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Jenny B. Jones Interview

by C.J. Darlington

"Twilight Zone freaked me out as a kid. I was easily scared, and I probably have Twilight Zone to blame for growing up so neurotic. Is there someone I can sue? Is that Rod Serling guy still alive?" -- Jenny B. Jones

Jenny B. Jones writes Christian Fiction with equal parts wit, sass, and untamed hilarity. When she’s not writing, she’s living it up as a high school 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, and writing her name in the dust on her furniture.

Last interview we did, you were just releasing the third book in your Katie Parker Production series. Could you catch us up on what’s been going on with you since then?

Wow, a lot has happened since then. Since that time Jon and Kate have broken up, we have our first African American in the big seat of the Oval Office, and the Gloved One is no longer among us. I really can’t top all that, but my new YA series A Charmed Life hit the shelves with book one, So Not Happening. This series is about Bella Kirkwood, a teenage Manhattan socialite who must move to rural Oklahoma where she must deal with farm life, a wrestling step-father, her maddening (yet hot) newspaper editor, and solving the occasional mystery. All while keeping her lipstick fresh.

And in early September my first contemporary romance hit the shelves—as in romance for big girls. So it was fun to branch out from YA for a bit.

I was really excited to read Just Between You And Me since I remember you originally wanted to write chick lit. Share with us how you came to write this book. Is it true you only had a matter of weeks to write it?

My fabulous editor Natalie came to me with this idea to create a novel that would minister to people on the idea of being fearless. We all thought this was the perfect time given the anxiety the world shares right now—with politics, joblessness, real estate woes, and having to hawk Granny’s diamonds for a tank of gas.

By the time we all agreed on the plot elements, I had six weeks. It was a little crazy, but it allowed for me to have months off afterwards which I desperately needed and enjoyed. God totally moved during that six weeks though. I am not a fast writer, but I had miraculous, never-seen-before (for me) page counts each day, especially toward the end. Or maybe it’s just that you can get more done if you forego bathing and leg shaving? I should try that with this current book I’m writing and see if it gets the creativity flowing. . .

There’s a great balance of humor and seriousness in all of your writing, and definitely in Just Between You And Me. Is it different for each book, or do you have to consciously keep that balance in mind as you write?

I think it’s something I check and am aware of, but mostly it’s just a balance that comes from the gut. I can only stay down too long. I don’t like maudlin and I don’t like overly emotional. (And my definition of overly emotional is pretty broad—like anything that doesn’t include smiling or laughing.) That’s not my comfort zone. So the balance comes from my own need to temper the serious with the humorous. And I never feel like any book is funny enough, so I don’t know about balance actually. I’m the last person to be objective about that.

Just Between You And Me by Jenny B. JonesYour character Maggie’s dealing with a lot of issues in her life, but especially fear. What do you hope her story conveys to readers?

I hope her story conveys that fear is normal, but it’s paralyzing and keeps us from moving forward to the places God really wants us. Unfortunately, I think it’s how many of us live our lives—by playing it safe. I want readers to see that Maggie didn’t have a miraculous deliverance from fear. But she decided for the first time in her life to put her head down and just charge through it anyway. And great stuff was waiting for her on the other side. I think as we all endure these uncertain times we can fade into the crowd. For example, if I, as a believer, lose my house, will my reaction be any different from my neighbor, a nonbeliever, if he loses his home? I think often Christians react to fearful or stressful situations just like the rest of the world does—with panic, self-reliance, and negativity. So as Christians, how do we stand out during these hard times? That was a question that stayed with me throughout the writing of the book.

What was the hardest part about writing Just Between You And Me?

It was challenging on a few levels. It was hard because it’s the deepest I’ve gone with the spiritual element—even with a previous book about a teen’s salvation—this book was still more in terms of the spiritual message. I’m very light hearted, so this was a little uncomfortable for me at times, but I was glad to be pushed out of my comfort zone as well.

It was hard in that Maggie’s issues (as well as the issues of other characters) are significant enough that I couldn’t crack as many jokes or lighten it up as much as I normally like to. So I had to put on my maturity hat. Which isn’t always fun.

And the jeans size I gained while writing it was not the best either. Anything for the kingdom, right…?

And you have another novel releasing soon in the YA genre! You’re one busy gal. What was it like So Not Happening by Jenny B. Joneswriting another teen girl main character after living with Katie Parker for so long?

Ha. It was interesting. My challenge was to create another character who was sassy and had a sense of humor, but wasn’t just Katie Parker with a new name. I made Bella Kirkwood purposely different in a few ways. She’s from a different economic background, has different family drama, and was overly confident in herself, whereas Katie came on the scene with zero confidence or security in her world. It was a lot of fun to write Bella, who is initially a pampered girl who’s had everything handed to her. I loved the contrast and the idea of flipping that Gossip Girl type of character on her ear by uprooting her from her posh surroundings and putting her in rural Oklahoma.

Most writers perform a lot of research before ever writing their novels. Is that true for you? Did you have to research a lot to write I’m So Sure?

I really admire those who do weeks and months of research. Due to time constraints, I have to keep elements that require research very limited. So I use my students and their behaviors a lot. In I’m So Sure, Bella and her family are part of a wrestling reality show (any chance I can get to work in spandex into a plot, I take it), so I did some research on reality shows. I had the burden of having to watch a few (tragic). And I did research on professional wrestling throughout the series. In fact, I drug two friends to Little Rock, AR to a WWE Smackdown. THAT was interesting. And fun. (We were overdressed by the way. But now we know—for next time.) For the last A Charmed Life book, out this winter, I had to quiz a funeral director on different ways to dig up a casket. The guy didn’t even blink an eye.

Ever had any unusual or embarrassing moments at a book signing or while performing research?

No, but my day is coming. I know it.

Jenny B. JonesOf all your characters, who’s your favorite, and why?

I don’t have a specific favorite—that would be like picking a favorite child or student. But I’m drawn to the quirkiest and most honest characters. I’ve found that I have to have at least one weird, irreverent character in each book to keep myself entertained. So in the Katie Parker series it was Mad Maxine, the crazy grandmother. In A Charmed Life series, it’s a character who shows up in book two—biker chick Ruthie. And in Just Between You and Me, it would have to be 10 year old Riley, a girl who's seen too much and whose only defense is her smart mouth.

Do you listen to music when you write? If so, what are some of your favorite bands/artists?

I can’t listen to anything with words when I write unless it’s for a social scene, like listening to Crowder to get in the zone for a scene at a youth ministry event or something. I do have a theme song for just about every book that I’ll download on my iPod and listen to sometimes for pre-writing, but other than that, it’s instrumental if anything. If there are words, I’ll feel inclined to take the solo and that’s just distracting to me. And to local wildlife.

I hear you’ve now started teaching part-time rather than full-time. What has the transition been like? Would you like to see yourself writing full time or does it help you to keep your fingers on the pulse of youth culture?

Your intel is pretty accurate, C.J. ; ) The transition has been stinkin’ awesome! I am loving life right now. I am through with teaching every day by 11:40 a.m. During the summer, I’m barely up with my teeth brushed by this hour. I think it does me good to have a reason to get up at a normal hour every morning. I’m too big a fan of morning TV (The View, GMA, etc.) to stay at home full time. I can waste a morning better than Tiger can golf. It’s just a talent I have. (Don’t be jealous.) So while teaching can be demanding—even part time—I like having that routine and order to my day. I’m a very unstructured, slightly ADD person who needs structure. Teaching provides that. And my kids are just a wealth of entertainment and resources. They really are helpful and a joy. I keep a running list of funny things they say. Like today, we were talking about ways to start a speech. I said something like, “You can start a speech with a shocking statistic or a startling statement. They are both really similar, but a statistic always has to do with….what?”  One kid pipes up. “Penguins.” In Between by Jenny B. Jones

Ever find it challenging to head to your keyboard every day? What do you do when the words don’t seem to come?

I find it a challenge to be there every minute. I am so easily distracted. Email, Facebook, and Twitter do NOT help. I check them by the millisecond.

When the words don’t come I do a few things.

1. Stay in my seat. Sometimes I just want to be doing anything but writing, but I can’t. And I know my lack of words is just my brain wanting to go shop or watch TV or make faces out the window at the neighbor kid.

2. Get up and move. We are big on brain research at our school, and we know that the brain needs water and movement and change (shifting gears) to work at its optimum best. So about every hour I try (but often forget or fail) to get up and walk for ten minutes or so. Usually this is a walk to the fridge. Sometimes I make this walk ten times an hour. Just to revive that brain you know.

3. Go do something totally unrelated to my book or writing. I was really stuck on major plot elements for Just Between You and Me and at the panic stage. I decided to go with some friends to see Shopaholic. During this movie, I tuned out for a bit and all the sudden pieces that I needed for my story started to develop in my head. They had absolutely nothing to do with Shopaholic, but I think it was just from NOT trying that finally released some creativity. In the movie’s honor I did base the appearance of my Maggie Montgomery on the Isla Fisher from Shopaholic. She hasn’t written me a thank you note yet, but I’m sure she will…

What do you know now that you wish you’d known when you first started writing?

Ha. If I had known then what I know now about writing I might not have gone through with it.

One thing I’m realizing lately is that I have developed this “I feel guilty” complex for reading. Like I feel guilty for just sitting there when I could be writing or especially doing all those things I put off because I have been writing—cleaning the house, working out, cooking, etc. I don’t know where this weird idea came from (probably from not wanting to do one more thing involving sitting), but I have got to get over it because I personally learn from reading even more than I do from books on writing. So my advice is to read all you can and don’t look at it as an indulgence, but as working on your craft. If you were a tennis player, you’d sure watch other games and players. So by the same token, I need to be reading as much as I can and learning from other writers.

I'm So Sure by Jenny B. JonesWhat’s next for you on the novel front?

I’m So Sure, the second book in A Charmed Life series comes out November 1st, and I’m excited for that. In this book someone is out to sabotage the prom queen wannabe’s and Bella Kirkwood must get to the bottom of it while living her life on a reality show and keeping the attention of her hot editor Luke Sullivan.

And in the meantime I’m currently working on my second contemporary romance involving two characters who fake an engagement. And by currently working I mean I’m doing a lot of staring at a blank screen and eating Halloween candy.

Anything else you’d like to share?

We have a great time over at my blog at jennybjones.com/blog. We do giveaways all the time and just talk about random craziness. Stop by!

Favorite musical:

Oh, Wicked. Without a doubt. I think that is the most brilliant, most fun, clever thing ever. It’s based on the book Wicked, which I completely hated. So it blows my mind that the SAME author could create something so completely different in tone as Wicked the musical. It’s the back story of The Wizard of Oz, and is so clever, I’m just not worthy to even sit in the balcony of the show. But I do. I highly recommend this to anyone if it’s anywhere near you. And get the soundtrack. I’ve worn it out to the point that I’m a little nauseous when I hear it.

I love musicals though. I sing show tunes all the time. I’m sure it’s really endeared me to my neighbors. I’ve been working on my high notes lately. . .

Favorite Twilight Zone episode:

Twilight Zone freaked me out as a kid. I was easily scared, and I probably have Twilight Zone to blame for growing up so neurotic. Is there someone I can sue? Is that Rod Serling guy still alive? Jenny B. Jones

When you’re not writing, what do you enjoy doing?

Going to movies, plays, traveling. I went to Ireland and Scotland this summer and had a fabulous time. Love hanging out with family and friends. I love cleaning my house, yard work, and cooking. . . just kidding! My biggest hobby is probably avoiding anything domestic. Obviously I enjoy reading, and I happen to be an out-of-the-closet magazine addict.

What did you eat for breakfast this morning?

Ha. Good question. I had a Weight Watchers English muffin sandwich (you can get them in your freezer section), but I swapped out the gross, skanky looking Canadian bacon and stuck in some deli ham. Glass of milk. For dinner the night before I had half a salad and a bowl of cereal. I am quite the gourmet in case you hadn’t heard. . .

Where can we find you on a Friday night?

Rarely at home unless it’s a deadline, then you’ll find me chained to my seat (where I’m probably Twittering and checking email and wondering where all my time went).

I’m a huge movie fanatic, so odds are I’m at the movies. And even though I’m really unstructured and loosey goosey, I realized this weekend that I’m very OCD when it comes to the movies. I have to get there early to get a good seat, preferably my “usual” seat. And if I can’t be there in time for previews, then I don’t want to go at all.

Favorite food of all time:

Cereal and anything Mexican, such as queso, quesadillas, and fajitas. I have the local Mexican restaurant on speed dial.

The best vacation spot in the world is:

Anywhere where I don’t have an agenda or have to rush, but can just enjoy the day, enjoy the moment, which I often forget to do. I would go back to Ireland in a heart beat. I think I could live there. Beautiful scenery, amazingly friendly people, a respect for local products and agriculture, and just a cool vibe. I loved it.

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C.J. DarlingtonC.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.