Grandmother’s Poems

They are words fading, written in bright blue pen. Ball point.


They are words scrawling across the page, the closer in time they are to me, the messier they become.


They are words about being new, about birds flying across the Ontario sky, the pain and guilt of losing a cat to winter and the streets of Staten Island.


They are words singing upside down and across the paper. 


My father keeps them in his roll top desk and hands them to me in the kitchen where her china sat in shelves on the wall. His hands shake as he passes another journal of words over. I take their case, brown, cracked leather. I open the binding and peer inside at their mystery.


“Your grandmother was a poet,” he says. 


I hold her words in my hands. “I never knew.”


WRITING NEWS

IN THE WOODS – READ AN EXCERPT, PREORDER NOW!

My next book, IN THE WOODS, appears in July with Steve Wedel. It’s scary. It’s a bit paranormal. It’s a bit romantic. And it’s one of Publisher’s Weekly’s Buzz Books for Summer 2019.

There’s an excerpt of it there and everything! But even cooler (for me) they’ve deemed it buzz worthy! Buzz worthy seems like an awesome thing to be deemed! 

You can preorder this bad boy, which might make it have a sequel. The sequel would be amazing. Believe me, I know. It features caves and monsters and love. Because doesn’t every story?

In the Woods
In the Woods


ART NEWS

You can buy limited-edition prints and learn more about my art here on my site.

Carrie Jones Art for Sale

PATREON OF AWESOME

Paragraph

You can get exclusive content, early podcasts, videos, art and listen (or read) never-to-be-officially published writings of Carrie on her Patreon. Levels go from $1 to $100 (That one includes writing coaching and editing for you wealthy peeps).

Check it out here.

WHAT IS PATREON? 

A lot of you might be new to Patreon and not get how it works. That’s totally cool. New things can be scary, but there’s a cool primer HERE that explains how it works. The short of it is this: You give Patreon your paypal or credit card # and they charge you whatever you level you choose at the end of each month. That money supports me sharing my writing and art and podcasts and weirdness with you. 




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Pride and Family and Death

My family is complicated and large and mostly dead. 

Some of those deaths hit harder than others, which is probably wrong to say, but I’ve never been super worried about saying things right. 

One of those deaths was my uncle Freddie. I was seven when I first met Freddie and Lesley. 

Before they arrived, Mom pulled me aside and made me sit on our yellow couch and announced in her fake-calm-mom voice as she lit a cigarette, “Carrie, you need to understand that Uncle Freddie and Aunt Leslie are unconventional. And we are not going to make them uncomfortable by talking about things that might not make sense to you.”

Unconventional

I had no clue what “unconventional” or any of that meant. I asked. 

“Well, they ride motorcycles,“ Mom started. “And they don’t care about money. Also Leslie’s Jewish like Aunt Maxine.”

Unconventional sounded pretty cool. 

She took in a huge breath, dragging on her Marlboro Light before setting it on our shiny, gold crab ashtray. “They also love people who are boys and girls.”

“Aren’t they married to each other?” I asked. 

“Yes.”

“And isn’t Leslie a girl?”

“Yes.”

“And isn’t Freddie a boy?” 

Mom paused. “Sometimes he is and sometimes he isn’t.”

And that was it; I was only seven, but I got it. I had a cousin who was male and only liked guys. I had another cousin who was a woman and only liked women. This was just people having the potential to like anyone, which didn’t seem like it deserved such a big word as ‘unconventional.’

“Cool,” I said, which was my default answer for everything ever, basically, but especially things that I didn’t want to talk anymore about because I had other important things to do like look for Big Foot in the backyard and stuff. 

Mom wasn’t quite ready to let me go. She took her cigarette again and tapped imaginary ashes into the crab. 

“Plus, they are from Florida. Florida is not New Hampshire,” she said as she kissed my head and finally let me off the couch and back into the woods. 

FLORIDA IS NOT New Hampshire

I didn’t know much about Florida except that it was where all my rich friends went on February vacation and that it was sunny and flat there. I didn’t know anything about LGBT laws and legislation. I know now that in the beginning of the 1970s in Florida people could be prosecuted for having anal or oral sex. I know that by the late 1970s Miami passed legislation saying it was illegal to discriminate against people who loved other people of their own sex.  But back in the 1960s, Florida had a witch hunt. A senator created The Purple Pamphlet, hoping to “shock Floridians into accepting its program.”

People like Freddie and Leslie were riddled with disease, according the pamphlet and the people who made it. Freddie and Leslie had to worry about meeting new people because they didn’t know if the people they were meeting were going to be full of judgement and hate. 

I didn’t know that. 

I was seven.

When I met Freddie and Lesley, I just knew they were from Florida; they could love men and/or women, and that my mom and dad loved them both with all their hearts. They burst into our living room to a plethora of squeals and hugs, and cheek kissing. They were wearing leather, younger than the rest of my aunts and uncles, jazzy and full of energy. Freddie lifted me into the air. Leslie kissed my cheeks and we played piano together.

The next day, she gave me all of her sheet music because she said, “That’s what artists do. We share. We encourage. We celebrate each other.”

“I’m not a musician or an artist,” I said because Mom always said I was smart and a good writer, but not an artist. People blood related to us were not meant to be artists. 

Leslie shook her head at me. Her eyes softened. “You already are inside.’ 

We Celebrate Each Other

I’m not sure if I’ve ever loved any relatives as much as I loved them. They brought joy and music and laughter and thought into our house. My dad was constantly cracking up, hugging Freddie, toasting them both, sharing stories. Mom buzzed around making food, smiling. She even had a Black Russian, her favorite drink that she rarely drank, usually just on New Year’s. 

It was so happy.  I am, however, pretty sure that this happiness wasn’t always real for them.  They were staying at Aunt Rosie’s house to get away from Florida life for a bit. Freddie took some illegal drugs. I’m pretty sure that Freddie’s heart hurt and that hurt would expand and expand until it filled up all of him. He was the youngest son of a poor Portuguese family, the baby by , coddled but also forced to be independent way too early.  I’m pretty sure that Leslie wanted to take all that pain away but couldn’t. 

In 1977 a woman in Florida (whose name I will not mention) made legislation that kept gay people from adopting kids. She called it Save Our Children. 

In 2019 most of the best parents I know are gay. No offense to my straight friends. Some of them are great, too.

I remember one night asking Leslie if they were going to have babies. 

“No,” she said. “There’s already too much hate in the world.”

Everyone else in the world except me seemed to want babies, so this was super shocking. Too much hate seemed like a great reason though. 

“If Mommy and Daddy die will you take me though?”

“Oh, sweetie.” Leslie started to cry.

Mom looked panicked. Freddie threw open his arms. He was wearing mascara. He was the first person I’d ever seen with stubble and mascara.

He hauled me into his arms and said, “I would be so honored.”

We’d be honored,” Leslie said, joining the hug and I was smooshed between these two bodies that were so beautiful to me. I didn’t know think of them as boy and girl or maybe-boy and maybe-girl. I thought of them as Freddie and Lesley. I thought of them as love.

I thought of them as love

In the late 1970s, Florida made a task force to stop anti-gay discrimination. One of the things they were trying to stop was the Bush-Trask amendment, which was part of a Florida appropriations bill. The amendment stripped all the state funding to any Florida university or college that allowed/supported LGBT student organizations. It passed, but was eventually deemed unconstitutional. 

There are many LGBTQA people in my family. Back then, not everyone was out. I  can’t even begin to understand how hard it was for Freddie and Leslie to deal with that hate, with gender questioning. Current me still can’t understand their ability to love anyone and everyone and how that ability was met with discrimination and hate so often, far too often. 

One December after they’d gone back to Florida, Dad got a phone call. I’m not sure who it was from, but I remember the house went so silent, too silent. Mom stood there next to him, hand on his shoulder, other hand covering her mouth and while I watched, he crumpled, just bent over at his waist. The phone was still in his hand and he was nodding his head, but not really saying words until finally, “Okay. Okay. Thank you.” 

Mom hung up the phone for him and pulled him into her arms, motioning for me to join their hug. Daddy’s body shook. Mom’s body shook. 

And when I asked, finally, what it was that was making them cry? When I asked them that, my body shook, too. 

Freddie died. 

He had a motorcycle accident that made no sense. Leslie said he’d been very depressed and she tried to get him not to go out. He didn’t listen. He went out. He ran into a tree at a high rate of speed. A single-vehicle accident. Nobody else was hurt. 

He was gone. 

All his fun and passion, his hugs, his dark skin, his leather clothes-cool, his mascara and stubble and thick black hair wasn’t there anymore. For years, until he died, too, my dad’s voice broke when he said Freddie’s name. 

Leslie was gone too.

I never saw her again, never played piano with her again, never hugged her and Freddie’s strong bodies, bodies that they made into what they wanted them to be. 

Uncle Freddie missed the Versace era of Miami Beach, where the city was a mecca that celebrated gender and sexuality diversity. The pain of being different got to Freddie way too early. He made it 38 years into this world, and that was all.  He never had the chance to go to the amazing drag bar, The Palace. He never got to know the era of South Beach Fabulous in the 1990s. And he never had to see an Orlando gay club attacked in the 2010s.  

But, God, I hope he knew that he was loved. I hope he knows now that people are still celebrating and fighting for the ability to be who the hell they are. I hope he knows how hot he looked with that mascara on, so hot that even a seven-year-old noticed, and how much I miss his hugs. 

My family is large and complicated and mostly dead, but it is still full of rainbows and kindness, of magnificent hugs and deep worries. And the ones who are still alive are mostly people who care more about loving than judging. I like that about them. I like that a lot.


WRITING NEWS

IN THE WOODS – READ AN EXCERPT, PREORDER NOW!

My next book, IN THE WOODS, appears in July with Steve Wedel. It’s scary and one of Publisher’s Weekly’s Buzz Books for Summer 2019. There’s an excerpt of it there and everything! But even cooler (for me) they’ve deemed it buzz worthy! Buzz worthy seems like an awesome thing to be deemed! 

You can preorder this bad boy, which might make it have a sequel. The sequel would be amazing. Believe me, I know. It features caves and monsters and love. Because doesn’t every story?

In the Woods
In the Woods


ART NEWS

You can buy limited-edition prints and learn more about my art here on my site.

Carrie Jones Art for Sale

PATREON OF AWESOME

You can get exclusive content, early podcasts, videos, art and listen (or read) never-to-be-officially published writings of Carrie on her Patreon. Levels go from $1 to $100 (That one includes writing coaching and editing for you wealthy peeps).

Check it out here.

WHAT IS PATREON? 

A lot of you might be new to Patreon and not get how it works. That’s totally cool. New things can be scary, but there’s a cool primer HERE that explains how it works. The short of it is this: You give Patreon your paypal or credit card # and they charge you whatever you level you choose at the end of each month. That money supports me sharing my writing and art and podcasts and weirdness with you. 

The Good That Happens Even In the Middle of Evil: The Boston Marathon

It’s been six years since the Boston Marathon. This is what I posted that day. It’s about what I saw and heard and felt.

So, I was at the Boston Marathon today to take pictures of my friend, Lori, running and then crossing the finish line. Before the marathon I had lunch with my daughter Em. She was nervous.

“I have a bad feeling,” she said. “You need to be careful.”

“You have no faith in me. I am a perfectly capable person.”

“I just am worried.”

“I will be fine,” I told her. I insisted it, actually.

But I did several things that I don’t normally do. I didn’t take the T. I chose to walk from Cambridge to mile 25.5 or so of the race route. I figured out the T route and everything, but I just didn’t want to go on it. Walking was healthier, I figured. I was going to watch a marathon.

So, I walked and set up for taking pictures. I didn’t expect to see Lori for an hour, so I hung out with some people from New Jersey, talked to some cops. I took some pictures and kept wondering if I should walk the rest of the route to get ready for when Lori crossed the finish line. Logically, I knew I should, but my gut kept me back. I moved up a bit, but not as much as I should have. One of my friends called, and as we talked the first explosion went off.

About 15 seconds after the explosion, .25 mile away or so.

“What was that?” he said.

“That was bad,” I answered. “It was an explosion. It was absolutely an explosion.”

The Second Detonation

Then the second explosion happened. And I hung up. And I looked at the cops. And the cops both lifted up their portable radios to their ears. That was not a good sign. Then they began to run towards the finish line along a parallel road. That was a worse sign, especially since one of the cops looked like he never ran. Ever.  

I followed them. It smelled of smoke. It smelled of fear and confusion. Cops and medics and volunteers swarmed the area. Blood pooled on clothing and the ground. Debris was everywhere. People were crying and hysterical.

The police turned me around. So, I turned around. I regret that now. I don’t know how I could have helped. I am not a trained emergency medical technician. I regret that, too. There were cops and medics everywhere. Their shiny, reflective yellow vests were like pieces of good and brave in a smoky land of pain. I wanted to tell each of them how heroic they were. There was no time for that. They were busy saving people.

The timing of these runners put them right about the finish line when the explosions happened.

Runners

So, I went back to where I had been taking pictures. Runners were wandering around still, confused, cold. They had a combination of runner’s fatigue and shock. Shivering and stunned, they were desperately trying to contact family members. Some walked in circles because they didn’t know how not to keep moving, but they also didn’t know where to go. They had spent 25 miles moving forward, towards this one destination called the finish line and now they were stuck, aimless. Their ultimate goal was suddenly gone, devastated by two bombs. Those of us who were there to watch, gave them our cell phones so they could call family members who were waiting for them. They were waiting for them right by the bombs. We gave the runners money so they could get on the T when it worked again. We gave them our coats.

“How will I give it back to you?” one runner asked as she shrugged on a dark green fleece.

“You don’t need to. You never need to,” a man next to me told her.

“I have to,” she murmured. “I have to.”

I gave away my coat. I passed around my phone. The service was in and out.

One woman said, “Please tell me it wasn’t the subway. My kids are on the subway.”

“It wasn’t the subway,” I tell her. “It was the finish line.”

She cocked her head. “What? No? How?”

How?

That was the question: How? We knew by then that it was probably a bomb, and the hows of making a bomb are easy, but the ‘how could you” is a harder question. How could someone kill runners and spectators? How could humans ever think it’s okay to hurt each other? How could anyone commit violence in big acts with bombs or small acts with fists.

How could we? How could humanity?

“How?” she kept saying. “How?”

And then the police moved the runners out, detouring them down another street. And then they told us, the watchers, to go. So, we left, a massive exodus towards the bridge and Massachusetts Avenue. People were still sobbing. A man on a corner was reading from Boston.com on his iPhone trying to find out exactly what happened. People stood around him, strangers listening to him say the words, “explosions… injuries…”

Three girls were crying, young and scared and broken inside.

“They are so hurt. They hurt them. They are so hurt,” one girl kept repeating. We kept walking.

Connections

As I walked across the bridge, a woman on the phone sobbed to her friend, “It was so big. The explosion was so big. I dropped everything in my hands. I dropped my lens cap. I dropped my purse. I dropped it all. I called my sister. I called my friend. I called everyone. I just need to talk to someone. I feel so alone. It was awful. People were missing their legs. It was awful.”

And then she saw me, this talking woman, and I nodded at her and I grabbed her hand and squeezed it. She squeezed back. We kept walking.

A leather-jacket guy next to me was telling another guy in plaid that he had no way home. I gave him my cell. We kept walking.

I made sure that Lori’s husband and daughter were okay even though they’d been waiting right across the street from where the bomb exploded. They were. I knew Lori was okay already because I’d been tracking her route. I’d never been so happy that she was running hurt and that was making her slower than normal.

The Sobbing Man

As I was feeling thankful, a man in front of me went down on his knees on the sidewalk. It looked like he was praying, but he was really sobbing. We all stopped walking. People pat his back. People murmured things. He stood up and we kept walking again. We walked and walked and gradually the crowd thinned, and gradually the sobs lessoned. But the sirens? The sirens grew louder and more continuous. They were forever sirens. They did not stop.

And so many people will not be able to walk ever again. And at least three people are dead. And so many people have had their hearts and bodies broken at this marathon that should be a celebration of human endurance and spirit and will.

And so many people helped others, making tourniquets out of yarn, carrying the injured, soothing the shocked, giving away their clothes to keep runners warm. And so many people have hearts of goodness. We can’t forget that. Not ever. Not today. Not in Boston. Not ever. Because that is exactly what the Boston Marathon is about: It’s about not giving up, not giving in to pain. It’s about that celebration of surviving and enduring against all odds, against everything. It’s about humanity. No bomber can take that away. Not ever.

After the Marathon

That same night, I was sitting in a restaurant in Cambridge with my daughter and we learned that my dad (a volunteer firefighter) had tumors surrounding his lungs. He died 13 days later.

That week, I was besieged by internet trolls who insisted that my daughter’s gut feeling meant that she was part of a giant conspiracy or that I was part of the same giant conspiracy about an event that ‘totally didn’t happen.’

It happened.

I’ll post this thread, this memory, to make sure that I never forget that it happened.

Sometimes, we spend too much time forgetting, not letting the good and the horrific inspire and motivate us to make change in ourselves, our community, our world.

Violence kills people every day. In big ways that make the news. In quieter ways that we rarely hear about.

And good happens, too. In big ways that make the news. In quieter ways that we rarely hear about.

Three Years Later

I became a volunteer firefighter for our town. I was terrible at it and it’s not my way to help save the world. But I helped our town a little bit for a little while. I did it because I was tired of not being able to help, to respond. I did it because I wanted to pay tribute somehow to the people who were hurt at the marathon and my dad, my little hobbit dad, who spent his whole life trying in big and little ways to try to make this world a better place.

Writing News

IN THE WOODS – READ AN EXCERPT, PREORDER NOW!

My next book, IN THE WOODS, appears in July with Steve Wedel. It’s scary and one of Publisher’s Weekly’s Buzz Books for Summer 2019. There’s an excerpt of it there and everything! But even cooler (for me) they’ve deemed it buzz worthy! Buzz worthy seems like an awesome thing to be deemed! 

You can preorder this bad boy, which might make it have a sequel. The sequel would be amazing. Believe me, I know. It features caves and monsters and love. Because doesn’t every story?

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is b5314ed645a47991655395d180f52f5c.jpg

READ MY BOOK BABY (AND MORE) ON PATREON

On February first, I launched my Patreon site where I’m reading chapters (in order) of a never-published teen fantasy novel, releasing deleted scenes and art from some of my more popular books. And so much more. Come hang out with me! Get cool things! 

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is The-Last-Gods-3.jpg

WHAT IS PATREON? 

A lot of you might be new to Patreon and not get how it works. That’s totally cool. New things can be scary, but there’s a cool primer HERE that explains how it works. The short of it is this: You give Patreon your paypal or credit card # and they charge you whatever you level you choose at the end of each month. That money supports me sharing my writing and art and podcasts and weirdness with you. 

Art

You can buy some of my art. I paint to help inform my stories and some of the prints are available now. There will be more soon. You can check it out here.

What I Did Before My Dad Died, Dealing With Grief Through Love

Lately, it feels like a lot of my friends are losing loved ones and family. Grief comes in big ways and small as we all adjust to such huge loss of friends, partners and loves. Sometimes accepting that loss becomes almost unbearable and even as we plan a funeral, a memorial service, we are still in denial. Because it seems so wrong that someone we love so much could suddenly not be there.

I’m a person who doesn’t have any parents or grandparents left and hardly any aunts or uncles. I went from a huge, outgoing family to a family with just a few stragglers. Sometimes it makes me feel terribly alone, so alone that it’s hard to breathe.

My dad died of a quick-moving cancer and lasted about two weeks from his diagnosis to his death, but before all of that, at one of his birthday parties, I wrote him this.

What I Wrote

When I was a little girl, I would sit on the golden sofa in our house and my dad would sit on the floor. I’d take a black plastic comb, the kind you can still buy for 10 cents. With that comb I would pick through his hair.

“Whatcha looking for Carriekins?” he’d ask.

“Bugs,” I’d say in my little three-year-old voice.

“Lice?” he’d ask.

“Nuh-uh.”

Lice were far too icky and required shaving off your head. Even imaginary lice were too scary to be in my daddy’s hair. 

“Nits?” he’d guess.

“Uh-huh.”

“Find any?”

And I would take a pretend bug and show him.

“Oh…” he’d grab the imaginary, nasty bug, carefully look at it and then say, “Yummy.” 

He’d pretend to gobble it up. I’d giggle and giggle and keep finding more. He’d keep eating them. Night after night, he’d do this. Other dads would have rolled their eyes. Other dads may have sighed and gotten up to watch TV. Other dads would have grabbed that comb and said, “Enough.”

Not my dad.

My dad knows how to love.

He still does.

That was so many years ago.

 You’re 75 years old now, Dad. And I haven’t inspected your hair for bugs, but I think there may be a couple or two invisible nits in there right now.

You are 75 years old now and let me tell you and everyone here a few things I’ve learned about you.

I’ve made a list. Of things you aren’t good at. 

You are not a good liar. You always start to fidget and look away when you are supposed to fib. Uncle Kilton is like that too.

You are not a good cheater or pranksteM. Your eyes twinkle too much when you try to pull a fast one and we all know what’s coming.

You are no good at sitting still. You always seem to ache for the movement of your hands and feet, swaying into a purpose. There’s a lawn to fertilize, a chair to build, a person to see, a cat to feed.

You are no good at being selfish. Even though you guys are divorce when Mom needs a ride to the airport. You take her. When a friend is ill. You visit. When there is a presidential election. You volunteer.

You are no good at shirking. You stand up to your responsibilities. You stand up as the man you are, never pretending to be someone different, even if your pants keep falling down.

You are no good at lying, cheating, shirking, sitting still and being selfish. But you are good, you are so good at being Lew Barnard. You are so good at being a father, at being a friend, at being a man.

That’s why we are all here. You are easy to love and for 75 years you have blessed your friends and family with your goofy wit, genuine smile, toothpick eating, ever questioning mind, your forgivenessand your honesty. We love you for it. 

Why I’m Sharing This

There’s only one reason I’m sharing this with you. I wasn’t always a perfect daughter. At one point in my early twenties and I was taking seizure medicine, I barely knew what reality was because my body couldn’t metabolize the medication. I was a grouchy teen. I was bad at staying on the phone with him for hours. But in that one moment, I was so lucky, because I was able to tell my dad how much he meant to me.

And that matters.

And I want to somehow convince all of you to have that moment with the people and animals you love, to show them how much you love them even though you’re imperfect and their imperfect. Don’t be afraid to show them love.

Love isn’t always an easy choice, but it’s a choice to take, always the best choice. Always.

Choose love every day.


WRITING AND OTHER NEWS

IN THE WOODS – READ AN EXCERPT, PREORDER NOW!

My next book, IN THE WOODS, appears in July with Steve Wedel. It’s scary and one of Publisher’s Weekly’s Buzz Books for Summer 2019. There’s an excerpt of it there and everything! But even cooler (for me) they’ve deemed it buzz worthy! Buzz worthy seems like an awesome thing to be deemed!

You can preorder this bad boy, which might make it have a sequel. The sequel would be amazing. Believe me, I know. It features caves and monsters and love. Because doesn’t every story?

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is b5314ed645a47991655395d180f52f5c.jpg

HEAR MY BOOK BABY (AND MORE) ON PATREON

On February first, I launched my Patreon site where I’m reading chapters (in order) of a never-published teen fantasy novel, releasing deleted scenes and art from some of my more popular books. And so much more. Come hang out with me! Get cool things!

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is The-Last-Gods-3.jpg

WHAT IS PATREON? 

A lot of you might be new to Patreon and not get how it works. That’s totally cool. New things can be scary, but there’s a cool primer HERE that explains how it works. The short of it is this: You give Patreon your paypal or credit card # and they charge you whatever you level you choose at the end of each month. That money supports me sharing my writing and art and podcasts and weirdness with you. 

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HELP US AND DO AN AWESOME GOOD DEED

Thanks to all of you who keep listening to our weirdness on the DOGS ARE SMARTER THAN PEOPLE podcast as we talk about random thoughts, writing advice and life tips. We’re sorry we laugh so much… sort of. Please share it and subscribe if you can. Please rate and like us if you are feeling kind, because it matters somehow. There’s a new episode every Tuesday!


BE A PART OF THE PODCAST!

Hey! If you download the Anchor application, you can call into the podcast, record a question, or just say ‘hi,’ and we’ll answer. You can be heard on our podcast! Sa-sweet!

No question is too wild. But just like Shaun does, try not to swear, okay?

Here is the link to the mobile app. Our latest episode is above. It’s also on YouTube here.

We Need More Hobbits In this World, Drugs, My Dad, Cancer and the Boston Marathon

The first time I blogged the first section of this post back in 2013, I checked with my dad to make sure he was okay with it. He was.

My dad is dead now and reposting this is hard, but also good. Because that’s how life can be – hard and good.


So lately, thanks to brilliant blog posts by writers like Jo Knowles and Tim Wynne Jones, I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to love life and to really live it. Jo’s post ponders Maurice Sendak’s NPR interview where he implores people to live their lives, and the sadness and urgency that he has as he expresses that thought as he, himself, is in the last months of his own life.

And for me, that is even more poignant as I listened to my own father sob on the phone last Friday, lamenting a family member who is still alive with us, but whose personality has been twisted by drug use. 

“Where is that person I used to know?” my dad asked. “Where is that person I was so proud of?”

I told him that the person is still there, buried beneath the drugs, that their soul is still a bright light underneath all the layers of drug dependence and anger and need. 

But it made me wonder about how people can change for good or for bad, about how we are all a product of our choices and our intentions. 

“Our family is shrinking,” my dad said, “and I am so alone. In the mornings, when it is bleak, I look out at the cold trees and I am so very lonely.”

I listed all the people my father has, all the people who love him. My sister and all her grown kids live near him. My brother, his son. My dad’s brother and his sister-in-law have him to dinner every single night. My dad has friends still alive that he has gone on grand adventures with, but the worry about his drug-addled relative has devastated him. All the good things don’t matter any more because he has chosen to only look at the horror of the present.

And that’s sad.

And it’s easy and normal to feel that way. 

And I have felt this way too — times when I am impossibly sad even though I am one of the luckiest humans in the universe — times when I think that the days are too cold to leave the bed and walk the dogs and eat. But the thing is, you fight through them. It isn’t that life is a gift. It isn’t that life is a curse. It’s just that life is. It is. And we are meant to experience it and travel through it and we can choose to make that journey have meaning like poets do, like Jo does, like Tim does, or we can choose to just manage, to slug through. Our choices can change. Our intentions can change. Our purpose can change. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that we are meant to experience this life – this great big is — and how we do experience it is up to us. 

And so in that phone call I had with my dad I told him, “I love you. What is happening to our relative is not your fault and not all your responsibility and whatever choices you make, you will make with love, and that is all that matters. What matters, Dad, is that you love, that you have always loved, and that you always will love with all your heart.”

He said with a shaking 83-year-old hobbit man voice, “I am such a coward. I am so scared. I am so scared for them.”*

But my little dad isn’t a coward. He faces his pain, his sorrow, his worries, his life head on. He touches the sad, hurt parts of his own soul and knows them. My dad doesn’t hide. He doesn’t pretend to be someone he isn’t. 

“Being scared doesn’t make you a coward,” I tell him. “You have never run away from life, Dad. You will never run away, and that makes you one of the bravest men of all.”

*I changed the pronoun to ‘them’ because that makes it even more difficult to identify the person but also because them is a pretty cool pronoun.

And then less than four months after that post, I posted this:

It is Thursday and an oncologist whose last name is Snow has just told my father that he has a few weeks to live. Sometimes poets use snow to signify death. As I wander through the tiny patch of woods off the Glen Mary Road in Bar Harbor, I think that this is appropriate in a bad way. The doctor’s name is Snow. Snow. A lone crow alights from one pine tree bough to another, leading me down the trail. There are superstitions about crows. One crow is meant to signify death.

“I already know,” I tell the bird as he lifts his shiny wings, “but thanks.”

And about five hours away from me and the crow, Doctor Snow leaves my dad’s hospital room and my sister hands my dad the hospital phone so that I can say hi.

“Carriekins,” he says to me and his voice is cheerful somehow.

“Hey Dad! I love you!” This is the only thing I can think to say. I try to make my voice cheerful, too, but it isn’t strong like pine boughs and it can’t hold up the weight of me. I try again and manage to sound chipper. “I love you.”

“I love you, too,” he says. “How is your day going?”

The first thing he asks, moments after he finds out that he is about to die, is how my day is going. This is how my dad works. He asks people questions. He wants to know how they are doing, what they’ve done, what they think, why they think it. His favorite thing to say is, “I don’t know enough about you. What can you tell me?”

And I never know what to say. I never feel like I have anything to tell.

“My day kind of stinks, Dad,” I tell him, stepping on a fallen pine cone. Crushing it  will help to scatter its seed, but I still feel badly about it somehow. “I mean, it does stink because of what the doctor just said, but it’s good because I get to hear your voice and talk to you.”

It is the last time I have a real conversation with my dad. The next day they fill him with morphine and move him to a hospice center. He can’t talk because of the drugs. That is Friday. On Saturday, he can only wheeze into the phone.  I tell him he sounds like Darth Vader and that I will be there Monday after a wedding I have to go to and after I drop my daughter, Em, off at college.

He dies that night or really early Sunday morning right after the sunrise. He loves sunrises.

Doctor Snow had given him weeks. He lasts two days because of a fast moving, wildly spreading small cell cancer that has already officially claimed the area around one of his lungs.

Before we knew he had cancer he said, “You know I would go down on my knees and kiss the ground and praise God if I could breathe again. Isn’t that something? Isn’t that something you’d never expect to hear from me?”

And it was.

My dad was a hobbit kind of man. He believed in breakfast and laughing. He believed in second breakfast and laughing even more. He believed in dancing and smiling and telling stories and listening and a third breakfast that included cake. He believed in life and people. He was capable of looking straight into someone’s soul and getting right to the core of what made them special and because he had that gift, he forgave everyone everything. He forgave people all the time and he loved them just as much as he did no matter what they put him through.

Two weeks before he died

Right after the Boston Marathon bombings, I am sitting in a Cambridge, Massachusetts restaurant with my daughter, Em. People are eating, but mostly everyone is craning their heads, watching the television screen that displays what little information exists about the attacks. My cell phone vibrates and I learn that my dad, who has gone into the hospital three days earlier because he couldn’t breath has tumors. They don’t know if the tumors are cancer. They just know they are there.

On the screen above my head are news people trying to make sense of a tragedy that I have just personally witnessed because I had been at the marathon. I don’t need the television to see the blood and the pain, the hope of people helping, the determination of doctors and civilians and paramedics and cops.

Tumors.

People before me have compared hate to cancerous tumors, compared the way hate metastasizes and invades a society, taking it over the same way cancer takes over a body. It is not new to think about this, but I do.  The hate isn’t in the restaurant this night though. In the restaurant, the patrons and servers are still trying to understand how things like bombs can happen in their city, trying to isolate the type of hate that this cancer was, trying to understand it.

Some things are hard to understand. You can label all different types of cancers (lymphoblastic, Kapoki sarcoma, fibrous histiocytoma, ovarian, oropharyngeal), and you can label all different kinds of hate (misogyny, domestic terrorism, international terrorism, fear, self-righteousness, homophobic, racist, religious, ethnic, sociopathic) but those labels are just labels, they don’t get at the core of the hate, the essential interwoven elements of it.

“Grandpa Barnard has some sort of tumors,” I tell Emily, “and fluid around his lung.”

“It is cancer?” she asks.

“They don’t know yet.”

It isn’t for another ten days that they tell him that it is definitely cancer, and a bad kind. In those ten days, I spew out a blog post about the goodness I saw at the marathon, I talk to librarians, I attend a wedding full of love.  The doctors aren’t sure where the cancer originated. They just know that it is. My uncle who is in his late eighties immediately starts citing statistics about Raydon. My family has never been a family that has cancer. He wants to find a reason. He wants to understand.

But we won’t ever understand exactly what made my dad’s body become cancerous or where that cancer first struck or even where else in his body that it is.

“There is no point in doing scans,” Dr. Snow says on this Thursday. “The only point is that we have to keep him comfortable, manage his pain.”

And this is where cancer and violence part ways. Because as a society we always have to do the scans, always have to figure out where the hate started, what tools it uses to kill others, what elements it needs to thrive. Because as a society, we need to feel safe and we need to be a place where nobody wants to destroy innocent runners or spectators or children. We have to be a place that understands hatred and actively works to try to stop it, to turn it into something good and peaceful.

When my dad finds out about the Boston Marathon he says, “Humans can be so horrible to each other, can’t they Carriekins?”

And I say that they could, but I add, remembering what I had seen at the Marathon, “They can be good too, Dad.”

“Yes, they can.” He sighs. “I would have liked to been a locksmith. I would have liked to have a nice, simple job helping people.”

“You helped people all the time, Dad,” I tell him. “You are a good, sweet man.”

“I wasn’t a great success.”

“Yes, you were. You were a success because you made people laugh,” I tell him. “You were a success because you try so hard every day to be good.”

And it is true. Even at the hospital he is flirting with nurses, complimenting their bright orange pants, asking them how their days are going.

Even when he finds out he has less than a month to live, he asks me, “How was your day?”

That is what good is. That is what gives me hope when cancer tries to infect our country or even our own souls with blame and anger and bigotry. People like my dad give me hope. It is the hobbits of the world, the ones who find the beauty in breakfast or a nurse’s fluorescent pants, who find the love inside a angry person’s heart, who want to save those who hurt them, the ones who find the kindness and joy and laughter inside a hospital room, these are the people who make our world good.  We need more hobbits like my dad. He may have not have been a famous man or a ‘successful’ one, but he was good. He was unrelentingly good and I will miss him.

I do miss him.


BE A PART OF THE PODCAST!

Hey! If you download the Anchor application, you can call into the podcast, record a question, or just say ‘hi,’ and we’ll answer. You can be heard on our podcast! Sa-sweet!

No question is too wild. But just like Shaun does, try not to swear, okay?

Here is the link to the mobile app.

You can also support the podcast monetarily (cough) via this link . Your support helps us justify doing this and also buys dog treats.

BLOG BREAK – SORT OF

It’s a big holiday week here and so Carrie is going to be taking a bit of a blog break for the next two weeks. There will be a new podcast next Tuesday, but other than that? It’s a little time for Carrie’s brain to recharge and rest. So, she’ll be posting random blogs from her past. Thank you for understanding!

WRITING AND OTHER NEWS

ART.

I do art stuff. You can find it and buy a print here. 

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TIME STOPPERS!

You can order my middle grade fantasy novel Time Stoppers Escape From the Badlands here or anywhere.

People call it a cross between Harry Potter and Percy Jackson but it’s set in Maine. It’s full of adventure, quirkiness and heart.

Time Stoppers Carrie Jones Middle grade fantasy

MOE BERG 

The Spy Who Played Baseball is a picture book biography about Moe Berg. And… there’s a movie out now about Moe Berg, a major league baseball player who became a spy. How cool is that?

It’s awesome and quirky and fun.

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FLYING AND ENHANCED

Men in Black meet Buffy the Vampire Slayer? You know it. You can buy them hereor anywhere.

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OUR PODCAST – DOGS ARE SMARTER THAN PEOPLE.

Thanks to all of you who keep listening to our weirdness as we talk about random thoughts, writing advice and life tips. We’re sorry we laugh so much… sort of. Please share it and subscribe if you can. Please rate and like us if you are feeling kind, because it matters somehow. There’s a new episode every Tuesday!

dogs are smarter than people carrie after dark being relentless to get published

WRITING COACH

I offer solo writing coach services. For more about my individual coaching, click here.

WRITING BARN

I am super psyched to be teaching the six-month long Write. Submit. Support. class at the Writing Barn!

Are you looking for a group to support you in your writing process and help set achievable goals? Are you looking for the feedback and connections that could potentially lead you to that book deal you’ve been working towards?

Our Write. Submit. Support. (WSS) six-month ONLINE course offers structure and support not only to your writing lives and the manuscripts at hand, but also to the roller coaster ride of submissions: whether that be submitting to agents or, if agented, weathering the submissions to editors.

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Past Write. Submit. Support. students have gone on to receive representation from literary agents across the country. View one of our most recent success stories here

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APPLY NOW!

Writing Tip Wednesday – WRITING IMMORTALS

Immortals.

A lot of us writers who dabble or write full-out fantasy or science fiction deal with these little devils. But what does it mean to be immortal? And what does it take to write them?

Marguerite Duras Wrote:

It’s while it’s being lived that life is immortal, while it’s still alive. Immortality is not a matter of more or less time, it’s not really a question of immortality but of something else that remains unknown. It’s as untrue to say it’s without beginning or end as to say it begins and ends with the life of the spirit, since it partakes both of the spirit and of the pursuit of the void.

And BEN FRANKLIN WROTE:

If you would not be forgotten as soon as you are dead, either write things worth reading or do things worth writing.

Us, writers, are pretty obsessed with immortality and mortality, not just as a conceit for our own lives, but also in our work. But immortality is a messy beast in writing.

Why?

Immortality lowers the stakes. In our culture, we tend to think of death as the worst possible outcome. It’s the big evil that we often use to justify our own evil deeds. We usually try to avoid it at all costs and it makes the stakes in our writing really high (and therefore the reader really interested) if we put one of our character’s life at risk.

It’s hard to get the reader worried about a character that is immortal.

There are some interesting thoughts on how to deal with immortal characters in fiction here and here and especially here where CLEVER GIRL HELPS breaks down types and degrees of immortality.

Once you’ve read those hints, let’s talk about the big question, which is:

WHY DO WE WRITE IMMORTALS?

So, if immortality is so difficult to write, why do we keep writing immortal characters?

In an interview with Salon’s Sophie Roell, author Stephen Cave says of our obsession with immortality,

It’s a human universal. Among all of the animals, we probably uniquely are aware that we’re going to die. We try to avoid the worst, to keep going one way or another, yet we must live in the knowledge that it is futile – that ultimately, the worst thing that can possibly happen will happen. That all our projects and all our dreams — everything we’re striving for — one day it will all be over. And this is terrifying. So we are very keen to hear any story that can allay this fear and say death isn’t what it seems, and we can just keep on going indefinitely.

Longing for immortality and grappling with our mortality is pretty close to a human universal. It’s something all writers (who are humans) can relate to and therefore are compelled to write about.

So, we do.

And we try to do it well, but it’s hard. When the highest stake of death (of the immortal) isn’t possible, what is the second highest stake you can put in place of that?

  1. Death of the immortal’s loved one?
  2. Eternal entrapment?
  3. Forced to eat uncooked lima beans?
  4. Success of another immortal that there is past history with?
  5. Living with your own moral failures like in Doctor Who?

It’s up to you and your character to decide. Decide well!  It’s a cool thing to think about for you, your life, and your story. What is the highest stake in your own life? If you say death, what’s the second highest? Sometimes it’s good to put our own brains through the same questions that we launch on our characters.

Writing News

Next and Last Time Stoppers Book

It’s  out! You can order my middle grade fantasy novel Time Stoppers Escape From the Badlands here or anywhere.

People call it a cross between Harry Potter and Percy Jackson but it’s set in Maine. It’s full of adventure, quirkiness and heart.

Timestoppers3_005

Moe Berg

The Spy Who Played Baseball is a picture book biography about Moe Berg. And… there’s a movie out now about Moe Berg, a major league baseball player who became a spy. How cool is that?

It’s awesome and quirky and fun.

OUR PODCAST – DOGS ARE SMARTER THAN PEOPLE.

Thanks to all of you who keep listening to our weirdness as we talk about random thoughts, writing advice and life tips. We’re sorry we laugh so much… sort of. Please share it and subscribe if you can. Please rate and like us if you are feeling kind, because it matters somehow. There’s a new episode every Tuesday!

dogs are smarter than people carrie after dark being relentless to get published

Writing Coach

I offer solo writing coach services. For more about my individual coaching, click here.

Ebook on Sale for October! 

And finally, for the month of July, my book NEEDis on sale in ebook version on Amazon. It’s a cheap way to have an awesome read in a book that’s basically about human-sized pixies trying to start an apocalypse.

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I’m WRITING BARN FACULTY AND THERE’S A COURSE YOU CAN TAKE!

I am super psyched to be teaching the six-month long Write. Submit. Support. class at the Writing Barn!

Are you looking for a group to support you in your writing process and help set achievable goals? Are you looking for the feedback and connections that could potentially lead you to that book deal you’ve been working towards?

Our Write. Submit. Support. (WSS) six-month ONLINE course offers structure and support not only to your writing lives and the manuscripts at hand, but also to the roller coaster ride of submissions: whether that be submitting to agents or, if agented, weathering the submissions to editors.

Past Write. Submit. Support. students have gone on to receive representation from literary agents across the country. View one of our most recent success stories here

 

Apply Now!

 

 

 

Hugging Strangers is Possibly the Best Way to be Human

She had stayed at our camper site for nine years, not continuously, but for a couple weeks at a time each summer while her husband came to Maine  to abandon the Alabama summer heat. She’d had to stay home and work those summers, visiting him twice. They thought they’d spend a lot more time here soon.

 

But this year, she walks across the campground road (Road 4) towards me, in a black summer dress, loosely draped across her body. She is half slow, half purposeful, which means that she’s trying to do something that’s hard to do. I stand up from the picnic table where I’m working and meet her.

Her arms open wide. Her hands shake and she says, “This… this used to be our campsite.”

 

And I instantly know who she is.

 

“Oh,” I say. “I’m so sorry.”

 

I have no words.

 

I open my arms and she steps right into them, this stranger who is not a stranger. This stranger who is human like me.

 

It’s our first of three hugs.

 

Her husband died last year, in between summers, and she sold the fifth-wheel that they stayed in. Someone is possibly using it for transient agricultural workers up in the Machias area. She’s not sure.

 

“Our shed was right here. There was a deck, a huge deck right here. They took all of it.” She shakes her head.

 

Her husband built the deck. He had her antique music box in the shed and the music would play out into the road. All their friends were here, a group of 60 to 70-year-olds, mostly, and they would gather every night, talking, laughing. Her husband kept one man from drinking for the six weeks they were together here. He built a deck with a baby gate (for free) for a wormer and his wife because they had an 18-month-old baby and the wife was always alone with the baby, always watching it, always exhausted and trapped.

 

“He’d spell her for a half hour or an hour each day. She couldn’t believe how kind that was,” the woman tells me and she breaks down again.

“Everything is so different. Our shed,” she repeats. “It was right there where your fire pit was. We couldn’t have a fire pit. The smells and sound. It reminded him of Vietnam.”

 

We hugged again.

 

I don’t know her first name. It doesn’t matter, honestly, because I know parts of her – the raw, authentic parts, the love and the grief that came flowing out when she saw us at her campsite, which is now, our campsite. And I’m so honored.

 

She had been a woman in love and she still is – and here was the place where she and her husband would play Wii Bowling, and serenade the campground road with jaunty music that echoed out of the music box they kept in the shed. They’d hike up the steep hill into a scattering of spruce and pines, neighbors’ campfires trying to erase his bad memories and recreate the good, squirrels and chipmunks racing from tree trunk to branches. And all of this was a home.

 

And it isn’t hers any more. Just like some day it won’t be mine.

 

“I’m… I have food in the microwave,” she says.

 

We’ve turned off the grill where dinner was cooking so I could talk to her, but I don’t tell her that. It’s not my job to tell her things. It’s my job to listen.

 

“I… I might come back next year.”

 

“If we’re here,” I tell her, “I hope you stop by and say ‘hi.’”

 

“I will. I will,” she says and she nods bravely but her lip loses its firmness and she starts to crumple. I hug her one last time and try to hold her up. We all need to be held up sometimes. Strangers. Friends. Family. Ghosts.

 

We often imagine that our experience is the real experience. We forget the others who have come before – who have belonged in our campsites, our house lots, our countries and lives. The lives that come before and after us often seem so unreal. We claim things as our own, but are they ever really ours? Only for tiny fractions of time.

 

And that’s okay. Lives and experiences can pass astonishingly quickly; some of us can barely remember moments in our own lives, let alone the lives of the people and peoples before us. But they were there. They are there. Sometimes they walk across a tiny road and open their arms to us. Sometimes they are scents we can barely catch at night, little mewings and whispers of pasts and futures we won’t get to be a part of.

 

And that’s okay, too, because we get to be a part of our moments, live them, listen to them, and experience them ourselves. And we can try to be stewards, prepare for other futures and remember others’ pasts. That would be best, I think, if we could act with kindness for those who have suffered losses and for those who have to bear the future burdens. That’s what humanity should be about, not just the cold shivers, but the hugs, the wishes, the hopes and the stories.

 

ENHANCED PAPERBACK RELEASE!

Carrie Jones, the New York Times bestselling author of Flying, presents another science fiction adventure of cheerleader-turned-alien-hunter Mana in Enhanced.

Seventeen-year-old Mana has found and rescued her mother, but her work isn’t done yet. Her mother may be out of alien hands, but she’s in a coma, unable to tell anyone what she knows.

Mana is ready to take action. The only problem? Nobody will let her. Lyle, her best friend and almost-boyfriend (for a minute there, anyway), seems to want nothing to do with hunting aliens, despite his love of Doctor Who. Bestie Seppie is so desperate to stay out of it, she’s actually leaving town. And her mom’s hot but arrogant alien-hunting partner, China, is ignoring Mana’s texts, cutting her out of the mission entirely.

They all know the alien threat won’t stay quiet for long. It’s up to Mana to fight her way back in.

“Witty dialogue and flawless action.”—VOYA

“YA readers, you’re in for a treat this week. Hilarious and action-packed, this novel is sure to be the perfect summer read.”—Bookish 

“Funny and playful, with a diverse cast of characters and a bit of romance and adventure, Flying is the perfect light summer read.”—BookPage

 

Our podcast DOGS ARE SMARTER THAN PEOPLE is still chugging along. Thanks to all of you who keep listening to our weirdness. We’re sorry we laugh so much… sort of.

The Final Time Stoppers Book

What is it? It’s the third TIME STOPPERS book!

Time Stopper Annie’s newfound home, the enchanted town Aurora, is in danger. The vicious Raiff will stop at nothing to steal the town’s magic, and Annie is the only one who can defeat him–even though it’s prophesied that she’ll “fall with evil.”

Alongside her loyal band of friends Eva, Bloom, SalGoud, and Jamie, who still isn’t quite sure whether he’s a troll or not, Annie journeys deep into the Raiff’s realm, the Badlands. The group will face everything from ruthless monsters to their own deepest fears. Can Annie find the courage to confront the Raiff and save everyone, even if it means making the ultimate sacrifice?

What People are Saying About The Books:

An imaginative blend of fantasy, whimsy, and suspense, with a charming cast of underdog characters . . . This new fantasy series will entice younger fans of Harry Potter and Percy Jackson.” –  School Library Journal

“The characters show welcome kindness and poignant insecurity, and the text sprinkles in humor . . . and an abundance of magical creatures.” – Kirkus Reviews 

“An imaginative blend of fantasy, whimsy, and suspense, with a charming cast of underdog characters . . . This new fantasy series will entice younger fans of Harry Potter and Percy Jackson.” – School Library Journal 

How to Get Signed Copies: 

If you would like to purchase signed copies of my books, you can do so through the awesome Sherman’s Book Store in Bar Harbor, Maine or the amazing Briar Patch. The books are also available online at places like Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

For signed copies – email barharbor@shermans.com for Sherman’s or email info@briarpatchbooks.comand let them know the titles in which you are interested. There’s sometimes a waiting list, but they are the best option. Plus, you’re supporting an adorable local bookstore run by some really wonderful humans. But here’s the Amazon link, too!

 

 

 

 

I was Nominated for Woman of the Year and My Heart is Hitching All Over the Place

My heart hitched yesterday.

This email came that I was nominated for the local YWCA’s woman of the year. I stared at it.

And stared at it.

And stared.

I know this might not be a big deal to some people, but me? I flipped out.

It had been a weird rollercoaster day. I signed with a new agent of awesome. I traced down the smell of dog poop to Gabby’s front paw and managed to pry the smooshed and stuck poop out of those giant doggy paw pads five minutes before I had to go lead a Rotary club meeting.

It was disgusting. I had to bleach floors.

I made a resume.

I ran a meeting.

I did all my writing work.

I figured out what I was going to say at a breakfast Rotary meeting the next day that started at 7 a.m. and was three hours away.

I cleaned a toilet.

But that email? It kept resonating.

That email meant something big inside of me – something so big that I couldn’t even talk about it for 24 hours.

“People can nominate women of all ages who make a difference in this community,” said Jackie Davidson, executive director of YWCA MDI. “You can nominate anonymously as well. We want as many women as possible to be recognized for what they do to make our community a better place.”

Make the community a better place.

That email made my heart hitch, the same way that selling my first piece of art made my heart hitch. I know I won’t win and that’s totally fine. Someone awesome will. But the thing is.. someone thought I deserved this.

That means so much to me.

Why it means so much

I grew up poor.

There’s no getting around that.

My mom tried really hard to pretend we weren’t poor. She tried to hide it from everyone, including my much older brother and sister who grew up 15 years earlier than me in a  much nicer working class reality. But when I came around we were poor.

My nana stood in food lines to get us commodity cheese because my mom wouldn’t do it herself because she was too ashamed. Credit card companies and collection agencies would call constantly. I was taught early on to lie on the phone when I answered it and say my mom wasn’t home if it wasn’t my sister or one of my aunts calling.

We had a typewriter, not a word processor, not a computer. Every time I had to get clothes, I’d feel full of guilt. It didn’t help when one of my older siblings taunted me for my quirky style. Goodwill sometimes makes you have a quirky style.

As a child, we would go to my wealthy uncle and aunt’s house for gatherings with their friends. Their friends were senators and doctors, people who worked for WHO, people who helped create the measles vaccine, documentary filmmakers who headed AIDS awareness efforts. I remember looking at their fancy clothes and listening to them and being both inspired and terrified.  They placed napkins in their laps. They kissed people on both cheeks. They made eye contact when they talked, and they used different forks for different things.

They were all kind to me. That wasn’t it. But I knew that I didn’t know how to play by their rules. I went to a window seat that looked out on Lake Winnipesaukee. There was a bookshelf at the end of the seat and in that bookshelf was an etiquette book full of how to eat at the table, what manners were, how to write ‘thank you cards,’ exchange greetings, and so on. It was a beautiful summer day. All the other kids were swimming and playing tag. I was reading and memorizing and trying to learn how to be like the others.

Getting Called Out

Eventually my Aunt Maxine noticed that I was sitting there, reading.

“Carrie. What are you doing? Go out and play,” she said. She liked to use people’s names a lot. She also was sort of bossy in a nice way.

I was afraid of bossy, but I also loved my aunt so I said as bravely as possible, “I’m reading.”

“Don’t you want to go swim with the other children? They’re all outside getting sun, having fun.”

They were. They were splashing around in the water, doing cannonballs off the dock, or perfect dives. They had perfect bathing suits from L.L. Bean and every single one of them seemed to know how to play tennis.

She took the book from me and read the title. After a second, she sat down on the bench next to me. “What are you reading this for, Carrie?”

And I said, “Because I want to be better.”

“Be better! That’s ridiculous. You’re wonderful as who you are.”

“I want… I want to fit in.” I looked her right in the eyes and she got it. I knew she got it. She understood all the things that I couldn’t figure out how to say.

She handed me back the book. “I will make a deal with you. You read this for another half hour and I’ll set the kitchen timer. When it goes off, you go play with the other children and get some exercise.”

Nodding, I thought this was okay. “But I might not finish the book.”

“You can finish it after dinner and games.” She pet me on the top of the head. “I’ll bring you the timer.”

I was five.

That book changed my life and so did my aunt and uncle. They realized that there was a social code and a way of being that wasn’t easily accessible for me no matter how hard my mom tried. I was a poor kid in a wealthy town. I was a latchkey kid who was awkward and driven and terrified of failure. Paying for acting lessons, to play on the soccer team, to play piano were huge stretches for us. Sometimes they happened. Sometimes they didn’t.

I want to be better

My aunt and uncle understood my situation and my want because my uncle was the same way. He was the oldest son of a single mom. He pushed himself hard to succeed, to learn the social code of success and wealth. He went to UNH because it was the only place he could afford and he was valedictorian there, desegregating the fraternity system while he was class president. He eventually went to Harvard Law, married Maxine who had so much intellectual stock and prowess it was just ridiculous. He ended up being the head of an international law association, head of a law firm, chairman of the board of trustees at UNH and so many other things.

My little five-year-old self was trying to do the same things as he did. I wanted to make a difference in the world, to make it better.

Somehow. I took the first and only step I could think of taking – reading that book, trying to crack the social codes of behavior that made his friends and him so different from me.

You Aren’t Death

I was in college when he was dying. We had all gathered for one last Thanksgiving. There were tons of people there, the same kind of brilliant, world-changing people that were there when I was five and when I was ten and when I was 15. My mother and my nana were barely able to sit still because they were so overwhelmed with Dick’s impeding death. They’d have to leave the room every time someone mentioned his name.

During dinner, Maxine called them into his bedroom with her. They stayed for about two minutes and left sobbing.

“He’s too tired,” Maxine said at the threshold of the hallway that led to those bedrooms. “He needed them to go.”

But then, a minute later, she called for me. “Dick wants to see you, Carrie.”

I remember pointing at my chest. “Me?”

“Yes.”

“He’s not too tired?”

“No,” she said. “Not for you.”

There was a bit of a murmur at the table because Uncle Dick wasn’t really calling for anyone to come see him. He was barely holding on.

She ushered me into a back bedroom that wasn’t their normal place to sleep. The wooden walls were dark because the shades were drawn. There was only one bedside light on. My uncle was thin and his breathing was so heavy. It seemed like there were a million blankets layered on top of him.

He met my eyes as I came to his bed and sat on the edge of it, ignoring the chair.

“Everyone sits in the chair,” he rasped out.

“I wanted to be close to you.” I grabbed his hand.

“Nobody wants to be close to death.”

“You aren’t death. You’re my uncle.”

We were quiet. The weight of his hand in mine seemed like nothing and everything all at once. I think he might have fallen asleep, but I sat there thinking about how beautiful he was, how elegant, how he changed systems of injustice one at a time, as best he could, how he taught himself Japanese, how to play the organ, how to be wealthy, how to fit in with an entire class of successful people that he wasn’t born to, and how he and my aunt Maxine both tried to lift other people up into that class with them.

He opened his eyes. “Carrie, I’m throwing down the gauntlet. Will you pick it up?”

There was only one answer.

“Yes,” I told him. “Yes.”

It was the last thing he said to me. He fell asleep again. We left for home. I left for college. And since then, I have spent years trying to figure out how to make my words to my uncle not be a lie. How to meet the challenge of his life so well lived.

How to pick up that damn gauntlet.

And I know I’m not doing enough.  It’s hard to motivate other people. Sometimes it’s hard to even motivate myself.

I have a friend who recently said to me, “You do so much volunteering. I don’t. I can’t. I’m a selfish person. I want to make money.”

And I didn’t know what to say.

I still don’t.

I have only succeeded as much as I have because people were willing to let me read a book, to be examples of goodness, to give me the opportunity to interact with senators, opera singers, doctors who have saved thousands of lives. Humiliation and exclusion are not what we should aspire to. Inclusion and praise are not things to be afraid of giving to other people. Enjoying other people’s successes and happiness doesn’t make you any less likely to succeed.

That’s why a nomination for making a difference means so much to me. And to have it be at a YWCA event? The YWCA that’s all about empowering women and fighting oppression? That means even more.

Aunt Maxine and Uncle Dick told me throughout my childhood that intelligence was a privilege I was born with. It could be cultivated and expanded on, but what was the most important thing was finding a way (or many ways) of using that privilege (intelligence, class, race, gender, being physically fit, and so on) and using it to better other people’s lives, your own life, the world not in a way that makes you a hero but in a way that makes you a friend.

Yes, we need to take care of ourselves (thus being selfish), but we also need to not live in bubbles – to see where our language and our rules, our so-called ‘cultural norms’ can be a code that even five-year-olds realize doesn’t include them.

I don’t know how to fix this, but I know we all have to try. I was so lucky to have an Uncle Dick and Aunt Maxine. Not everyone is. And when you feel excluded because of economic, racial, gender, religious codes? How can you not hurt?

I’ve tried to pick up the gauntlet by being friends, writing books, and I’ve even tried to be a politician. I’ve tried by how I raised my daughter, by being on boards, on fighting against bullying, for literacy, against domestic violence, by promoting diversity in children’s literature.

It doesn’t feel like enough.

Honestly, it feels like nothing, like I am barely touching the surface of need, of change.

Part of why I’m in Rotary International, and even why I decided to be the volunteer Public Image Chair for a huge part of Canada and the United States is because this organization of 1.2 million people are picking up the gauntlet, over and over again. From helping to eradicate polio (one vaccine and one fundraiser at a time) to building a local playground or a creating a book festival, Rotary grabs that gauntlet. The only difference is, they do it together.

How are you picking up the gauntlet? How do you feel excluded? Included? I’d love to know.

If you could nominate one of your friends for helping her community, who would you nominate as a woman of distinction? Tell her. It will mean everything. I promise you.

 

*I’ve posted pieces of this before, I think. I’m not sure. But it’s my story and I want to make sure I remind myself of it a lot – of how grateful I am to have a story and for the people in my life who have been so good to me. I hope you have those people too.

Writing News

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ENHANCED PAPERBACK RELEASE!

This is the book that I forgot was coming out. I am so sorry, little book!

Carrie Jones, the New York Times bestselling author of Flying, presents another science fiction adventure of cheerleader-turned-alien-hunter Mana in Enhanced.

Seventeen-year-old Mana has found and rescued her mother, but her work isn’t done yet. Her mother may be out of alien hands, but she’s in a coma, unable to tell anyone what she knows.

Mana is ready to take action. The only problem? Nobody will let her. Lyle, her best friend and almost-boyfriend (for a minute there, anyway), seems to want nothing to do with hunting aliens, despite his love of Doctor Who. Bestie Seppie is so desperate to stay out of it, she’s actually leaving town. And her mom’s hot but arrogant alien-hunting partner, China, is ignoring Mana’s texts, cutting her out of the mission entirely.

They all know the alien threat won’t stay quiet for long. It’s up to Mana to fight her way back in.

“Witty dialogue and flawless action.”—VOYA
“YA readers, you’re in for a treat this week. Hilarious and action-packed, this novel is sure to be the perfect summer read.”—Bookish 

“Funny and playful, with a diverse cast of characters and a bit of romance and adventure, Flying is the perfect light summer read.”—BookPage

Order Your Copy:

amazon bn booksamillion  indiebound

 

I made a video about copy editing my next book, co-written with Steve Wedel. It’s called IN THE WOODS and its scary self arrives in 2019. BUT HERE IS THE GOOFY VIDEO!

Our podcast DOGS ARE SMARTER THAN PEOPLE is still chugging along. Thanks to all of you who keep listening to our weirdness. We’re sorry we laugh so much… sort of.

Dogs are smarter than people - the podcast, writing tips, life tips, quirky humans, awesome dogs

The Final Time Stoppers Book

What is it? It’s the third TIME STOPPERS book! It’s also one of the reasons that I forgot about ENHANCED’s release.

Time Stopper Annie’s newfound home, the enchanted town Aurora, is in danger. The vicious Raiff will stop at nothing to steal the town’s magic, and Annie is the only one who can defeat him–even though it’s prophesied that she’ll “fall with evil.”

Alongside her loyal band of friends Eva, Bloom, SalGoud, and Jamie, who still isn’t quite sure whether he’s a troll or not, Annie journeys deep into the Raiff’s realm, the Badlands. The group will face everything from ruthless monsters to their own deepest fears. Can Annie find the courage to confront the Raiff and save everyone, even if it means making the ultimate sacrifice?
What People are Saying About The Books:
An imaginative blend of fantasy, whimsy, and suspense, with a charming cast of underdog characters . . . This new fantasy series will entice younger fans of Harry Potter and Percy Jackson.” –  School Library Journal
“The characters show welcome kindness and poignant insecurity, and the text sprinkles in humor . . . and an abundance of magical creatures.” Kirkus Reviews 

“An imaginative blend of fantasy, whimsy, and suspense, with a charming cast of underdog characters . . . This new fantasy series will entice younger fans of Harry Potter and Percy Jackson.” – School Library Journal 
How to Get Signed Copies: 

If you would like to purchase signed copies of my books, you can do so through the awesome Sherman’s Book Store in Bar Harbor, Maine or the amazing Briar Patch. The books are also available online at places like Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

For signed copies – email barharbor@shermans.com for Sherman’s or email info@briarpatchbooks.com and let them know the titles in which you are interested. There’s sometimes a waiting list, but they are the best option. Plus, you’re supporting an adorable local bookstore run by some really wonderful humans. But here’s the Amazon link, too!

 

 

 

 

My Mom is Dead, But It’s Her Birthday

It’s my mom’s birthday today, but she’s dead.

And that’s weird.

It’s been a few years now, and I’ve got to admit. It’s still weird.

A lot of time we talk about the writing life as if it’s this entity that exists out of regular life. So many of my students spend a lot of time apologizing for not writing for a week because they were out living, having a vacation, dealing with a hurt or sick loved one, or just visiting people they care about.

There are some writers who can only write if everything in their life is amazing.

There are some writers who write because everything else in their life is miserable.

carriejonesbooks.blog

There’s no one way to be a writer just like there is no one way to be a human. We just live. That’s the best we can do.

 

For years and years I’ve wanted to tell the story of my mom’s complicated, passionate, messy life and I’m finally writing a fictionalized version of it. And it’s hard. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever written.

This is my mom surrounded by her brothers. She has another half brother and some half sisters because my family is complicated like that. My mom was 5-1 so we are short people.

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This was my mom’s eulogy that I gave at her funeral. 

Our mom, Betty, was propped up in a hospital bed in Manchester, NH just about a week ago today, and if she saw herself then she would have had a fit. Believe me. She didn’t like to be out of the house if her hair wasn’t combed or her lipstick wasn’t perfectly applied. I can not begin to tell you how many times I sat in her car, waiting to go to the grocery store, the library, a birthday party, or even the dump, and counted the seconds while she reapplied her lipstick in that painstaking way that mothers have.  Let’s just say that she took her time, and I was a very impatient kid. But there was a reason she wanted to put that lipstick on: She wanted to make sure she looked beautiful.

She always did though. She always looked beautiful.

And in the hospital last week, ravaged from illness, with her heart trying so hard to beat, with her lungs trying so hard to breathe, my mother wouldn’t have thought she was beautiful.

But she was.

She sat up in that hospital bed and my brother and sister used a plastic spoon to feed her some chocolate and vanilla ice cream from a tiny Styrofoam cup. The moment that first spoonful of ice cream hit her lips, our mother, with her eyes closed and her heart failing, broke into a smile that lit up her entire face with a joy so sheer and absolute that it brought tears to everyone’s eyes.

She was beautiful.

She was always beautiful, but that beauty didn’t come from her lipstick, or even from her smile. That beauty came from her soul. That beauty came from her love.

Our mother was an expert in love.

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“I love you with every ounce of my being,” she would write on birthday cards, Easter cards, those little tags that go on Christmas presents and emails.

And proud? She was brilliant at proud. Every grandchild was a trophy to her – shiny and gleaming full of light and importance. She polished them with her love and words and pride in their deeds. Keith, her firefighting hero boy, her handy man, the first of her grandbabies. Kevin, the one she thought looked the most like her – so smart and now a hero boy police officer who helped bring her the great grandbabies that she thought were so beautiful. Kayla. She would tell me sooo many soccer stories about Kayla but her favorite story was how when Kayla was in first grade she learned sign language because a little girl in her grade didn’t have anyone to talk to. She was so proud of Kayla’s kindness and intelligence. Brooks, the grandson who made her laugh with his quick wit and indomitable spirit and zest for life that matched her own. She was always hugging on him when he was a baby, and when he was a toddler, and talking about how neat he was. And Emily, the youngest of them, who she saw the moment she was born and declared, “She’s so smart. Look at her eyes. She’s taking everything in. Oh… she’s so beautiful. She looks like a Morse.”  Nana was so proud of you, Em, proud of the love you gave her, your goofiness, and your accomplishments.

My mom’s pride didn’t just extend to her grandchildren. She was so proud of her children and friends as well. I remember one day after one of the 80,000 holiday or birthday parties that my sister Debbie hosted so effortlessly, I got in the car with my mom and she started to tear up. She was always tearing up. Deb and Bruce take after her. We are weepy sort of people given to strong love, strong sorrow, and strong joy.

Anyways, I asked her why she was crying. I was probably impatient about it again, but she said, “I am just so proud of my Debbie. She works so hard. She is so good. She is such a good mother.” It was her highest praise. And then she wiped away her tears and reapplied her lipstick.

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She recognized the beauty in Debbie and rejoiced in it so much it made her cry like she’d just read a Hallmark card with the word love in it.

One time we were at a wedding and my brother Bruce was in the wedding party and these women in the pew behind us were gossiping about the gorgeous usher with the dimples and my mom turned around and proudly announced to those women, “That’s my son! He has my dimples.”

“He’s so handsome,” the girls said.

“He has a kind heart,” my mom said. “He has a beautiful heart. And beautiful dimples.”

My mom loved deeply and without reservation. She loved her friends, so many of them are here today. Thank you for being here Mel and Steve and Marie and Clem. Two of you both claim to be my mom’s first boyfriend. I’ll let you fight that out amongst yourselves.

My mom also loved her husbands. Her first love and her second husband was my stepdad John, and their love was a beautiful forever thing. Her funeral is exactly 29 years after his on the same date. There’s a symmetry in that, and a beauty to their love. But what really shows how remarkable she is was her relationship with my dad, Lew. They chatted and gossiped pretty much daily; even though they were divorced for decades and decades, they were supporting each other constantly even until the very last days of her life. Once, they came to visit me in Maine and people compared them to the Costanzas on Seinfeld. They talked simultaneously, teasing each other constantly, voices getting louder and louder. When I said they were divorced, people wouldn’t believe me because the link between them was so strong. Their friendship was a forever thing.

My mom was born 77 years ago to a brilliant woman and a talented jazz drummer, grew up with two brothers that she loved and was proud to call siblings. She was a wife, a homemaker, an office manager, a Welcome Wagon Lady, a town employee, a real estate broker, and then worked for the Bedford school system. But those are just titles, just occupations. Those aren’t about her soul. She could slam doors with great passion for her small frame. She could laugh hysterically over things as silly as saying ‘in bed’ after you read a fortune cookie. When she got mad she would yell, ‘sugar diabetes,’ the disease that would eventually take her body. She would gossip with her friends about the results on Dancing with the Stars and The Voice and argue her political opinions without reservation. She was a firecracker and a charmer, spunky and sweet, funny and intelligent, and always, always interested in people’s stories.

It is hard to watch someone dying and in the time that Emily and I spent with my mom I noticed something interesting in her murmurings. She called a lot for her brother Richard who she adored. She often said with her eyes closed, “I see you Richard. Richard. Richard, is it okay?”

I imagine he told her that it was okay. I imagine that he took her hand and then gave her a hug, the way she would have hugged anyone at anytime. My mother was the kind of person who hugged her children and grandchildren for ages. We would call it entering the hug-off with Nana and joke that she never let go first.  My mother didn’t let go of people, not of her dear friends, not of her family members. No matter what we did, she held on to us, was proud of us, listened to our stories of joy and pain and goofiness. She hugged you as long as she could physically, and when she couldn’t hug you with her arms any more, she hugged you with her head, loving you no matter how many miles were between you and her.

Her hugs lasted forever. Her love was that way, too.

But one of the other things my mother yelled when she was dying was a little bit different. She yelled for toast. Honestly, she hollered for toast like it was a long lost love. “TOAST! TOAST! TOAST!” And when she got it and took a bite she whispered to me, “So good. Do you want some?”

And it is such a goofy thing, and so sweet, and in a way encapsulates a major aspect of her personality. She liked to feed people toast and roast chicken and chocolate chip cookies and Boston Cream Pie. She liked to give sustenance. She liked to give.  Whether it was food or love or hugs or an ear, my mother was a giver.

We can all learn from a life like that, a life where one woman created a web of love that connects very different people and friends across space and time. It was a life where love trumped all, a life where helping friends and family ruled, where it was important to  listen to the stories of children as they went into a dance studio or teachers calling on the phone asking for subs,  where it was natural for her to smile at nurses and doctors no matter how much pain she was in, a life where she wanted so badly to know everything that went on in the lives of her loved ones because she cared so very much.

And we care about you Mom. And we were proud of you. And you were and are very loved.

So off you go Mom, off you go, holding the hands of the people you have loved you, with those of us who still love you, waving goodbye, singing you songs, telling you stories, making more stories for you to enjoy from your perch in Heaven and eating lots of toast and Boston Cream Pie and chocolate chip cookies in your honor. May the wings of the angels wrap you up as one of their own and may we all live our lives as you did – with love and pride and beauty.

* I totally stole the ‘off you go’ line from Kevin Costner. Hopefully, he doesn’t mind.

Random Life Tip: Hug like my mother, damn it. Also, don’t worry about how many times you’ve been married. Worry about how big you’ve loved.

Random Marketing and Book Things Since I am an Author and Need To Make Money.

I KNOW! I’M NOT SUPPOSED TO ADMIT IT. 

My nonfiction picture book about Moe Berg, the pro ball player who became a spy was all official on March 1 and I’m super psyched about it. You can order it!

Kirkus Review says:   A captivating true story of a spy, secret hero, and baseball player too.

The Spy Who Played Baseball

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The podcast, DOGS ARE SMARTER THAN PEOPLE, has a new podcast that came out Tuesday.

And finally, I made a little video for my TIME STOPPERS books.

Time Stoppers’s third book comes out this summer. It’s been called a cross between Harry Potter and Percy Jackson, but with heart. It takes place in Acadia National Park in Bar Harbor, Maine. I need to think of awesome ways to promote it because this little book series is the book series of my own middle grade heart. Plus, I wrote it for the Emster. Plus, it is fun.