Somehow, you don't expect a thought-provoking writer to be beautiful. Beautiful women are usually the muses, rather than the creators. But petite Kaylie Jones, her delicate features framed by a halo of golden hair, takes writing very seriously. Maybe that's because her father, James Jones, provided the role model.
She grew up in Sagaponack and Paris. She speaks fluent Russian, which she began studying at the age of 8, and which she continued to perfect throughout her undergraduate and graduate studies. Ms. Jones also speaks French fluently. As a side bar, she's working towards her black belt in karate. She has a daughter and a husband and a delightful little dog named Natalie (pronounced the French way) who follows her around where ever she goes. Natalie also attends the classes Ms. Jones teaches at Southampton College. She has for years, when not living in Russia or Paris, divided her time between New York and the Hamptons.
Kaylie Jones is the author of several novels. Her most recent is "Speak Now", published by Akashic Press. "A Soldier's Daughter Never Cries" was made into a movie by Merchant Ivory and starred Khris Khristofferson. Earlier works include: "Celeste Ascending", "As Soon As It Rains", "Quite the Other Way", and two award winning screenplays "Anor of Aquitain" which was co-written with her husband Kevin Heisler and "Limbo" which was written alone. She is the daughter of James Jones, the author best known for "From Here to Eternity" and "The Thin Red Line". Other works include "Some Came Running", "The Merry Month of May", "Pistol", "Whistle", and "Go to the Widow Maker".
Protecting the art of the novel is Kaylie Jones' inheritance. In a recent telephone interview from her home in New York City we talked about just that:
JZH: Is the novel still relevant?
KJ: The novel will always be relevant. It is becoming increasingly important that it remain relevant, especially in the technological age. We are becoming a country absent of thought. More people read novels in the 50's and 60's than now. We are a Puritanical country, and Puritanism believed there should be no art, theatre, etc...When is non-fiction really fiction? The novel has grown and changed and adapted to the needs of the society.
JZH: What is your greatest challenge as a Professor of literature and writing?
KJ: The number of students who want to hit the lottery with a novel, who have never read a novel. They've seen the movie of a novel, maybe. "Friends" is their idea of what a relationship is. You can only get an appreciation for language by reading; to study writing through the good writers.
They don't like reading the classics because it demands time and attention. I teach Russian and French literature for writers in a historical context. I also teach "Beginning the Novel" and help writers to develop what they need in their first chapters.
JZH: Why do you love to teach?
KJ: Because all my students get published! Three students all published their first novels around the same time last year. And they all developed a minor character, the same character, as an inside joke. So the same character appeared in the three books. What gives me the greatest satisfaction is my students getting published.
Marlon James, a Jamaican writer who wrote "John Crow's Devil", was a student of mine. They gave him a half page review in the New York Times
book review. Then there was "Iron Balloons" by Colin Channer of the Jamaica Calabash writer's workshop. He had an interview on NPR. Or then there's "Better Homes and Husbands" by Valerie Ann Leff! Now there's a TV series being made that is based on her novel.
We've also established the James Jones Fellowship, which gives a first, unpublished novel award of $10,000. Out of 600 submissions there are 6 semi-finalists chosen. One year it was awarded to a Native American, John Smelcer. He lives in Alaska and he wrote "The Trap." Now he's got a three book deal and Disney movie deal. I'd say 11 or 12 of my students have been published.
JZH: What is the best part of the fellowship program for you?
KJ: Calling someone to say that they've won is one of the best feelings in the world. Smelcer dropped the phone and thought it was a dream.
JZH: I notice you publish with a small press. Why is that?
CJ: I don't have faith in big business. There are MBA's who make publishing decisions based on a formula. They are not innovators. They are not going to publish people who ask 'Who are the guardians of our moral standards?' They don't publish writers who ask the big questions and who ask their readers to think.
I think in time that small presses will get more powerful and big business will fail. The public will become dissatisfied. Nobody puts his or her life on the line for his or her beliefs anymore.