By DONNA BETH WEILENMAN
MARTINEZ, Calif. – Martinez author Jacque Hall was inspired to write her first book after babysitting her granddaughter’s bunny. Puzzled at the animal’s silence, she asked herself a question, then wrote about it in her children’s book, “What Does the Rabbit Say?’
Her agent sold her manuscript in 2000 to Random House, which hired a British artist to illustrate the book. And that was the beginning of Hall’s professional writing career.
She reached out to an adult audience with her next book. “The Four from California,” tells the adventures of four older California women as they travel through the United Kingdom. That book, with some basis in Hall’s own experience, was illustrated by her daughter, Debbie Oertel.
Hall’s third book, “Life as an Anecdote,” is a collection of her newspaper columns.
Then she returned to fiction with “Tommy Turns Detective,” a novel about a boy who encounters an old woman ghost with a mystery to solve. That one targets middle school students.
Her “Tell me a Story, Nona,” is a compilation of tales a child might want to hear at bedtime.
Along the way, Hall found a new illustrator much closer to home – her own granddaughter and Debbie’s daughter, Jennifer Oertel.
The pair have collaborated on a new book, “The ABCs of Carrots and Peas!” released into book stores and several Martinez retailers as well as through Amazon.com.
Hall had dabbled in storytelling for years, primarily as a way to entertain her grandchildren. But then she lost her husband, Dale, 22 years ago, and retired after 40 years as manager of a doctor’s office.
“I’m proud I’m 88. I didn’t write until I was almost 70. A lot of old people don’t do anything,” she said.
“I started writing for fun,” she explained. Before long, she had crafted her first story and called her agent to say, “I just wrote a book!”
That book was no fluke. She had been feature editor of her Berkeley high school newspaper, and she’s had a lifelong passion for reading.
Her own life is a series of stories, from her paternal grandfather having the first winery in California, in Sacramento, to her maternal grandfather making a fortune in the lumber business after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake.
She herself has been grand marshal of the former Columbus Day Parade, riding and waving at cheering crowds that celebrated the fact she was an author.
Local teachers have supported the Martinez author by reading her books in classes. Hall said two teachers told her they were reading a chapter a day to their classes, so when the school year and the story were both about to wrap up, Hall herself came to the classes to read the last chapter to the children.
“One boy told me, ‘It’s the best book I ever read. I can’t wait until it’s a movie!’” she said. She wouldn’t mind one of her books getting the movie treatment, either, she added.
Her young illustrator – Jennifer is 22 – began drawing as soon as she could handle a pencil, and began getting awards for her art almost from the beginning. Her work was shown on the television show “Reading Rainbow” in 1998.
Jennifer experiments in watercolor and acrylics, and enjoys making colored pencil illustrations. She’s also a disk jockey and teaches skin care as well.
“I would draw my notes,” Jennifer said, describing an approach that some classroom teachers didn’t understand. Challenged to define “gerrymandering,” she drew a sketch of Jerry Seinfield with a Mandarin orange. But the drawing helped her remember what the word meant, she said.
Jennifer studied art during her years at Alhambra High School, but is primarily self-taught, admiring such influences as “Peanuts” creator Charles Schulz.
She and her grandmother are already working on another book that will be rhyming verses about a trip to the grocery store.
Martinez residents will have two local opportunities next month to meet the author and artist and buy signed copies of their books.
A book debut party at 2 p.m. Oct. 24, will take place at the Oertel home, 328 Lindsey Drive, and the next opportunity will be at 2 p.m. Oct. 25 at I’ve Been Framed Shop and Gallery, 411 Ferry St., Martinez.