Keepin’ It Real Y’all

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Dear Blog Friends and Readers,

I love to get reader emails. I don't always get the time to respond to all of them, but I read every single one. They brighten my day, give me encouragement, and allow me yet another way, when I'm able, to connect with readers, young and old. Every writer gets her share of critical emails as well. That's just part of it. About two or three times a year, I will receive one that questions my word choice, the level of PDA, a character's motivations, MY motivations, the book's level of spiritual content, and MY level of spiritual content. Again, part of it. For the emails in which there is some serious question of my judgment of teen content, I make sure I respond. Usually quickly. Always respectfully. And always honest.

I don't often talk about writing on here, as there are so many writing related blogs out there, I choose not to join the crowd. Plus they do it so much better. I don't often discuss my own spiritual beliefs on here, my faith, because I am not called to offer devotions. And there are so many devotion sites out there, and again, they are done so much better than I ever could. My goal, in my books and for my blog (and Twitter and Facebook…) is to entertain. It's to show the love and light of Christ through hopefully an entertaining story and through what is hopefully the ministry of humor and joy. Anytime I stray away from that, it kicks me in the butt.  My joy, my strength is in humor and levity. We are most successful and effective when we're operating from our sweet spot.

So all that to say, today I'm straying from course, and I'm going to share an email and share my thoughts on teen content. Not sharing this to call this reader out. Not sharing this to make anyone feel bad or use my forum to try and prove they're wrong. Just to say, “Here's where I stand” and “Here's why I write how and what I do.”

Email I received with some editing/removal of extra info:

Subject: Why Jenny?
I consider you my favorite author, and loved the Katie parker series. I have read it three times and continue to laugh out loud every time:) The humor in your books is the best part, and I loved how the humor in the KP books I could read to my brothers all under 10.

So I was ultra excited when Bella Kirkwood and her woes became available! I finished the first one last night, but am wondering if I'm going to read the rest. You had a great plot, and I love the mystery, especially “investigative journalism” in the trash. The characters were great, and I was never bored. Since your a writer, you no doubt understand the “mental images” that descriptions and details cause. Well, at the end, my head was filled with make-out scenes, a boy in a towel, etc- Also, the humor wasn't as clean in this book as in the KP books. I read your books so I could fill my head of Godly character and not junk. I understood the make-out scene, but the book did not need the boy in a towel, the “craps” you used often and the cheating boyfriends. I completely understand why the plot needed a cheating boyfriend (that sounds weird:), but I didn't need a mental picture:) I want to challenge you to write a step above secular writers, and keep your upcoming books CLEAN! Robin Jones Gunn is another author I love. She does a wonderful job with her Christy and Todd books, and she is super popular. Even her books for women are clean. I always finish her books with a head full of peace and knowledge that God does have a plan for my life and that he fulfill my life more than any boy ever could. I;m pretty sure that's what your going for too:)

I want to encourage you to keep a high standard in your books. I know you teach a teach at a public school, but remember that your standards shounld be super high since you are an influencial christian author! Thanks for all you do for me and many others, and please continue to do so:)

PS. I love for Ice Cream too, but refuse to eat Ben and Jerry. They are gay and openly support the gay/lesbian rights movenment., The Bible says marriage is between one man and one woman, and you are giving away a lot of free advertising for a not so Godly cause:)

And here is my response:

Thank you for the email. I appreciate and respect your opinions. You should be very proud of the high moral standard you've set for yourself.

First off let me say that I agree that if a book gives you impure thoughts/images in your head, then avoid it. Robin Jones Gunn is a great author NOT to avoid and I'd encourage you to read her and fabulous authors like her.

My goal has never been, and until God convicts, will never be to write without that sense of reality that is true for many, many teens. As you know, I do teach in a public school, and I want my books to be something my public school girls can relate to–from the conservative Christian to the liberal to the atheist. So while i don't want to PROMOTE sex and various other sins/vices, I also don't want to shy away from reality. We live in a day when unfortunately sex begins in middle school for a large percentage of teens/preteens. So while I want to stay true to Christian values, I also want to stay authentic to the life of your average teen. And girl, you are not average, and that is something to be very proud of.  And believe me, my version of teen life in my books is still so cleaned up from the real deal.

Christian fiction often gets accused of being white-washed and unrealistic, and that is where I'm convicted to show that isn't necessarily true. I'm glad the Holy Spirit guides you in setting aside reading that might be too much. But know that there is ministry in just being real and relevant, and that is my goal.

And as for Ben and Jerry's, if you searched for a national company that did not support/hire homosexuals, you would be able to count them on one hand. This would include Wal-Mart, Sams Club, Costco, Target, Kohls, Best Buy, Old Navy, etc. My buying their products does not turn a man to seek out another man, just as my refusing to buy their products does not show the love of Christ. In the Bible, Christ changed lives and attitudes with acts of love–not shunning. It's hard–especially when I don't believe the same thing as another, whether that be homosexuality or politics–but I am not called to point out the mistakes of others without having a strong love walk in place.

Thank you for contacting me.
Jenny Jones
(end email)
***********************

Every author wants to please every single reader. But every author knows that is impossible. For every email I get that says, “Your stuff is insulting,” I get 50 that say the opposite. For every review I get that says, “The Christian content was so heavy,” I get some from the same book that will say, “Jesus was barely mentioned.”  Just like there are different churches and denominations in the Christian faith, there are different ways of writing in the faith. When I think of my audience as I write, I always, always think of my classroom. Though I teach in a public school, you might be surprised to know I have a large number of Conservative Christian teens in my room. But I also have the full spectrum of every other kind of belief (and non-belief).  And I just want to speak to where they're all at. The word that I want to sum up my writing, before spiritual, before entertaining, EVEN before funny, is relevant. If I'm not relevant, I don't need to be in the game. If you look at any YA book section, even the small one at Wal-Mart, what do you see? You see that darkness is winning, from cover color to content. That's what teens are reading. That's where they live. And I'm not going to reach them by preaching at them, criticizing them, or showing them the model life that they SHOULD live, but yet can't relate to.

This was the longest blog post in the history of the Zippity Blog. I'm just throwing this all out there because it's important you know that my stories are not something I take lightly. The teen culture is not something I take lightly. Nothing I write is for shock value or to be “cool.” Poor Bella Kirkwood and Katie Parker would be total Pollyannas in the real world of teen life (which I would applaud), and what you see in the books is a tiny, TINY fraction of the reality of the pressures and pitfalls of teen life. I see worse just stepping into the ladies' room at school. The Millennials are a culture in crisis.  Let's all run the race together, operating from YOUR level of conviction, from YOUR mode of talent and calling, and together we can affect some change.

You are most welcome to leave comments, but NOT to flame this reader who was kind enough to email me with her concerns and NOT to attack her beliefs. Presenting an accurate portrayal of the struggles of a Christian is near and dear to my heart, and I'd be glad to discuss, no matter what side you're on.

See you on Monday where I'll break character AGAIN and discuss…writing. You won't want to miss it.

Loving that what I do makes people think–whether I agree or not,
JEN

(Photo credit: 2daydesign)

Click Here to Leave a Comment Below 42 comments
Michael Joshua - June 16, 2010

Jenny, I doubt that your books are those I would read, simply because I’m a man over 55 – but you responded kindly and very well.

(Oh, and I got here from your twitter feed, in case you wonder.)

Michael

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Ruth - June 16, 2010

Very, very well said Jenny!

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Jenny B Jones - June 16, 2010

Michael, the Lord just spoke to me and said to tell you that you need to get right and read some YA.

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Nikki - June 16, 2010

Thank you for reaching out to those young girls I wish your books were around when I was a kid. I will be seeking them out for my girls middle and high school they both love to read!

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Ashley Mays - June 16, 2010

Well written. 🙂 (And ps: I totally agree. Relevance isn’t one of those things we ignore just because we’re Christians…)

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Kathy - June 16, 2010

“My buying their products does not turn a man to seek out another man, just as my refusing to buy their products does not show the love of Christ. In the Bible, Christ changed lives and attitudes with acts of love–not shunning.” love, LoVe, LOVE that. And your entire response was definitely Holy Spirit-driven. You encouraged and I hope enlightened. Thanks for sharing this.

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Shannon Primicerio - June 16, 2010

As a fellow YA author in the Christian arena, I think you handled this email in a FABULOUS way. I know emails like this can be hard to get (I get a fair share too) but you handled it with truth and grace. With that combination you cannot lose. Thanks for sharing that email and your response openly–you are a great example!

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Abby Minard - June 16, 2010

Jenny, I think you have such a wonderful heart! Although I am not a Christian by defintion, I still retain many of the Christian values I was raised on, and I think you are the perfect example of what a Christian should be. I love that you are accepting of all people, no matter what. Keep up the good work, and I think you are a great influence for the teens (and adults) that read your genre.

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Marybeth Whalen - June 16, 2010

I totally and 100% agree with what you said Jen… and what you’re doing to present the realities of teen life. As a mom of teens, I see what they are faced with and know it’s just a fraction of what many teens go through. I say keep telling the truth and shining God’s light on the darkness.

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Rachel - June 16, 2010

Hey! I’d like to say I truly appreciate the style of your books, especially since when I try to read Christian fiction, the characters often seem fake or kinda plastic-y and I can’t imagine the characters ever existing. I go to a public high school, and yeah, there’s bad stuff. But there’s good stuff, too. And I believe you mentioning things that might actually happen in a real high school helps make a more believible character, something I’m willing to read. It makes for a book I could lend to friends who aren’t necessarily Christian, and they’d read it. (And very possibly get something out of it.) You’re very well spoken and I enjoy reading what you write a ton. Hope you have a great week 🙂

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Natasha - June 16, 2010

Thank you for posting the letter and your response. As an editor, I’ve seen my share of similar letters, and I wish I could respond as thoughtfully and artfully as you have. I think I’ll bookmark this for future reference!

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Robin - June 16, 2010

Thanks for sharing where you are coming from, Jenny. As a church librarian I sometimes have to defend my choices and your thoughts will help me articulate some of the reasons why I might have put something on the shelf that not everyone agrees with.

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Terry - June 16, 2010

Hang in there. Keep rocking the great writing. Thanks for sharing this letter. It demonstrates the difficult road that Christian fiction writers (and church leaders!) have to navigate.

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Sofie - June 16, 2010

I absolutely LOVE your books. I really appreciate the fact that they aren’t the in-your-face-hit-you-over-the-head kind of christian fiction because I, and so many others I know, do not respond well to that. The way you write your books is the way I see people living life around me, real and believable. Though I wish my life was as interesting and funny 🙂

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Jenny B Jones - June 16, 2010

Thanks all. I really really appreciate the support and encouragement.

For those of you who disagree, that’s okay too! Your comments are most welcome.

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Miranda - June 16, 2010

Very well said, but I found nothing wrong with the books, I thought everything made it SOOO PERFECT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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Holly Cox - June 16, 2010

Ms. Jones, I just wanted to say that I greatly appreciate this. I was in the public high school that you teach in and I can honestly say your characters are the minority on the public spectrum. I agree with your response. I actually have given some of your books to my friends, who then became christian because they could relate! So I just wanted to say thank you for all that you do.

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Kristin - June 16, 2010

I think you had a great response! I was homeschooled in high school, but I remember the things I was exposed to in middle school (those things were my main reason for wanting to be homeschooled). I think you find a perfect balance of reality and characters who are striving to live the right way. I adore your books and hope you keep doing exactly what you’re doing. =) Also, I loved the part in your response about loving, instead of shunning. I’ve been feeling convicted lately about how the best way to show my faith is to love people like I should.

~Kristin

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Jae - June 16, 2010

I agree that you responded well… my non-christian friends enjoy your books as well and it makes them seriously think about where they’re going so… thanks! 🙂

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Christa Allan - June 16, 2010

I am in awe of the higher road you traveled in composing your response.

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Colene - June 16, 2010

You are a fabulously classy woman, ms Jenny B.
my first instinct upon reading that letter was to become angry. and while i know that isn’t a very christian way to be it is a very human response when faced with something you disagree with.
I want you to know i think very highly of you for your response and your kindness in the face of criticism. i hope to one day be a more kind person, like you. and it took a lot of restraint to not be ugly and snide toward the letters content. but i take that as a step closer to being an accepting, loving christian for myself. and i credit you that small achievement.
thank you for your books and your message and your incredibly intelligent view point of life as it is.

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Jenny B Jones - June 16, 2010

Aw, thanks, Colene. That means a lot. : ) (and I promise I’m not classy. But maybe Dr. L can adjust me so I am?)

Kristin, your vintage girl style has inspired the main character in my next book. You’ll have to wait and see…

Again, thanks all. I love my blog family.

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Mary R Snyder - June 16, 2010

Jenny — you are a class act, girl!! Love your heart and your sweet spirit.
It is so important to have Christian YA writers who are willing to show real life.

I loved what you said about Ben & Jerry ’cause that is some good ice cream and I’d hate to have to give it up. Seriously though, it’s so important for believers to operate from a place of grace.

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Preacher - June 17, 2010

As a man in my mid-forties, let me just say that I read your books and LOVE them. The message is great, the writing is great, and best of all, I laugh out loud all throughout them. Thanks for brightening my days.

Very classy answer to the email. You really live up to the biblical mandate to speak the truth in love.

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Tiff - June 17, 2010

Jenny, thank you for posting this. I agree with you and you responded to the email very well. I love your books so much, and the characters are so believable and I feel as if I can relate to them. Thank you for writing these amazing books. Keep writing!! 🙂

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Deanna - June 17, 2010

Jenny,

I will admit that I am a mom of three (2 of which are of the girl kind) in her almost-mid (gulp) 40s and I ? your Bella books and Just Between You and Me. I loved your response in this post. I believe we all need a reminder at times on how to respond…in love. Well said. Thanks for the excellent, real books. And to the writer of the letter you rc’d, I am proud of her also for having high standards and having the courage to write to you. Well done both of you.

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Jennifer King - June 17, 2010

Excellent, Jenny. And elegantly said. Thank you for speaking a voice of truth and grace into a world swirling with the opposite. -JK

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Julie Garmon - June 17, 2010

Beautifully written, Jenny. Keep it up!

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Sarah - June 17, 2010

Jenny-I love your response and think it’s so perfectly written! I need to save it so I can have it on hand in the library! Books are so subjective to individual tastes-what’s clean and fine with one reader is too much for another. Librarians have to deal with all the time with censorship and book challenges and it can be frustrating. I love that your books are real and reflect real life-that’s the reason I shy away from Christian fiction-it’s too preachy, too perfect, and not like real life at all. What I love about your books is that I can give them to any teen reader or reader of YA-Christian or not-and I know they’ll enjoy the humor and fun of the series. Keep up the good work! I’m cheering you on!

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Tammy - June 17, 2010

Jenny you responded so wonderfully!!
I LOVE the fact that you have kissing in your books and use the word “crap”
it makes your books real, so many christan fiction books shy away from that and it makes the books seem very unreal. I am so gratefully for you and your books and since I am an 18 year old I know good teen books when I read them 🙂

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Jennifer Hudson Taylor - June 17, 2010

Jenny,

I hope I’m able to respond the way you did when I receive emails like that. As the mother of a soon-to-be 13 year old, we’ve read your books and think they are wonderful. Keep up the great work!

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Robin Jones Gunn - June 18, 2010

You know what I love about all this, Jenny? It’s clear that we’re free. You’re free to write what you’re called and compelled to write, I’m free to write what I’m called and compelled to write and our readers are free to do the same when they express their opinions. This is freedom. It’s such a gift! What a small and tightly woven net we’d be casting if our art was restricted or regulated.
Keep on keepin’ it real, Sister.

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ashley - June 18, 2010

eloquently said; what a wonderful way to reach a reader and educate them on your writing process while not putting their beliefs down. i bet she picks up book numero 2. besides, who could turn down that cute cow?

not i.

bravo.

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Adrienne - June 18, 2010

I don’t usually agree with both sides so fully, but I agree and can see both of your points. This was a great post. Thanks.

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Nikki - June 19, 2010

Excellent post and discussion! I understand the writer’s viewpoint, but think your response was perfect – she’s a rarity, and for those readers that may be unbelievers or new believers, the characters in your books are a great example of how we can live out our Christian beliefs amidst a world that doesn’t share them, as well as how we can trust in God to bring us through the toughest of times.

I only recently discovered you as an author, but became an immediate fan upon reading So Not Happening. 🙂 I am now recommending them to all of my other (adult) friends that enjoy reading teen fiction!

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Tracy - June 19, 2010

Your response was beautiful, confident, poised, respectful. Perfect!

As Christians I think we need to step up and be real with our teens when we are talking with them about how God wants us to live. Real life is pretty messy and full of all kinds of stuff Satan would love to distract us with ~ teens are no exception. Perhaps not everyone will think your style is for them, but like you say, there’s a whole bunch of people that need stuff that makes sense for where they’re at.

Knowing what God is calling you to write is the best thing to keep coming back to. When God changes your calling, that’s when you change with it.

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hannah - June 20, 2010

Your response was very great. you didn’t be angry at what she said and you responded in a christ-like way. i love just between you and me and the katie parker books so much and even though they have some make-out scenes and “Guy in a towel” scenes they really prove that your books aren’t “goody two shoes” christian books. they remain pretty clean. they also go against the steriotype “christian books” title. most non- christians think that christian fiction is all just forcing jesus down their throat. but you, as a writer, write the books to deal with real-life issues and drama and bring jesus into the books without overwelming the reader. i have friends who are not christian who have read your books and enjoyed them. your writing is outstanding. keep writing more books and i must go now and eat some ben and jerry’s . ciao for now!

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Gemma - June 20, 2010

I’ve never been a fan of christian books. They’re almost always dry and about someone who feels compelled to wash their mouth out with soap if they utter the word “crap.” That’s not reality (at least not for me) Actually, it bugs me more when people use synonyms for crap when I know they’re just DYING to say crap, but can’t because they think its a naughty word. It’s not, and it’s certainly better than the alternative… Thanks for being real. And not crappy.

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Leigh Moore - June 30, 2010

good stuff here and good reply~

And I like that you didn’t make the letter-writer feel like she was somehow a bad person for wanting to hold herself to a rigidly high standard. I know people who feel the same way as this writer, and as an aspiring novelist, I’m already anticipating hearing from them… (great…)

Her points are valid for her, but you’re correct. She is in a distinct minority and your books are very true to life without crossing any lines. Keep up the good work!

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Tana - June 30, 2010

I’m not sure if you’ll see this comment or read it (if you do please e-mail me if ya can:)) but thank you. I honestly think, no, I honestly know you are one of the most amazing people ever. You’re response to that e-mail was genuine, and fantasic. Please don’t ever stop writing.
Because then, Katie and Bella would be very lonely without me talking (and mumbling, yelling, and laughing) to them while I read your books.

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Jules - July 16, 2010

I’m impressed with your levelheaded, thoughtful, and gracious response. I have much to learn from you, it seems. I’ll be filing this one away in the steel trap for future reference.

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ugg classicol - August 2, 2010

Ugh, I liked! So clear and positively.
Have a nice day

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