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Author Interview

Traci L. Jones:

Born in Monmouth, Illinois to Ada Groff and former Senator Regis Groff, Traci was raised in Denver, Colorado. After graduating from East High School, Ms. Jones attended Pomona College in Claremont, California, receiving a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology. Ms. Jones returned to Colorado to attend the University of Denver where she earned a MS in Advertising. Ms. Jones then worked in marketing for two years in the Chicago area, before returning to Denver to work as an Account Executive at an area advertising agency. She met her husband, Tony Jones shortly after returning to Colorado and they married in 1995. They have four children, and together own and operate Pencol Compounding Pharmacy in the Denver metropolitan area, where Traci handles accounts payable and personnel.

While raising her kids and helping with the pharmacy Mrs. Jones was reminded of her love for writing and began working towards earning a Creative Writing Certificate at the University of Denver. One of those courses led to the writing and completion of her first book, Standing Against the Wind. Published by Farrar, Straus, and Giroux in 2006, Standing would win the Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe New Talent Award. Two more books with FSG followed in 2010 and 2011, Finding My Place and Silhouetted by the Blue.

In 2016 she joined the faculty of the Mile Hi MFA in Creative Writing program at Regis University in Denver, Colorado, where she teaches young adult fiction.

How did you become a writer?

My mother gave me a manual typewriter for Christmas when I was in fourth grade. I spent the rest of my winter vacation writing a book featuring my group of friends as characters. Fast forward almost thirty years later when I felt like something was missing in my life. I happened upon an ad in the newspaper for the Creative Writing certificate at the University of Denver and immediately applied. My favorite childhood gift, the typewriter, tells me I was always a writer. The fact that I didn't hesitate when I saw the creative writing program tells me I needed to study, learn the craft and put in the work to become a good writer.

What inspires you to write?

Inspiration is a quirky thing. Ideas can come to me from music, new stories or out of the blue. My first book idea was a homework assignment, the story came to me when I had to come out with ten different possible titles for my writing assignment. My second idea came from reading Patricia Raybon's autobiographical book 'My first white friend: Confessions of Race, Love and Forgiveness'. Aspects of that book reminded me of my own childhood growing up in Denver, and I was inspired to write a story that reflected a bit of my childhood experiences. My third book came for a single phrase in my favorite song from the musical Ragtime. I thought the words were beautiful and began thinking what a book with that title would be about. Dead Certain came from news stories about a deadly car crash that Former First Lady Laura Bush was in, in addition to a, thankfully short, rash of teenage driver deadly car crashes that had occurred in the suburbs of Denver.

Sometimes ideas come out of the blue for reasons I can't explain. I do sometimes have a character sitting around in my head waiting for me to tell their story. Amey from A Blossom Within had been waiting patiently in my head for me to craft a story around her. Vue is a mixture of inchoate ideas that finally formed together into a story idea and character I could fully create.

Could you share some of your challenges as a writer?

My natural default is lazy. If left to my own devices I'd waste away hours, reading, playing Candy Crush or watching movies I've seen hundreds of time. Couple that with the time suck of regular life as a mom and wife and you get the challenge of finding writing time. I constantly have to discipline myself to actually sit down, put hands on my keyboard and write. For me the Dorothy Parker quote truth: "I hate writing, I love having written." Therefore my biggest challenge it my work ethic and the fact that there are only 24 hours in a day, and I'm only wide awake and coherent for 16 of them. Plus I use the word 'just' too much and have to ration my use of exclamation points.

Do you have a routine you follow when writing?

Each and every time I sit down to write I always go back ten pages from where I stopped. I then edit and re-write my way back into the flow and cadence of my story. I found out early that I cannot simply pick up where I've left. I need to get back into the rhythm of the story and I have discovered that ten pages back works for me. Admittedly, I often find that I spend all my writing time re-working those ten pages, but on good writing days I can get through those ten pages with minimum wordsmithing and then write an additional ten to fifteen pages with relative ease. Usually I can write full out for two hours. Once that two hour mark hits it's like my mind says, "Yeah, I'm done for today. Thanks for playing. See you next time."

If you could go back in time and give yourself advice, what would it be?

Absorb the positive, deflect the negative. I recently heard that it takes five compliments to diffuse the impact of one negative one. As a young woman, I stopped writing for years because a professor in my freshman year of college told me I was an awful writer. I took his words to heart and stopped doing something I loved. This, despite being told my entire life how good a writer I was. Learning to take criticism and rejection is key to being a writer, and essential for being a published writer. I would tell the young me that no one has the final word on your ability, but you.

Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?

Of course, read anything and everything, but just as importantly try your hand at writing anything and everything. Try writing plays, poems, children's books, short stories, screenplays, flash fiction, lyrics. Most importantly, learn your craft. I think it's telling that I didn't get published until I went back to school to study the art of writing.

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