Inspiration Monday: WBBT: Tips with Carrie Jones

I am so pleased to welcome Carrie Jones to my blog. Carrie’s book, Tips on Having a Gay (ex) Boyfriend was released earlier this year. Now that I just wrote the title in this post, I hope I won’t have the same problem that Carrie had

Carrie is one of the few who made it through the slush pile, and that gives one hope…does it not? Though, I guess it helps to have a good manuscript… And the manuscript, which turned into Carrie’s first published book, is good. Very good.

All the makings of a good read are in here: great characters, smart dialogue, an unexpected love triangle, a devastating breakup, hate, tension, a great best friend, new possibilities and a hopeful future. There are no stereotypes here, nor are there any lectures. These characters are simply teens who have to deal with some tough issues of being true to themselves. In the natural course of working through their problems, they deal with hate and discrimination, and ultimately find what is important–themselves.

No experience required with a gay ex-boyfriend or as a gay teen to want to read this book. Carrie Jones has a great voice that would appeal to many people. Keep in mind though that this book is recommended for older teens because of the light sexual content. Nothing offensive mind you, so keep your minds out of the gutter.

I hope you stay awhile and read Carrie’s interview. I think you’ll be inspired by her writing tips and stories. This is good stuff. Without further ado, please welcome Carrie Jones.
HWM: What made you realize you wanted to write children’s (MG/YA) books?
Carrie: I live in Downeast Maine and it takes about 40 minutes to get to the movie theater that plays more than two movies. And driving can get terribly, terribly boring. So, I started making up a story to tell my daughter. Every time we were in the car I made more story. Eventually, it just got easier to write it down.

Then I thought, “Wow. This is so much more fun than being a newspaper editor and going to planning board meetings that last until 3 a.m. It’s way more interesting than writing an editorial about hospital regulations or a column about toothpaste. Maybe I should learn how to do this since I like it so much. And wait! You can make things up! You don’t have to put in direct quotes. Cool…”

So, basically it was because:
1. I didn’t want to have to quote people accurately any more.
2. I wanted to go to sleep before 3 a.m.
3. It was fun.

That’s not really it. I think that when we write books we can write them according to accepted forms or free style a bit.

It’s like the difference between making a really cool Playmobile castle and following every single direction or mixing up some Legos with those Playmobiles and getting something funkier. If you stick to the directions the book people read is going to be what they expect. That’s a lovely comforting thing. If you mix it up you can give people a book that’s touching at truths in a slightly unexpected way … a way that might make people question their world views.

What does this have to do with why I realized I wanted to write for kids/teens?
I want to write things that are crazy Playmobile/Lego mixes and shake up things a bit. I also want to write things that are expected and comforting. Writing for kids I can do both.

I write for teens because I want to empower them. I want to create a world they are familiar with and legitimize their world by presenting it as truth, but I also want teens to shake up that world view, wonder about it.

It’s only by wondering and searching and questioning that we can figure our way back to the truth that we can own. I think kids/teens are really tremendous searchers and truth-seekers. I like that. So I write for that.

TANGENT ALERT! I used to write poetry for adults, and I’ve been the poetry editor for the Peninsula Review and the Flying Horse Review. However, there’s something so fantastic as writing for teens and kids. People who say it’s slumming are obvious idiots. Yes, I know that’s harsh. But it drives me insane when I hear authors or critics for adults say negative things about books for teens and kids because it implies that teens and kids are sub somehow. It creates a hierarchy of importance that puts adults at the top, and you know, any time I see a hierarchy that creates an us vs. them mentality, it just gets my goat. I sound like my grandmother writing “gets my goat” but I’m trying to keep from swearing.

HWM: What inspired you to write Tips?
Carrie: I’d heard about a girl in Maine who was harassed because her boyfriend came out. Obviously, any harassment is wrong, and this made no sense at all. I started to write about it just so I could try to understand the factors involved. Plus, I’ve had a few gay ex-boyfriends so that came into it. All this really made me think about stereotypes that still exist, the harassment that still exists today.

I love it when people tell me that hate crimes because of sexuality or gender identification issues no longer exist because that means they’ve never come in contact with it. But the truth is they do still exist, not just in rural communities. Hate exists everywhere.

Just look at these statistics: 97% of students in public high schools report regularly hearing homophobic remarks from their peers; 53% of students report hearing homophobic comments made by school staff; 80% of prospective teachers report negative attitudes toward gay and lesbian people; 45% of gay males and 20% of lesbians report having experienced verbal harassment and/or physical violence as a result of their sexual orientation during high school.

When I was talking to a NY-based agent about another one of my books, he said, “Carrie, nobody has issues with gay people any more, not even in rural Maine.”

I want so badly for that to be true.

The National Violence Prevention Resource Center has a great site about what people can do to stop hate crimes.

HWM: When did you know you had the right ending for your book?
I didn’t. I had an entirely different ending. My editor, Andrew Karre, said, “Nope. No good.”

And I said, “Oh.”

It basically ended with Belle (the main character) and her ex boyfriend, Dylan, in bed together in a VERY platonic way, of course. He was comforting her. It was all about the joy of the love of friendship and how their love for each other still existed just in a different way.

Then there was another ending and another ending. There are all these files on my computer that say, TIPS ON HAVING A GAY (ex) BOYFRIEND ALTERNATIVE ENDING #1,
The final ending is a little melodramatic, I think, but I also think Belle deserves that melodrama.

HWM: Which character is most like you? Belle or Em?
Carrie: Wow. I’m so excited you asked that. Everyone alway
s guesses that I’m just like Belle, but I’m really more like Em. Like Em, I have issues buying feminine hygiene products. I have a tendency to say, “Hey, who is the pwetty kitty? You’re the pwetty kitty, aren’t you?” And I’m pretty good when a friend has a crisis. Plus, my car is really messy.

HWM: What do you want people to know about epilepsy?
Lots of things. Epilepsy is incredibly common. It’s the most common neurological condition in children. Lots of times it is treatable. Lots of times it is controllable and it comes in all different shapes and sizes.

Children need good books about epilepsy to understand that their disorder doesn’t define them or their epileptic friends. What an amazing thing that would be, not just for children who have epilepsy, but for children who don’t.

In his study, Colin Barnes wrote, “Disabling stereotypes which medicalize, patronize, criminalize and dehumanize disabled people abound in books, films, on television, and in the press. They form the bedrock on which the attitudes towards, assumptions about and expectations of disabled people encounter daily, and contribute significantly to their systematic exclusion from mainstream community life.” (“Disabling imagery and the media.” . January 17, 2006)

One reason children with epilepsy need good books about their disorder is because society needs those books, too. Society needs those books to combat discrimination and to enlighten its members.

Debra Robertson wrote in her annotated bibliography about the need for disabled children to have good books. “Not every impairment portrayed has to be critical to the action. Not every disability in a story should be a metaphor for the protagonist’s development. Juvenile fictions will feel much closer to the truth when it’s what the disabled characters think, say and do that makes them stand out, not what they can’t do.” (Portraying persons with disabilities: an annotated bibliography of fictions for children and teenagers.. New Providence, NJ: R.R. Bowler, 1992. )

This is integral to why I made Belle’s character have epilepsy but not be defined by her epilepsy. She worries about it. She is affected by it, but it doesn’t define her. That was really important to me.

So, I guess this is my RIDICULOUSLY round-about way of explaining that the one thing I want people to understand about epilepsy is that epilepsy is a condition; it does not define a person; it is not their identity; it is a condition.

HWM: I would imagine that it was tough writing about Dylan and all that resulted from his decision. What, if any, did you do to research this?
I mud wrestled every gay guy I could find and asked them about what it was like when they told people they were gay. Then I offered them free strudel.

No. Not really.

I was a community advisor for our local middle school civil rights team. I have a few relatives who have “come out” while in college or high school or after. I have some relatives who have never officially talked about their sexual orientation. I also cruised around on some GLSEN sites and thought back a lot about when my own favorite boyfriend announced that he was gay.

HWM: Who was the toughest character to write about?
Bob. Dylan’s boyfriend. It was really hard because I, Carrie the author person, wanted to be absolutely sympathetic to Bob, but that’s not how Belle would feel about Bob. Even though she is a really enlightened person, she’s also upset and hurt about Bob and Dylan. She sees Bob through that filter of betrayal and jealousy. Most of her anger at Dylan is reflected onto Bob. Although, to be fair, Bob does do some schmucky things.

HWM: You have quite the honor of being one of the few who made it from the slush pile. How many publishers did you send Tips to? Did any of your other books make it through the slush pile?
Carrie: Andrew Karre at Flux was the only place I sent Tips. It was kind of a whim. I know! I know! It’s so crazy. When he called about it I almost passed out. I remember gripping the edge of the little table I write on and watching my knuckles turn all white.

I’d had a middle grade fantasy that I was shopping out. Another book, GIRL, HERO was being read by an agent. Andrew bought that book as well.

HWM: Did you negotiate your own contract or did you get an agent?
I negotiated my own contract with some advice from some very kind people.

HWM: What did you learn from this experience?
That it’s much better with an agent you adore doing it for you. Edward Necarsulmer of McIntosh and Otis hooked up with me later that year. He’s so kind and intelligent. It’s like having a knight crusading on behalf. Plus, my contracts are much, much better. And I have a buffer in the submission process.

So for me having an agent means:
1. I don’t have to remember who I’ve submitted something to. I have someone who is organized for me.
2. I don’t have to stress so much when I talk to editors that I really, really like such as Julia Strauss Gabel or Andrea Tompa. They know I’m not just schmoozing them now. That’s because I have someone who schmoozes on my behalf.
3. I don’t have to worry about legal things like contracts.
4. I occasionally get calls on my cell phone and I get to act all la-de-da and say, “Excuse me. I have a call from my agent.”

HWM: I understand congratulations is in order…looks like 2008 is going to be an awesome year for you. Tell me about the new books.
Love and Other Uses for Duct Tape, the sequel for Tips appears on my birthday, March 1, 2008. Belle deals with her concept of love a bit. Tom Tanner plays a major role.

Tips appears in paperback in May.

Then Girl, Hero arrives in July 2008. It’s about Lily Faltin, a high school freshman, who writes letters to John Wayne, this dead cowboy movie star. Her mother’s got a new man coming. Her real father is slowly becoming a cross dresser and Lily is struggling with her need to have a hero.

All those books are with Flux.

Then in the fall David Godine is publishing my nonfiction picture book about Moe Berg. Moe Berg was a major league baseball catcher and a spy. At the same time! Seriously. It was right before WWII. How cool is that? Barry Mosier is illustrating it.

Finally, in January 2009 Bloomsbury is releasing NEED, which is sort of an urban fantasy, only take out the urban. It’s about a girl stalked by a pixie. Bloomsbury has also contracted to publish another book. The company hasn’t determined what that book will be. I’m so psyched to be working with Michelle Nagler. I’ve loved working with Andrew, and every time I talk to Michelle Nagler of Bloomsbury I get all giddy. It’s almost as if I’ve eaten 25 strudels and am on some massive
, happy sugar high.

HWM: You are quite the human rights activist on your blog and website. What was the first event that made you realize you wanted to be involved?
Carrie: It’s hard to gel it down into one thing. My Aunt Maxine came from a wealthy family that loved to argue about human rights. Every Thanksgiving my immediate family would drive up to her and my Uncle Dick’s house on the lake. I’d sit there, incredibly shy and terrified of using the wrong fork, while these brilliant, brilliant people argued about human rights. One cousin was filming a documentary about AIDS in Russia. Another was doing stuff with the World Health Organization. My uncle had desegregated the fraternity system at UNH when he was the president of the student council. It was stunning. I wanted to be like them. I still do.

When my uncle was dying we went up to the house at the lake one last time. He was too ill to socialize, light hurt his eyes. I remember going into his room and holding his hand.

“He won’t talk,” my aunt told me. “He’s been too weak.”

But he said, “Carrie? Is Carrie here?”

“Yes,” my aunt said. She stood by the door. “She’s here. I’ll leave you two alone.”

After she left my uncle and I just sat there for awhile. He held my hand. I held his hand and finally he said, “Carrie. This is important.”

So I leaned in and said, “Uh-huh.”

And he said, “I want you to take up the gauntlet. Okay? You need to take up the gauntlet.”

That was really the last thing he said to me. I’m still trying to figure out what it means.

They wheeled him out to dinner. There were about 30 people there. He didn’t say anything except, “Is Carrie here?”

Everyone started saying, “She’s here. She’s right here, Dick.”

And then he saw me. I knew that look meant that he was going to hold me to the promise.

I’m still not sure if I’m come anywhere close to picking up that gauntlet, but I think posting about human rights, writing letters, increasing awareness are terribly tiny things that are part of that. I constantly feel like I’m not doing enough. I constantly feel like I need to do a lot more.

HWM: Do you outline or free form?
Carrie: It depends on the book. Tips is so much about an internal exploration that I didn’t write it with an outline. The same goes for Love and Girl, Hero. However, NEED and some other things I’m working on are much more about external action and those have benefited by a sort-of outline thing that I do in notebooks.

HWM: Where do you like to write?
At my table or on the back deck. I live by a little river and there are all these trees. It’s very Maine.

HWM: What is your writing process or ritual?
Carrie: I don’t really have one except that I write every weekday.
Oh! I lied. I know. When I get stuck I either walk the dog for a mile or I run on the treadmill for a mile. Okay. I walk sometimes, too, because on some days I am just lazy.

HWM: How long does it take you to write the first draft?
Three weeks to three months, but I’m usually working on other things at the same time.

HWM: What was the most interesting comment from a fan?
Carrie: I guess the most poignant was from a woman whose boyfriend had just come out, but only to her. He’s in the military. She was going through so much stuff. Her e-mail broke my heart, especially this part: “As you know My world fell apart. I read discussion boards, picked his brain, watched coming out stories, and never felt like I could relate or I would ever get everything I was feeling out in words let alone try to explain it to anyone. So after a few days I googled to see what books there were… I found an excerpt of yours. I couldn’t help but cry as I read it because it was EXACTLY how I had felt when he told me. So the next day I woke up and went out and bought it. I finished it within 24 hours and I can’t do anything BUT THANK YOU for writing it.”

The one that made me super happy was: “I have read AND re-read Tips to having a gay ex-boyfriend and have dubbed it my all time favorite book (no lies). Besides Belle, I’d have to say Tom Tanner was my utmost fave character. He was just SO nice to Belle through out the whole book!”

Although the most interesting comment from a fan I actually have met is probably from my father who said, “I started reading your book, I never realized you were so sexual.” And I gagged and explained it was FICTION. And then he repeated. “I never knew you were so…”

HWM: What has been the biggest challenge of your writing career and how did you tackle it?
I just asked my agent what he thinks this is and I thought he’d say something like: Finding an appropriate publisher, marketing, blah, blah, blah. But he said that it’s actually that I put a lot of pressure on myself.

This is why I should install a spa downstairs in the cellar. It’s a good idea, don’t you think? It could be a writer pilgrimage place for all of us: THE WRITER SPA.

There could be really nice tea and no computers or writing pads. There could be people who fix carpal tunnel syndrome from typing too long and then others who could deal with the whole staring at the computer screen eye strain syndrome. There could be an on call therapist to help for those of us who obsess when no human has commented on our blog post that day.

HWM: What has been the biggest surprise of your writing career?
That I’m published. That I continue to be published.

When I started at Vermont College’s MFA program I was overwhelmed by the talent and brilliance of my classmates and the teachers. I was absolutely sure I did not fit in. I felt like Grover in a room full of M. T. Andersons. Wait. M.T. Anderson was actually there but he was not cloned unfortunately. So I was really in a room of M. T. Anderson and Tim Wynne-Jones and Kathi Appelt and Margaret Bechard and Marion Dan Bauer and these great students like Kelly Bingham, Sarah Aronson, Ed Briant, Stephanie Green, Liz Gallagher. I wanted to throw myself down on the hard snowy Vermont ground and chant, “I’m not worthy. I’m not worthy.”

Lisa Jahn Clough was my saviour. She told me that lots of writers feel that way, that she feels that way, too. So, basically it’s okay to be blue and furry. Sometimes the blue and furry authors get published too.

HWM: If you could share any unique writing tip to aspiring writers, what would it be?
Carrie: Pay attention. No really. That’s the tip: Pay attention.

Author Patricia Ryan Madson wrote in her book, Improv Wisdom, “What we notice becomes our world,” Madson writes.

Attention is life, or as Madson says, “Life is attention.”

I’m going to quot
e her again because she says it so much better than I ever could, “What we are attending to determines to a great extent how we experience the world. We are usually focused on ourselves – our problems, desires, fears. We move through life half awake and ruminating, living in our heads – thinking, planning, worrying, imagining. The detail of each day takes place in front of us, moment by precious moment. How much are we missing? Almost everything.”

As writers we need big worlds. We need to pay attention. Of course we also need to remember that … signifies a trailing off of thought and a – signifies an interruption of thought. And things like character development and plot and stuff like that.

HWM: What was the best writing advice someone ever gave you?
This is basically what Tim Wynne-Jones told me, “You have a remarkable sense of detail, Carrie. Now stop being clever and get to the story. The girl is about to be attacked by wolf-dogs. We do not care if her feet are naked!”

HipWriterMama’s Curiosities
HWM: Why do you blog?
Carrie: My editor, Andrew Karre, told me to. Plus, some of my friends from Vermont College had graduated and they were blogging. It seemed like an easy way to keep up with them.

HWM: How much time do you take to write one of your posts?
Carrie: 5-10 minutes.

HWM: What is your favorite post?
Carrie: My ridiculous post where I talk about my first phone call from Andrew. (Note: I couldn’t find the actual post on Carrie’s blog, so here is the description from Carrie’s website.)

HWM: Why Grover?
Carrie: Well, John Wayne has always represented the meanie task master who gets on my behind whenever I wimp out or slow down or don’t want to write. I figured I needed someone nice to balance out John Wayne. Who could be nicer than Grover? Plus, there is a little bit of a sexy, naughty side to Grover and I’ve got to admit I’m into Muppets who are into that.

HWM: If you found a way to go back to your teen years, what would you do differently?
Carrie: I would date the guy who inspired Tom Tanner. And I would not have used that Sun-In that turned my hair orange.

HWM: What makes you laugh?
Carrie: Pretty much anything. I am easy. I love Stephen Colbert. I love Jon Stewart. Making fun of politics always makes me laugh. I also like it when people make fun of old Lionel Ritchie songs. This is terribly mean to poor Lionel Ritchie, I know.

HWM: If you were a superhero, what powers would you want and why?
Carrie: I would like to be the hero who absorbs everyone else’s powers when he’s near them, because how cool with that be: You could fly. You could regenerate. You could move things with your brain. You could read people’s minds. You could jump through space and time. You could fiddle with ATM machines.

Is that cheating? That’s probably cheating isn’t it? Man.

Thank you, Carrie!

Other places you can find Carrie Jones:
Carrie’s website
Carrie’s blog
Carrie’s MySpace
Class of 2k7
Through the Tollbooth

Excerpt from Tips on Having a Gay (ex)Boyfriend
Excerpt from Love and Other Uses for Duct Tape (release date March 1, 2007)
Excerpt from Girl, Hero (anticipated release date July 2008)

Other WBBT interviews:
Perry Moore at The Ya Ya Yas (Part One, Part 2)
Nick Abadzis at Chasing Ray
Carrie Jones at HipWriterMama
Phyllis Root at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast
Laura Amy Schlitz at Fuse Number 8(Part One & Part Two)
Kerry Madden at lectitans
Tom Sniegoski at Bildungsroman
Connie Willis at Finding Wonderland

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Vivian Lee Mahoney

Consider yourself warned: I write books about rebels. I'm also a postergirlz for readergirlz, a literary advisory group for teens. Who knew going back to the teenage years would be so rewarding?

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