Today I'm hosting Patrick Jones, author of the recently released YA supernatural read: The Tear Collector!
Brief Biography (from Patrick Jones' website):
A former librarian for teenagers, Patrick now concentrates on writing fiction for teens. His third novel -- Chasing Taillights was published in summer 2007, while his 4th novel Cheated is due out in spring 2008. His second novel Nailed was published by Walker / Bloomsbury in spring 2006 and was a runner-up in the Great Lakes Book Award. His first young adult novel Things Change (Walker & Company, 2004) was named by the Young Adult Library Services Association as a best book for reluctant readers. His most recent (and last) professional publication is Connecting with Reluctant Readers (Neal-Schuman, 2006). In 2006, he won lifetime achievement awards from both the Catholic Library Association, and the American Library Association. In March of 2006, he won the Scholastic Library Publishing Award. Jones is a frequent speaker at library conferences, having visited all fifty states, as well as in Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. Jones grew up in Flint, Michigan, but now lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
First off, tell us a little bit about your new novel, The Tear Collector.
The Tear Collector is about a vampire-like creature Cassandra who lives not off human blood, but human tears. She’s in high school, so it is the perfect setting for a book about crying. There’s a line in the book about how drama turns to trauma turns to tears in her school. So it has a supernatural element, but there’s also a romance between her and a human male. There are some bigger themes about science vs. religion / facts vs. faith, but mostly it a supernatural romance ala Twilight with everything twisted. I’d wanted to write a book for years about rumors / gossip in high school, and that theme fit nicely into this book.
Where did the inspiration for the supernatural aspect of The Tear Collector originate?
I knew I wanted to write a vampire novel, but thought the charismatic male vampire meets plain Jane girl searching for answers had already been done. To death. So, I needed a new gimmick. Tears made sense as all my other teen novels certainly contained their share of crying characters. Johanna in Things Change who is in violent dating relationship, Christy in Chasing Tail Lights who is growing up in poverty, and most recently Danielle in Stolen Car who hates her life, wants to make a change, and wants to know if love is real. So, tears and high school go well together.
Did you do any research while writing The Tear Collector? If yes, please explain.
Only a little, mainly about the specifics of some biology concepts, like adaptation, and trying to remember my Catholic School years for information on the Stations of the Cross. My main research is always visiting high schools, and then communicating with students after via facebook or myspace. The Samantha character is pulled from a couple of girls I met doing visits, and I don’t think I’ve ever been to a school and not met Cody or Brittney types. Lots of small details – from how Samantha wears mismatching Chuck Taylors to how Brittney uses her IPod as a mirror – are things I noticed the road. My research is also after the fact, in that after I have a good solid first draft done, I find teens that read it and comment / correct mistakes.
Why did you cast your lead character as female rather than male?
Most of my books are told first person point of view from a teenage girl. I find that easy to do since when I’m writing I have these high heels I wear. Wait. That’s a lie. They’re pumps. I write from the female POV for three reasons. The first is practical: more teen girls buy YA novels than guys. The second is Cassandra, like my other teen girl characters, is struggling with identity. Not that teen guys don’t, but I think it is different. I think all teen girls are two people: the person the parents think they are and then the person they really are. Sometimes those two sides are close, but often they are far apart. That’s been true from Johanna in Things Change to Cassandra in Tear Collector. These are young women in conflict between their heads and their hearts; between what they want and what they need, but mostly who they are and who they want to be. Finally, most of the vampire books may have teen girl telling the story, but often she’s not the most interesting person in the book. Like everything else, I wanted to twist that convention.
What was the most difficult aspect of writing The Tear Collector?
The hardest thing was the mythology: how Cassandra’s world works. Not just figuring it out, but then how much to reveal, and how to reveal it Since she’s telling the story, there’s no good way for her to get that information out since she can’t tell Samantha (until near the end) and anyone else who is a tear collector already knows how the world works. I also wanted to keep some stuff vague, both to set-up a sequel, but also in that X-Files / Carnivale way of letting the viewer piece together the clues. The other hard thing for me is that my previous teen novels deal head-on with sexuality, and I knew for lots of reasons I wanted to limit that here. It’s still not a middle school book, but it is tame compared to my other books. There’s also much less cursing. Damn.
Did you always want to be a writer?
When I was eight, my Dad took met to a professional wrestling match. I was a huge fan of grown men in their underwear pretending to hurt each other. The next day, however, there was no story in the Flint Journal (my hometown paper) about the match. So, I mentioned it to my mom and she said I should write an article. She had an old manual typewriter and taught me how to type. Somehow, I found a wrestling newsletter in NYC that accepted my article; I’m sure they don’t realize I was only eight. So, in elementary school, I had a byline. That’s addictive. While I wasn’t a big reader in school, I did enjoy writing including plays, songs, and poems, but I also was growing up in Flint, Michigan so being a writer was not a realistic dream. Although I guess a few of us have proved that a wrong assumption. I think I’d still rather be a pro wrestler though.
What jobs did you have on your way to being a writer? Did they help you in any way as a writer?
I still have one. Because I write for older teens, because I write honestly about sexuality, and because my teens don’t use words like “shoot” and “freakin’”, I don’t sell many books in schools, which is still a lot of book sales. I’m also with a smaller publisher, so they don’t have the same UMPH to push my books, and I maybe because write about working class kids, I’m not selling tons of books in suburban malls. I still have a day job, which did lead directly to my getting published. I started working in libraries in 1979 (yes, almost 30 years ago) and got a a Masters in Library Science from the University of Michigan. I’ve worked a librarian since then, focusing on youth services, including winning a couple of national lifetime achievement awards for that work. As part of this, in the early 1990s, I served on a national committee to select books for reluctant readers, which is where I first met Emily Easton, who is now my editor. There’s more about this, and other librarians turned authors (including Annette Curtis Klause who wrote THE teen vampire romance The Silver Kiss) in an article in VOYA magazine.
When and where do you usually write?
I write at home in Minneapolis normally in HUGE jags on the weekends for like seven or eight hours at a time. A book I just completed poured out of me: from 0 to 55,000 words in ten days to complete a good solid first draft. But I also write in short bursts on airplanes, in hotels, and in Northwest World Clubs since I travel a great deal doing speaking engagements and school visits. When I’m at home, which is where I do most of my writing, I write sitting in bed on a Dell laptop (which is missing the “d” key). But before I sit down at the computer, it seems – at least for the last four books – that I’ve got the book pretty outlined and imagined in my head. It’s just a matter of unrolling the “movie” from my mind and getting in on paper / on the computer.
Is there something that is a must have for you to be able to write?
Something to say, something I want to learn about myself/teens, and a soundtrack. Every book I write, I’ve developed a soundtrack / play-list that really helps. It is not a play-list that people would listen to reading the book since most teens wouldn’t listen to / like the artists I enjoy (for Tear Collector it was the Celtic soul of Van Morrison), but it gets me in the right mood.
What author or book most influenced you as a writer or in general?
My favorite YA books of all time are Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, Rats Saw God by Rob Thomas (Veronica Mars, not Matchbox 20), and Vision Quest by Terry Davis. These books are epitomes of YA novel voice, attitude, and honesty. I’m also, as mentioned, influenced by music.
What are currently reading?
I mainly read adult non-fiction, so my most recent book was Columbine by Dave Cullen. I was so blown away by this book that I wrote a review and interviewed the author for a magazine. In my novel Nailed, the main character Bret is a misfit teen bullied by jocks. One of his responses is writing an essay called “Dylan and Eric Were Victims, too.” Except I got it wrong; most of the media got it wrong. Dave Cullen – who followed the story since 1999 – sets the record straight in this book that Columbine wasn’t what most of us thought it was.
What book are you anxiously awaiting?
Nothing most of your blog readers are looking for I would guess. While I wrote a supernatural teen romance, I’m not reading them, nor do I read much speculative fiction. One book I’m waiting for is Hulk Hogan’s new book, which I can only hope will be as hilariously inaccurate as his first one. In teen stuff, I’m waiting for new books by Coe Booth, Jeannine Garsee, Annette Curtis Klause, and the sequel to Perfect Chemistry by Simone Elkeles.
Can you tell us anything about your next YA novel?
I just (and I mean like yesterday) finished a 55,000 word first draft of a sequel to Tear Collector with the working title of Cassandra's Turn or maybe Cassandra Turns. The sequel explores what happens with Brittney, follows Cass's desire to become human to be with Scott, develops the friendship with Samantha, as well as finding her cousin Alexei returning. There will also be a competing love interest. But they’ll only be a sequel if Tear Collector sells. I also have another book (Clicked) done that is in my editor’s hands which is a realistic novel. The story starts with the main character Carson returning from his school's homecoming football game. He goes up to his room to write an article about the game for his school newspaper, but he's distracted by the word "homecoming." Three years ago, Carson's older sister Carrie ran away from home and hasn't been heard from since. He finishes writing the story, and then he's alone on the computer. He's a teen boy, so soon he's looking at porn. Click. Click. Click. And he comes across an image of his sister on a porn site. Well, the plot kind of takes off from there.
The Hiding Spot is dedicated to my personal hiding spot, books. Is there a place, activity, or person that is your hiding spot?
Listening to music in my car, or a rented car. I put in a Springsteen CD – or sometimes in a rental car, I’ll get the EStreet station on satellite radio – and everything wrong in the world washes away. Nothing matters except the cars in front me, and Bruce’s Badlands, Jungleland, and the Darkness on the Edge on the Town. For me, Thunder Road is one hell of a hiding place. While it probably isn’t Bruce, I think this is a hiding place many teens can understand.
Anything else you would like to share with us?
I think part of this work isn’t just writing books for teens, but being accessible, which is much easier to do in the Internet age. I’m on facebook and myspace, and even set up a myspace just for The Tear Collector, with links to songs, books, and movies that will make you cry. Writing is about communicating ideas, but I hope that the communication between my readers and me doesn’t have to end on the last page of my last book.
Thank you, Patrick, for taking the time to chat with The Hiding Spot!