Cherry Hill native traverses space, time with debut novel

Jack Beal

Jacqueline “Jack” Beal said there’s often a moment where you open up a book, read the first few pages and instantly know how it’s going to end. She said that was the last thing she wanted when she sat down to write her first published work, “Emit: A Modern Myth.” 

“I really tried to make this book something where the reader could constantly be guessing and trying to figure it out,” Beal said. 

Art has imitated life in some regard with Beal’s own story also unraveling in a bit of nonlinear manner. A Cherry Hill native who now lives in France, she’s back in Cherry Hill for the summer, and her debut novel is being spotlighted at the Cherry Hill Public Library during August. 

Beal said having her work spotlighted at the library is something of a full-circle moment for her. She said, as a child, she loved the Cherry Hill Library and was a frequent attendee of its programs.

For as far back as she could remember, she knew she wanted to be a writer. From the age of 6, she kept journals scribbling away her thoughts on Barbie dolls and childhood crushes. 

But when she graduated from Cherry Hill High School West in 2001, she was hesitant to pursue writing at the collegiate level. She’d been told that she’d have a hard time making a go of it as writer, and she should follow a path that paid the bills. A friend was headed to cosmetology school, so she followed suit.

While cosmetology school may not have given her her lifelong career, it did gift her with her future pen name. As one of two Jackies in the class, the instructor asked one of them to change their name for clarity’s sake. With that, she became Jack, and the name has stuck around ever since.

She decided becoming a hair stylist just wasn’t the right fit, and she enrolled in the honors college at Rutgers University Camden. She majored in English and took French as part of her mandatory language requirement. When she learned the French major was in need of students, she majored in French as well.

Upon graduating from Rutgers, the school gave her a printout that said what kind of jobs she could get with her degree. They told her as English major without an education degree, her options were limited. One of the suggestions was an agricultural worker. She said she was in a state of disbelief that she’d just completed more than four years at school and was told her best fit was working on a grape farm.

Disappointed and on the hunt for work, she came upon a position working for the French embassy teaching English as a Second Language. She moved to France for seven months, and teaching ESL underscored how much she really did have a passion for teaching. So, when she returned to the states, she went back to school for her teaching degree. 

Upon completing her teaching degree, she returned to France to marry a man she’d met during her time working for the embassy. Today, she lives by the Belgian border in the Champagne-Ardenne region and teaches English as a Second Language.

The French lifestyle was what brought her back to her first love of writing. She said life is slower in France. Lunch breaks span two hours and almost everything closes by 9 p.m. locally. She said given nearly everything closes two hours midday and at night, she found herself with fewer distractions and more time to write.

She’d written about 100 pages of a book during her time at Rutgers, but when she circled back around years later, she found the piece was in need of major edits – a project she is currently working on. So, she set out to write “Emit: A Modern Myth.”

Author Joseph Campbell’s ruminations on the need for a new myth was the catalyst for the book. She was thinking about how most mythologies tackle old world problems and what would it look like for a new myth to touch on modern issues such as the environment or social injustice. 

“Emit: A Modern Myth” is one part science fiction and one part historical fiction. Beal said from the beginning she knew how she wanted the book to start and end, but the middle was always up in the air. The story follows 6-year-old Robbie Flynn, who discovers a spacecraft in 1940s New Mexico. After climbing in, Flynn is transported through time, and the story unravels from there. 

Beal said getting her book into the hands of the right publisher was something of a harrowing process. She said she received her fair share of “no’s,” but she remained undeterred. Black Rose Writing ultimately said “yes” and published the book this past June.

She already has two other books in the works and is eager to start trying to get those published as well. She said she reached out to the Cherry Hill Library to see if it would accept her book and put it in the local authors section. She said she was surprised to learn it would be spotlighting her during August – an honor typically reserved for more established authors. 

For Beal, the book is the continuation of what she started when she was only 6 and writing about her dolls in her journal – just with a bit more mature subject mature. 

“It was always something I wanted to do,” Beal said. 

“Emit: A Modern Myth” is available on Amazon. On Aug. 18, Beal will sign books and answer questions at the Barnes and Noble in Marlton from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.