable garden or on a walk in the woods. The rest of the day would be a few more hours writing, researching, and assisting many organizations I believe in, like RMSA. Since I get up early, a nap after lunch is the best, or some projects around the house if I have time. An end to the day would be a nice, home-cooked dinner with my family and some time together watching a movie or playing a game. I like the simple life.
Vacation day: Walking about a historical site, a museum, or hiking around a creek or lake. In May 2019, my husband and I went on a UK vacation to visit as many literary and gardening sites as we could. Now those were each perfect days!
Q: How did you get into writing?
I’ve wanted to write since I was at least 11 years old. I was 12 years old the first time I attempted a novel. It was about a girl named Jym Shoe. It stunk. (Ha… I kill me….) Then I tried a western romance at 14 years old. It was called DESERT ROSE, inspired by the many ghost towns in Nevada I used to visit with my grandparents. It had a very cliche plot line, as you can guess from the title. After that, I moved into bad poetry for the next 5 years and nature writing for the following 3. In 1999, I found the Harry Potter books and they were a good distraction from graduate school and a horrible case of mononucleosis I fought while completing field work and running a two-woman crew of undergraduate students. During the next six years I wrote only annual reports, grant applications, and technical papers. I missed creative writing and turned to tile mosaic art as an outlet. In 2005, we moved to Flagstaff, AZ with our little family and I had a hard time keeping up with my PhD research in central Utah, my demanding two-year-old daughter, and another three-woman crew of undergraduate students. This is about the time ideas for my own stories wouldn’t leave me alone. It was like a flood. As much as I loved wildlife and research, I knew I wasn’t being true to what I needed to be doing. I have been writing ever since, though some years I type more words than others.
Q: What does your writing process look like?
Ideas come to me in different ways at different times, but most of the time it is more a feeling than anything concrete. I try to capture this feeling that ignites so much excitement in what I call a “banner”. Even if this direction changes, the spirit of the story it evokes, should not. It’s what I love about the idea, the element that will keep me going from start to polished finale. After the banner is established, it’s time to explore the four pillars of story and step through the phases I outline in the MFA section of this website.
Q: Do you have any advice for new writers?
1. Like any “business” about to be established, it’s good to ask the founder (i.e. YOU) a few questions. These are: Why are you starting this? Who is your audience? And what do you want to offer? First, why. Are you beginning to write because it will be a fun hobby or because you’re ready to make this your profession? Write your answers down and refer to them often. This is my biggest advice and something it has taken me fourteen years to learn: if you want writing to be a hobby, then let it be a hobby. Completely fine. But if you want to make money at it, then take yourself and your development as a writer seriously. No one else will take you seriously until you do first.
- Write 2-4 hours a day if you can. Make sure this is actual writing, not writing-related work. Many great writers through the ages have found that hours and hours of writing aren’t as effective as 2-4 focused hours.
Q: What other jobs have you had?
I’ve been a backcountry ranger, trail crew boss, shoe salesman, an office manager, professor, wildlife biologist, grant writer, instructor, and executive director.
Q: Do you have any regrets?
I regret what my mouth says more often than I regret my actions. Whenever I’ve said unkind things to people, even when they deserve it, it eats at me. I can still remember unfeeling things I said way back in 1st grade.
Q: Favorite book?
- @ 5 yrs old (1982): PIERRE: A CAUTIONARY TALE IN FIVE CHAPTERS AND A PROLOGUE by Maurice Sendak
- @ 10 yrs old (1987): ANNE OF GREEN GABLES by L.M. Montgomery
- @ 15 yrs old (1992): SCARLET PIMPERNEL by Baroness Orczy
- @ 20 yrs old (1997): EMMA by Jane Austen
- @ 25 yrs old (2002): RETURN OF THE KING by J.R.R. Tolkein
- @ 30 yrs old (2007): HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS by J.K. Rowling
- @ 35 yrs old (2012): WONDER by R.J. Palacio
- @ 40 yrs old (2017): THE GIRL FROM EVERYWHERE by Heidi Heilig
- Currently: REST by Alex Soojung-Kim Pang
Q: Favorite wild animal? Common wombat
Q: Favorite pet? Herd dogs
Q: Favorite cultivated plant? Lemon verbena
Q: Favorite native plant? Quaking Aspen