My Interview with K.S. JONES!
I am so excited about this interview for many reasons – thank you for hanging out with us today! My philosophy has always been, put simply, that authors paint pictures with words, so when I read one of your quotes, I knew this interview would be slightly different. It felt as though I’d have a chat with a kindred spirit over a shared pot of coffee (or tea…wine – whatever LOL).
“In the hands of a skilled writer, a carefully chosen sequence can paint a world as artfully as Monet, Gauguin, da Vinci, or Renoir. Of course, I would be remiss not to mention the beauty of words when given cadence. Like Baryshnikov, Astaire, Kelly, Pavlova—words have a flair and a style unique to their artist. The right words never lie flat on a page; they dance!”
- K.S. Jones
I was both pleasantly surprised (because I’ve lived in Houston for over a decade) and saddened (because I just moved away) that you resided in Texas. I found myself more grateful for technology and the knowledge that time and distance have no dominion over friendship.
Then, I read another quote by you, and I couldn’t wait anymore – I needed to interview you! LOL
“Words define us, even when we’ve not spoken them.” - K.S. Jones
1. It’s my tradition to begin with the same question – please, tell us how you’d describe yourself?
o Hi Julie! I'm definitely a Solitary. One of my all-time favorite movies is The Awakening Land. Actually, it was a 1978 television mini-series. That's where I first heard someone called "a Solitary." The story is based on Conrad Richter's trilogy of novels: The Trees; The Fields; The Town. (Which are fabulous novels, by the way!)
o In Mr. Richter's story, Portius Wheeler (played by actor Hal Holbrook) was referred to as "a Solitary" because he stayed to himself, he knew how to write, he read books all the time, he lived far from his neighbors, and rarely sought out human interaction. Though I am married, have friends aplenty, and live with more dogs than I can count most days, I am still "a Solitary."
2. As I know your older sister, Kathleen O’Neal Gear, and have interviewedher, I have insight into your intriguing family and childhood. I would like to discuss how you were influenced by them as a writer in this first set of questions.
· Not only were your parents writers but they took your family to archeological sites for holiday. What did you think of this, and how do you feel that formed your love for literature?
o Yes, both parents were writers. My father worked the fields of our Central California farm every day, but by mid-afternoon we would usually find him out in the bunkhouse typing away on a new western story, which was usually sold to one of the western or treasure hunting magazines. The money he earned from writing, he saved for our summer vacations.
o Some of my best childhood memories are of our family crammed into a station wagon barreling down a nearly deserted highway headed for some place history had almost forgotten. Mom and Dad read a lot, so by the time we would arrive at our destination they usually knew more about the site than the guides or the Rangers.
o Literature and knowledge were part of the process.
· You have been winning awards for writing since grade school. When did your love for the written word first manifest, and how did that lead you to becoming a published author?
o At age four or so, after my older siblings were off to school, I would sit at the breakfast table with my mother and read her the Peanuts comic strip. One morning, Mom looked at me and said, "What if you made up your own story about Snoopy? Just look at the pictures, and without reading the words, tell me what you think they're saying." So, I did, and it was such fun! The only difference between then and now is that I imagine my own "pictures" and write the words on paper.
o And yes, Julie, your research is excellent! While in elementary school, I decided to enter the school-wide American Legion Essay contest. (The contest was not separated by grade level.) I asked my father what I should write about and he said, "Write what you know." Our cotton farm was staring me in the face, so I wrote about cotton. That essay won me my first writing award, being bested only by my older sister.
· Knowing a little about your background, it makes sense to find a touch of historical fiction in your work. Your young adult novel, Shadow of the Hawk is set during the Great Depression and your middle grade book, Black Lightning has Apache symbolism in it. This leaves me with several questions…
· How did your family vacations, touring archeological sites, influence your love for history, and is there a particular era that speaks to you more than the rest? If so, what is it, and why?
o Yes, absolutely! History is so important. Keep in mind, while our family visited Indian ruins, ghost towns, and other historical sites in abundance, there were always nights around the campfire when Mom and Dad told their own family histories. For example, they were youngsters when America's Great Depression hit and their childhood stories about those years were captivating!
o As a child, my mother lived in the hills of Arkansas (the setting for Shadow of the Hawk) and she brought the hills alive for me. Mom was more of a verbal storyteller, while Dad felt more comfortable in front of a typewriter. Both, however, told stories incredibly well. I truly loved all Dad's tales about the Old West, the frontier, and the pioneers, but when my mother talked about her childhood during the Great Depression, I felt I could truly see it through her eyes.
o So, to pick a favorite era is difficult, but I have a soft spot in my heart for the 1930s.
· How has Native American cultures impacted your views on life, and therefore, your writing voice? I know this is a huge theme in your sister’s writing. How important is it to you?
o Native American culture should have an impact on everyone's life. From the modern day Hopi, Apache, Sioux, Cherokee, and more, back to the Anasazi and further, their amazing stories still guide and teach. What we know of their lives may seem like fiction or fantasy to many, but it is not. They did what was necessary to influence the outcome of their world, just as we must do. I hope "their voices" will live in me until I am no more.
o And when I write, I hope their souls influence my voice. Black Lightning, my MG sci-fi/fantasy, is the only book I've written that touches on Native American influence.
· With history and literature being so integral in your own childhood, did you consciously choose to write in young adult and middle grade, or how did you get into those specific genres?
o I am a mother of two amazing people, both adults now. I think they were my main influence in writing MG/YA—other than my mother's stories of her childhood, of course!
o Voices of young people were what I heard when writing my first books. But since Shadow of the Hawk (YA) and Black Lightning (MG) were published, I've found my way to adulthood.
o My work-in-progress is Women's Historical Fiction. I have another two books planned in the same genre.
· I, too, write primarily in YA/NA and I have a MG books, as well. In doing so, I don’t curb my vocabulary – I don’t ‘dumb it down’. I think exposure to descriptive words and complex concepts will feed curiosity, driving readers to delve deeper into what sparks their interest. What is your take on this idea?
o Julie, I completely agree with you. In fact, as a child I lived in a house stocked with over 5,000 books. Back then, "children's books" were not as prevalent as they are today. Oh sure, we had Charlotte's Web, Curious George, The Cat in the Hat, The Hardy Boys, etc., but we didn't have the plethora of kid's books that exist today. At our house, the closest books we had to children's books were the greats like Call of the Wild, Robinson Crusoe, The Swiss Family Robinson, The Hobbit, and Journey to the Center of the Earth. I'm sure you'll agree that the words and concepts in those stories are more difficult than you'll find in most children's books today.
o I feel it is a disservice to young readers when writers "dumb down" a story. They deserve better.
· What author or book made the most impact on you as a child, and has that changed now that you are an adult? Why, or why not, and how?
o Ah, the book that started it all! Call of the Wild by Jack London was the book that changed my life. The wilderness, a dog, and adventure at every turn! Hmmm . . . sort of sums up my life today. Maybe it had more impact on me than I realized.
3. Each writer has a unique journey that leads them to publishing. I would like to focus on yours in this set of questions.
· What made you decide to publish your stories?
o I started writing a long, long time ago. Way before self-publishing, or Indie, was a "thing." Only traditional publishers existed when I began, so that's always been the goal for me—traditional publishing. But I married early, had kids early, and found myself poorer than expected. I sometimes worked three jobs while raising kids and helping care for my parents as they grew older.
o I am lucky to have a wonderful hardworking husband, but life wasn't a piece of cake. Instead of writing novels, I wrote children's stories for the magazine market to help make ends meet, but it was always my dream to write a novel and have it picked up by a publisher.
· Do you consider yourself indie, hybrid, or traditionally published? Why, or why not, and does it really matter?
o I consider myself traditionally published. Two different small presses published my books. And, yes, I think it matters. My personal opinion, which probably will not be a popular statement to my many writing friends, is that the bigger the publisher, the better the quality of the final product. I'm still reaching for the stars.
· What made you choose the publishers you signed with?
o Great question with a "not so easy" answer.
o My debut novel, Shadow of the Hawk, took fifteen years to research and write. I was beginning to think it would never see the light of day, but then I received three publishing offers in one week! The first offer arrived just an hour after I was notified that my short story, DEADLINES, had won the grand prize in the 2014 Short Story Contest for Southern Writers Magazine.
o With three offers, I researched each publisher as much as possible. In the end, all you can do is make the best decision you can with the information you have at the time.
· Did having other published authors in your family help or hinder your own journey? How, and why do you think this was the case?
o I learned a lot from each of them. Trial and error. Successes and failures. But when it comes right down to it, every writer is an individual on their own journey. There are no magic doors and no one holds the golden key.
· What do you think was the most difficult part of getting published, and why?
o In today's writing world, you're competing on a daily basis with SO MANY excellent writers. If we're honest with ourselves, we can see the talent everywhere—and so can the publishers. It is hard to stand out and be noticed when so many wonderful writers are crowding through the same door.
· If you could go back and do anything different, what would it be, and why?
o I always thought I'd have time. Time to write when the kids were older. Time to write when I only worked one job. Time to write when I didn't have so many obligations. Time to write when I retired. Many wasted years thinking I'd have more time down the road to focus on my writing.
o Looking back, I now know that when the talent arrives (and it does arrive, just like a freight train on its own unannounced schedule) you need to stop what you're doing and grab hold! That moment is YOUR "here and now." Another train is not always on the way.
· Has any of your experiences changed how you think about publishing or changed your approach towards getting a manuscript published?
o Yes. When talking about traditional publishing, the "old" writing rules still apply. For example, a writer should always put their finished manuscript away for a while and start work on something new. Pull it out again in a few weeks, or maybe months, and re-read it. That's when the need to revise becomes clear.
o Today's ability to self-publish or publish quickly is addictive to many authors. I know many writers who type THE END and by midnight their book is on a For Sale shelf somewhere. In my opinion, quality usually loses out to the "instant gratification" monster. I think the market is saturated with "this is good enough" writers, which makes it harder for quality writers to get their foot in the door of the traditional houses. And worse, I think readers are discouraged about all the inferior books saturating the market.
· In contrast, what do you think is the best part of publishing, and why?
o Readers are definitely the best part! Hands down. First, seeing the sales numbers increase makes my heart flutter, but not for the money. Knowing that a reader is meeting "your people/characters" is akin to showing off your newborn baby. And afterwards, their notes, messages, or reviews are wonderful to read.
· What was the best advice given to you?
o To be able to write a novel, you have to be willing to fall out of life for one year and not let anyone sway you.
· What advice would you give to a novice writer looking to become a published author?
o Write! Write right now! Put down the cell phone. Turn off the television. Turn down the invitation to the weekend party. Everyone will forgive your absence when your book hits the bestseller list.
4. With so many avenues available in the publishing world, what do you foresee as the future of literature?
o I wish I knew. I am baffled by the industry. I am a true believer in traditional publishing, so I will do all I can to keep it alive.
5. For this group of questions, I would like to talk to you about your style, specifically. Each writer has their own regiment, or complete lack thereof LOL. I am interested to learn more about your process.
· Do you write every day, or do you keep a journal? Why, or why not?
o I do not keep a journal, although I know many writers who do and they find it invaluable. But I do try to write every day. On those days when I am not writing, I research. I find it difficult to write creatively on a day that my brain is wholly focused on research. I think it’s a "right brain/left brain" thing.
· When my partners or I have an idea, we often sound board off one another to help push vague ideas into concrete tales. Do you find this is helpful for you, and if so, who is your sounding board?
o I think it would be HUGELY helpful! Lol! I don't have such a person, except my husband occasionally. When he has time to listen to my ramblings, he can be a major help to me. Actually, I read a lot to my dogs, but it's only when they fall asleep listening to me that I feel like I am getting any real feedback from them. J A few times a year I can snag another author and get a truly valuable critique.
· Do you use an outline, or do you just let the story and characters take you where they want to go? How do you go from concept to creation?
o Oh my goodness, Julie! I try and I try to write outlines, but it only seems to impede my progress. And it's not that I don't know where my story is going, because I do. I mean, basically, I know the beginning, the middle, and the ending, but it's no use getting specific about it because it simply won't happen that way.
· Where do you find inspiration?
o I think my inspiration comes from my own imagination, but to bring it forth I need quiet and a bit of time.
o Once, just the length of a hot shower was all I needed to find the name of the main character in Shadow of the Hawk. I had been searching for the right name for this character for years, literally!
o Exasperated, I stepped into the shower one morning with her on my mind and roared, "What is your name?!"
o Clear as a bell, in my head I heard, "My name is Sooze."
o Taken aback and a little confused, I said, "Sue's? As in S-U-E apostrophe S?"
o She said, "No, Mama says nothin' ever really belongs to us except our beliefs and she didn't want to mislead me, so instead of S-U-E, Mama taught me to spell it S-O-O-Z-E so that I'd never have a possessive to my name."
o Hearing a character speak is one of the most inspiring things to me. They're asking to be heard and they're telling me that I'm the one they trust to tell their story.
· Writing can be exhausting. What do you do to recharge and refresh?
o When I'm not writing, I am doing things with my dogs, working in my vegetable and herb garden, or cooking. I love to cook!
· Music or no music? What is your workspace like when you write?
o Normally, I write in silence, but instrumental music can be incredibly helpful. During breaks, I often listen to music from, or about, the era in which I'm writing.
o I have a home office, which is actually just a bedroom with lots of bookcases and a desk. It's where I have keep of my books and reference materials. It has several windows, so sometimes it’s a bit distracting.
o Today, for example, a lovely roadrunner came and pecked at my office window trying to figure out how to get inside. Now if that doesn't take your focus away, nothing will! I spent at least ten minutes talking to that beautiful roadrunner.
· Favorite beverage to have on hand?
o I have three that bring me great comfort and joy: Coffee with French vanilla creamer, hot tea (all varieties, but lemongrass with mint is my favorite), and white wine, Pinot Grigio preferred.
· Pen & paper, laptop, or what ‘canvas’ do you prefer to use?
o I work on a desktop computer, although I love my laptop, especially when the urge to write outside hits me.
· I know that I, personally, live many lives inside my own head. Sometimes, finding balance between the seen and unseen worlds I traverse can be challenging. How do you keep the balance in your life?
o I'm sorry, I don't understand the question. HA! Balance? Does any writer have balance?
o In my former life (before retiring), the scale was weighted down with a paying job requiring way too many hours. All my creativity was virtually lost. Now that I'm retired, the scale tips in the other direction.
o If my life ever had balance, it must have been for a very short time, because I never saw it.
6. What can we expect to see from you over the coming year?
o I hope to have my Women's Historical Fiction novel finished and out on submission to publishers soon. I also have two more novels planned that are itching to be written!
· Do you have a current WIP? If so, can you tell us a little about it?
o My WIP is a novel set during the days of California's Gold Rush. The main character is a strong-willed young widow who is determined to become an independent businesswoman in a rough, male-dominated world.
· What’s the best way for readers to connect with you and your books?
o Facebook is probably the best way to connect with me, but I also use Twitter, Instagram, and my KSJones.com website. My links are:
Again, I want to thank you for taking the time to meet with me. I know my readers will love you and be as fascinated by you as I am. Peace and blessings to you, my friend!
I am honored by your interest and grateful for your time. Thank you SO much for seeing value in my writing and for asking such wonderful questions today. One cannot ask for more. You are amazing!