by C.J. Darlington
Jenny B. Jones Interview
a total car soloist. I'm at the point in my life where I just don't
care--I will not stop singing just because I'm at a red light. And
yes, there are accompanying car dance moves."
-- Jenny B. Jones
Jenny B. Jones is the author of A Katie Parker Production series. Though now an adult, she still relates to the trauma and drama of teen life. She is thrilled to see her writing dreams come true, as her previous claim to fame was singing the Star Spangled Banner at a mule-jumping championship. (The mules were greatly inspired.) Jenny resides in Arkansas, where, as a teacher, she hangs out with teens on a regular basis.
C.J.: When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
Jenny: It’s kind of a clichéd answer, but ever since I could hold a pencil. I was always writing as a little kid. I have a collection of some really hideous stuff I wrote in school. So bad it’s funny.
Tell us about your epiphany moment when you decided you were going to seriously pursue writing and eventually publication.
Every New Year’s Eve, God and I have a heart to heart. A few years ago I was sitting on my deck in the dark and remember telling God, “Whatever I’m doing isn’t working. Here’s my desire to be a writer—take it. But you have to give me something. If I wake up tomorrow with the random desire to be a vet or a circus clown, so be it. But fill that space with something.” A few months later I had a contract. I think for me, it was about surrender. I had always wanted to write, but things didn’t happen until I decided to write for Him.
And also I decided in 2005 that I would put up or shut up. I was literally waiting for this publishing fairy to bop me on the head. So I went to a writing conference and got proactive about it. It won’t happen until you jump in there and give it some feet.
How long had Katie Parker been floating around in your head before you actually sat down and wrote In Between, the first book in her series?
Maybe a few years? I really wanted to write chick lit, but this story kept building in my head. One of the reasons I put off the pursuit of writing was because I never had come up with a fully developed plot (note: don’t ever let that stop you). But for the first time, this story of a teenage girl just kept growing in my head. Finally I knew it was going to pour out my ears if I didn’t write it down. And thus Katie Parker was born. (And her crazy foster grandma Mad Maxine, of course.)
The Katie Parker Production books are literally some of the funniest books I have ever read. Does humor come naturally for you or do you find yourself honing your sentences over and over to get them the way you want them?
Oh, thanks so much. I don’t know—maybe a little of both. I usually have to let it go or else I’ll tweak it to death. Sometimes for funny to happen, it needs to be tweaked though. Just adding or taking away a word or throwing in a pause can make a huge impact. And unfortunately, sometimes it just depends on what mood I’m in.
Okay, so I gotta ask. How much of what happens in the books is based on your own real life experiences? (Be honest, Jenny! :)
HA. I think Katie and I probably share the same snarkiness. And I have had a few Maxines in my life. Occasionally I do rob from things I overhear from students and see if I can incorporate it. Obviously the drama element in the Katie Parker series is from my own experiences as a student and teacher. And I think I definitely incorporate my own tendency toward embarrassing and klutzy moments into Katie’s life.
How long have you been a teacher, and what grades and subjects do you teach?
I am coming up on my tenth year. I currently teach speech communications, which in Arkansas is a high school requirement. So my job is to make it less like punishment. Prior to that I taught drama and English.
What has been the most rewarding experience you've had thus far as a teacher?
Introducing students to drama was an amazing experience to be part of. To see kids come into their own with skills they didn’t know they had. It was a blessing to witness and still the best moments of my teaching life.
And introducing a student to reading. I always have books in my room, and when I taught English many years ago, we read a lot, of course. And every year there would be at least one nonreader who would cross over to “our” side. That is victory. (Though he/she probably left my class still not knowing where to stick a comma.)
Your most embarrassing moment:
I haven’t had it yet, but I know it’s coming. I don’t take that for granted. I once drew an illustration on the board that ended up being accidentally VERY anatomical. Kids mentioned that in their graduation speeches. But mostly I know the day is coming when I will teach with my pants unzipped (unintentionally, of course). It’s a fear. Sometimes you’ll be teaching and a kid will look at me funny, and I’ll panic and check my fly. It’s only a matter of time.
Do you think teenagers these days have it harder than kids ten years ago? If so, why, and what can we do to help them?
Ugh. I could go on forever about this. Yes, kids today are different. Within the last five years or so we’ve seen a real shift. There’s a Martina McBride song that says something like, “We got teenagers walking around in a culture of darkness. Living together alone.” That’s it exactly—lots of darkness, lots of isolation, and a ridiculous amount of anger. And our culture supports that right now. It’s a frightening time to be a kid, and they need some safety and security. They need advocates and people to listen. Okay, I’ll stop before I break out in song. “People…who need people…”
What advice would you give to parents who are having trouble getting their tweens or teens to read?
I have a theory that it’s just about finding the right book to turn the switch on. I have a couple of friends who are life-long NONreaders. Then they were introduced to a funny chick lit series, and now they’re reading. For tweens and teens, we also need to encourage the joy of just being still and quiet. Kids do not really relate to that. Read? No, dude, I want to play a game and kill something!
So does most of your writing happen at night and on weekends?
Yes. I write a few hours almost every night, and on Saturdays. During the summers of course, I write during the day too. I have finally gotten with the program and now take Sundays off. It’s true—you don’t miss the time and you need that day of rest.
What is the number one thing you keep in mind when writing for today's teenagers?
I know I should say something profound here, but I’m afraid it’s just: Am I being relevant? Will they get that joke? Is this song I mentioned too old? My books are definitely more on the entertainment end versus the literary, so I just want it to be relevant and timely. I don’t want them to pick up my book and think, “This girl so does not get me.”
What books did you most enjoy reading when you were growing up, and how have they impacted your writing now?
There wasn’t this huge array of YA books when I was growing up, so I read a lot of adult stuff that I probably shouldn’t have. Though I read a lot, I think TV might have impacted me more. I loved The Carol Burnett Show and think she is the reason we have shows like SNL and The Office. She was the queen of improv, situational comedy, farce, and perfect timing. And I grew up on the zaniness and romance of I Dream of Jeanie and Bewitched. Creative, but with a little punch and a whole lot of “that could never happen, but it works.”
What would you say has been the hardest part about writing the Katie Parker Production series?
Probably finding my balance in it all. Juggling school, writing, friends, family, church, and cleaning out the litter box. Something is usually suffering. Also I’m a horrible procrastinator, so I tend to write the most toward the end of a deadline, and it kills me. But for me, creativity is born out of necessity and time crunches. I would love to not do that. I really need to get more disciplined and keep working on that balance.
What motivates you to get out of bed and head to your keyboard?
A deadline. Stress. Arm twisting. Chocolate.
I hear there are at least three books planned in the series. Could you give us a sneak peak at Book #2 On the Loose as well as Book #3 The Big Picture?
Gladly! On the Loose will be out in September. A tornado rips through In Between and nothing is ever the same again. When Katie’s foster mom gets sick, Katie wonders what will become of her. And in the meantime, she has so many other things to worry about: the school play, getting the attention of the leading man, helping Frances not self-destruct and an out of control science fair.
In book three, The Big Picture, which I just finished today (Hallelujah! Hallelujah!), Katie’s mom returns and is ready to take her daughter home. Katie must leave In Between behind and move on in her new life with her mother. But is Mom as reformed as she wants Katie to believe?
Who is Jenny B. Jones?
A gal who looks shockingly like Julia Roberts. I just hide it really well. I don’t want people to stare.
What are two things people might be surprised to know about you?
When I was a kid I wanted to marry Jack Tripper and hang out at the Regal Begal. No Kirk Cameron or John Stamos for me.
I’m a total car soloist. I’m at that point in my life where I just don’t care—I will not stop singing just because I’m at a red light. And yes, there are accompanying car dance moves.
When you're not writing, what do you enjoy doing?
Reading, seeing plays/musicals (up next is Spamalot!), road trips, movies, and spending time with family and friends.
What did you eat for breakfast this morning?
An apple and an Ezekial English muffin with almond butter. I’m a bipolar eater—it’s either uber healthy or disgustingly bad.
Three things always found in your refrigerator:
Fruit, veggies, salad mix. And sometimes I actually eat them.
You're next in line at Starbucks. What are you ordering?
Mocha Frappaccino with whipped cream and a side of guilt.
What's left unchecked in your "goals for life" list?
I’m crossing one off this month—going to Europe. But I still would love to travel more, especially within the United States. I’d love to visit every state. Or at least some places in Southern Living.
I heard country music artist Terri Clark say that success is being content with where you’re at. So I want to be successful.
When was the last time you cried?
I’m just not a cryer. Oh, I take that back, I did tear up this weekend when I dropped my Taco Bell bean burrito on the floor.
Three words that best describe you:
Scatter-brained, Pulled-in-too-many-directions (yes, that’s one word), giggly
What's currently in your CD player/iPod?
Right now in the house I’m brushing up on my Keith Urban. I’m going to see him in concert next week. And in my car CD player is the Broadway soundtrack to the musical Wicked. I think it’s my favorite of all CDs. And then I run to Pink or some 80s Aerosmith.
Anything else you'd like to share with TitleTrakk.com readers?
C.J. Darlington is the award-winning authof of Thicker than Blood, Bound by Guilt, and Ties that Bind. She is a regular contributor to Family Fiction Digital Magazine and NovelCrossing.com. A homeschool graduate, she makes her home in Pennsylvania with her family and their menagerie of dogs, a cat, and a paint horse named Sky. Visit her online at her author website. You can also look her up at Twitter and Facebook.