I. The “Reader's Digest Version" - Just the Facts
Raised in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, I studied
writing in college and chose publishing as my career, starting out at Viking Press
as keeper of the “slush pile" -- the tide of unsolicited manuscripts
that washed in every day. There I had the good fortune to discover Ordinary
People by Judith
Guest, which in 1976 became the first unsolicited manuscript to be published by
Viking since 1949. Promoted to editor, I assisted in
guiding the book to bestsellerdom.
I then went on to magazines and was a fiction editor at Redbook, and a senior editor at Family Circle and Reader's Digest. In 2005 I left full-time editorial work to write. I have completed two novels with a third in progress. (Please see descriptions and sample chapters on the Fiction pages.)
A move from New York to Tennessee in 2013 opened up a new vocation for me as a volunteer in an animal shelter and gave me a rich subject for a memoir, Ask the Animals: What Shelter Dogs Have Taught Me About Life, Love, and Faith. (A description and sample chapter can be found on the Nonfiction page.)
II. Finding My Voice:
The Characters, the Places, the Literature, and the Events That Have
Shaped My Life and Work
II. Finding My Voice: The Characters, the Places, the Literature, and the Events That Have Shaped My Life and Work
My paternal grandfather,
Robert Tyre ("Bobby") Jones, Jr.
Those trips South required two entirely different wardrobes, one for Tuxedo Road, the formal Jones residence where we had to be on our best behavior, and one, we joked, for “Tobacco Road,” home of my other grandmother, “Maa,” where we spent the hot, lazy days fishing in the tidal river that ran through the marshes in front of the house, riding my grandmother’s Shetland ponies, and playing in the dusty yard under the palmetto trees. It’s easy to guess which clothes and environment my younger sister, brother and I preferred.
"Tobacco Road" - Me, my sister, Adele
Walker Jones, and our little brother, Robert
Tyre Jones IV in a stroller improvised
by our grandmother, Dell Massey
My Southern cousins liked to tease me to the point of tears by calling me a Yankee. I didn't know what that was, only that it seemed to be a shameful thing. Later, when I was ten, my father acquired The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War by Bruce Catton, with its accompanying recording of songs of the time, and the photographs and the music kindled a fascination with the conflict. When I was twelve, my mother suggested that I was at last old enough to understand and appreciate what, for her and other Atlantans, was a sacred text: Margaret Mitchell's Gone with the Wind. It made a deep impression on me, and, naively, I identified with the Confederates rather than the Yankees so vilified by Mitchell and my cousins.
MY LOVE OF WORDS and reading came from my grandfather Jones (called Bub by his grandchildren) and his son, my father, Robert Tyre Jones III. As my grandfather succumbed to a painful neurological disease that gradually paralyzed him, he drew upon the intellectual resources that had enabled him to succeed at Georgia Tech’s school of engineering, as a student of English at Harvard, and as a law student at Emory University, as brilliantly as -- if less publicly than -- he had as a golfer. He loved language, and poetry, and Shakespeare. My father would sit on countless evenings beside the armchair to which Bub was confined, assisting his father by holding the cigarettes for Bub to smoke and raising a glass of bourbon to his father’s lips, as the two of them talked about literature and quoted poetry.
My father shared this passion with me also. Poetry gave scope and richness to a life that, for Dad, was constrained by living in the shadow of his famous father, coping with his father's and his wife's chronic illnesses, and working in a humdrum job. His tastes were eclectic – Robert W. Service’s verses, especially “The Cremation of Sam McGee” which he could recite from memory; Kipling’s “Gunga Din,” rendered in Dad’s version of a Cockney accent; Thomas Gray’s poignant “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard”; “The Fool’s Prayer” by Edward Rowland Sill. When I was bullied in grade school, my father coached me on dealing with cruel people by means of Rudyard Kipling's "If" and Shakespeare's "Polonius' Advice to Laertes" from Hamlet: “[If] being lied about, don’t deal in lies, Or being hated, don’t give way to hating….” and, “This above all: to thine ownself be true, And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man.” Though the advice was lofty, it helped: like my grandfather and my father I was learning that literature could put life’s sufferings into a perspective that made them bearable.
THE MOST FORMATIVE PART of my education was high school, when I attended a Catholic boarding school in Connecticut, a tiny institution of only 75 female students, run by a community of nuns. It was an intense experience, the inspiration for my novel-in-progress, Immaculate Heart. My time there – 1964-68 -- coincided with the upheaval of the Catholic church and the greater society, as traditions and mores were challenged and overthrown in the wake of the Vatican II liturgical reforms, the Civil Rights movement and the Vietnam war, and in the rise of the rebellious youth culture. I learned to question inequalities in society – so glaring in the upper-class Georgia milieu that I experienced on my family’s trips south -- and to seek ways to redress them. I spent two summers at the school working as a counselor in a program for teenaged girls from the poor sections of nearby Norwalk and Stamford, Connecticut, and New York City. I was impressed by the spirit and spark of these young women who had been denied most of the advantages I had, to my shame, taken for granted up until then, and inspired by the passion for social justice of the nuns who led the program.
I also learned from the example of these nuns that it is possible to have an intensely personal relationship with God – something that intrigued me and that I have been compelled to explore ever since.
TWO CAREER PATHS DREW ME after college: one led to a writing life, but the other, surer one was a career in publishing. I started out at Viking Press book publishers where I was “slush pile” reader, which involved opening the many unsolicited manuscripts that washed in with the daily mail, slapping a form rejection slip on them, and packing them up to send out again. But I was curious, and wound up reading bits of the ones that seemed to be coherently written and aimed at a general (not academic, or crackpot) readership. Thus I discovered Ordinary People by Judith Guest, which in 1976 became the first book that Viking had published from the slush pile since 1949. I was promoted to editor and given the opportunity to assist in guiding the book to bestsellerdom.
With Judith Guest in the Viking office, showing her the entry for
Ordinary People in the log book
Ordinary People in the log book
I went on to work in magazines, though always with a focus on books, which I excerpted and condensed into article-length features for Redbook, Family Circle and Reader’s Digest. Living and working in New York City I met my husband, Douglas Hedwig, a professional trumpeter who played for the Metropolitan Opera and later went on to become a tenured professor of music at Brooklyn College. We have a son, Marcus Hedwig; raising him was both the greatest challenge and greatest achievement of our lives. We are proud of the man he has become and thankful that he is our best friend.
In the early 2000s my husband began playing, as a hobby, with a Civil War -style brass band that performed on original instruments of the era and in faithfully-reproduced uniforms. The band played at major re-enactments at Gettysburg, Antietam and Cedar Creek, as well as at the Library of Congress, the Smithsonian National Museum of American History, and Ford's Theatre. Participating in these events reawakened my fascination with this period of American history and ultimately led to my beginning to write a trilogy of Civil War themed novels.
Research for those books opened my eyes to what I had never fully appreciated before in my infatuation with the Glorious Cause as portrayed in Gone with the Wind: those who claimed that the Southern motivation in the war was to protect “States' rights" meant, primarily, the right to own slaves.
My fictional hero, Lemuel Sanders, joined the Confederate army, but, like many from his part of eastern Tennessee had never witnessed slavery firsthand and had no commitment to it. He joined the war for notions of adventure and glory, and to protect his home from Northern invasion. He could have easily fought for the Union, however. His part of east Tennessee was divided, as was evidenced by the fact that my two great grandfathers, both from this region, fought on different sides of the conflict.
The title of the first book of the trilogy, “Somebody's Darling," comes from the terribly sad song on my father's scratchy American Heritage recording that had held me spellbound when I was ten.
DOGS HAVE BEEN A PART OF MY LIFE for as long as I had the ability to properly care for one – which means ever since my husband and I married, in 1982. We had a succession of three beloved golden retrievers. When we moved to Tennessee in 2013, we were dog-less, but I found a new purpose for my life and plenty of new four-legged friends through volunteering at an animal shelter.
For the next four years I spent many hours each week walking dogs, driving animal rescue transports, writing an animal advocacy blog, aheartforshelterdogs.com, and bios that I hoped would “sell” each shelter dog’s unique appeal to adopters, crafting a newsletter for the shelter, and doing anything I could to make the dogs’ confinement bearable and to get them into their “forever homes.” The daily dramas that I witnessed in the animal shelter, the joyous adoptions and reunions, the heartrending cruelty and losses, the fun and the laughter, all inspired me to write a memoir, Ask the Animals: What Shelter Dogs Taught Me About Life, Love, and Trust.
IN THIS THIRD ACT OF MY LIFE, I'm focusing on making sense
of it all through my writing; working to tell compelling stories, true and imagined; and to write the kinds of books that I myself would be enthralled to read.