Monday, August 22, 2011

My First Time: Hardy Jones

My First Time is a regular feature in which writers talk about virgin experiences in their writing and publishing careers, ranging from their first rejection to the moment of holding their first published book in their hands.  Today's guest is Hardy Jones, author of Every Bitter Thing.  Jones has had thirty works of fiction and nonfiction published in journals.  In 2001, his memoir manuscript People of the Good God was awarded a grant from the Louisiana Division of the Arts.  His essay “Laotian New Year and Its Traditions” was the result of a research grant he was awarded by the Louisiana Division of the Arts Folklife Program’s “New Populations Project.”  The essay centers on the Laotian settlement of Lanexang village in New Iberia, Louisiana.  In 2009, his short story “Snow” was included in the Dogzplot Flash Fiction Anthology, and in 2010 Black Lawrence Press published his novel Every Bitter Thing.  Hardy is the Director of Creative Writing at Cameron University in Lawton, Oklahoma, where he lives with his wife the Thai author Natthinee Khot-asa Jones.

My First Short Story Which Became My First Novel

In the spring of 2001 my short story “A Butcher’s Friend” was published by The Jabberwock Review.  I call the piece a short story, but at that time it was the opening scene of what I hoped would one day become a novel, Every Bitter Thing.  While it took nine more months to write the original draft of the novel, that opening scene came out in one sitting.  I had been kicking around the opening line, “Dad was always friends with butchers,” in my head for about three years, and one afternoon, frustrated with something else that I was writing, I started a new file and typed out the sentence.  The rest of the scene came out in about forty-five minutes in one of the moments that writers live for: the characters, the setting, the actions, even the dialogue simply flowed out.  After such an auspicious start, I was unable to write for several weeks, and when I did return to the manuscript, I fluctuated between continuing with it as fiction or making it into a father/son memoir.  Once I had written fifty pages, I decided to go the route of fiction.  By releasing myself and the characters from what I perceived as the constraint of memoir, I was able, ironically, to be more truthful about the father’s bigotry and the protagonist’s sexual abuse by an older boy.

While the novel’s initial draft took nine months to complete, it took seven years of revising and submitting the manuscript before it was accepted for publication in April 2008 by Black Lawrence Press.  At that time, my wife and I were in the process of buying a house and I was tired of the numerous phone calls from banks and finance companies.  I was on the phone with a colleague when a beep let me know I had another call.  Assuming it was probably another loan officer trying to pressure us, I decided I wasn’t going to click over.  Luckily my colleague was more level headed and said I should take it; the call, he said, may be important.  He was correct.  It was Black Lawrence Press’ then Executive Editor Colleen Ryor saying that they had decided to accept Every Bitter Thing.  After all those years of work on the manuscript, I almost did not answer when opportunity called.

Colleen stepped down as Executive Editor to pursue a graduate degree and Diane Goettel assumed that position.  Working with Diane was the first time I had a lengthy relationship with an editor.  My previous experiences had been with magazine editors whose suggestions amounted to small changes such as cutting a sentence or switching a semicolon to a comma.  Like most writers, I had heard horror stories of editors demanding wholesale changes that ended up altering the author’s vision.  Diane requested changes, of course, but they were not across-the-board; instead, she improved the novel by tightening flabby passages and in the process, she captured and crystallized my vision of the characters and the book.

It was a long trip from a page and half story to completed manuscript to published novel, and once the book was in my hand, I was delighted that I had embarked on this journey and thankful for all of the help I had along the way.

1 comment:

  1. Chance. Luck. They both play a part in the progress writers can make toward finding readers. But neither can overcome a manuscript that doesn't stand up and deliver. Hardy Jones' EVERY BITTER THING was fortunate to come before the eyes of a discerning editor, but fortune had nothing to do with its final acceptance and publication. It had to be excellent to rise above the glut on an editor's desk.
    Louise Farmer Smith