Posted by: Kathy Temean | December 17, 2020

Book Giveaway: JONESY FLUX and the Gray Legion by James Pray

James Pray’s debut middle grade book, JONESY FLUX and the Gray Legion, published by Sterling Press just came out. They have agreed to share a copy with one lucky winner. If you write sci-fi/fantasy you might want to read James’ book to see what Sterling is looking for.

All you have to do to get in the running is leave a comment. Reblog, tweet, or talk about it on Facebook with a link and you will get additional chances to win. Just let me know other things you do to share the good news, so I can put the right amount of tickets in my basket for you.

Sharing on Facebook, Twitter or reblogging really helps spread the word for a new book. So, thanks for helping James.

If you have signed up to follow my blog and it is delivered to you everyday, please let me know when you leave a comment and I will give you an extra ticket. Thanks!

BOOKS DESCRIPTION:

Enter Canary Station, in the Noraza system, where many died and only a few were left alive. Jonesy is one of a pack of children still living there after the station was brutally destroyed by a mysterious ship and an invasive computer virus. Separated from their families during the evacuation, these intrepid kids have bonded and survived, making the most of what remains, repairing what they can, and planning for a rescue. One day, as Jonesy salvages in a forbidden section of the station, an accident unleashes strange powers within her. Unfortunately, this burst of energy immediately attracts a malevolent group of adults eager to grab the source of this flare. They kidnap everyone except for Jonesy, who uses her newfound power to stay hidden during the invasion. Now it’s up to her to figure out how to escape the station, rescue her friends, and reunite with her family, all while learning to harness her mysterious new powers.

BOOK JOURNEY:

When I get asked where I, as a writer, get my ideas, I often get the sense the questioner’s hoping for a glimpse behind a mysterious, forbidden curtain, like they suspect there’s some ethereal Well of Ideas writers get to tap into when the wind’s right and the coffee’s fresh.  Honestly, I think we get most of our ideas from the same places as everyone else —  Life, People, everything we think is Important or Cool, and so on — and it’s just that the practice of storytelling gives writers a certain habit (much like that of the Lego enthusiast) of stashing away the useful bits and an eye for what might be assembled out of the resulting jumble.  That’s not to say there’s no room for mystery in the equation, though.  In my experience, while it’s possible and even necessary to pull stories up from nothing but that cultivated compost of absorbed ideas, once in a while a sparkling little catalyst pops into it from who-knows-where and finds everything it needs to crystalize into a full-blown story on the spot.  That’s definitely how it felt when Jonesy’s story came to me.

Reading was a deeply ingrained part of my childhood.  My parents’ house still has literal closetfuls of the picture books they read to me and my siblings.  My dad was an oil tanker captain in the eighties, so he’d also amassed a huge pulp paperback collection to pass the time at sea.  I broke into his shelves of thrillers and sci-fi at six years old, starting with the coolest covers (Jurassic Park and Rendezvous with Rama), and had read everything he owned by Arthur C. Clarke, Clive Cussler, Michael Crichton, and Robert Ludlum by ten or eleven, along with the more age-appropriate stuff like Hardy Boys and Redwall my mom shoveled at me as fast as I could finish it.

Writing stories felt like a natural outgrowth of reading them.  I sat down to write my first novels when I was twelve, and after a couple aborted starts I finished my first complete story about some teenage characters exploring and fighting their way through a fun, futuristic sci-fi landscape of colonies, aliens, technology, spaceships, and plenty of secretive bad guys.  I had so much fun with it that I kept expanding on and adding to those characters’ stories all the way into my junior year of undergrad, when I finally realized that even if I could hack the math to become an engineer, this writing deal was actually really important to me, too — maybe enough to explore as a potential career.

I considered, and quickly rejected, journalism in the summer of 2005 before deciding to take a serious shot at publishing a novel.  I set aside the fun sci-fi of my youth and started a brand-new project — a serious grown-up fantasy.  I worked and reworked that for five years, during which time I finished my engineering degree, fixed some chimneys, earned an MFA in Creative Writing, met and married my wife, and found an engineering job to pay the bills.  Finally I felt good enough about my serious fantasy to start querying it, which quickly landed me an agent in Donald Maass.  He felt sure it would sell in no time flat.  It didn’t, and took two years doing it.  The rejections showed me I needed to develop my character-writing (something I didn’t learn reading classic sci-fi and nineties thrillers, for some reason).  I took that to heart in revisions and in the sequel I wrote while I was waiting on the second round of submissions, but fast forward six years and I’d written or rewritten about three thousand pages between those two stories without a sale to show for it, and I could count my readership on one hand.  I still believed in what I was doing, and I was still having fun — most of the time — but I fought through several waves of profound discouragement as the work went on and my inbox remained empty of news.

All through that season, though, there was an odd little seed waiting in the wings for its chance.

At some point during my graduate degree, I sat down one afternoon and wrote a page or so about a girl named Jonesy who was marooned with a bunch of kids in a derelict space station.  Her special skill was being small enough to squeeze into some cramped space to maintain a bit of equipment they all needed to survive.  I knew she was proud that she could help her friends by being small and clever, and I knew some bad guys would show up and kidnap everybody but her, but that was it.  I never took it any further.  I don’t remember where those ideas came from, or why her name had to be Jonesy, or where exactly I wrote it to begin with.  I don’t even know if I still have it.  But I know I identified with the idea of a small, young, clever character because cleverness was pretty much all I had going for me as a kid.  I wasn’t strong, coordinated, or social, and I couldn’t reach the second shelf of a locker until 10th grade.  So even if its physical nucleus got lost, that little character sketch stuck with me.

By late 2016, I’d been nursing a growing itch to write something fun with spaceships and space marines for a few years.  I was deep in revisions for the sequel to the un-sold fantasy.  I was staring down the barrel of tearing apart a thousand-page manuscript for the second time so I could get the characters right, and while it felt worthwhile for the story’s sake, I also knew it wasn’t getting me any closer to publication.  My wife was pregnant with our first child, so I was also staring down the barrel of fatherhood and had no idea what to make of that or how to process what life changes might be coming.

We were doing nightly massages and relaxation practice as part of our birthing class, and one night in the middle of that, my mind wandered back to Jonesy, and something occurred to me: she’d suddenly manifest strange, colorful powers, those powers would be detectable, and there’d be bad people who were very interested in them.  And then the entire first half of Jonesy’s story just dropped on me.  How and why Jonesy and her friends got where they were, how that situation would be upended to kick off her story, and where she’d go from there.  It all just seemed to burst from that one catalytic seed as one idea linked to another and another like I’d had the whole thing all along.  And maybe I had, osmosed through a lifetime of books and video games, Saturday morning cartoons and after-school anime, dreams of spaceships and alien worlds.  I got my wife’s permission to hit pause on her backrub, ran off and wrote half a page of frantic notes, returned and finished the backrub, then went back and added another half-page.  Those notes were everything I needed to know I could write a full-bodied story for Jonesy.

I didn’t tackle the idea right away because I was in the middle of the other work, but within a week I felt like I had to tell her story.  Now.  Even if it meant dropping everything else.  The moment I gave in to that, I was off and running.  I planned for a week and blitzed the first draft in eight because it was exactly the sort of fun, vibrant narrative I’d been desperate to work on after years of slogging through the deep, meticulous editing and worldbuilding of the other project.  It even fit with the colonial sci-fi world I’d spent so much time developing from middle school through college, at least with a few updates to layer in some more believable complexity.

The best part of it, though, was that writing Jonesy felt like writing straight back to myself as a ten- or eleven-year-old reader.  It had all the fun, action, and space stuff I would have gobbled up back then (and gobble up now, for that matter, when I can find it), wrapped in an exciting story about a bright, persistent girl with a head for technology and problem-solving, a huge heart for her friends, deep convictions about how the world should work, and the guts to stick to what she thinks is right.  And it was set in a world I could make accessible to a younger audience through Jonesy’s eyes without sacrificing either the plausible underpinnings it needed to satisfy me as an adult or the sense that Jonesy was tackling Big Problems and grown-up dangers in a way I very much appreciated getting to follow as a young reader.

Thankfully, my agent was as excited about Jonesy as I was, despite the complete about-face from my other work.  As I took his feedback alongside my own and pressed forward into edits, my own excitement kept growing.  I realized this story might fill what seemed like a glaring gap in the available reading for younger readers: exciting outer-space sci-fi centered on a young non-male protagonist.  I also didn’t see much in the way of hopeful sci-fi, for younger readers or otherwise, and Jonesy’s world of abundant space and open-source colonization lent itself to that.

Most of all, though, I saw in Jonesy a chance to address something that had haunted me since undergrad: the fact that my graduating class of mechanical engineers in 2006 included just one girl.  I absolutely shudder to think of what the world’s missed out on for failing to make disciplines like engineering and computer science appealing (and safe) for more smart, clever girls to pursue.  I know there’s no simplistic reason or solution for that, but I think it’d really help if girls had more examples of characters who can solve a tough problem, know a few Science Facts, invent something useful, or get under the hood of a computer without having to preface every contribution with “According to my calculations” or play second fiddle to the Brave Action Kid.  Jonesy fit that bill from the get-go.

I tackled revisions over the next year-and-change while I learned about Diapers and Family Time and worked more than a few sessions with our new baby snoozing in the backpack.  Much as he did, Jonesy surprised me again and again as I spent more time with her.  Looking back, I think her growth stemmed largely from the way exploring her story helped me rediscover my own childhood so I could pour its outlook and feelings and struggles right back into the work.  Finally Jonesy — and her story — felt ready to take the next step, so I popped it off to my agent.  He happened to be in the middle of moving to the other side of the continent, so I didn’t hear anything for a long, long time.

So far, so publishing as usual.  Then one day I pinged him and learned he’d already started shopping it — and after my first rodeo with the serious fantasy, the submission process for Jonesy felt like a total whirlwind.  Ardi Alspach of Sterling Publishing signaled interest early, but took a few months working around to an offer while the whole office read the story.  I felt like I was suffering a sort of ongoing heart attack from mixed panic/excitement that worsened every time I checked my email.  Besides Sterling, every other response trickling in was a rejection, mostly complimentary but declining because either they thought it was Middle Grade and they didn’t do Middle Grade, or they had concerns about the how the voice and techy content would click with a Middle Grade audience.

MIDDLE GRADE? I exclaimed.  I’d thought I was writing Young Adult!  To me, Middle Grade meant preachy storytelling and simplistic characters — the last thing I wanted to happen to Jonesy.  As a young reader, I didn’t enjoy stories that talked down to me, where narrators butted in to explain the Hard Words or things the protagonist didn’t understand because they were Too Young.  Also (look at this piece!), I’m terrible at writing on the short side.  But I did my research, and — yep, Jonesy was eleven, so her story was Middle Grade, end of story.  As I learned, though, Middle Grade covers a huge range of readers, and many of them feel the same way I did about stories that don’t respect them.  And it became clear that Ardi and the rest of Sterling were fully on board with doing a more advanced sci-fi piece in the Middle Grade space.  Once I knew they didn’t want to chop Jonesy’s 400-page manuscript in half and knock it back to the Goosebumps reading level (no offense to R.L. Stine — I used to hit the library and knock those back like candy), I was happy to take the plunge and sign a two-book deal.

The rest of the journey went in fits, spurts, and deadline sprints set against the lovely apocalyptic backdrop of 2020.  I barely noticed when Michigan went into lockdown in the spring because “Don’t leave the house except for work unless you will literally die” was already my fundamental operating rhythm as I worked final edits.  Ardi really understood the core of what made Jonesy Jonesy, but bringing that out as strongly as she knew was possible took a ton of work in a very small timespan.  But then, suddenly, it was done.  Out of my hands.  Into other peoples’ hands.  We got cover art from Antonio Caparo that absolutely blew me away.  Even then I couldn’t believe this was really happening.  I almost still don’t, but the box of author copies at my elbow makes a strong case for itself.

The book has just released as of this writing, over fifteen years from the summer of 2005 when I first decided to chase publication.  I’m so thrilled that readers can finally meet Jonesy and explore her world, and so grateful for all the support from folks like Kathy (thanks, Kathy!) to get the word out in this season.  I don’t think it’s ever been more important to inspire the next generation to turn their gifts and ideas toward inventing a bright, exciting future, and I hope more than anything that this story can, in some small way, help catalyze that.

JAMES’ BIO: James Pray has been writing stories since he was six, holds a BS in Engineering and an MFA in Creative Writing/Fiction, and works as a software developer. Although he tends to file concepts like “Free time” and “Vacation” under “Things that get in the way of writing,” he occasionally finds time to enjoy board sports, video games, 3D printing, and growing ghost peppers. He loves all things science, aviation, and space, and lives in Grand Rapids, MI with his wife, two children, and a laser-guided corgi named Benzie. You can find him online at jamespray.com or on Twitter as @jamespray.

 


Responses

  1. Sounds fun!

    Like

  2. Congrats and thanks for sharing the book journey. I also write mg sf with a female protagonist, so you’ve given me hope that there’s an audience out there.

    Like

    • Thank you! I think there’s absolutely an audience out there, or I wouldn’t keep hearing about kids tearing through all 400 pages in a couple of days or disrupting their zoom classes to tell their teachers and schoolmates about it. Best wishes for your journey – may your work find a good home and many readers!

      Like

  3. So glad you stuck with it! Can’t wait to read your new book. Congrats, James!

    I follow by email and I will tweet this, Kathy. 🙂

    Like

    • Thanks so much, and I so appreciate the sharing. Every bit helps. And I hope you enjoy the story!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Let the tension begin. Alone but not afraid to share female power. Love how Jonesy entered your mind and partnered with you to share her journey. Like Jonesy you had “the guts” to stuck to what you thought was right by completing your novel.
    Props to you. Sounds like middle grade readers will love this.

    Like

  5. This looks like a good book. Thanks for sharing your journey. Likewise, I have picture books from my childhood!

    Like

  6. I shared on FB too.

    Like

  7. Congratulations, James. Your journey is an inspiration to those of us still on the outskirts.

    Like

    • Lou Ann, thanks for leaving a comment for James – appreciate it.

      Like


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