The Writing University is continuing our interview series with authors from the University of Iowa Press. We sit down with UI Press authors to ask about their work, their process, their reading lists and events.
Today we are speaking with Charles Forrest Jones, author of The Illusion of Simple, from University of Iowa Press.
Charles Forrest Jones lives with his wife and dogs in Lawrence, Kansas and Creede, Colorado. He has a BS in Biology from Kansas University, an MPA from Harvard University’s Kennedy School, and spent the majority of his professional life in public service. He is represented by Isabelle Bleecker of Nordlyset Literary Agency.
Can you tell us a little bit about your new book The Illusion of Simple?
In a dry Kansas riverbed, a troop of young girls finds a human hand. This discovery leads Billy Spire, the tough and broken sheriff of Ewing County, to investigate and confront the depths of his community and himself: the racism, the dying economy, the lies and truths of friendship, grievances of the past and present, and even his own injured marriage. But like any town where people still breathe, there is also love and hope and the possibility of redemption. To flyover folks, Ewing County appears nothing more than a handful of empty streets amid crop circles and the meandering, depleted Arkansas River. But the truth of this place—the interwoven lives and stories—is anything but simple.
Did you do any work on this book during the pandemic?
Simple was largely completed before onset of the pandemic: all that remained were final rounds of polishing, editorial review, reading of proof sheets, etc. I was, however, working on a second book during COVID. Writing proved to be a good occupation during that long period of isolation. No matter the state of the world, I had this sturdy, enduring refuge where I could sit and work and be full with imagined lives.
Do you have any plans for readings or events for this book, either in person or virtual?
The past couple of months, I have diverted my writing energy into marketing. Creating and managing social media sites. Lots of scheduling: interview at a local radio station; appearance at the Rotary Club; reading at the Watkins Museum, where I volunteer; presentations at regional libraries. From 2003 to 2014, I was Director of the Kansas University Public Management Center and taught graduate courses. Each semester included at least one reading to inspire creativity, such as The Glass Castle or On Writing. The School has asked if I might do an on-line workshop on creativity in personal and professional life. Friends in Colorado, California, and Albuquerque have offered to host house readings, which will be joyful and familial. Stay tuned, more to come at www.charlesforrestjones.com.
What are you reading right now? Any books from other university or independent presses?
Right now, I’m reading Lords of Easy Money by Christopher Leonard. It’s the very accessible story of how the Federal Reserve’s policy of quantitative easing has exacerbated wealth disparity and set the stage for price and asset inflation. My writing usually contains some reference to big picture dynamics. Before that, I reread a book given to me for my 8th birthday. The Book of Cowboys, by Holling C. Holling, is a charming, beautifully illustrated adventure story about two children who find themselves on a New Mexico ranch. I’m a native of that area and beginning to think about a next book. Looking for emotional touchstones. I’ve recently read two books produced by friends through independent press. And given my professional/academic background, I am a huge fan of the university press. Several notables include Pulled Over, by Epp and Maynard Moody, Implementing City Sustainability, by Krause, and Green Tape by Dehart-Davis. Scholarly writing gives us language and frameworks that are essential to understanding and improving our world.
What is your writing routine? Do you have a daily routine?
All through my working career, writing was a strength, a source of joy, pride, and power. Now that I am retired, the routine is set and simple. Get up and have breakfast. Read the paper and walk the dogs. Do whatever must be done: pay bills, vacuum, clean the kitchen. Then write for a while. Have lunch and play gin with my wife. Then write some more. Be patient each day and over time. Love the words.
Thank you Charles!