Jenny B. Jones joins Michelle to talk about her writing–both the humorous and dark side–and shares with us a little about the new story ‘bubbling between her ears’.
Michelle: Closure is something that gets talked about a lot, especially in self-help books, but those who are hurting know it is as elusive as a rainbow. In fiction, however, closure is something that a reader expects and even longs to have. How do you balance writing believable characters and situations where closure might not be obtainable and the expectations of your readers?
Jenny: I think that can depend on the personality and goals of the writer. Sometimes it’s even different per book. For me, I don’t want everything wrapped up 100 percent, but pretty close. I do want to give a satisfying, hope-filled ending where we either see where it’s going or there’s enough there for the reader to confidently decide. My goal is to entertain and bring some joy, so closure is pretty important. I think the readers have enough cliff-hangers and unresolved issues of their own to deal with. We read romance to escape, and that’s what I want to provide—a happy getaway.
Michelle: In There You’ll Find Me the protagonist, Finley, is searching hard for closure and wrestling with why her brother who was so amazing, was killed in a violent and senseless way. The story is set in Ireland, but the struggle of trying to understand why evil happens and happens not just in the world but to us personally, is common to all of us. Why did you choose to set There You’ll Find Me, in Ireland?
Jenny: I had been to Ireland a few years prior to writing the book and fell in the love with the place. There’s just nowhere on earth like it. It’s rugged, earthy, mystical, beautiful, full of a history of pain and glory, filled with the kindest people, and it’s drenched in holiness. I knew it couldn’t be just a pretty love story that was set in the locale, but something that involved heartache and a deep hurt that was as rugged as the landscape. And I needed the tax write-off. 😉
I will say the accents gave me a heck of a time and made me frequently regret picking Ireland. Fortunately, blessedly, my awesome editor Jamie Chavez had family in Ireland, and that was a huge help. I couldn’t have done it without her.
Michelle: Storytellers have long known that an audience needs a break from dark and severe elements of a tale, and that humor is what is needed to give the reader a breather. Whether it’s a father who is a wrestling star, an actor who plays a vampire, or a well-placed quip from a mature lady of sass, you are always mixing in a healthy dose of laughter among the intense places in your books. Which is harder to write, the dark parts of the story or flashes of humor?
Jenny: I think we can’t have one without the other. There’s the saying that every comedian comes from pain, and I think there’s some truth to that. To get the funny, you have to have a good insight into the dark. But on the lighter side, I just can’t stay down long. The book There You’ll Find Me was a writing experience unlike any other. It was my darkest book (if anything I’ve written can even be considered dark), and while it was a good challenge, it was hard to write and out of my comfort zone. I was totally drained when that book was done. As in took a few years off drained. Ha. I can’t imagine writing the heavy stuff, the deeply emotional scenes and not including humor. I would die without that in a fictional sense and in my own life. I can’t imagine that world. We make light of things, even the serious and difficult things, as if to say “I’m still hanging on. I still believe there is hope. I still see some light.” As a writer, I need that humor to take me out of the fictional pit; and for my readers, I don’t want them staying too low too long. It’s okay to experience a sad or disturbing scene, but then there should be that reward, that happy payoff. I think that’s part of my brand and promise as an author. I’m not here to depress anyone. No matter what my high school boyfriend during my grunge phase says.
Michelle: Your newest offering A Sugar Creek Christmas features a lively cast of characters, a charming small town, and Christmas Grinch named Emma Sutton. It’s not long before the reader discovers that Emma has a good reason for hating the holiday, for her it’s a time of bad memories and pain. We all have people in our lives who snarl out of their pain at the holidays. Sometimes they’re coworkers, sometimes friends, and sometimes they are family members. Do you have any tips for dealing with people, who are hurting like Emma, at festive times?
Jenny: Wow, that’s a tough one. I think adults really hide that stuff well. One thing we’ve been hit hard with lately at the school I work at is that most negative behaviors are coming from a deeper, hidden hurt. Every person has a story they’re carrying around that day. They will rarely tell it to us. But it manifests in all sorts of ways. Christmas and holidays (or Mondays or tax days or…) are often difficult for people. It’s just a stressful time. I really don’t have advice because I screw this up so often myself. It’s something I’m trying to work on—just to be someone who doles out more grace, who keeps my mouth shut more often, who listens more, and responds in kindness even when it’s the last thing I want to do. A friend of mine does a weekly random act of kindness and has seen such great results. I want to be her when I grow up. Or next week. Whatever. J
Michelle: You’ve written about dysfunctional families, young girls facing incredible hardships, blended families, and facing heartache head on. So what’s next? What new story is bubbling between your ears and headed out through your fingertips to the rest of us who are waiting for another really good tale?
Jenny: I’ll always write about dysfunction! It’s too fun to leave alone. Right now I’m working on a summer vacation story with some author friends who write New Adult. It’s pretty different for me, and I’m having a good time with that. (Think: cowboys) Then it’s back to Sugar Creek to get that series going. I’m so excited to finally write a series based on a part of Arkansas that is becoming more famous and quaint and eclectic and Hollywood-meets-Mayberry every day. Sylvie Sutton, the retired CIA granny from A Sugar Creek Christmas has nine other grandchildren in need of her match-making services, so I need to get to cracking on that. And I love the idea of a story bubbling between my ears. I keep trying to find my plots in a family-sized bag of candy bars.