Author Interview - JO ANN HERNANDEZ
My mouth, I’m told, is way too smart.
This is a confusing thought.
Grown-ups preach all the time for me to
Except when they don’t like
what comes out of my mouth,
they call me being too smart.
They shake their heads and predict
how my smart mouth is going to
head me directly into trouble.
Jewel struggles with parentfication: the child taking care of her mother. Her mom believes a Mr. Right is out there just for her. Both of them endure through many Mr. Rights. The Latest, as Jewel calls all her mom’s boyfriends, promises the mom marriage if only she gets rid of Jewel. Jewel enters foster care.
Jewel goes through several foster homes before she finds one she can handle. You learn about the social worker assigned to Jewel’s case. The conflict between them is more than a generational gap; the conflict evolves from sensing each other’s similar injuries.
At the end of the line of foster homes, Jewel attends high school. The English teacher sees through Jewel’s tough exterior and asks her to tutor a classmate, Ronnie, in math. As Jewel and Ronnie become close, he introduces her to his friends. Just when Jewel thinks Ronnie is going to ask her out on a date, she meets his girlfriend. Distraught, she skips school and hangs out where the Punkers stay. While she is there, she gets hurt.
You’ll have to read the book to see how it ends.
2) What inspired you to write the story?
I was a foster mom for eight years in Vermont. The girls would tell me stories of the things they had experienced. Jewel’s rules - that begin each chapter - come from many of the young ladies who were in my care.
When I moved to San Francisco to attend graduate school, I experienced the feeling of living out of my suitcase for a couple of months. I put the two experiences together.
Also, Jewel’s voice was very strong. I wrote the book in eight weeks. Jewel’s voice was dominant and clear in my mind. I followed her lead.
3) How did you do research for THE THROWAWAY PIECE?
As I wrote earlier, my experience as a foster mom contributed quite a bit of my working knowledge of the foster care system. However I have a firm belief. And those who follow me around will be bored to death to hear it again. I believe that all people have three elements in their life to satisfy. Everyone wants a voice/power to be heard and that ‘no’ means ‘no.’ Everyone wants to belong to something bigger than themselves. How you feel when someone’s eyes light up when you enter a room. Third, everyone wants to be loved and loving.
If you take any book apart, essentially you’ll find one or all three of these in the mix. Also, there have been some good articles lately about taking how you felt when you had a bad dream, then using that memory, to write a scary scene, with those same emotions. That’s what I mean. We are all the same in varying degrees. You can pretty much bet that if you write what is important to you, you’ll hit the bell for a whole audience out there.
For instance, Jewel has watched her mother go from man to man. Her understanding of what makes a good male/female relationship is thwarted. She keeps herself aloof to prevent herself from being hurt, yet the one time she hopes, her hopes are dashed. Who of us hasn’t had their heart broken? Who of us can’t recall a time when we built ourselves up so high on hope that when the event or person didn’t happen, everything turned bleak. All of us can take that experience and write of another going through the same ordeal and pretty much get it right.
4) It sounds like you wanted to reach out to others as well. Was there a particular message you wanted to get across to your readers?
Each of my books has had a motive entwined in the story. In my first book, “White Bread Competition,” I left the heroine at the end of the book beginning the spelling bee. When I do presentations, the teens will ask me why. They want to know if the main character wins. I explain that she is already a winner. Because she showed up. Like their parents show up every day to a job they may not really like, but to provide their children with what they need, the parents keep showing up. Like showing up for football practice, or cheerleading practice, or school classes because showing up can be harder than winning. By showing up, they become winners.
With “The Throwaway Piece,” I demonstrate the way Jewel changed the life of everyone who became involved with her. Something like the movie with James Stewart in “It’s a Wonderful Life” where you see that if he hadn’t been around, events would have turned out differently and many not for the better. What Jewel doesn’t understand at the end of the book is that she does have purpose in her life. She does make an impact on this world. That who she is cannot be duplicated by anyone else. That her presence is a gift to the universe that only she can make. Exactly the same as each and every one of us. There are no carbon copies, and we all touch each other’s lives in ways we may never know. Remember to smile at that person at the store. Your smile may save their life.
5) Can you share with us your best writing advice?
Does this mean I have to follow the advice too? Haha.
The “right” answer is write, write, write. Oh I could write a whole other article on this and have. Watch adverbs. Be specific in your details. Have someone else read your manuscript out loud to you as you follow on your pages with a highlighter. Watch the articles. Short sentences for action scenes. I’m biased about the passive sentence because I am ESL (English as a Second Language). Everything is in the details.
However, one thing I have found in my numerous travels across these States is that girlfriends make a big difference. Of course, I also include spouses and guys that are friends. However, women friends contribute to each other in ways that are intricate to being female. When I’ve been weary, or dismissed my talent, my women friends remind me how important my voice is to this universe.
Everyone needs a cheerleader.
Thanks for joining us today, Jo Ann!
Also, Jo Ann says if you read THE THROWAWAY PIECE and send her an email, she'll give you additional information about the ending.