Interview with H.D. Jones

Why should people consider reading your work?
People should consider reading Unlimited Class if they're looking for some fun relaxation where they can allow reality to be suspended a little bit. Actually, quite a bit. This story doesn't delve into any deep problems or serious issues, but I think it may bring some smiles to readers by taking an everyday childhood activity like soap box derby racing and ramping it up to a ridiculous level.

Although the protagonist is an eleven-year old girl, I wrote Unlimited Class with an adult audience in mind and with some detail to the science, both real and exaggerated. But I hope younger readers will also enjoy Marnie's antics and outlook, and I think readers of all ages can do a little bit of Walter Mitty-type daydreaming and picture themselves in Marnie's place.
How did you approach the cover design for your short story Unlimited Class?
There was no question of paying for a cover, I wanted to do the whole thing on my own. I read lots of advice from forums and blogs for things to keep in mind when designing ebook covers, everything from color themes to making sure the title can still be read at thumbnail-sized versions of the image. And I finally decided to violate the “rule” that you shouldn't do your own image manipulation (“photoshopping”, although I use the GIMP for all my graphic work) unless you're a professional who actually gets paid for graphics and does that 8 hours every day. Otherwise, the advice goes, your image will end up looking amateurish.

But when I thought about it, amateurish construction was what my whole story was about. Unlimited Class is about a young girl who slaps together a bunch of components into a workable result. So that's when I thought of making a cover that included the dash portion of her soap box derby racer, showing how completely unrelated components had been amateurishly cobbled together into something that actually worked.
Is there research involved for a wild farce like Unlimited Class?
Some, sure, and maybe not for things you'd think of right away. For instance, I spent a fair amount of time tracking down information on jet fighter ejection seat mechanisms, including acceleration forces and operation. That all got boiled down into just a couple sentences of action in the story. Also, while I learned most of the legitimate and stretched science principles in Unlimited Class at some point in my academic career, that was long time ago, so I was looking up reference material on complexation and d-orbitals, and liquid helium behavior, and acceleration equations, etc. That's not stuff that has stayed right at the forefront of my memory all these years. <g> And this may seem silly, but I wanted legitimate values so I sought out weight/height distribution data for girls of Marnie's age and selected values down near the 10 percentile region for her. I wanted her character to be unusually small but still definitely healthy. The divisions and rules for soap box derby competition are all genuine too, aside from the fictitious Unlimited Class, of course.
How long did it take you to write Unlimited Class?
I think the first complete rough draft was written over a span of about a month. But that was 12 or 13 years ago, and I dusted it off again every year or two and did little revisions here and there. There was a lot of rewriting, and a couple workshopping episodes where I got some feedback from other people. This past winter I decided it was time to settle on a final version, and I polished up the ms to its current form.
When you write your stories are you an "outliner" (a plotter) or a “pantser” (using a “seat-of-the-pants” approach to story development)?
I guess I'm primarily a pantser. I definitely don't write out detailed multi-level outlines like I was required to for some writing projects in high school and college, and I don't use index cards or other schemes for organizing my information before writing. But sometimes I'll write down a sentence or so for each scene I envision just so I keep it in mind for later, and now that I've started using Scrivener I make a page for each scene as soon as I decide the scene might be necessary, even if I won't be writing that scene for some time.

I write the scenes in a story out of order, because often I'll have some major scenes that are an integral part of the story already worked out in my head, even if their placement is deep into the story. So I tend to write those thought-out scenes to completion either during or even before I've put down any preliminary words in earlier scenes that are still less clear in my head. That approach usually keeps me from blank "now what?" periods at the keyboard, because there's almost always something I've got fleshed out in my mind, even if it means jumping around from one story to another (I have several stories in the works at any time).
What is your writing process?
I don't have a specific process that I try to follow as a formula, but there are some approaches I use consistently. I think one of my strong suits is writing realistic dialogue, and that's often how I'll start putting a scene together. If there are one or more characters and there's dialogue, long before I get to the point of typing I've already had variations of speaking lines and phrases running through my head. I use a digital recorder extensively so if I think of some wording I'll want to try I can record it for later-- I keep the recorder right next to my bed and always take it with me if I drive anywhere.

So that's where many of my scenes and stories start, with me writing out the dialogue with little initial attention to full descriptions of the speakers' physical actions, and only a bare minimum of description of their appearance or their surroundings. I do those non-dialogue aspects on a later pass. Obviously the dialogue-first approach can't work for all scenes, and plenty of scenes don't have any dialogue at all. But my digital recorder comes in handy for all scenes. You never know when an idea or a phrase will strike you, and it's often when it's not convenient to make any notes, but I can speak an idea into my recorder in just a few seconds and then work with it some time later.
What do you read for pleasure?
I read a mix of fiction types, including science fiction and various thriller genres (military, legal, espionage, etc.), and I enjoy mysteries. I read novels, but I especially like good short stories and novelettes. In non-fiction I've read quite a bit of World War II histories and biographies, and I'm addicted to reading current events and news. Politics, science, and the space program (all countries) and space research are among my favorite current events topics.
Who are some of your favorite authors?
Well there are lots, in different genres. One writing style I appreciate is smart-assed humor, and I especially like Mark Twain and Jerome K. Jerome for that sort of thing. Janet Evanovich is a contemporary humorous author I like.

My favorite of the classic giant sci-fi authors was Arthur C. Clarke, though I've certainly read and liked most of Heinlein, Asimov, Bradbury, and other biggies. Connie Willis has some great intricate plots that weave seamlessly.

There are some big-name fiction authors who had some early works I really liked and then later in their writing careers they churned out works I thought were atrocious. Michael Crichton, Tom Clancy, and John Grisham are among authors I used to read, but at some point in each of their careers they started putting out fluff I didn't like and I didn't read anything new from that point onward.

I guess in non-fiction I'm less likely to read multiple books by one author. One exception is Stephen Ambrose, whose books I still enjoy in spite of the controversies that have arisien.
Were you good at English in school?
It would probably be better to say I was “successful” at my English classes rather than “good”. I always wrote fairly well, but I could never really say why, and I never did properly learn grammar and sentence construction. Most of the time my sentences are put together well, but once in a while something just doesn't work. The good news is that I can almost always recognize when I've written something improper or confusing. The bad news is that, because I never really got the foundations of grammar and diagramming down solidly, I can't always identify my error. Some people can look at an awkward sentence and immediately say “Well, *there's* your problem! You've dangled your predicated foofaw!” and they know immediately how to resolve the issue. I can't do that. Sometimes I end up having to try several constructions before I get one that sounds right to me, and even then it may not actually *be* right, though my guesses are usually pretty good.
When did you decide to be a writer?
I've always enjoyed writing, from essays and stories in classes in junior high and high school to stories I wrote on my own. So I guess the better question is, when did I decide to publish my writing and share it with others? And that's been sort of a daydream of mine since my mid-to-late teens, which was 35-40 years ago. Why the long wait? Probably pretty much the same reasons a lot of writers feel, both those who took the plunge and started putting their works out in public and those who have not yet stepped over that line: procrastination, not sure how to go about it, lack of confidence, and on and on.
How fast can you write (words per hour)?
There's a big range, obviously, depending on whether I'm deciding what the plot is as I'm going or writing a scene that I've already got fairly well worked out in my head. In the former case, it can take forever just to string together a couple paragraphs, and I don't really like writing that way. I'd rather do that early-stage thinking about a scene before I even get to the keyboard, so I already have an idea what's going to come out before I start typing. OK, so now, how fast for that second case? Actually, I kept track at a couple lengthy writing sessions at my local public library during the 2013 NaNoWriMo. For material that was moderately well thought out (but I hadn't actually written any of it previously even in rough form, nor done any sort of outline or notes), I found I could maintain about 700 words of new material per hour for 3 or 4 hours at a time, but I don't do that every day by any means.
How do you overcome procrastination and self-doubt?
I never have. I'm still working on both issues.
Published 2014-07-21.
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Books by This Author

Unlimited Class
Price: $0.99 USD. Words: 9,220. Language: English. Published: July 21, 2014. Categories: Fiction » Science fiction » Short stories, Fiction » Humor & comedy » General
Eleven-year-old Marnie Sandburg likes to make really complicated things. She's building a soap box derby racer, but she has to hide most of her work because her parents don't know she's entered to race in the Unlimited Class. Marnie's got lots of secret gizmos for her racer, including an artificial inertia generator. And now her Mom has told her she has to accept the help of an assistant . . .