By Bonnie Newman Davis
Executive Director, BND Institute of Media and Culture, Inc.
“Not only is Celine a Martian, but she is also the only child to ever inhabit Mars’ first human colony. After her father was lost in a great sand storm, her world was turned upside down. Not to mention, Celine’s annual Brain Booster is no longer making her smarter; it’s turning her into something alien! If only her mother believed her.”
So reads Jackie Hunter’s debut novel, “Lost in the Red Hills of Mars,” which the educator-turned author published in 2017. The book signaled a remarkable “next chapter” for Hunter, who began writing short stories and poems at age 12. After retiring from Henrico County Public Schools in 2005, the former science teacher and school administrator returned to her first love of the written word.
“Lost in the Red Hills of Mars,” is about a 12-year-old girl who lives in the first human colony on Mars. Hunter says she wrote the book because she remembered how excited her students were when they were asked to design a human colony for Mars.
While still enjoying the success of her book, Hunter added another chapter to her life story in the spring of 2020 when she moved from her home in Richmond, Virginia to the bright lights of Las Vegas. The BND Institute of Media and Culture recently caught up with Jackie to learn more about her “pandemic pivot” and how she is adjusting.
BND:You’re a Richmonder who had a long, distinguished career in education. Briefly tell us about your own background and education, why you went into education, the challenges and highlights of being an educator, and the date that you retired.
Hunter:Yes, I worked in Henrico County for over 30 years.
I have what I call a “teacher personality,” “born to teach” kind of personality! When I was 19 years old, I was a Den Mother for a group of cub scouts! I got into a teacher program in my second year at Virginia Commonwealth University. In this program, students would receive monies to pay for tuition in exchange for a promise to teach in public schools. It was an excellent way to get more needed teachers into public schools. Later as a teacher, I obtained my master’s in education, focused on School Administration, from VCU. I became the assistant principal at Lakeside Elementary School and summer school principal at Highland Springs Elementary, both in Henrico County. I did that for only five years and went back to teaching middle school science, which I love, at Brookland Middle School in the latter part of my career, retiring in 2005. Hard to believe it has been so long! Following my retirement, I tutored algebra at Fairfield Middle School for seven years.
BND:Did you begin writing your book immediately upon retirement
Hunter:No, I sold real estate at a Coldwell Banker and then at Ricks and Associates for a while. When the real estate market changed I started a Class A general contractor’s business with a friend and fellow teacher. Lots of houses were being foreclosed, so we would make repairs, renovations and maintained the houses for the banks until they were resold. My partner passed away in 2011 and I kept the business going for about a year after his death.
I then had lots of free time and began oil painting and singing in my church choir.
Then my daughter and son-in-law took five teen age boys into their home to give them an opportunity to get into college. So, I paid one of my former employees to maintain my house, while I moved to Atlanta to help my daughter with the boys. I did this for two years with just a few months at my home between those years.
BND:How and why did you decide to write your book?
Hunter:When I returned home to stay, I began writing short stories, but decided I needed more of a challenge and writing that novel was the challenge I needed. I began taking classes in writing. Also, I joined several writers’ clubs, but I highly recommend Agile Writers’ Club. I think it is one of the best writers’ clubs in Richmond. In Agile Writers’ one will learn the foundation of telling a good story.
BND:What was the process of writing like for you?
Hunter:It was a real pleasure. I went to my writers’ club meeting once a week. We were always learning something new and we expected to have written at least 10 pages toward completing our novels. We also worked in teams of three to proofread and edit each other’s work. I finished my first manuscript in about six months, but I edited and rewrote my book several times before publishing it.
BND:When was your book published? What was your reaction in first seeing your book?
Hunter:My book was published in November 2017. I had my book launching party at the Science Museum of Virginia in Richmond! Over 100 family members and friends, from all over the country helped me celebrate my accomplishment! It was one of my proudest moments!
BND:What has the reception been to your book?
Hunter:It sold well in the first three months and I am sure it was family members and friends giving me support. Those who read the entire book have really enjoyed it and are looking forward to the sequel. I still have sales, but not enough to live off. I have learned that it is not enough to write a great novel, but one must have a great marketing plan!
So now, I am taking classes in marketing and am planning to do a better job in that area. I have not given up on my novel becoming a financial success!
BND:With the success of your book and a busy and active social life here in Richmond, what led to your decision to move to Las Vegas?
Hunter:Richmond and Atlanta have been good to me! I will continue to maintain the friendships and relationships that I have made! Before Corona, my friends were only a plane flight away! I love flying, but will probably not do any this year. I am working on my second novel and would love to be the local author of Vegas. There might be some opportunities here in Vegas that could not be found in Richmond.
BND:What was your family’s reaction to your plans to move?
Hunter:My family lives all over the country and in Canada. They are so excited that they will have another place to visit in Vegas!
BND:What was that journey getting to Vegas like? Did you purposely move during the pandemic? (lol)
Hunter:LOL! Absolutely not! My daughter and I had planned to fly to Vegas and find my home together. My home in Henrico, Virginia had been on the market since January 2020. When my Realtor brought me a contract for the sale of my home in April, I wanted to delay the sale, but the buyer did not. I could have taken the house off the market but, I did not want to pay commission ($16,000) and not have sold the house. So, I closed in April. I lived with my brother and his wife for six weeks until I realized that Corona was not going anywhere. I decided I would. Besides, mortgage interest rates were low and I wanted to find a nice home that I could afford in Vegas.
Flying was out of the question. I decided to ride cross country (2,600 miles) with a family friend who happens to drive 18- wheelers for a living. As we traveled for four days, three nights, stopping each evening after eight hours on the road, I posted photos and our experiences on Facebook! I wanted my family and friends to see that I was alive and well! If only they knew how nervous I was about the whole ordeal!
BND:Have you settled in and if so, how?
Hunter:Yes, I am working on it. Cautiously, checking out the malls and restaurants. There will be so much to do and see when Covid-19 is behind us! Living in Vegas will feel like a daily vacation!
Also, I am enjoying my lovely home in a planned community with lots of walking trails and parks!
BND:What’s next for Jackie Hunter?
Hunter:I do plan to finish my second book and continue “The Rippy Effect” television show. I am considering doing a blog about black inventors. I am opened to all kinds of opportunities; I do keep my eyes open. Already, I am on my HOA Board of Directors and the Neighborhood Advisory Committee here in my new community. Once Corona is behind us, all kinds of opportunities will be available. I plan to be ready!
To Learn more about Jackie Hunter, visit Lost In the Red Hills of Mars.