From Family to Fairy Tale

To Do and To Teach: Baylor senior lecturer and author Maura Jortner published her first official book “102 Days of Lying about Lauren” in June of 2023. She also teaches literature and creative writing at Baylor University. Photo courtesy of Maura Jortner

From Family to Fairy Tale

Story By Raylee Foster

In between spending time with family and teaching, Baylor senior lecturer and author Dr. Maura Jortner has turned bedtime stories into new adventures in her own published novels.

Before written language existed, stories were shared through conversations, and they developed and changed over generations. This oral tradition of stories was eventually put into writing, which laid the foundation of what we know as books today. These books may be seen as a form of entertainment, but for Baylor senior lecturer and author Maura Jortner, books represent so much more.

Jortner said her  writing process shared a similar trajectory as the general field of storytelling. Writing was not always a part of Jortner’s goals in her career, but a simple request at home roughly 12 years ago sparked a passion for her. This request came up when her oldest daughter was 4. She asked Jortner to create a bedtime story in which she was the main character.

“I said OK, and I started making up a story about her and it got really complex,” Jortner said. “And I couldn’t remember the names of the characters and thought, ‘I’ve got to write that down.’ So I did, and that became my first book.”

Although Jortner never published that book, she titled it “Felicity and the Fairies,” and the book was just a compilation of the bedtime stories she told her daughter.

When we write, we’re exploring what it means to be human, and we’re exploring empathy. It’s important for people to read books for those reasons to be able to see the world through somebody else’s eyes and be able to empathize with the, and writing I feel like does the same thing.– Dr. Maura Jortner

Jortner’s editor at Holiday House Publishing, Sally Morgridge, said a story’s ability to connect with herself as a reader is what inspires her to take on a project with a book in the first place. 

“I get as many as 10 submissions a day from literary agents, and they are all things that I need to spend some time considering,” Morgridge said. “And when I fall in love with a project, I acquire it if I’m lucky enough to make an offer that the author accepts.” 

The editing process for Morgridge begins with big picture changes such as plot, tone and conflicts. Although new stories are being created every day, Morgridge said the authors she chooses to work with are the ones who write stories with characters she loves. Morgridge said one of the things Jortner succeeds with in her stories is an ability to truly understand the perspective of the character she is writing from. 

“Maura is a lot of fun to work with,” Morgridge said. “She has a really great imagination and a really good read on kids, so the characters in her stories are always strong from the start.”

Editing With A Red Pen: Holiday House Publishing editor Sally Morgridge predominantly works on young adult fiction books. She strives to look for characters that stand out and can become unforgettable to readers. Photo courtesy of Sally Morgridge

This ability for Jortner to step into the perspective of her character is why she believes writing is important. For her, writing is a way to share your world with a reader and to also use the different perspectives you have been exposed to in life to create a character that can offer that perspective for others. 

“When we write, we’re exploring what it means to be human, and we’re exploring empathy,” Jortner said. “It’s important for people to read books for those reasons to be able to see the world through somebody else’s eyes and to be able to empathize with them, and writing I feel like does the same thing.”

Jortner draws on personal experiences to write her books. For instance, the inspiration for her first book was inspired by her daughter, and the inspiration for her most recent book, “102 Days of Lying about Lauren,” was inspired by a family trip to Disneyland during the weeks leading up to the COVID-19 pandemic. These personal notes that she brings to life in her writing are what begin her books, but in the end, Jortner said they are for the audience. 

“You have to love what you’re writing because it’s a lot of work,” Jortner said. “You really have to like what you’re doing and be invested in the project. I feel like it starts off for me, and then once it’s in the world, it’s for readers.”

The work of writing a book begins with the idea of a story, but Jorter said that the thing that spurs her on most in her work is the thrill of writing the ending. From the first idea of a character, Jortner said she begins to see their story through imagining experiences and events they go through and overcome. However, all of those experiences pale in comparison to writing how the characters reach the end of their journeys.

“Some people start writing their book and they feel like it’s not working and they just give up, and that’s ok to do and it’s ok to switch projects, but I want to urge everyone to see a project through because writing the end of that story is so exciting,” Jortner said. 

For Jortner, writing a book isn’t just a work endeavor, it is a journey—and one that she encourages others to take advantage of and participate in on their own. Jortner has not yet finished her journeys in the world of writing and is currently working on a young adult novel to be released in 2025. 

“Writing is like dealing with the hardest puzzle you have to do,” she said, “to make this whole world fit together, and there’s something kind of challenging and fun about that.” 

102 Days of Lying About Lauren

In “102 Days of Lying About Lauren” according to Maura Jortner’s website, “Twelve-year-old Mouse calls an amusement park home. 

Nobody notices her, and that’s the way she likes it. Mouse sweeps the streets and wears a uniform she ‘borrowed’ and sleeps on the top floor of the Haunted House of Horrors. She knows which security guards to avoid, eats the bagel left out each morning for the Ghost of Summer (a popular theme park legend), and even has the taco guy convinced that her lunch is paid for. She has her special hiding methods down to a science. 

But one morning, a girl named Cat comes looking for Lauren Suszek. Cat notices her, and Mouse doesn’t like it. Mouse cannot let this nosy pest find out who she really is! If Mouse gets discovered living in the park, Mama might come back for her, and Mouse doesn’t want that. Or–even worse?–Mama might not come back at all. 

Mouse knows she can lose this girl without blowing her cover. She just has to follow her rules. A carefully constructed life in the park is all she needs. Right?”

Jortner’s novel can be found at Barnes and Nobles, Target and Amazon. Additional links to purchase can also be found on her website at maurajortner.com.

Write That Down!