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Writer Wednesday with author, teacher, & mentor Kaylie Jones

Author Kaylie Jones | photo by William PrystaukToday, I couldn't be more pleased to welcome Kaylie Jones to this space on Writer Wednesday.

She is an American writer, memoirist, and novelist and the daughter of National Book Award-winning novelist James Jones (From Here to Eternity 1951).

She also happens to be the editor and a contributor to a newly released anthology, LONG ISLAND NOIR. Publisher Akashic Books said this about the collection: "The stories cover Long Island's extremes, from the comfortable rich to the horribly poor, and all the darkness between."

Kaylie Jones is a force to be reckoned with. Well read and well versed in a wide range of topics. Fluent in French. And did I mention lethally charming? She can banter with the best of them (think Algonquin Round Table-esque wit and vivacity). She can also deliver a roundhouse kick to your ribs if she wanted to, courtesy of her martial arts training.

You're probably wondering how I landed a supernova like Kaylie on "Scrivengale." It's not because I know all the answers when the Jeopardy category is algebra, let me tell you. (But for the record, I own the opera and algebra categories.)

No, Kaylie Jones is on the faculty of the Creative Writing Program at Wilkes University from which I received my M.A. She wasn't my program mentor (though she was Taylor Polites', if you read his Q&A on "Scrivengale").

The East 86th Street (NYC) BNN, announcing Kaylie's book signing for LIES MY MOTHER NEVER TOLD MEIn ways that matter, Kaylie "mentors" many of us in the program. She's a regular panelist during craft talks. She shares her work during faculty readings each and every time out. If you have a question about anything related to the Wilkes program, books, or craft, she is quick to help, whenever she can and however she can. For instance, she was kind enough to blurb DON JUAN IN HANKEY, PA.

One of my earliest memories of Kaylie in the Wilkes Program was during our pitch session to a faculty panel during my second residency. We had to share our capstone ideas (in my case, my opera novel) for faculty feedback. The faculty then shared comparable titles to help us compile that all-important reading list for the upcoming semester. Kaylie was armed and ready for us, firing off titles right and left. She demonstrated instant recall of great books and their authors, an encyclopedic resource for publishing hopefuls. (Lightning fast reflexes. Razor-sharp intellect. Every inch The Soldier's Daughter). I'd bankroll Kaylie on Jeopardy on any category dealing with the literary arts. ("Quintessential American Novels for $200, Alex.")

At this moment, Kaylie is in London enjoying the workshop of FROM HERE TO ETERNITY, a new musical adapted from her father's novel, at the invitation of lyricist and musical theater phenom Tim Rice (yes, she and Sir Timothy are absolutely BFFs). So, I am posting this extra early, since she is already out and about in Londontown, having started her day about five hours earlier than those of us on the other side of the pond.

So niceKaylie's 2010 Memoir -- a book club favorite to have you on my blog today, Kaylie. Did you always know what you wanted to be a writer when you grew up?

I thought I wanted to be an actor. I had some connections, a supportive dad, but ultimately, when he died, I felt much too scared to face that world alone. Writing sort of came naturally to me in college. I was good at it, I loved it. I found it very difficult, but rewarding.

What’s the biggest misconception about you now that you are a writer/teacher/editor?
I’ve heard from several writing students that when they first met me, they were scared of me. I have no idea why that is. Surely not because I hold a 2nd degree black belt in taekwondo? I don’t see myself at all as an intimidating or frightening person. I’m just not terribly fond of BS, and never have been. But I am not mean as an editor or teacher. In fact, I think I give my students 150%.

What is your typical day like?
I try to write in the morning, when my mind is clear and unencumbered. Then I go to my martial arts class. That resets my mind for the rest of the day. I tend to be obsessive when I’m working on a book. In the afternoons I usually do class work; read manuscripts. Sometimes I’ll go back and revise my morning’s writing. I find that settles my mind for the evening. I don’t have quite the flexibility I used to have.  I am a mom and have to supervise homework, cook, shop; all those fun things. Sometimes, when I’m in the middle of a book, I will forget to shop. Forget to make dinner.

What has been your greatest triumph as a writer thus far? Greatest challenge?
There have been many. I think having A SOLDIER’S DAUGHTER NEVER CRIES made into a Merchant-Ivory film, going to the Deauville and Venice Film Festivals – those were pretty amazing and intense moments. When the book came out in France, that was a wonderful experience because all those years I went to school in Paris, I was a failure as a student. I was always in trouble and my teachers told my parents I’d amount to nothing. I only loved English class. I had three great English teachers who gave me focus and made me feel proud of myself as a student and a person. Thanks, Miss O’Neal, Mrs. Kessler, and Mrs. Shapiro.

In terms of challenges, I think writers of literary fiction are challenged every time they write a new book. The publishing world is no longer literary. It has become a huge commercial enterprise, and it feels a little like the Titanic – everyone is scared but no one knows what to do about the changes the Internet has brought to publishing. It’s a very old-fashioned business in a very modern world. I keep wondering what will happen next; I keep wondering if I should try to be less serious as a writer, more commercial. This is a daily challenge for me. Also, I think as an MFA teacher, we need to be honest with our students and tell them the truth about the business. Telling them the truth – defining the odds of them getting their first novels published, that is a real challenge. Most MFA students secretly think they will become a huge success with their first book, and never have to work again.

Newest anthology in the Akashic series whose 17 contributors "portray a wonderful diversity of people driven to extremes." -- Publishers WeeklyWhich came first—the idea for a noir anthology set in Long Island or the notion that you should edit one of the anthologies in the series for Akashic?
LONG ISLAND NOIR is one of many in the series. A former student, Tim McLoughlin, came up with the idea some years ago and put together BROOKLYN NOIR. The rest is history. It is a very successful series for Akashic Books. When I was asked to edit the anthology, I was kind of nervous about it. But the experience turned out to be a great deal of fun, and I learned a lot, and met some great writers.

Why does Long Island have such a mystique for so many?
It probably started with THE GREAT GATSBY. Long Island has long been a playground for the rich and famous. With that comes a certain moral ambiguity. And a price is definitely paid by the poor for all that fun.

What kinds of stories are you attracted to? How would characterize your ideal submission?
I love all kinds of stories. I love stories that are truthful to their core. I also am fond of redemptive stories, a story where the main character makes an enormous discovery about him/herself and contemplates changing.

What’s next on your plate?
I am finishing up on a novel with an unreliable first person narrator. She is very honest and truthful about most things, but she has one huge blind spot – her mother. And she is finally forced to confront a desperate truth: her mother doesn’t love her.

If you could have anyone’s job/life but your own, whose would it be?
I really and truly do not want any other life than the one I have been given. If anything, I wish I had my life, but with more money. When I see the lives of movies stars, I don’t envy them their celebrity. When I spend time with other writers I admire greatly, I sometimes envy their knowledge and serenity. But I have so much more than I ever dreamed of having. I do not think I would trade places with anyone.

 * * *

More information about Kaylie is available at her website. You can also like her Facebook Fan Page and follow her on Twitter @KaylieJones.

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