Thursday, June 28, 2007

Jenny B. Jones on First Novels and Dreaming Big

Jenny B. Jones's first novel, In Between, is supposed to be mainly for teen readers, but I'm going to have to pick it up. Any book described "Annie meets Gilmore Girls" is definitely for me. Also, her answers to my interview questions about her writing and first publishing contract are so much fun that I want to read her novel now. Here's the interview:

Tell us a little about In Between.
In Between was a lot of fun to write. It’s sort of like Annie meets Gilmore Girls. The story is centered around Katie Parker, a 16 year old girl who can’t catch a break. With a mother in jail and a father unaccounted for, she finds herself in a mini-van bound for In-Between, Texas, home of her new foster parents. Katie finds or creates chaos at every opportunity as she adjusts to life with this family. Her foster parents, a pastor and wife, have a few secrets of their own, and life begins to unravel for everyone.

Is it your first novel?
Yup, first one out of the chute. There are three in this series. I’m finishing up book three, The Big Picture, and book two, On the Loose, will be out this September.

How long have you been writing fiction?
Since the summer of 2005. I’m a teacher though, so I’m surrounded by fiction daily. Like reasons not to have homework, why that spitball just flew across the room, that sort of thing. Great inspiration.

How did you decide to write books for teens?
I really felt the call. I just knew chick-lit was my place, and I had a vague idea for a book in my head, but God kept building this story of teenager Katie Parker in my head. It grew and grew until I knew I had to write it down. And it’s been a blessed, anointed journey ever since.

How did your first book contract come about?
This is a total God story. I had just decided to get serious about pursuing writing the summer before ACFW Conference in ’05. I have written all my life, but never with a driven purpose. So that summer I accepted the fact that there wasn’t a publishing fairy who was gonna wave her wand over me, and that if I really wanted to be published, I was going to have to get proactive. So I signed up for the ACFW conference and signed up for a critique with a published CBA author that I thought was most likely to “get me.” In the meantime, I rededicated my prayer time to include the Prayer of Jabez and changed my attitude and expectations. God was gonna do something big in my life.

Fast forward to the ACFW conference in 2005. I’m going there armed with nothing but anxiety, big hopes, and my work in progress, which weighed in at a whopping 20 pages. I didn’t sign up for editor or agent appointments, as I was advised not to since I didn’t have anything close to a completed manuscript. But I was completely prayed up and totally confident (which is so not me) that God was gonna move some mountains for me. I went into that conference with nothing but my giant, impossible expectations. On day two I had my critique with this author. She gave me some great advice and suggestions, then offered to contact NavPress and see if I could send them a proposal (which I didn’t even know what that was at the time!). On March 24 at 2:17 p.m. while driving down the Interstate 540 in Arkansas, I got the call from Nav and was offered a contract. I know the likelihood of that all happening is zero percent. I love that about God.

Was there ever a time in your writing journey that you felt like giving up? How did you get through that time?
Not any big “I want to give up” moment, but lots of small bursts of “I’d rather be watching Oprah or playing baseball with my nephew.” Writing commands your time and can dominate your life. I’m still in the learning stages of time management (Did you know some people are born with this skill? I think I really dislike them.) and prioritizing where I don’t miss the important things, like a movie with friends or my grandmother’s birthday.

What is the best writing advice you have ever received?
The author that worked with me at the ACFW Conference in ’05 said something to me I will never, ever forget. When I told her I had been advised not to pitch that week, she said, “The rules are made for everyone but you.” (Not me as in me personally, but for those willing to take the chance.) I have no doubt this author didn’t know she was saying something of monumental importance to me, something that so fit with my Prayer of Jabez attitude. But when I heard that I got chills. I heard the hallelujah chorus. I felt the arms of God around me. I left that room and immediately burst into tears at how personal and amazing God is. It was my confirmation that God was right there in all of this. I went to ACFW with these ridiculous expectations, and He met me there. Now if I could just get Him to give into my ridiculous expectation of wanting my body to look like Jennifer Aniston’s (exercise free, of course)…

What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Pray, pray, pray. And dream big. God is a big god, and he is not limited by our own limitations. I’m capable of so little, but the God who created the sun and moon wants to orchestrate my life too.

And also get involved—join an organization like ACFW. Invest in some writer’s conferences. Within days you will be a changed writer. Get proactive and stop waiting. If God is telling you to write, get thee to a keyboard. Or grab a pen and some Sonic napkins. Whatever.

Is there anything else you'd like to share with us?
We have a great time over at my blog, where anything goes, and we talk about all the important things in life—like Prince William, Britney’s new haircut, or London’s RoboPigeons. If you’re not visiting it, your life is probably lacking some substance.