For the next few Wednesdays, I'll be featuring writers I like and how they hone their craft, use the internet, get writing ideas from life, and rake in the dough.
Carrie Jones is an adolescent novelist based in Ellsworth Maine. She grew up in Bedford New Hampshire and was a political science major at Bates College (where I also attended). She graduated from Vermont College’s MFA program for writing. She has edited newspapers and poetry journals and has recently won awards from the Maine Press Association and also been awarded the Martin Dibner Fellowship as well as a Maine Literary Award.
Her first book, Tips on Having A Gay (ex)Boyfriend came out out in 2007. Her second novel Love and Other Uses For Duct Tape appeared 2008 along with Girl, Hero. Her latest book is Need. In addition to writing books, she's also a blogger.
I talk about hot guys a lot and giggle at any jokes that have to do with bodily functions.
No. Seriously? My inner 13-year-old is really close to the surface. I'm one of those horrible people whose emotions are right there on the surface and I still believe in so many things that teens believe in. I think we all go through those adolescent struggles to find ourselves, our identity, our place in the world. It's easy to tap into that energy when you don't suppress it. I'm not good at suppressing things so it's an easy shift for me.
Plus, you know, adolescents are just people… no more, no less. I think a lot of adults forget that kids have emotions and needs and struggles and joys and ideas and wants just like we do. We need to acknowledge and rejoice in that.
When that doesn't work, I watch MTV and PROJECT RUNWAY.
Could you describe the process of getting your first book published? I've always wondered whether the manuscript comes first or the publisher…
For most people the manuscript comes first. There are some people like my friend Micol Ostow who started off as an editor in New York and she only works for hire. She never writes anything on spec.
I was in my first year at Vermont College of Fine Arts getting a Master's Degree in Writing when I wrote my first book, TIPS ON HAVING A GAY (Ex) BOYFRIEND. I hadn't shown it to any professors because I was working on other things. I sent it in on a total lark. I hadn't even revised it. A week later this happened:
Sweet Editor Man called me within a week of me mailing the manuscript. Seriously. It was wild.
The 30th, 2006
Okay. Here’s the big question of the day: Why am I so stupid?
I get a phone call from a real live editor who says, “Um, is this C.C. Jones?”
“Yes,” I say while pouring out cat food.
He then proceeds to tell me he got my query, wants to see more of my manuscript, but his email requesting it bounced back.
“Really?” I say. “That’s weird.”
“Let me tell you the address,” he says. “cjonese at…”
“Oh,” I say. “Oh. Oh. Oh.”
“What?” he says.
“There’s no e on the end of Jones.”
“I didn’t think so,” he says.
I then apologize and berate myself for not even being able to spell my own last name! What an idiot.
He gives me an email address. I send him the rest of the manuscript.
Yeah, that baby’s going somewhere. Not.
Although, he was kind and he did say, “It’s the manuscript I care about, not your inability to spell your own name.”
What a nice man. Even when he rejects the manuscript. He’s still a darn nice guy.
So, despite the fact that I can’t spell, the nice editor man called me back a few days later and talked to me for 40 minutes and told me all the good stuff about my book and what he thinks could get better. It was like talking to a Vermont College mentor. It was really cool. He was brilliant and really, really nice.
And he’s starting the book through the acquisitions process at his imprint, which is really cool… But, I’m not getting my hopes up about it, until papers are signed.
Still, he had the best insight on the piece and I am so excited about working on it. So, that’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to go work on it. He only wants another 10,000 words. Geesh. Piece of cake. Ha.
A few days later, sweet editor man sent me an email, which I can not quote verbatim, because it’s somehow infringing on copyright. HOWEVER, he said that he wanted to let me know what’s going on, that the piece is heading to the acquisitions committee on Thursday and he’ll call me when they’re done.
On a positive note, I wrote 15,000 more words on it this week and I’m really happy with it. It’s done the Sarah A. rubbing thing, where the characters work off each other. I’ve put more setting in, which is good because I’m weak with setting. I’ve also changed the ending and added a couple of conflict scenes.
Days later, Sweet Editor man called and he continues to be Sweet Editor Man.
He talked to the acquisitions committee today and wanted to call me about it before he battled the snowstorm and drove home. He said they were all “very enthusiastic about it.” They liked the writing, especially the details and he said even the people who don’t like YA were hooked.
So, he’s calling me in the morning to give me contract details, etc… which is great except I know absolutely nothing about contracts because I never thought I’d get offered one. Oh, the stupidity of me continues….
A few days after this conversation, the JOHN WAYNE LETTERS (This became GIRL, HERO)- passed an acquisitions committee and is now officially wanted with an offer on the table. (Also Tips On Having a Gay (ex)Boyfriend also gets accepted.)
To what extent do you draw inspiration from your real life to create fictional characters and situations? Your daughter Emily (who is in middle school) must be really helpful in this whether she means to be or not.
Real life inspires me a lot. In all my books there are Ellsworth and Trenton landmarks and some familiar faces. TIPS was inspired by a hate crime I had heard about. Friends from high school can see some of their traits in characters in my books.
Em is really helpful when it comes to the language and issues that local teens are facing. Plus, she's a TOUGH critic. Seriously, that girl is mean. She's been known to rip books in half before. NOT MINE! I swear!
Writing full time must be a solitary profession. How do you get in those valuable social interactions?
I don't! I am terribly TERRIBLY lonely. I actually miss being a reporter and newspaper editor because it would get me out and about and learning new things. I miss that constant interaction with people.
It's a really different lifestyle than sitting at a table with my laptop and my imaginary characters.
So, what do I do? I blog. I talk to other writers. I go out with friends for lunch. I try to be involved in things.
What is the craziest thing you've ever had to do to get a story right? (To give you an idea, my friend Mel joined a superconservative church for a year).
I don't know if any of these count as crazy, but here goes:
1. Get an MFA degree
2. Ride around with police officers in their squad cars (This is way too much fun)
3. Go white water rafting (This is also way too much fun)
4. I hope to hike the AT someday for a story, but… yeah… the family keeps vetoing that one.
5. Gone to a karaoke bar. This is crazy if you know me. I mean… it is seriously crazy. I tend to hunker down into a little ball whenever I go into a bar.
If someone were thinking about writing adolescent fiction for a living, what advice would you give them? (Maybe something you wish someone had told you going in)
I hate giving advice because everyone is different, especially when it comes to the craft of writing.
So instead of saying WRITE EVERY DAY or WRITE LIKE YOUR FINGERS ARE ON FIRE or USE ADVERBS SPARINGLY I'm going to say this: Respect your readers. Kids know when you're going all preachy. They know when you are just shoveling horse poop at them. They know when your heart isn't into your story. Give them the best story you can possibly give them because they deserve it. Kids deserve good stories.
You've recently finished a really tight race for political office which took a lot of your time. What's your next big project?
Um. Trying to forget that I ran for political office???
No, just kidding.
I'm trying to figure out some ways to bring some more opportunities to kids in the Ellsworth area – things that aren't sports related.
In the whole writing world, I'm working on a sequel to NEED, my book that just came out. I'm also working on a contemporary young adult novel about drinking, and a nonfiction picture book about Emma Edmonds, a woman who posed as a man during the Civil War and became as spy. Oh! I'm also collaborating with an author on a young adult novel that's about possession. Possession creeps me out more than anything else — the whole concept of losing yourself to something evil and having no control… Yeah. Sorry, I'm already shuddering.