Black Lawrence Press
November 5, 2015

NaNoWriMo Feature: Hardy Jones

Welcome to National Novel Writing Month, 2015! We’re celebrating all month long with a gangbuster sale on some of our favorite novels, a consultation program for those of you with in-progress manuscripts, and this–a daily feature profiling a Black Lawrence Press author who has done the unthinkable: completed a novel.

Today’s featured novelist is Hardy Jones, author of Every Bitter Thing.

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Every Bitter ThingExcerpt

Dad was always friends with butchers.

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Craft Notes

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 those 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.

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Q&A

1) What is the hardest part of writing a novel? What are your techniques for dealing with this aspect of the process?

Finding the time to write. I have given up the dream of long extended days and weeks to work. Instead, I try to steal time—20 minutes here, 30 minutes there—and tell myself that I am just working on this scene or this chapter’s introduction today; there is no pressure to complete the entire novel in one sitting. Slow and steady and page by page the novel will be written.

2) What is the best writing advice you’ve received?

I have had many great teachers and mentors, so it is difficult to single out the best writing advice I received. I hope it will not be considered cheating, but I want to highlight advice I received from Moira Crone, Thomas Russell, and Randall Kenan.

The author Moira Crone, with whom I studied fiction writing as an undergraduate at Louisiana State University, explained short story form to me and enabled me to write with more control and understanding of the components of fiction—hooks, rising action, climax, falling action, denouement. While the Aristotelian structure is not the only way to organize a story, learning it was a great help to me as a beginning writer.

My first graduate workshop was with Thomas Russell. It was a Fiction workshop and in it he said: “Many authors write the same story over and over.” His comment was not disparaging authors who did this, but he was telling the class to look for this in the works of authors and to refine this in our writing. We were reading D.H Lawrence, and Thomas Russell explained how Lawrence primarily wrote about the sexual tension between men and women. As a student, Thomas Russell’s comment did not make sense, and I did not want to write the same story over and over. As I have matured as a writer, I now understand what he meant. One does not literally write the same story over and over, but an author explores the same themes and tropes in one’s work. For example, I often write about dysfunctional families with an only child and about father/son relationships.

In a Creative Nonfiction workshop at the University of Memphis, Randall Kenan said: “I’ve come to believe that there is enough time to write everything.” This comment stuck with me because as a student just as now I have a bad habit of pressuring myself and often feeling rushed.

3)   How long did it take you to complete your novel? Please talk a little bit about your journey from first word to final draft.

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. I wrote the opening scene and then was unable to write for several weeks; when I did return to the manuscript, 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.

4) What is your favorite writing time beverage?

Italian roast coffee. Very strong and black.

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Suggested Reading

On Becoming a Novelist by John Gardner

Thirteen Ways of Looking at the Novel by Jane Smiley

Letters to a Young Novelist by Mario Vargas Llosa

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Hardy Jones-photo-Oct 2015Hardy Jones is a two-time Pushcart Nominee, author of the novel Every Bitter Thing, and the memoir People of the Good God. His creative nonfiction has been awarded two grants. His short stories have appeared in the 2009 Dogzplot Flash Fiction Anthology, The Best of Clapboard House Literary Journal, Southern Gothic: New Tales of the South, and Summer Shorts II. He is the co-founder and Executive Editor of the online journal Cybersoleil, and he is the Flash Fiction Editor for Sugar Mule. Dr. Jones is an Associate Professor of English and the Director of Creative Writing at Cameron University (hjones@cameron.edu). His website is www.hardyjoneswriting.com and he is on Twitter @HardyJonesWrite. Hardy splits his time between Lawton, Oklahoma and Si Sa Ket Province Thailand.

Author Photo by Natthinee Khot-asa Jones