Welcome to another Monday!
We have a wonderfully talented writer for you to meet today, so get your coffee and prepare to be wowed!
Julie Jones is an award-winning fiction writer based in Northeastern Oklahoma, where she lives with her husband of twenty-one years, their two children, and one very spoiled rescue dog named Zelda. She sits on the board of a county service organization, serves as secretary of her writing group, and was recently named head writer for an annual community variety show in her city. A lover of all genres, Julie strives to craft stories that will both entertain and inspire her readers.
What is your work schedule like when you’re writing?
I work a demanding day job and write in the evenings and weekends. I try to be at the keyboard by 6:30 p.m. during the week but it’s often closer to 7:00. I can go until 8:30 or so, and after that I’m fried. I squeeze in as much as I can on the weekend, but it depends on schedules and family needs. Sometimes I get interrupted a lot and only manage a couple dozen words. Sometimes everyone else (including the dog) is busy elsewhere and I can pound out a couple thousand. Both are equally okay because I’ve learned to have grace for myself, especially on the hard days. Recently I had one of those special blessed days all writers dream of and spun out 4,700 words. Most of them were even pretty good.
What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
I love plants. Nature is a cure all for my mind when it’s troubled, and green things are important to my happiness. I do my best thinking—whether it be working out a story idea, planning dinner, or coaching myself—when my hands are in dirt and I’m outside. My favorite kind of writing retreat is camping somewhere near water, where there’s no chores to be done or typical daily demands, and I can enjoy the world and think.
What does your family think of your writing?
I’m blessed that my family and friends are all extremely supportive of my career. Not everyone has bought my books and not everyone asks what I’m working on, and that’s fine. I think it’s important for writers to unhook their emotions when it comes to their loved ones reading and appreciating their work. Most of the time they aren’t the target audience anyway. Learning how to let go is good practice for dealing with the one-star reviews and scathing comments all successful writers receive.
How many books have you written? Which is your favourite?
I’m writing my third full-length book and it’s my favorite so far. It’s a weird western. That’s not a genre I would’ve picked out for myself, but I wrote a short story for an anthology call a few months ago and the main character wouldn’t leave me alone. I try to listen when the muse speaks, and as of writing this I’m over 53,000 words and she still has two bad guys to kill and some loose ends to tie up. It’s been a hoot to write!
Do you have any suggestions to help someone become a better writer? If so, what are they?
Invest in yourself. Even if all you can afford is time, seek out the resources that can help you level up and make connections. Listen to podcasts, watch YouTube lectures, check out craft books from your local library, and join critique groups on social media. Look for a writing group or classes through your local arts council or library. Decide what success looks like for you and figure out how to get there in planned, measured steps that are attainable and work for you as an individual. Remember you’re not running a race; you’re developing a craft and starting a business (if your goal is to make money).
Do you try more to be original or to deliver to readers what they want?
Both, and I think the best stories do it well. What most readers really want is a mixture of the strange and the familiar. If there’s too much strange, you’ll turn people off that weren’t expecting it, weren’t ready for it, or don’t like weird stuff. If there’s too much familiar, readers get bored. The trick is to take the familiar and dress it up in a new way. Hit all the expected story beats for your genre and satisfy their need for the familiar but twist it up to pique their interest with the strange.
Do you think someone could be a writer if they don’t feel emotions strongly?
Sure, though genre fiction and poetry could be tougher paths than other disciplines like biographies, journaling, technical writing, investigative reporting, essays, etc. Fiction writing without emotion risks reading like a report of events, so non-emotional individuals might need to devote an editing pass to include emotional signals. I’d never want to gatekeep any kind of artistic expression and claim it’s only for this type of person or that type of person. People who struggle emotionally might use writing to explore why they don’t feel things strongly or to cope with past traumas. I’d never want anyone to think that writing was closed to them as an outlet because they aren’t enough somehow.
If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?
You can write without the expectation of monetizing it. There is a season for all things and sometimes life gets in the way. Have grace for that. Learn the craft. Write for the joy of it. Get the stories down and practice polishing them. Read, read, read! Don’t regret the time lost because years aren’t wasted when you’re experiencing life. They say write what you know. What they mean is, use those years to put all the pain and loss, joy and triumph, fulfillment and emptiness in everything you write.
What was the best money you ever spent as a writer?
Hands down, attending the 2022 Superstars Writing Seminar in Colorado Springs. Shortly before I found the conference I’d given myself a good talking-to about investing in my future and building a base for my career, and less than a month later I was signed up to attend. It felt like the right fit for me, and it was attainable in terms of financial and travel considerations. The conference advertises itself as a “drink from the firehose” experience and while that’s definitely true, the atmosphere is so open and welcoming that you find yourself opening wide for the full effect. I’ve learned things it would have taken years to otherwise figure out, and met some amazingly talented writers that are headed for stardom.
How do you balance making demands on the reader with taking care of the reader?
I always do my best as a storyteller to tie things up and offer a resolution that feels satisfying for my reader. Maybe not always happy, but satisfying in the “Yep, that’s how it had to happen” kind of way. I expect my reader to suspend some belief and go along with me for the ride, but I always offer plausible reasons for the events, and I never make my characters do wild or unexpected things without cause. It ties in with the mixture of familiar and strange. I insist they accept my strange story elements, but I’ll give them a familiar framework for it.
What do you have coming next?
For immediate reading, check out my short story “Tourist Trap” appearing in the upcoming VISIONS anthology by WordCrafter Press. It’s releasing through all major online retailers October 18, but you can preorder now! Readers can also check out my book of linked short stories CHAIN REACTION available on Amazon in both ebook and paperback. It contains “Camelot”, my winning horror story in the 2020 Oklahoma Writers Federation writing contest.
My weird western—working title BLOOD FOLLOWS BLOOD—is still in first draft stage and I’m aiming for a late winter/early spring 2023 release. This one will publish under my pen name, J.J. Cheatham, but I think my readers will love this even if westerns aren’t their usual genre. As always, there’s dozens of little nods to my favorite things scattered throughout this book. I also have a completed manuscript for a scifi thriller in edit stages and its sequel in planning stages.
Excerpt from “Tourist Trap”, my short story coming out October 18 in the VISIONS anthology by WordCrafter Press:
I followed the two men down the beach over an hour before I realized they were kidnapping me. They’d noted my primitive camera and lured me away from my ship with promises of unique vistas and charming sights that most tourists missed. Since photo records of the island were my priority for the day, I decided to let them have me.
Indeed, the pair knew several wonderful locations, and I took hundreds of photos. I was fascinated by the vibrant green flora and the dramatic blues that played in the sky and sea like quicksilver nymphs. The two men—one tall and lanky with sandy colored hair, the other dark, short, and stocky—were content to let me snap dozens of shots but objected when I tried to take their picture. I took a few surreptitious shots anyway because I knew Dr. Vazo could use them.
Once the light failed, I let the camera fall against the strap around my neck and stopped walking. Their eyes widened in panic, but they hid it behind a practiced façade of calm. We clearly hadn’t reached their target destination, and my empty hands and expectant face forced them to make a move. They argued in Spanish, and I let them think I didn’t understand.