Interview with J. Keith Jones, author of “In Due Time”

A common misconception entwined with authors is that they are socially inept, how true is that?

Traditionally speaking, there may be some truth to that. Also, I think that a lot of writers are by nature not very outgoing, but today’s writer must also be a promoter. Writers are often called upon to speak in public and work the crowds at many book affairs. That is, if they are lucky. Speaking for myself, I know that my social skills and public speaking abilities have grown since I have been been published. Much of this is out of necessity, but I believe it goes deeper than that. I think that the act of baring your soul by recording your thoughts and feelings – whether it is through fictional worlds you create, or through the more personal essay format – helps you work through much of the shyness and awkwardness that may have led you to write in the first place. You sometimes walk away from a writing project feeling as if you have confessed all, even if it is all hidden away in the quiet corners of your story.

How important is research to you when writing a book?

To me, very important. I write both fiction and non-fiction. I started out as a novelist and short story writer, but later merged my love of history with my love of story-telling. So, my history books are heavy with research. My other books are more on a research as needed basis.

What works best for you: Typewriters, fountain pen, dictate, computer or longhand?

I am mostly a computer person. I enter all my final product into computer through word processing which I do myself since I don’t have an assistant to dictate to, but I have been known to do some of my plotting longhand on a legal pad. That can be freeing when a blank computer screen is more demanding than you are prepared for in the early stages.

When did it dawn upon you that you wanted to be a writer?

I think there were a couple of points where it began to get through. One was in high school when I wrote a piece about my great aunt. As she was a favorite in the family, being the last of her generation surviving, so my father’s sister was quite keen on reading it, unfortunately, this was pre-personal computer age, so I had written it down longhand and handed in my only copy which I never got back. I wish had a copy now. It left an impression on me that something I wrote could be that meaningful. In my freshman English class, the teacher – Dr. Brenna Walker – handed back my first paper, looked at me, smiled and said “you know, you write very well.” Something about that clicked and the desire grew from there. I wish I had acted on that desire more forcefully early on, but it took a number of years for the drive to really take root.

What inspires you to write?

I would say that great storytelling, no matter the form — written, oral or film – sparks me to tell my own stories. Nothing inspires more than having a story really reach down into your being and move you. It makes me say, “I can do that too.”

How hard was it to sit down and actually start writing something?

Not hard at all. Starting is the easy part. Finishing is the hard part. Like many writers, my computer and a number of notebooks are full of stories I started and never finished.

Writers are often associated with loner tendencies; is there any truth to that?

I can’t really speak for others, but I am very much of a loner. I can seem very outgoing, but that is largely my curiosity about the world and the people in it manifesting. It is hard to learn anything if you are unwilling to ask questions and engage others while doing so.

What, according to you, is the hardest thing about writing?

As I alluded to before, I would say it is seeing a project through to its end. Not getting bored with your project and not deciding that the underlying idea was stupid can be tough. The hours, weeks, months, however long it takes, that you spend alone with your idea and the developing story, gives you plenty of opportunity to doubt yourself.

Have you ever left any of your books stew for months on end or even a year?

Oh yes, all the time. The original idea for “In Due Time” was intended to be a short story. It sat there in my mind, wallowing around for years before it all came together. I wrote a book before that, which I have let sit on the shelf for several years. I now feel it is time to bring it out and rework it into a finished product. It is on my list for the near future.

What is your take on the importance of a good cover and title?

I think the cover and title may be the most important parts of the book. There are great books that go nowhere because of a blasé title and amateurish cover. That’s a real shame. Of course, on the flip-side are books that would not receive a good grade as a high school project that take off and make a name because the author came up with a fantastic title and knew a top notch graphic artist who owed him a favor.

Do you read and reply to the reviews and comments of your readers?

I do read them. I only reply if it is a comment which seems to call for an answer. Too often when an author replies or rebuts a review, it comes off sounding defensive or amateurish. You pass along the good reviews and file away the bad reviews for future reference.

Does a bad review affect your writing?

I would like to say that it doesn’t, but that is not always true. I’m not sure it really changes my writing, but it can affect my willingness to write. Good reviews and positive feedback can make you want to rush to your keyboard and negative reviews can stop you up like eating a pound of cheese. In most cases I am able to shake it off and move on. Understanding the motivation of the person issuing the negative feedback helps. In the end you try to adjust to anything you believe makes a good point and laugh at the rest. You have to bear in mind that you are not going to be everyone’s cup of tea.

Any advice you would like to give to your younger self?

Yes, just do it! Write it down. Don’t edit yourself until you have all your thoughts down on paper. Once you have it all written down, then jump on it like a sculptor goes after a block of stone. Smooth the rough edges and excess away until you have a finished product that makes you smile.

It is often believed that almost all writers have had their hearts broken at some point in time, does that remain true for you as well?

I’m not sure I can count that high. I think it is kind of hard to write about hard times unless you have seen some of the first hand. Also, I am not sure a person would feel the urge to write anything if he had always gotten his way.

Who is the most supportive of your writing in your family?

My wife, without question. She pushes me forward to achieve my dreams.

Another misconception is that all writers are independently wealthy, how true is that?

Most writers are not wealthy at all. In truth, most writers would bring in more extra income by taking on evening shifts at Walmart. I do have the honor of knowing a handful who have become well off from writing, but those are rare.

How do you see writing? As a hobby or a passion?

Both. It is my hobby because it is my passion. I don’t write every day, but I can tell when I go too long without writing. I begin to get sluggish and depressed.

Is it true that anyone can be a writer?

Anyone can write, but being a skillful writer takes a lot of work. Being a storyteller is another matter altogether. You can learn to write, but I am not convinced that everyone can learn to be a storyteller.

People believe that being a published author is glamorous, is that true?

Yes… I keep waiting for that part to happen. Even the greatest parts can be a lot of work. Engaging with readers or potential readers is very gratifying, but it usually means long drives and hauling around books and displays in the process. You often have to beat down the doors and beg for opportunities to showcase your work and put yourself on public display. Doing all this to have no one show up can be soul crushing, but that one great event where the people turn out and devote a piece of their time to you and your work makes all the rest worth it.

Do you reply back to your fans and admirers personally?

Yes. Always and I hope I always can.

Have you ever taken any help from other writers?

Yes, networking is where it’s at. I have made many great friends among other writers. If you are any good, you will find that other writers want to help you. Only a fool would reject an offer of help from someone more experienced and better placed in reaching his goals.

Did the thought to give up writing ever occur to you?

Do you mean ever or just today? Ha ha. Yes, the thought does come across from time to time. I’m not really sure quitting is a real option.

Do you blog?

Yes I do. I have a site (www.jkjones-author.com) where I do everything from book reviews to interviewing other authors.

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