Shanna, the main character, is relatively autobiographical, and Jonah is based very closely on a close friend of Jo's. She told me a little about the book.
Shanna Bailey, who’s spent most of her life being verbally abused by her mother and picked on by schoolmates, meets Jonah Bailey on her first day of high school. Her entire life begins to change as she and Jonah become friends. Jonah’s considered weird at best by the other kids at school, in large part because he does things like meditating in the school lobby and talking to “invisible things” (his guides). When Kaylie Sturbridge, the “queen of eleventh grade,” starts seeing things, Jonah and Shanna discover that a demon is trying to possess her, and they’re the only ones who can help her.
As I mentioned, Shanna is very autobiographical, although my home life was nowhere near as bad as hers. Several years ago, I became friends with a man who practiced energy healing and channeling. He helped me cope with some things I’d gone through in my life, and did a lot to help me improve my self-image and my life. He also taught me the things he’d learned. He was the model for Jonah. I chose to make Shanna and Jonah teenagers rather than adults because I felt the story would work better as a young adult series.
Jo said normally an idea for a story will pop into her head as a "what if" or a brief scene. Once she has the idea, she might make a few notes about the characters and a few things I'd like to see happen in the course of the story. Then she starts the first draft and she usually aims for a certain word count a day until she's finished.
"Once I finish the first draft, I put it aside for a little while and work on something else," she told me. "When I come back to the story, I’ll use the 'find' tool to highlight a few words that I tend to overuse, like but and was. I go through and change sentence phrasing to get rid of most of those words, then go back to the beginning and go through to make sure the story is clear, that I’ve shown the characters’ emotions and reactions, and that I haven’t made any mistakes or contradictions. Once those are taken care of, I read through again to catch anything I might have missed."
"Do you believe in outlining?" I asked.
"Believe in it, yes. Use it in my own writing, no. I’m what they call a 'pantster,' meaning that while I might jot down a few quick notes about the characters and what I’d like to have happen in the story, for the most part once I sit down and actually start writing, I have no idea where the story will go until it gets there. However, I know that outlining works very well for some writers."
Jo told me she always wanted to be a writer.
"I can remember being two or three years old, making up stories with my imaginary friends and wanting to see them in books like the stories I read," she said. "Yes, I learned to read that early. My kindergarten teacher got me started by letting me write stories during reading time. She made it part of my reading program. My tenth-grade English teacher gave me a huge boost by encouraging me to write and allowing me to keep our required journal as a character I’d created for some short stories. In adulthood, my editor at Jupiter Gardens, Mary Wilson, and my writing friend Lex Valentine, along with other writers I’ve met, have taught me a great deal about writing and revising, and I feel that their guidance has helped me improve about a thousand percent just in the past several months."
Jo told me that she does all her writing on the computer now, but until she was about 27 she wrote everything in longhand.
"I have a filing cabinet drawer filled with old spiral notebooks containing stories that may never see the light of day because they’d take too long to type," she confessed.
"As an adult, how do you keep your finger on the pulse of today’s kids?" I wondered.
"Until about a year ago, I worked in public high schools. I’m now the mother of a high schooler, and she and her friends are pretty tolerant about letting me listen in on some of their conversations and about answering random questions from me."
Finally, I asked Jo if she thought the Internet would ultimately change the publishing industry.
"I think it already has. E-books are becoming more widespread; in fact, Connection was released as an e-book and print book simultaneously. Even some of the major print publishers now have e-book programs. Books are easier than ever to buy, because regardless of whether they’re print or digital, they can be purchased online. Unfortunately, that’s led to a lot of book piracy and other sorts of illegal activity (anything that violates copyright is illegal), so I think the publishing industry will take stronger measures to prevent that."