This time i am talking to author Jolene Ballard Gutiérrez who grew up on a farm in northeastern Colorado. She still lives in Colorado with her husband, daughter, and son. Her day job is that of a teacher/librarian, but when she has spare time, she’s either writing or reading.
Books & Writing: Do you remember when you first got into writing?
Jolene Ballard Gutiérrez: I’ve been writing all of my life, but I decided I wanted to be a published author when I was in 2nd grade. I had a teacher, Mr. Boettcher, who told our class that he would use his typewriter and “publish” any books we wrote. I immediately went home and wrote story after story, and Mr. Boettcher typed up and published my books. After that, I was hooked.
Books & Writing: What do you love about writing?
Jolene Ballard Gutiérrez: For me, writing is like being a weaver and bringing all of these pieces of yarn together—you’re holding all of the strands and shaping them into something different and beautiful. It’s this feeling of being connected to something larger, something beyond yourself, and it’s an amazing experience. The feeling of creating any kind of art is, for me, an exhilarating and addicting feeling.
Books & Writing: What was the first story you wrote?
Jolene Ballard Gutiérrez: The first story I remember writing is a story called The Six Ladybugs that I wrote when I was about 6 years old (you can read a little more about it at http://writerjolene.blogspot.com/p/books.html). Devil.May.Care is my first published book, though.
Books & Writing: I understand you published a book called Devil May Care. Can you tell us something about that book?
Jolene Ballard Gutiérrez: When Ana takes off flying across the high school stage, her life is forever changed. Searching for answers, Ana meets Gabrielle, her mentor. Gabrielle teaches Ana that she’s an angel and is here on Earth to help prepare for a war between good and evil. The only problem? Ana can’t always tell who’s good and who’s evil. While she’s learning, Ana meets the man of her dreams, Dylan. He’s gorgeous, sexy, and really seems to care about Ana. Even though he’s a demon, Ana’s heart tells her to trust him. Then Ana’s world is shattered and she finds herself alone and afraid. As the boundaries between good and evil blur, Ana realizes she no longer knows who she can trust and who might be out to kill her.
Books & Writing: Can you tell us something about Ana, the main character form the book, like is she a total fabrication, or are there traits in her from people you know?
Jolene Ballard Gutiérrez: Ana and I share a lot of qualities, although I’m not an angel. But her sarcasm is definitely my voice and her relationship with Dylan is inspired by the high-school-sweetheart relationship my husband and I had. I also believe in trying not to judge people based on stereotypes and assumptions, and Ana seems to believe that, too.
Books & Writing: Are you working on something new at the moment?
Jolene Ballard Gutiérrez: Yes, I’ve completed a few picture books and am finishing up a middle grade multicultural novel called Dias de los Muertos: Days of the Dead. It has some elements of the supernatural as well as some harsh-reality elements like abuse and alcoholism.
Books & Writing: Where can people go and read your work?
Books & Writing: Where can people find you on internet?
Jolene Ballard Gutiérrez: My website: http://writerjolene.blogspot.com/
Books & Writing: Which writer(s) inspires you?
Jolene Ballard Gutiérrez: That’s a tough question! I’m inspired by anyone who’s worked to polish their piece into a publication-quality book, because that takes so much work! Can I twist your question and list some authors I enjoy reading? I love Isabel Allende, but she’s one of the few adult writers I read because I work in a school library setting. There are some amazingly talented young adult authors out there, and I especially enjoy supernatural, horror, and dystopian books, so I read a lot of those. Some of the recent authors I’ve enjoyed include Carrie Ryan, Jennifer Donnelly, Meg Cabot, Lauren DeStefano, Veronica Roth, and Ally Condie.
Books & Writing: Do you have any tips for aspiring writers?
Jolene Ballard Gutiérrez: Read, read, read, and write, write, write! The more writing you’re exposed to and the more you practice the art of writing, the better you’ll be. I also encourage writers to immerse themselves in the writing community. Using Twitter, Facebook, G+, etc. to get to know some of your favorite authors, editors, and agents is helpful, as is reading blogs, interviews, etc. Find local communities of writers if possible, too. I’m a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI), and the connections I’ve made through SCBWI have been so helpful. Finding a critique group or honest friends to read your work can be extremely helpful (and painful, but you’ll need straight, no-holds-barred opinions to help shape your book into the best piece of work it can be). Lastly, remember that writing might be some of the most difficult work you do, but if you’re doing it for the right reasons, it will be extremely rewarding.
Books & Writing: Thanks Jolene for taking the time to answer my questions!
Below is an excerpt from “Devil May Care”
PART ONE: FLIGHT SCHOOL
And yet to every bad there is a worse. –Thomas Hardy
My knuckles turned white as my fingernails bit into the plush velvet fabric of the theatre curtain. I exhaled shakily, and my arms quivered with the effort of holding myself up. What the Hell just happened to me?
Footsteps echoed on the wooden floor below and I heard Cheyenne’s astonished voice. I knew if I looked down, I might lose my grip entirely.
“Ana! What are you doing? How did you get up there? Is this some sort of joke?” Her voice quavered, sounding as if she might crumble and cry.
I didn’t answer her; I couldn’t seem to find my voice. I focused all of my energy on calming myself and getting down safely.
Cheyenne’s shoes slapped against the floorboards as she ran from the room. Maybe she was running to tell a teacher, a pattern she’d started when we met in Kindergarten and I stole the teacher’s chalk. Even though she was my best friend, the boundaries between right and wrong weren’t as blurred for Cheyenne as they sometimes were for me.
Cautiously, I loosened the grip of one hand and inched myself slowly down the curtain. The work of moving was causing my muscles to burn and ache, but my determination and adrenaline helped me push through the pain.
I was at least 20 feet from the ground and I knew I had to get down. I had to get down now, before I fell and before more people saw me and started asking questions that I couldn’t answer.
Focused on my own movements, I didn’t hear my balding and portly principal enter the theater.
“Ana, what are you doing up there?” Mr. Benedict’s urgent voice startled me, grating on my already-frayed nerves. Pushing his question from my mind, I concentrated on working my way down the red cloth.
Mr. Benedict was undeterred. “Ana, answer me now or I’m going to assume this is a suicide attempt. I’ll have no choice but to call the police.” There’s a reason most of the student body calls him Mr. Been-a-dick behind his back.
Making an effort to stay calm, I took a chance and looked down at him. “I understand, Mr. Benedict,” I said through gritted teeth, “but I have bigger issues to deal with right now.”
“Are you a danger to yourself?” he asked suspiciously, titling his head to the side as he narrowed his eyes at me.
I didn’t bother answering, choosing instead to focus on my descent.
The sound of Cheyenne’s shoes on the wooden floor signaled her return and I glanced down to see her hoisting the front half of a large extension ladder while a school janitor carried the back. The janitor took one look at me, shook his head, and then helped Cheyenne rest the top of the ladder against the wall beside the curtain.
I breathed a sigh of relief and the knot of tension in my stomach relaxed a bit. When I tried to reach for the paint-spattered metal rung of the ladder with one hand, I realized that my fingers were stiff and claw-like from clinging to the curtain. Uncurling my fingers to grasp the ladder rungs was the most difficult part of getting back to the ground. That, and the way my legs wouldn’t stop shaking.
Once down, I sagged to the floor and stayed there, Mr. Benedict and Cheyenne towering over me. I was exhausted.
“I need to see you in my office, Ana. Was anyone else involved in this prank? How did you get up there?” Mr. Benedict asked, bending to offer his hand and then pulling me up, ready to drag me toward his office and certain punishment.
I had no answers for him; my head was swimming with questions. Questions about how I had just taken off in flight when that should’ve only been possible in movies. Questions about what might happen to me if gravity let go of me again and there wasn’t a curtain for me to cling to.