How does it feel to be a runner up in America's Next Author?
I'm thrilled to have made it so far in this competition. There were so many stories and interesting writers that it was super challenging. I am truly honored to be in the top three. Knowing that something I wrote connected with readers is special, and I treasure that. Having said that, I did have a bit of fun after the announcement, imagining a crafty new villain for my next book (complete with cute-as-a-button smile and curly red hair) called a Baggott. ;)
What do you plan to do with your prize money?
I'll spend it marketing my kids' fantasy adventure, Fiona Thorn and the Carapacem Spell. Promotion gets expensive, so the prize money will help me spread the word and put Fiona Thorn in front of more people.
Did you learn anything during the contest that will help you improve your writing in the future?
I think I learned that I'm on the right track. Placing in the top three, and especially getting a wildcard, really helped boost my confidence. I've learned to trust in myself and my ability, and go from there.
How does America's Next Author compare to other writing contests you've entered?
Where to start? I've never been in a writing contest that almost completely took over my life before, so there's that. But it was fun. I became immersed in it and drove myself (and my family and friends) to distraction over it. I mentioned it to everyone I saw (at least five times) and encouraged everyone to vote and get involved, just like all the other writers, I'm sure. I've never been in a contest, writing or otherwise, that required this consistent level of involvement. It was a crash course in social media for me.
How surprised were you when you were chosen as a wildcard?
I knew from the beginning that this was really my only shot. Even with all my efforts reaching out, I wasn't getting close enough each week for a nomination. The other writers' social reach was just too strong. So I was VERY happy that morning when my name popped up on the screen. Very happy. Not only did it breathe new life into the competition for me, it validated my story. I was ecstatic that the jury had chosen it.
How were you able to so vividly write from the point of someone much older than yourself?
I volunteer twice a week at a convalescent home. I read aloud to residents who can't get out of bed and attend other activities anymore, who can't speak or are unresponsive. It's amazing. The simple connection of a human voice is so strong. A few years ago the wife of a resident left The Count of Monte Cristo on his bedside dresser with a note, telling me it'd been his favorite. I was thrilled, since Walter couldn't tell me himself. He spent his days in a chair, eyes glazed with his right hand shaking uncontrollably. But when I read Dumas to him, a bit of magic happened. He would listen, and for a short time, while we were lost in France with Edmond Dantes, his arm would stop shaking.
Spending time with the residents in a good home made it easy to imagine what a bad one would be like. It's also taught me that these people have such wonderful stories inside. Each one is a life—a history, full of joys and sorrows, triumphs and failures. I'd wanted to write about it for awhile, to honor them in a small way.
What is the hardest thing about writing for you?
Revising. I hate it. Many writers fear the first word, or the blank page. Not me. I love the beginning. I love the potential of it all when it's new. The possibilities are, literally, still endless then. Every choice you make after though, like life I guess, narrows the window. But you weave your tale, keeping your plot points tight and developing your characters, and you get there. Finally you have a finished work. But wait! It's too long! Revising and trying to cut 20,000 words out of your manuscript? Don't even get me started.
Where can all of your new fans follow you online?
My website is http://fionathornbook.com/ and I have a Facebook Page at http://www.facebook.com/JenBartonWrites. I'm on Twitter at @FionaThornBook, but beware, a bad joke or two might pop up from time to time. And if anyone is interested in my book, it's available at Amazon in ebook or paperback. I just started auditioning narrators for the audio version as well, so that's super exciting!
Do you have any new books or stories scheduled to be published soon?
I'm in the outline stage of the sequel to Fiona Thorn and the Carapacem Spell. It'll be another exciting adventure for our ornery explosives expert and her quirky band of misfits, called (at this point) Fiona Thorn and the Secret of the Ringing Trees. I'm also a few weeks from finishing a picture book for toddlers that's very dear to my heart called Purple Chocolate. Featuring art by Yoko Matsuoko, the fantastic artist who did the cover for Fiona Thorn, it reminds little ones that even in a world where bumble bees swim and chocolate is purple, we'd love them just the same. It's cute. Look for it soon. :)
If you could be any character in fiction, who would you be?
That's easy. I'd be Samuel Hamilton from East of Eden. He's my idol. And a close second would be Daenerys Targaryen from George R. R. Martin's epic A Song of Ice and Fire. She's bad ass. And she has dragons.