If you saw elephants on a roundabout, you’d want to talk about it. You might even want to write about it.
Grantsville City Councilwoman Jewel Allen did. Following a trip to Africa this past winter, Allen penned a memoir filled with stories of her experiences there and many of the photos she took.
She titled it “Elephants on the Roundabout.” On Tuesday, she’ll share it with the Stansbury Arts and Literature Society.
“I’m going to talk about the book and maybe read a story or two and then share my photos,” Allen said.
This isn’t the first book Allen has written. Since 2014, she’s released 11 books in several genres, with a focus on adding to the world’s collection of clean literature.
She also worked as a freelance journalist for years, including stints at the Tooele Transcript Bulletin and Deseret News. Later, she opened a family history business called Treasured Stories. Her work there involved recording and writing true-life stories for other people.
Allen has now shifted gears, putting out humorous romantic novellas, romantic suspense books, and family-oriented mysteries, in addition to her nonfiction works.
“My goal, really, is to contribute to clean literature,” Allen said.
She expects stories of great people and places — especially those connected to her own life —will continue to be featured in her books.
“The thing is, in all my novels there’s always a part of me in them, always a part of my experience,” she said.
Her first published novel, “Ghost Moon Night,” was published in October 2014. Allen based this story on what she thought it might be like to be a teenager in the Philippines in the 1950s.
“‘Ghost Moon Night’ is more about when my dad was growing up,” she said. “It was stuff that was really important to me that I wanted to write about, and it wasn’t easy stuff that I wrote about. It’s about imperfect people, but then there’s so much love for family, and I just wanted to convey that in my story.”
Allen, who was born in the Philippines, included more family history in her “Island of the Crown” series.
“That particular series is interesting because my genealogy says I have a Spanish ancestor who protected the king in the 1700s,” Allen said. “It’s inspired by true events.”
“Supposedly my ancestor helped protect the king,” she said. “That was all I knew about it. I think my imagination just went, what would it have been like to have been this ancestor back then?”
She researched the time period and discovered that her ancestor went to the Philippines when Spain was colonizing the island country. This led to the second book in the series.
“I had an idea for another part of that history where supposedly there was a princess whose father was overthrown, a Philippine princess,” Allen said. “She had to go and negotiate his release, and so I just thought it would be cool for a romance if he (Allen’s ancestor) met her.”
Allen’s journey into fiction began with nonfiction after she and her mother moved to the United States. Allen was 15 years old at the time. When she was able to attend college, she and her mother were roommates together at Utah State University, where she majored in English.
During her senior year at USU, Allen took an internship with then Utah Sen. Jake Garn and served on his staff in Washington, D.C. for three months.
“I wasn’t even a citizen yet,” she said. “I was just an international student, basically. Now I look back and see it was a good fit. Back then I didn’t think I would ever be in politics. I just liked to write and I thought I could help them.”
When she returned to Utah, her boyfriend, Drew Allen, proposed.
“I was only 20,” she said. “I had to think through things. I did think that I was going to go back east and work some more.”
Allen said in the Philippines, women are career focused, and many don’t settle down until they finish college and start a career.
“That was my expectation for my life,” she said. “One thing that came from that was that I decided I would still stay in journalism … Even though we decided I would stay at home and be with the kids, I would work from home as a freelance journalist. I kept doing that from when my children were babies up until I started my business.”
They were married in July 1992.
Allen said she always wanted to write a book about coming to the United States. She kept fictionalizing it in her head until about 10 years ago, when she decided to write the real story.
“So I did, and I wrote it like letters to my sister,” she said. “I wrote everything down, and after that experience of just writing it down, I felt free to write whatever I wanted.”
That’s when Allen first started thinking about writing novels.
“It was like pulling a cork,” she said. “It made me feel like I could really explore anything at that point. It was a really good experience and that’s why I feel so strongly about people writing their stories. If you write the truth down it frees you to imagine other things.”
At that time, Allen was still focused on nonfiction pieces. She started her Treasured Stories business in 2012, while she was writing features and an op-ed column for Tooele Transcript Bulletin.
“That was great,” she said about writing the column. “It was a good way for me to understand what was going on in the community, and I learned to form my own opinions politically, and then Stericycle came along.”
Stericycle was a medical incineration company that hoped to move from North Salt Lake to Tooele County. Allen studied it and wrote an op-ed that charged local citizens. She and the staff at Tooele Transcript Bulletin decided it would be best if she temporarily took a leave of absence.
“It’s not because they didn’t support me,” she said. “It was because once I started being in the news, I couldn’t write the news.”
Allen resigned and threw herself into activism, hosting rallies and firing people up on Facebook. After Stericycle’s relocation was defeated, she tackled the state prison issue. Then she decided to run for public office.
“I thought, I could keep doing these rallies as a citizen or I could be in the position where I could help make decisions, so I decided to run for city council,” she said. “That was in 2015, and I won, so I started serving in 2016. That’s a four-year term.”
Allen wrote her first memoir book, called Soapbox, about her experience moving from freelance writing into local politics.
“I never did expect that,” she said of her move into activism. “I know city council is probably small potatoes compared to other things, but it’s really where the rubber meets the road.”
During this time, she stayed focused on her Treasured Stories business. One day, while she was delivering a finished book to a client, she realized she knew enough about writing and publishing that she could write and sell her own books.
“That’s when I decided to do this,” she said. “In the last year, I decided I would focus more on the books, but I still have clients, just because stories are so important.”
Allen’s writing process is a seasonal thing. She writes several manuscripts at the end of the year, before Christmas. In the first part of the year, she’s busy editing and publishing. When summer hits, she does a little bit more marketing and research for her next books.
Sometimes her research includes travel.
“I’ve been blessed in that my husband gets to go on a lot of conferences as a veterinarian, and I get to tag along and usually we go to places around the world,” she said. “Whenever I go somewhere, I think it would be so fun to set a romance here, because it’s just so romantic.”
Allen expects she’ll want to write something set in Italy soon. There’s also Ireland, more books in the Philippines and Spain, and a fourth stand-alone book for the Island of the Crown series based in Morocco.
“Whatever I do, I’m always coming back with all these ideas for stories,” she said. “There’ll be more romances in the future.”
People interested in finding out more about Allen’s books can browse her website, www.jewelallen.com. Her books are available on Amazon.com.
You can also find her talking about Africa at the Coulter House in Stansbury Park at 7 p.m. on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, she’ll be writing.
“I want to keep contributing clean literature that everyone can enjoy,” she said. “That’s really my goal.”