THE SCOOP ON KATIE PARKER
Sixteen year old Katie Parker may be new to the world of foster care, but she’s right at home in her role as drama queen in the Katie Parker Production series.
Book 1: In Between
Katie Parker finds herself in a minivan bound for In Between, Texas, home of her new foster family, Pastor James and Millie Scott. Soon she falls into the wrong crowd and finds herself in serious trouble. Along the way she’s introduced to faith, encounters Mad Maxine (her crazy foster grandma who rides bikes in spike heels), a play gone awry, and a secret that won’t stay under wraps. Will her foster family and the church youth group accept her as she is or steer clear of Katie’s chaos?
Book 2: On The Loose
It’s going to take more than a glass slipper and some fairy dust to fix Katie’s problems. Just as she finally settles into her new life a devastating tornado rips into town. When the winds settle, nothing is ever the same again. Millie is diagnosed with breast cancer, and Katie begins to doubt if God really does care. If something happens to Millie, will she be sent back to the group home? Things spiral even further out of control when Katie juggles a science fair project, a malfunctioning best friend, spring break plans, and holding the attention of her own Prince Charming.
Book 3: The Big Picture
Just as school winds down for the summer, Katie comes home to find the shock of her life on the Scotts’ front porch - her mother. Bobbie Ann Parker, newly released from prison, has come back for her daughter. But how can Katie leave In Between when so much is falling apart? There’s Maxine’s crumbling love life to take care of, a boyfriend to win back, and the town drive-in to save.
by Tracy & C.J. Darlington
Jenny B. Jones Interview
it your own way without God is like a frozen dinner. But living out
God's plan for your life? Seven course meal (with dessert of course)."
-- Jenny B. Jones
Jenny B. Jones is the author of A Katie Parker Production series, including In Between and On the Loose. When she's not writing about the drama of teen life, she's living it as a high school speech teacher in Arkansas. Since she has very little free time, she believes in spending her spare hours in meaningful, intellectual pursuits such as watching E!, going to the movies and inhaling large buckets of popcorn, catching Will Ferrell on YouTube, and writing her name in the dust on her furniture. Check her out at jennybjones.com.
TRACY & C.J.: Tell us about how you first started writing.
JENNY: I had some great teachers in school. Teachers who encouraged writing and encouraged creativity. I’ve wanted to be a writer ever since I could pick up a pencil. I would frequently keep a journal, write letters, short stories, etc. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I realized God gives us these gifts that not only make us unique, but so we can use them to be better people and tell the world about Christ (no matter what your gifts might be).
I reached a point in my life a few years ago where I was like, “I need to quit wishing and get proactive about this dream.” I had spent a long time wishing, hoping, praying. It was like the light went on, and I knew God wanted me to step it up and meet him half way. So I signed up for a writing conference. There was an opportunity to get a critique from a published Christian author, which I also signed up for. This gave me the goal of having a writing deadline. With a story idea in mind, I wrote the first twenty pages of the Katie Parker Production series, had my critique with the author, and she referred me directly to a publisher. About five months later, I had a contract offer. It’s not enough to expect God to bring you your dream. You have to run hard after it. Show God you’re a good return on his investment. But even if you fail, at least you tried. By not trying, I was failing on a daily basis anyway.
Share with us the story of your 8th grade Christmas story.
Ha. Recently my brother said, “You know why I haven’t read your books yet? Because I know nothing will ever compare to the short story of ‘87…”
A beloved English teacher told us that the paper was doing a contest and we were to write a Christmas story. If we won, we’d get a turkey (that did not appeal to me), and if we didn’t want the bird, she’d give us ten bucks (that did). So I wrote a story about this girl and her brother who had recently lost their dad, and about how they had overcome their loss and rediscovered the joy of Christmas. Fast forward a month or so later, and the paper is calling to let me know I had won, and they would be sending out a photographer. So in December my face is splashed on the paper with this heart breaking story about me losing my dad. Turns out, the teacher had failed to mention we weren’t to write a story, but to share a true Christmas memory. And the whole town read the story and thought my dad had died, and the phone went crazy. But at least it put my very much alive father in touch with some people he hadn’t heard from in a long time. And I got ten bucks.
Since the main character of your Katie Parker Production series is a teen girl, what advice do you have for teen girls who have writing aspirations?
No matter what you aspire, don’t settle. When I ask my students what they want to be when they grow up, I say, “Don’t filter. Don’t edit. What do you really want to be when you grow up?” That’s your dream; that’s your passion. Too many adults are unhappy in their jobs because they settled. How many people actually pursue their real dream? Not many. So no matter what reality says, what do you want? If you have a dream and God continues to nurture that in you, then go for it. But on the flip side…have a backup. Sometimes our dreams don’t pay the cereal bill. A girl’s gotta eat. So it’s not failure to get a business degree so you’ll have a job while you pursue your goal of being the next Condoleezza Rice or Reese Witherspoon.
Could you talk about some of your own experiences as a teen? Did you deal with insecurities and self-esteem issues?
Oh, to get into all of that, I’d have to take over this website, because I’d need a LOT of space. If only I could go back to that teenager I was and whisper in her ear, “I have seen the other side. You need to be confident in who you are. God made you unique and that is going to pay off one of these days. Who cares what other people think! Oh, and lay off the blue eye shadow.”
I was not raised in a traditional mom/dad household. Whenever there’s dysfunction, there are some serious insecurities and self-esteem problems. And Satan is just dying to get all over that and use it to lure you into stuff that has “danger” written all over it. You have to be happy with who you are. If you feel different, you’re normal (and blessed)! If you don’t feel awkward and different from everyone else…then seriously, what is wrong with you?
What do you know that you wished you would have known as teenager?
That confidence is a magnet. People are drawn to it. Oh, the things I could accomplish if I could go back as a teen and hold my head up high, be proud of the ways I was different, and just be me. I can’t tell you how your life changes once you stop caring what the “cool” crowd thinks.
Why did you become a teacher?
Because I wanted to be rich.
Because God said so. I was a marketing major in the tail-end of my junior year of college and just got “the call” from God. So I changed my major, doubled up on hours, and became a teacher. Honestly, it’s never been the content that thrilled me. It’s hanging out with kids and getting the opportunity to invest in their daily lives. We teachers spend more time a day with a child than most of their parent’s do. Teachers are aware of so much more than you give us credit for. We have big ears, you know what I’m saying? We listen. We see who you’re hanging out with. Hear what you’re listening to.
Tell us any funny teaching stories you might have.
You know, it’s like high school, there are so many embarrassing or funny stories, that nothing really stands out. One year my drama class was doing a play and there was this kissing scene. The boy would never just pucker up and kiss the girl. So we finally decided that it was funnier anyway if the girl grabbed him and instigated the kiss (and that was a fake kiss, by the way). So on opening night, she grabs him, dips him . . . then promptly dropped him on his head. I know I should’ve been concerned, but I was too busy laughing. That boy never was quite the same after that . . .
Another time a student was doing a speech on competitive hotdog eating and almost threw up—inches away from me. I actually have that on video. I took a group to New York City once and we lost one of the group in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade. I think they were mesmerized by all the kilts. Or scared by the bagpipes.
Did you by any chance start writing YA fiction to give your students something interesting to read?
Ha. No, it would be a dangerous assumption to presume my students would read anything I wrote. (But happily they’ve been amazingly supportive and my biggest readers. But you know, just one detention slip could mess all that up.) I am bothered by all the darkness that’s out there in YA fiction. But unfortunately it’s out there because it’s a reflection of what’s going on with the teen culture. I don’t want my students reading books where it’s perfectly acceptable to do drugs or puke up your lunch. It’s one thing if these are issues being addressed, but it’s another if it’s played off as just an acceptable way of life.
People might not know how humorous the Katie Parker books are. Where did you get your sense of humor?
I don’t know. God is the obvious answer. I think he knew I needed it. It’s definitely better to laugh at something than cry about things all the time. (I’ve tried both.) But I was raised on funny. My family is pretty humorous. We watched funny TV shows. We went to funny movies. (Except the time they drug me to Bambi and Fox and the Hound. I was scarred for life.) I just see funny in nearly everything. I get the giggles at funerals. (And no, that’s not recommended.) I laugh at the serious parts in movies. There’s a part of me that will just never grow up. The word “duty” still cracks me up.
Do you recommend people read the Katie Parker books in order or can they be read as stand-alones?
I’d recommend they be read in order, just so people can get Katie’s background in book one, which I think is really important. She’s not perfect, and she’s definitely not from an ideal home. I don’t want anyone to miss that. But if someone insists on being a rebel and getting crazy and reading them out of order, the stories make sense all by themselves. But when Katie gets sucked up by the alien spaceship in book three, you might not know why if you didn’t read book two first…
What can teens learn from Katie’s experiences?
1. You need to find humor in life. Life is messy and embarrassing and humiliating and hard. But you have to laugh at yourself and go on. I think Katie’s really good at laughing at herself. When bad things happen, she doesn’t waste time being surprised. She moves through it.
2. Bad things happen to good people. Katie and her family deal with potential death, loss, sickness, abandonment—you name it. And it’s not fair. Someone recently asked me how I can believe in God when all these bad things happen in our lives. God never promises us this fair life. And He understands unfair—try sacrificing your son for mankind. But as believers, we have Christ to pull us through. I can’t imagine living through 9-11, the war, or any tragedy without the hope we have in Christ. So yes, Katie sees a ton of bad things in her life, but in the end, there is hope.
3. People are watching you. Katie is not a believer in most of the series. But she’s very aware of the ways Christians are different—some good, some bad. It’s true for us—people are watching us. Are we living a life we’d be proud to have played back for us? Do our lives make other people say, “I want some of that!”
4. Find value in older people. Katie becomes best friends with her foster grandma. They have tons of fun (though it’s usually borderline insane), and they learn a lot from each other. Don’t be afraid to trust and talk to adults. They can share their life experiences. And they probably need your clothing advice.
5. Beware of old women in spike heels riding bikes.
You write about the impact the kids in her youth group have on Katie before she becomes a Christian. What’s the most powerful example of that you’ve seen in your school?
I think the most powerful example is not any one event. I’m most impressed by the power of teens living their faith daily, kids who are constantly aware of the witness their lives are.
What did you like most about writing this series?
This was my first foray into publishing. I like that it demonstrates how big God is. I’m just a girl from a small town in Arkansas. I don’t have a Harvard degree. I don’t come from rich folk. My parents aren’t in the business. God put this impossible dream on my heart when I was a kid, and the biggest part of me knew it couldn’t happen. But that small part never let go. And that’s all God needs—you know, that whole faith of a mustard seed thing. It’s so true. God said, “Small amount of faith, but I’ll take it.” And he did. I measured my chances of success by my ability. Instead of God’s. He can do anything. If he wants you to be an actress, the president, an astronaut, whatever—your chances of success could be 100 percent. Who wants to mess with that?
Tell us why Jeremiah 29:11 is the theme verse for this series.
It’s the core of this series because it’s all about Katie Parker’s life being on this clear path—to destruction. But God has other plans for her. When God gets a hold of Katie, everything changes. Even before she’s a Christian—because he’s working on her and those around her. Katie eventually finds that there are things possible that she never could’ve imagined. That’s God.
And what does it mean to you personally?
That’s been my life verse for some time (though I’m all about moving on to a new one when the time is right). To me it’s about not minimizing God and getting his holy seal of approval on all I do. It speaks of such possibilities. I know my plans for my life, though they might be big and bold, might be great. But God’s plans for us are an outpouring of his favor. Do you want good or do you want amazing? I want amazing! I don’t want to settle for mediocrity—I want to be a totally favored child of God. It’s like in this verse God tells us that he wants to supersize our hopes and dreams. It’s also a verse to cling to when things aren’t going so hot. God promises me he’ll take care of me and that he’s with me on this journey.
How can readers apply the verse to their lives?
No matter what your talents are, what your life’s dreams are, surrender them to God. Get that holy stamp of approval. I could’ve been a fine business person in the marketing world. But that wasn’t where God wanted me. I didn’t have his “ok.” So I was cheating myself out of the blessing and full potential God had for me. Here’s a visual…doing it your own way without God is like a frozen dinner. But living out God’s plan for your life? Seven course meal (with dessert of course).
Are Katie’s dating experiences a reflection of your own? :)
Why would you say that? Who have you talked to?
Ugh. Dating in high school. That was ick. Do we really have to revisit that? I’ll probably have to go into therapy afterwards. Katie’s actually a little smoother than I was. She has more confidence with the guys. But it’s never going to resemble some Hillary Duff movie. If I had to do it over in high school, I’d have the guts to say, “Let’s be friends first and see what happens.” Back in the day, I probably resembled Katie’s spastic friend Frances in the dating world. Sweaty palms, drool, loss of speech. It was a totally hot picture.
Without giving anything away, what’s your favorite part in all of the books?
I love Katie’s foster grandmother, Mad Maxine. She says what she wants to say and does what she wants to do. There’s nothing fake about her. And she always gets into these fun messes. She’s like a teenager . . . with wrinkles. I love the scenes where she drags Katie into her drama. Maxine is an extremist where Katie is more subtle and low-key. But yet Katie would do anything for her, so it’s not hard to rope her into one of Maxine’s schemes. They are total BFFs.
What’s next for you now that you’ve finished the Katie Parker Production series?
A vacation? A massage? Actually next up is a new YA series about Bella Kirkwood, a rich New York teen, who is used to living the high life. Then her dad trades her mother in for a younger version, and six months later, Bella’s forced to move to Oklahoma with her mom and new step-family. It’s like Gossip Girl meets country life. It’s not pretty. But it’s fun.
Anything else you’d like to tell TitleTrakk.com readers about the series?
When I was a teenager, I had a really hard time talking to people about Jesus (Okay, I still do. It’s hard!). But loaning them a good Christian fiction book opens the door to talk about God. “You should totally check out this book I read!” is not so difficult to say. I have non-believers at my school reading my books all the time. So share your books, pray over your books. Maybe it will start a discussion in which friends can learn about Christ.
Tell us about your Zippity blog?
The blog is where I post about three times a week. It’s very casual. It’s simply for fun. If something funny happened to me, I’ll blog about it. For example, I recently colored my hair and the stuff smelled like rotten spinach. I had to stick cotton balls up my nose for a solid hour so I wouldn’t hurl. If I see something funny, I blog about it, like robotic pigeons in England or a favorite Youtube clip. Hopefully it’s a laugh and a pick-me-up for those who stop by. And it’s some good therapy for me, too. Last year when I couldn’t get Gilmore Girls on my cable anymore, I got lots of much-needed support. I’m still not over that…
By the way, mind us asking what the “B” stands for in your name or aren’t you telling? :)
Oh, we girls have to have some secrets.
Okay, fine! You wrenched it out of me. The “B” stands for Beverly, my mother’s name. My mom was a single parent and sacrificed a lot for me and my brother. I wouldn’t be where I am today without her. So this is her success, too. When she sees my books, I want her to be able to see that B and remember, “That girl wouldn’t be anywhere without me.” Because I sure wouldn’t.
Visit me at Jennybjones.com.
Tracy Darlington is a freelance writer, and her work has appeared in Brio, Breakaway, YS, CCM Magazine, Insight, Susie Magazine, and other publications. She has interviewed countless Christian musicians including Rebecca St. James, Delirious, Newsboys, Leigh Nash, Barlowgirl, Krystal Meyers, Joy Williams, Pillar, Michelle Tumes, and many others. In her spare time she can be found riding horses or listening to music and sipping a Venti 3-shot sugar-free vanilla latte. Visit her online at her blog where she talks about Music, God, dogs and coffee. You can also look her up at Twitter and Facebook.
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.