Author Interview: Brent Jones

fenderHow far must we travel to find our way home?

Today I have something special – my first interview with an actual author! I’m pretty excited! Shenanigans over at Reads and Reels organized this book promotion, but I actually got to read the book and ask the author a few questions.

The book is Fender: A Novel by author Brent Jones. You can get it here from Kindle Unlimited.

The book is about Brennan, a middle-aged guy whose life has been turned upside down when his wife and daughter are killed in an accident. He’s ready to hole up in his house and surrender to the grief, but thanks to his friends, he agrees to go on a road trip, just the guys and his beloved dog, Fender.

It was a change of pace for me, to read a book from a squarely male perspective. The only female characters in here are presented in flashbacks or as bit characters. I could really feel the difference in the way the book worked, but I enjoyed the difference.

I’ve traveled by car a lot in my life, driving to visit relatives, moving, family vacations – so I could really imagine that part of the book. There’s something magical about the open road. It really does feel liberating.

Brent Jones

From bad checks to bathroom graffiti, Brent Jones has always been drawn to writing. He won a national creative writing competition at the age of fourteen, although he can’t recall what the story was about. Seventeen years later, he gave up his freelance career as a social media manager to pursue creative writing full-time. Fender and The Fifteenth of June are his first two novels.

Interview Q & A

1. What inspired you to write this book?
As I mentioned in the afterword, my wife and I took a cross-country road trip with our dogs back in 2015. I recently published a blog post with photos and the itinerary from that trip. It was a life-changing experience traveling across America by car, and the road trip in Fender largely follows the same path we took.
I’m sometimes asked why I write contemporary fiction—literary fiction, as some call it. How come I don’t write about vampires or killer robots or contact with Martians? The answer is pretty simple. I think truth is strange enough without needing to invent alternate worlds. And when I come up with ideas for stories, I usually try to take two or more seemingly unrelated real life experiences and find a way to mash them together.
I started with the road trip idea and blended it with experiences I’ve had with my dog, Gibson, who much like the beagle protagonist in my book, is named after a guitar. Gibson has helped me through some difficult times, and I started wondering if there was a way I could combine the two ideas of a vehicular adventure and the comfort of a canine friend.
Both aspects of the story were worth telling, I thought. And so I worked backwards—what circumstances would need to transpire to bring together the therapeutic love a dog with a cross-country road trip? And that’s how Fender was born.
2. Where did you get the idea for Brennan and his close friendship with the guys? Is that based on real life?
I wish it were based on real life. I can’t say I have any close friends from childhood. For that matter, I’m a bit of an introverted loner as an adult. But there is something to being able to connect with people you share a history with. There’s an instant bond there, especially if those shared experiences include elements of overcoming adversity together. For two people to abandon their families and leave town for several weeks just to help out a friend, I figured they must share some pretty deep roots. And I felt that a shared experience of childhood poverty and neglect would be a powerful enough reason to forge such a bond.
3. Fender the dog is central to the story. Tell us a story about your dogs.
Fender, the dog, is largely based off Gibson, who is a pug mix and five-and-a-half years old. But the dog who usually gives us the most stories is Stirling, our four-year-old lab mix. It’s becoming a running (albeit unfunny) joke that whenever we travel with Stirling, we need to map out all the nearby emergency vet clinics.
When driving through California, Stirling got into something at a dog park and ended up ill for the rest of our road trip. He couldn’t hold down water or food after that. Last year we rented a waterfront property for two weeks in Nova Scotia, and Stirling decided to make friends with a porcupine. He needed several quills removed from his face in the middle of the night, and the closest vet was an hour away by car.
He’s a good boy—he comes to see me every morning for a hug! I’ll be sitting at my desk and he’ll walk up beside me, place a paw on my leg, wait for me to turn, then stand upright and wrap both his front paws around my neck. It’s just part of our routine and it happens just like clockwork. He’s a lot more work than Gibson, but he can be a lot more affectionate, too.
4. I loved the author’s note about the road trips you took before writing this book. Is there anywhere you’d like to visit that you haven’t been yet?
There are many places in the world I still hope to visit one day. But for the sake of staying consistent with road trips and the themes in Fender, I’m going to pick a location in the United States. My wife is originally from Atlanta, and we’ve made several drives there from Fort Erie. We recently drove to Washington, DC for a wedding and Miami, Florida for a funeral. Between us, we’ve been just about every state, and we’ve logged an absurd number of hours on the road. But there is one state I’ve always wanted to visit and neither of us have been, and that’s Tennessee. I’d love to drive out to Nashville or Memphis—or both!—for a few days to check out the local music scene and tour the Gibson guitar factory. We’ve driven through parts of the state, but have never stopped.
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How well can you know someone?

Title: Everything’s Fine

Author: Janci Patterson

Kira and Haylee are best friends. They’ve known each other forever, and they don’t have any secrets. Do they? After Haylee kills herself, Kira is left wondering just how well they knew each other after all.

Kira is devastated and confused. She knew Haylee was depressed, but she never expected this to happen. Now she’s wondering what kind of friend doesn’t notice something so big. Maybe Haylee’s journal would help explain why she did it, but it’s gone missing.

Everyone else seems just as puzzled, but Kira can’t help feeling she’s the only one who really misses Haylee. Kira can’t stop life from going on, but between Haylee’s parents, gossipy kids at school, and Haylee’s cousin, no one else understands.

I picked this up since Janci is a fellow Utah writer. If you have teenagers, it’s a bit harrowing. And if you have teenagers with mental health issues, it’s really going to hit home. I think that teenagers or young adults would get into this book too. It was a very quick read.

Mental Health Matters

I was going to do this great post today all about mental health and stuff but I’m too upset to think. So here’s what it boils down to:

  1. Be nice to other people. You don’t know what they’re going through.
  2. Be nice to yourself. You deserve it.
  3. If you are feeling the strain, talk to someone.
  4. If someone reaches out to you, just listen. Don’t preach. Just listen.

Love to you all.

Book Review: Winter by Marissa Meyer

Title: Winter (The Lunar Chronicles, book 4)

Author: Marissa Meyer

Genre: YA dystopian science fiction

Princess Winter is the stepdaughter of Queen Levana of Luna. Her wicked stepmother plans on becoming Empress of the Eastern Commonwealth, killing Cinder, and ruling all of Earth. But not before she tortures a few pathetic souls who get in her way.

Winter could possibly stand up to her, because she’s also has powerful Lunar mind control gift, but for *reasons* she refuses to use her gift. And that causes her to hallucinate.

That’s everything you need to know about Winter. Oh, except that she is EXCEPTIONALLY beautiful – so much that when every single person sees her for the first time, they are struck SPEECHLESS by her AMAZING beauty. And all the people love her more than her horrible stepmother.

As you can probably tell, I wasn’t exactly in love with this book myself. In fact, I had a lot of problems with the basic premise. As a person with mental illness and a mom of three kids who have mental illness, I really objected to the way people nicknamed Winter “Crazy” and made light of her hallucinations. Even Scarlett, who is her friend, still calls her crazy. And why does she refuse to use her powers? Because she doesn’t want to deceive anyone. Right. So she’d rather believe that the walls are bleeding than make herself look a couple of inches taller. The whole thing was ridiculous and offensive. Let me tell you, if I could make my depression disappear, you better believe I would find a way to do it. And what about hallucinations? You could turn your hair green, make your kids thing the vegetables they were eating were ice cream, anything at all. There are 100 ways you could use this power without hurting anyone. Because living with hallucinations IN REAL LIFE is pretty much hell.

There’s other stuff to the book too. In fact, Winter and her morose boyfriend Jacin are really the least interesting part. But I’m still so freaking furious about this angle that I don’t even care about the rest of the story right now. I will say that I loved Iko, and I would have loved to read more about her.

If you have already read this series, then you should definitely read the conclusion. But be warned, Winter’s story is really messed up.

Kill It with Fire: Mental Illness as a Plot Device

I have mental illness. This is not a secret. I’m not trying to hide it. I don’t generally open with this fact, but it’s there, and I deal with it.

According to fiction, I should either be living on the streets, plotting to burn down a school, or killing myself right this second. I’m not doing any of those things.

Or I could be in a mental hospital. That’s a popular trope in fiction. But I’ve never been admitted as a patient to the hospital, although I do see a therapist semi-regularly; I am on medication, and I do have family members who have been admitted to the hospital for mental health issues.

Their experience in the hospital is nothing like most fictional characters. They are not surrounded by sadistic or uncaring nurses, have not been tied to the bed or forced into a straight jacket. No one else managed to commit suicide while they were patients, although one patient did self harm, and that caused a new series of lockdowns. There’s no way to sneak out, have sex with other patients, and you can only be kept without your consent for about 24 hours.

That’s not to say it’s relaxing vacation. They do a body cavity search at some hospitals, you get asked the same annoying questions every day (Why are you here? What is your stress level?) You are surrounded by people most of the day. If you stay in your room, they check on you. You have to attend group therapy sessions. The food is boring. Visitors are really, really important, but it can be awkward too.

The thing is, there are a lot of things that define me more than my mental illness. My crazy (pardon the word choice) love of books, the fact that I read extremely fast, and how I completed almost 250 books last year. My seeming eternal struggle to get healthy, which is complicated by a food addiction (wait, that’s a mental health issue), which has got me on a ketogenic diet and going to the gym. My sarcastic, smart aleck sense of humor, which has gotten me into trouble over the years.

In fact, I would rather you say ANYTHING ELSE AT ALL when describing me instead of – “Oh, that’s Speedy Reader. She has depression.” How about, “Oh, that’s Speedy Reader. She likes to read.” Maybe a little obvious. But “Oh, that’s Speedy Reader. She’s one opinionated bitch,” would still be an improvement over the first comment. And it’s true. I am always opinionated and sometimes bitchy.

Writers, please, please, please keep this in mind when you’re writing. It may be trendy right now to talk about mental illness. This is an improvement over the years where it was such a taboo that everyone was ashamed to admit such a thing existed. But using it as a way to give your characters a back story is not an improvement. If you want to see a book about mental illness that’s done right, how about Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman? It’s incredibly moving and real. But how about some books where the character happens to have a mental illness, but it’s not the central defining characteristic of the person? Like The One in  a Million Boy by Monica Wood.

Basically, if you’re writing about neurodiversity, mental health, or treatments for mental health, DO YOUR RESEARCH! You’re not helping by perpetuating false stereotypes. That’s sloppy writing. It’s not edgy. It’s offensive. It’s hurtful. I am a complex person, not just whatever my brain chemistry says. I’m more than that. Come on, fellow writers. Get it right.

Book Review: Cat Daddy

20150602_154823Title: Cat Daddy: What the World’s Most Incorrigible Cat Taught Me About Life, Love, and Coming Clean

Author: Jackson Galaxy, the guy on My Cat From Hell

Genre: Memoir, animal behavior

This is not Jackson Galaxy’s cat pictured above. It’s my cat, Tina, who adopted us one Valentine’s Day. I stick to my story that I thought she was a present from my husband who knew how much I wanted a cat. By the time he came home from work, we had cat food, a little box, and three little kids who were in love with the pretty kitty.

As you can tell, I am definitely a cat person. So I was prejudiced in favor of his show and his book. He’s got an amazing rapport with animals, especially cats. He just connects with them. I really admire the guy.

But I had no idea what a mess the dude was before he got clean. Back in the day, the only part of his life that made sense and did not revolve around substances of various kinds was the part he spend with animals. They worked magic. But it wasn’t until he adopted Buddy, an abandoned cat with a broken pelvis, that he began to feel the need to get clean.

It wasn’t easy. It was amazing that he survived. After his first bout of getting clean from drugs, he still had drinking, prescription abuse, and finally food to detox from. I could totally related to his abuse of Klonopin, as I have a close friend who does the same thing. She’s realized how deeply it has affected her, but she can’t seem to give it up entirely. Jackson was much more lucky that he should have been. He didn’t even wind up in the psych ward for any length of time (Although at one point, he wanted to be. He knew he needed help. But his doctor wouldn’t admit him.) After lots of serious work and a move he finally got clean.

This one is recommended reading, especially for anyone who doesn’t fit the mold and is having trouble visualizing a way to achieve their dreams. Jackson didn’t fit in, but he still created his own success. 4 stars