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MFA alumni and debut novelist Stacey Margaret Jones

Rachel Hoge: Hi, Stacey. Thanks again for agreeing to discuss the upcoming publication of your novel! To begin, can you tell us a bit about yourself?

Stacey Margaret Jones: I’m from South Dakota originally, and currently own my own market-research consultancy based in Conway. I have a B.S. Ed. in elementary education from Northern State University in Aberdeen, South Dakota, a master’s of science in communications management from Syracuse University, and I started my MFA at UCA in my mid- 40s. I’m accredited in public relations (APR) by the Public Relations Society of America and am also a registered yoga teacher. I occasionally adjunct at UCA, most recently teaching an introduction to poetry literature class for the English Department.

RH: To introduce your work, would you mind describing Mr. Catherine—its plot, themes, or structure, whatever aspects seem significant to you?

SMJ: I was really interested in writing a novel about a relationship, but I needed some things to “explode” that relationship so the pieces could be examined. An affair was one thing, but there wasn’t a lot new I could do with that, and in the end, it ended up being a kind of contemporary southern Gothic novel, with an urban setting and a criminal element, along with someone who is rather unexplained. I think it’s a strange little story, but it was fun to write and revise, because it kept surprising me as I worked on it.

RH: You graduated from the Arkansas Writers MFA program in 2015, and Mr. Catherine was your graduate thesis. How did the MFA faculty and thesis process help shape your novel? 

SMJ: The primary assistance the program gave me was that Dr. John Vanderslice designed a course in which students would produce a draft of an entire novel. I’d had had this story in my mind for decades, and had started some version of it more than once. But, when I had a weekly word-count assignment and the challenge of getting it all down in some form, I finally wrote it. The structure and support of that class made all the difference for me.

And, when it was finished, Dr. Vanderslice read it, gave me feedback and served on my thesis committee, during which he also gave me very valuable commentary that made positive differences in the book during that revision (which was my thesis project). Dr. Stephanie Vanderslice taught an independent study to me and my friend Lynne on how to find an agent, and she also helped me make invaluable connections for the next stage.

RH: Mr. Catherine is your debut book publication. Can you describe the process of finding a home with Creators Publishing?

SMJ: After more revision processes, and working briefly with an agent who was a stellar editor, I decided to submit the book to independent publishers. I had some in mind from other books I’d read, but I also found a list on the Poets & Writers Website that I was working through. Creators promises a response within 60 days or so, and on the last day, I got an email from an editor there, Simone Slykhouse, telling me they had chosen my novel for publication.

Creators Publishing in the book-publishing arm of Creators Syndicate, which has managed newspaper columnists and cartoonists and their work for 30+ years. When they started, they did a lot of ebooks, but in the past few years, they’ve moved to being a small, boutique publishing house, bringing out 20 or so books per year. They take one or two from the “slush pile,” or the unsolicited manuscripts they receive, and mine was one they selected for 2019 publication.

When we talked, Ms. Slykhouse told me that when they saw my book, the editors there were eager to read it because of the title, and that in the end, they liked the combination of a kind of “page-turner” with a fast-moving plot and “really good writing.” That felt good! So much had gone into the creation of the draft I submitted to them. It was a good feeling to have that be noticed.

RH: What advice would you give to other writers attempting to publish their first full-length manuscript?

SMJ: The most important thing is to write the draft in the first place. You can’t sell something that doesn’t exist. My husband is a novelist, too, and when he’s drafting he gives himself a daily word count to meet before he does anything else. That is hard for me, as I have a job with irregular hours, and he is retired, but I don’t think there’s any other way. Write the draft, with all its holes and problems, and then go back and fix it, and fix it, and fix it and fix it. When you can’t improve it anymore, start submitting it to agents and/or to independent publishing houses. There are tons of online tools for finding those. At that point it’s about fit and mutual faith in your book.


 

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