Patrick Jones knows it's tough to be a teen 2011.04.20

Written by David Green.

patrick.jonesBy DAVID GREEN

The latest book published by young adult author Patrick Jones is a twist on the classic vampire story.

In “The Tear Collector,” a girl needs human tears for sustenance. In order for her to survive, other people need to suffer.

“I know an actual tear collector,” Jones told an audience Saturday morning at Morenci’s Stair Public Library. “I know someone who lives off the trauma and tragedy and tears of teenagers—me.”

If 16 years of age was easy, he would have nothing to write about, he said, but the teen years are hard.

“There’s drama and there’s tears and that sustains me [as a writer],” he said.

If life was easy, he told the younger members of the audience, you wouldn’t read his books. But as it is, young readers turn to his books to see themselves and learn how his characters get through it all.

Jones gave a brief overview of how his six published books came into being.

“Things Change”—He was visiting a high school and observed the interaction between a boy and girl. He thought it was a “messed up” relationship. Jones wondered how a girl could be so smart in the head and so dumb in the heart.

He went home and started writing about Johanna, a girl in an abusive relationship.

He was surprised a few years later when he met a real Johanna at a Michigan high school. She was furious at him for stealing her life.

“I am that girl Johanna,” she said. “How did you know all this about me?”

“Nailed”—Telling stories at his wife’s high school reunion, Jones recalled an incident in his own school days, when he was a smart-aleck student who often got in trouble.

“I was a nail,” Jones said. “I stood out and went to a high school that was full of hammers.”

“Chasing Tail Lights”—Jones once observed two girls standing on a highway overpass, apparently getting high.

He wondered who they were, what they were doing, why they were getting high at 10:30 in the morning on a school day.

He imagined their lives and took inspiration from a girl he met in a juvenile detention center.

How do you find hope in a hopeless life? “Chasing Tail Lights” is basically a survival story, he said.

“Cheated”—His book about three high school boys who murdered a man for $2 developed from an actual story Jones read in the Flint Journal.

Why did they do it?

It’s not that a person makes a bad choice, he said. It’s that they make a series of bad choices that gets them deeper and deeper into trouble.

“Stolen Car”—At a school visit, Jones watched a girl getting dropped off for classes in the morning. After she slammed the door of the beat-up van, her mother got out of the other side of the car and chewed her out in front of everyone.

Further back in the school drive, a fancy SUV pulled up and three boys rolled out laughing.

What was that girl thinking? Jones wondered. “I don’t want to be in this life; I want to be in that one.”

How far would she go to make that happen?

“The Tear Collector”—A girl in Ft. Wayne told Jones she wouldn’t be buying any of his books because she only reads vampire stories.

On his three-hour trip home, he jotted down notes for the next book—the vampire who survives on others’ tears.

If you can’t fall in love and don’t mind being alone, high school is easy, said his vampire character.

“Every book to me is one question,” Jones said. “Why did this character do this thing?”

Jones meets someone or sees a relationship and then he begins asking question after question after question.

WRITING SKILLS—Jones said that when he turned in the manuscript for his first book, “Things Change,” the editor was very, very impressed.

“I have no idea how you wrote this book,” she said, “how you got into the head of a girl.”

She also asked if English was his native language. His spelling and grammar were horrible, she said, and his story wasn’t accepted for publication.

He gave up trying, but he eventually learned a lot about young adult fiction through his work as a librarian.

Microsoft Word’s grammar checker gave him a second chance—that and practice.

“You get better the more you do stuff,” he said.

HIS REAL JOB—Jones believes he has the best possible library job—the outreach program with the Hennepin County Library in Minneapolis.

His department focuses on getting materials to those who can’t use the library due to one barrier or another. That includes the elderly, immigrants who never experienced a library, and kids in juvenile correction facilities.

HIS LOOK AT LIFE—“Life is a game of Uno,” Jones said.

What’s the point of Uno? To get rid of your cards.

Everyone is dealt a set of seven cards, he said, but life experiences complicate your hand.

“Oh, your dad deserted your family? Here’s four more cards.”

“Your mother’s an alcoholic? Here’s three more cards.”

“You have an eating disorder because of the stress? Here’s 12 more cards. Good luck winning.”

He finally realized after his fifth novel that this is what he was writing about.

Some cards are gained because of bad choices; others come from the family you’re born into.

”You are not all born equal,” Jones said. “You come with baggage. We all come with stuff we can’t control. You get those cards and you’re trying to get rid of them.”

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