Meet Jo DeMars – Author of The Gift of the Puzzle Box

Jo DeMars lives in southeastern Wisconsin and is the author of several fantasy novels for young readers, the first being The Gift of the Puzzle Box. That story takes place near the end of World War II in the vicinity of a farmstead in Wisconsin, as a boy is swept away into a magical world on a remarkable quest.

Here are a few bits of information about Jo’s background as a writer.


Where do you get your inspiration?

Like a lot of writers, I am a people watcher. My mother ran a nursery school while I was growing up. Perhaps because of the experience in my mother’s nursery school, I am often drawn to spending time with children. I enjoy watching them figure things out and experiencing new adventures, and I like to listen to how they tell their stories.

Having three brothers also gives me plenty of ideas for a boy character. I remember things they did, and then try to put Michael in those shoes.

Where do you write?

Wherever I am! Sometimes I am in the den, others at the kitchen table. If it’s a quiet day in the office I’ll crank out a few new pages or work on revisions.

My favorite place to write is in my husband’s office at home. It has a large set of windows overlooking our pond. Even though I don’t have a willow tree like Michael, I can gaze into the woods and watch the wildlife. In the winter a large variety of song birds visit our feeder. In the summer I see Canada Geese, Sandhill Cranes, Mallards and Wood Ducks on the pond. Every year I hope for goslings or ducklings – maybe next year. A rather large flock of turkeys act like sentries on patrol as they march along their trail, and on late afternoons a few deer often slip out of the woods.

What’s the thing that most surprised you about writing The Gift of the Puzzle Box?

I get immense enjoyment from reading this book to kids. I’m always looking for opportunities to doing readings and get feedback from kids.

Almost as much fun as reading the story to others is the enjoyment I got thinking about how the puzzle box might work, what would be in it, and searching to find authentic pieces to fill it. I had a lot of help from my brother, Jim Schooley, who created the design and is building a prototype. Jim and I spent hours searching eBay for the items that would go inside the box. We emailed links back and forth, until we found the examples, which I bought to be able to have specific things to imagine Michael using.

Where do you live?

I live in southeastern Wisconsin, and like to spend weekends in the countryside at a small farm nearby. Before moving to Wisconsin I lived in southern Pennsylvania, near the town of York, which inspired the setting for Michael’s stories. I was born in South Dakota, grew up in Iowa, then moved to Alabama, Nebraska and Iran before settling in Wisconsin where my children grew up.

What are your hobbies?

Reading is my great escape, but I also enjoy gardening, knitting and cooking. If I retire, I plan to return to sewing and to take cello lessons so I can learn to play at least one Bach concerto!

What do you want to write next?

Maybe science fiction, or maybe another Middle Grade book will start to take shape. I’d like to see Michael through his series, and by then I expect I’ll be itching to get started a couple of different projects.

I know you have written novels for children, what else do you write?

Several years ago I co-authored a reference volume, part of the “Older Adult Series” published by ABC-Clio. Writing with another author taught me about sharing the responsibilities, meeting deadlines and working with an editor. I also learned research techniques, and the challenges of combining two very different styles.

I’ve written text for websites, training manuals, newsletters and other business focused material. I contributed to books and to several articles on dispute resolution.

I’ve also enjoyed trying my hand at short stories, brief memoir pieces and essays.

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