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  • Writer's pictureFrank Chirico

We Are Calvary Chapel Des Moines: Jessica Cook, Author

Jessica and her husband, Jared, first attended Calvary Chapel Des Moines in 2018. After several months of small talk, my wife and I invited them to our home to learn more about each other over pot roast, where she revealed she was a writer, with a B.A. in English with minors in Creative Writing and interactive Digital Studies.

It never ceases to amaze me how God brings Christian brothers and sisters into our lives for guidance and a sense of direction. I was going through a transition from a career in electronics, to pursuing a calling to write. It was at the kitchen table where Jessica challenged me to participate in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that provides structure, community, tools, and encouragement to authors and aspiring authors to help them achieve their goals of writing the first 50,000-words of a novel throughout the month of November. It was through her encouragement to keep going that I finished early, and later went on to write two articles in Gideon's International Magazine, along with entering numerous writing contests.

Though I dream of finishing a novel of my own, Jessica actually accomplished this, writing and publishing her debut historical fiction novel, The Mule of Mud Hollow, which can be purchased on Amazon as a paperback or e-book.

The Mule of Mud Hollow is about fourteen-year-old Mildred Nash, who is the youngest member of the Pack Horse Library: an initiative born out of Franklin D. Roosevelt's Works Progress Administration as part of the American New Deal to help ease the pains of financial hardship, in the Cumberland Mountains of Kentucky during the Great Depression in 1935.

Mildred and her faithful mule, Boone, battle the treacherous elements along with dangerous wildlife and distrustful people of the Kentucky mountains, all the while finding her faith and putting her character to the test. The book is filled with adventure, suspense, and strong uplifting Christian themes.

From the moment I started reading I was hooked and couldn't put it down; several times pausing my breathing as I concentrated on every word as the pages came alive through harrowing predicaments she found herself in. Rich in Great Depression history, I could tell Jessica researched extensively to make sure this was an accurate representation of mountain life in this dark time in American history.

Even though this book is written with middle grade readers in mind, it is a story all ages and animal lovers can enjoy. This 51-year-old man did. I highly recommend it.

Questions about The Mule of mud hollow

How and when did you get the idea to write, The Mule of Mud Hollow?

"I remember distinctly that the idea first came to me when I was riding my horse, Red, one summer afternoon in 2023. I started thinking about how much I would have loved a historical horse book when I was younger. As I was riding, I asked myself, “If I had my ‘dream’ horse book growing up, what would it be?” I had read about the Pack Horse Library just a couple weeks before as I like to read about history in my free time, and the very basic idea for the plot formed pretty quickly. So, in this particular case, I guess you could say that my horse Red was my muse for The Mule of Mud Hollow."

And, what inspired you?

"I fell in love with reading when I was in 5th grade and always dreamed of writing a book that captured everything I loved about reading during that time. I always hoped that my book would be yet another story that could help a child fall in love with reading. I especially wanted whatever story I told to be uplifting with strong Christian themes, fun, exciting, and still educational. Growing up, I was always a voracious reader of historical fiction, but struggled to find enough books to satisfy my appetite. I also loved animal stories but a lot of the books I read that included animals were either too sad and depressing, or lacked adventure. That's why I decided that this novel was going to be the kind of book I wished I had growing up, and so The Mule of Mud Hollow Was born!"

For what age is the book's intended reader? What is its genre?

"I like to think you're never too old for a good book, whether it's a picture book or a novel. But this one I wrote specifically for middle grade readers (think grades 5-7). It is a historical fiction novel with Christian fiction as a sub-genre."

Was this book one of your stories you wrote for NaNoWriMo?

"This one wasn't actually; it came together pretty quickly during the summer after I had the initial idea for it. It only took me a little under a month to write since the idea formed pretty quickly, but the editing and revising took longer and lasted several months. The shorter length of middle grade novels definitely helped with the editing timeline."

From the moment I started reading I was hooked. I loved the use of dialogue in the book, and the way it was written was not confusing, but fun to read. How did you research the Kentucky mountain dialogue of the mid 1930's?

"The dialogue was a very fun part of my research! I watched videos on the distinctive Appalachian dialect you can still hear today in Kentucky, and read linguistic articles that discussed the characteristics of the dialect. My favorite sources by far though were blog posts written by people who grew up in the region talking about the common words and phrases that have been used since their grandparents' day."

Not only that, but what was it like to research the Great Depression from the eyes of the mountain people living in Kentucky? Was it difficult to find information on the Pack Horse Library?

"Once I started looking, I actually found a wealth of knowledge on the library, which is always an exciting place to be for a historical fiction writer. I found information from different museum online resources like the Smithsonian, journal articles, and read several non-fiction books on the topic as well. The books were incredibly helpful with pictures that helped me visualize the environment these women rode in.

Being a horse rider myself, what I was really struck by was how tough these women were. I know how sore I feel after a leisurely afternoon trail ride on a sunny day, I can’t imagine covering the miles they did in the type of terrain and weather they faced. I was also struck by the absolute poverty the Great Depression caused for so many families. There are so many things we take for granted today, and it made me appreciate what I have. One thing that did stick out over and over again though was the sense of community the Pack Horse Library created. These were women who consistently went out of their way for a neighbor, cared for each other, and did what they could to help their community and families get through a really hard period in our nation’s history."

The heroine of the story, Mildred Nash, was really fun to read. She is so brave, collected, and full of life. Is her character based on someone you know in real life?

"While Mildred wasn’t based on any particular person, I do always put a little of myself into my characters. Her weaknesses are similar to things I have struggled with, and her strengths are ones that I aspire to have someday. I’ve always been a nature and animal lover, so her conversations with Boone and her relationship and appreciation for her home are things I relate to. Her fear of the unknown and sometimes blind stubbornness are also things I can relate to! All-in-all though, Mildred is a character who is uniquely her own.

One thing that I love about fiction is that as the writer, with every draft of the story you get to know your character a little bit more until they evolve from a stranger in the first draft, to an old friend in the final one. As I learned more about the era too, I became better able to see how the time period she was living in would influence the way she thought about the world, her priorities, and her hopes and dreams."

What was your favorite part of the writing process?

"The most fun for me is the initial research, since that is when the idea really gets its legs and the details start to fill in, making the story come alive. The other part that is fun is the actual writing itself! I enjoy watching a story come together and meeting my characters. This is a book that I didn’t outline completely when I started writing, so it was fun to see how the story grew and changed from my original idea."

Is there a message you hope readers will take away from The Mule of Mud Hollow?

"I hope that my readers take away the idea that when you trust in God, He can help you overcome your fears and you can rely on Him to help you make the right decisions. I also want to encourage my readers to not be afraid to get out and explore nature and appreciate it."

questions about Jessica and the future

What was your favorite book growing up around the same age as your intended readers?

"It's so hard to choose! Some of my favorite books were The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle, Caddie Woodlawn, and Far North. They all had similar themes of adventure, overcoming your fears in the face of danger, and exploring nature."

How do you find time to write? Are you a morning dove, or a night owl?

"I’m definitely a night owl when it comes to my writing. Back in college, my prime writing time was from 11pm to sometimes 1am in the morning! That schedule doesn’t work too well with a full-time job though. Nowadays I start my writing around 7pm and write until I go to bed which can sometimes stretch to 11pm if I’m really on a roll. During the weekends, I usually write earlier in the afternoon."

How did you stay motivated throughout the writing process?

"For this novel, I set goals for myself on when I wanted to be done with each stage. I gave myself certain deadlines for finishing each draft and incorporating edits. I also let friends and family know about the project so they could keep me accountable to keep up with my writing. I tried to sit down and work on it every night, even if it was only to fix a couple of spelling errors. I hired an editor later in the process and she was incredibly helpful with keeping me motivated to revise my story and finalize it."

What are you planning to write next? Can you share a little bit about it?

"I’m hoping to write another horse story soon! I have a first draft written, but haven’t gotten around to a second draft yet. This story will take place even farther in the past in medieval Ireland, and follows the journey of a young girl who sets out to rescue her beloved horse and retrieve a valuable document that was stolen from her hometown. There will be unlikely friendships, dark and dangerous forests, and Vikings!"

That sounds amazing. We can't wait to see what Jessica "cooks" up in her next novel. For the meantime, you can follow her on her website:, as she writes about faith, family, and the joys of writing.

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