Cracking the Daigneau Code

By Melissa Warner Published January 20, 2020

When asked about a common misconception of being a writer, author Jean Daigneau (pronounced “Dane-you”) replied “People think it’s easy; you sit and write and it’s beautiful.” She commented that writing is a lot of work, even for a picture book. There are “techniques and dialogues and the rule of three.” Her most recent published book, Codecracking for Kids, involved much more research than she anticipated. She stated that she knew a bit about many of the things in her book, but she hadn’t realized the depth of detail. However, she loves research.

Ms. Daigneau has written about codes and ciphers because of her love for puzzles – jigsaws, crosswords, sudoku, etc.  The origin for Codecracking for Kids was that interest in math combined with having written a time travel book which included use of codes and such, and then a conversation with a fellow author friend.  That friend suggested she write a nonfiction book about her interests. Although Ms. Daigneau’s publisher determined the age range for her book, she feels her “voice” is most comfortable with middle grade children. She worked many years in a school library.

As a young child, Ms. Daigneau wanted to be a nun. However, after an unfortunate food incident with the nuns, she decided she would rather be a teacher. By the age of 15, her love of math had emerged but in college she was talked out of majoring in math based on her gender. In high school, she lived too far away from her school to be involved in sports, but was involved in school musicals, a typist and sometimes reporter for the school newspaper, and volunteered as a tutor for kids in the Akron community.

What she knows now as an adult that she wishes she knew when she was a very studious teenager is do not stress out so much; still do your best, but many things, in the grand scheme of life, are not as important as they feel now. She would also advise “Appreciate your family and the people in your circle, appreciate every day with them; you never know what tomorrow will bring.”

Codecracking is not Ms. Daigneau’s first book. In fact, she wrote her first book, with a childhood friend, in 6th grade! Unfortunately, the manuscript has been lost to time and house fires. When asked how she handles rejection, she replied that she has had “over 20 years to get used to it” and it is never easy. She noted that sometimes not getting published is about timing rather than the writing. An example is one time when the publisher really liked her book but already had others on the topic and did not want another one. Instead, Ms. Daigneau looks at rejection as practice. Her example was that a Globetrotter does not start out on the team – years and years of practice have to happen first. “It took me 20 years” to be published! In fact, two other books were purchased but never published. Unlike many authors, her characters do not usually “speak” to her. Instead, the process is “organic” and ideas come to her that her character needs to do a certain thing or something particular needs to happen.

What keeps Ms. Daigneau writing is that she “can’t not write.” She recalled advice given to her many years ago: If you had a crystal ball and realized that you would never be published but had to write anyway, you probably have what it takes to be a writer. At this time, she is working on her third novel, with the target age 4th-5th grade readers. Her book agent is currently reviewing a book she wrote for 8th grade readers. In addition, she is researching a book that was initially about Ellis Island but she believes it will encompass the broader topic of immigration and be in the style of Codecracking.

Parting words of advice would be that writing does not have to be novels or nonfiction. Writing includes letters (she had a pen pal in school) and even school reports. So write, just write!