“Congratulations about the release of your second book in the Reality Shifts series. How has your life changed since the publication of Connection, the first book of the series?”
“Thank you! Since the publication of the first book, I’ve had some amazing experiences. The high school in my town required all students to read Connection this summer, and I’ve done some great school visits at the high school and middle school. Nearly every time I go for a walk around town, someone recognizes me and talks to me about my books, which is really cool.”
Jo told me that a girl who attends the local high school messaged her on Facebook and told her that she hates reading. However, the girl couldn’t put Connection down.
“I’d had a few days of feeling really discouraged about my writing, and her message really touched me,” Jo said.
While Connection was narrated by Shanna Bailey, a 14-year-old girl, Filtration System is narrated by Shanna’s friend Jonah Leighton, a 16-year-old boy. Jonah is becoming concerned about the bruises he frequently sees on Shanna, but is distracted from his worries by the discovery that an entity from a reality completely disconnected from ours wants to enter our universe, and must use a person with a specific energetic vibration to do so. Unfortunately, if it succeeds, our entire universe will be vaporized. When an autistic girl at their high school starts acting strangely, Jonah learns that she is being plagued by demons and dead spirits, and that she’s the one the entity wants to use as a portal. He and Shanna have to help the girl before the entity makes its attempt.
Jo is working on several projects right now. She just finishing up rewriting a novel involving teen suicide that she received a revise/resubmit on from a publisher. She also anticipating publisher edits on the third book in the Reality Shift series, which is due out in March, and she’s getting ready to do some revisions on another novel which has been contracted and will be out next May. It’s the first book in a new urban fantasy series, The Dark Lines.
“I told a writing friend that the new series, The Dark Lines, makes Reality Shift look like ‘fluffy bunny time.’ The series is about a group of teenagers—and adults—with psychic abilities who become involved in the universal war between light and darkness. In the universe, the balance between the two must be maintained. Light wants to maintain it; darkness wants to tip the balance and destroy the universe. The characters in the series mostly fight against the darkness, though there is one who… well, I won’t give that away quite yet. The Dark Lines is actually broken into three sub-series, so some of the adults in the first ten books are seen as teenagers in the second ten. The characters aren’t necessarily what you’d expect as heroes: a boy who’s had to parent his mother most of his life; a boy taken into foster care at age five who has spent much of his life believing something is horribly wrong with him because of his psychic abilities; and, in the second segment of the series, a boy who has been subjected to some horrific abuse by his mother and her ‘friends.’
“Readers will recognize some of the characters from Reality Shift; the final book of The Dark Lines takes place about five years before Connection, and despite my best attempts to the contrary, some of the characters from The Dark Lines show up as adults in Reality Shift.”
“Your books focus on some dark topics: divorce, abuse, etc,” I said. “What made you decide to go this route with your writing?”
“I didn’t really get a vote. These were the stories that came to me to be told. That may sound strange to non-writers, but for me the stories and characters just come to me, and I don’t really plan what happens to them. I just write and see where the story goes. That said, though, some aspects of Shanna’s life in Reality Shift are things I dealt with as a teen and as an adult, and I wanted to share those with readers in the hope that if they’re struggling with some of the things Shanna struggles with, they’ll seek help. I think most, if not all, teens can identify with the topics, because even if they live in an intact home and have never been abused, odds are high that they have friends who’ve dealt with those issues.”
Not very much of the writing, though, is based on Jo’s own life. She told me she didn’t have many friends as a teenager, and spent most of her time in her room reading and writing.
“Writing longhand, in spiral notebooks, because back in them thar olden days we didn’t have these fancy computer-things,” she explained. “Some of the things I write are based on stuff I imagined or wished would happen back then, though.”
Jo told me that she thinks technology presents a lot of challenges that teens of her generation didn’t have to deal with.
“I’m not all THAT old; I graduated from high school in 1988,” she said. “Computers were just really hitting their stride then, though, and we didn’t have the Internet, with all the social networking and so on. We didn’t have cell phones that you could text from. I think that unfortunately, technology has given a whole new way for kids to bully and harass each other, as well as endangering them more because of things like adults pretending to be teens to lure kids to them.”
I asked Jo to tell us what her most memorable school presentation was about.
“I would have to say the anti-bullying presentation I did this fall at my town’s high school. The school divided students into two groups, one of freshmen and sophomores and the other of juniors and seniors, and a presenter from a bullying prevention program and I switched between the two. When I walked into the junior/senior group and said the word ‘bullying’, the auditorium erupted into a cacophony of fake coughing. I very sternly informed them that their behavior was harassment and was exactly the sort of thing I was there to talk about. They stopped.
“Don’t tell them, but I actually found it pretty amusing.”