Hannah Jones (aka Jaida Jones) earned a Scholastic Portfolio Gold Award in 2004. She has published four fantasy books, Havemercy, Shadow Magic, Dragon Soul, and Steelhands, as well as a collection of her poetry entitled Cinquefoil—all garnering critical acclaim. And she’s done all this by the age of 26!
We recently had a chance to chat with Hannah to learn more about her love for reading and writing fantasy. She also provided us with some great advice for all the young fantasy writers out there. Check it out!
When did you first know that you wanted to be a writer?
The first time I read a good book and it ended. I don’t cope well with separation.
What do you like about the fantasy genre? What opportunities does it afford you as a writer that you don’t have when writing “realistic” fiction?
One of the assignments I remember vividly from a college writing workshop was as follows: all the assembled students were given a first line to write a short in-class piece of fiction over the course of fifteen minutes. The first line was ‘She looked at the dinosaur in the room.’ After fifteen minutes, we went around the room reading our pieces out loud. All the dinosaurs in the room had been metaphors–for old men, for difficult situations, for people they no longer wanted to be with, obsolete lovers and childhood friends. My dinosaur was a dinosaur. It spoke. Coincidentally, the professor of that writing workshop was my absolute favorite. She encouraged all dinosaurs and dragons and never once raised her eyebrow at the audacity of a dinosaur being a dinosaur, and a speaking one at that. She taught me the importance of actually making that dinosaur seem real. Every texture, every touch, every slow, lumbering, heavy sway of dinosauritude. The best thing about fantasy is what it makes you believe in.
What books are necessary reads for young fantasy writers?
Good books. Books they enjoy of any genre. Translated books. Old books and new books. Books that make them sick with envy. Books that make them angry, books that make them sad. Books that can’t be read without getting up every few paragraphs to slough off the latent energy explosion of excitement. Picture books. Comic books. Really extremely awful books. But also [those by] Diana Wynne Jones.
I’ve been thinking recently that it’s a shame that Charles Dickens never wrote a steampunk novel. What historical writer would you have most like to see write a fantasy book? Can you give us a brief outline describing what you think that would be like?
I wish that Nathaniel Hawthorne had written sci-fantasy because then I would have found his books far more interesting. The Scarlet and Steam Letter would have been so much more fun. Poe would have done a magnificent paranormal romance series. His vampires would be dismembered skin-walkers with the hearts of their virgin brides buried under the floorboards and casks of blood-wine kept in their cellars, along with a few enemies. The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha would have been tremendous with fewer windmills and more robots. Moby Dick would have made an excellent kraken.
You won a Gold Portfolio Award your senior year. What advice would you give to young writers as they prepare their own portfolio for this year’s Awards?
Try to read your work pretending you are someone else. Use other voices. If the pieces still sound like they belong together, then they will form a cohesive portfolio. Or you will lose all your friends because you are exhibiting signs of multiple personality disorder. This is the first step on the path to becoming a writer.
You’ve been very successful as an online writer. Do have any advice for students who are trying to build an audience on the internet?
Think about what you write before you write it. Choose your words carefully. If there is an option to turn off anonymous comments, take it. Talk to people. You will end up talking to more people this way. It seems like common sense but it isn’t.