Jan CJ Jones and I have known each other for over 20 years. We met at a writers’ conference. Though now semi-retired, she is or has been an author, producer, screenwriter, photographer, and visual media artist. She’s multitalented, extremely intelligent, witty, approachable, and charming. She recently helped me out in creating an updated portfolio during a photo shoot back in July of 2016. Her latest project is a fantastical mashup, called A Journey With Strange Bedfellows. I last did an interview with her in August 2012 about The Adventures of the Last Jelly Bean Dragon. She is one of the most creative people I know, and is never at a loss for words or ideas, and will give you attention that is razor sharp. Just ask her a question, and you’ll see what I mean! She is a wonderful soul, a knowledgeable writer/producer/artist/Renaissance Woman, and is always there whenever I need some creative help…usually in the area of graphics manipulation!
F. P. Dorchak: Jan, please give us a short bio if you would!
Jan CJ Jones: Your words are so incredibly generous and kind, Frank. Everything you say about me must be true as it’s now chronicled in this blog. LOL!
Re: “short.” Mark Twain, “I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.” Brevity is quite the chore, is it not? I graduated from Eastern New Mexico University with a B.S. in biology & chemistry, then worked in various levels of scientific research that necessitated my venture into technical writing. In 1990/91, I began a career in creative writing, specializing in writing for visual media, primarily non-fiction, short & long form. Video editors incapable of correctly interpreting my scripts frustrated me so much I took up videography and video editing, which were extensions of my long-standing fascination with photography. Your curious readers can learn more about me and some of those projects at www.forest-rose-productions.com.
FPD: When did you discover your artist side?
JCJJ: My “artist side” was more of a given than a discovery, as my late mother was an artist and art teacher. I really wouldn’t call myself an artist either, as “artist” is generally applied to fine artists who spend much of their lives receiving instruction and working to discover their unique art style. I would more likely agree on my having developed an “adequate graphics skill set,” along with “a working knowledge of composition”…and an eye for detail.
FPD: Are you still dabbling in the visual media? Have any images you’d like to show us…talk about?
JCJJ: My most recent story project, A Journey with Strange Bedfellows, began as a two-hour long (classic Victorian Gothic horror story, with a steampunk lean) audio drama. As its adaptation into a graphic novel is currently in-progress, I’ve been working on numerous spin-off projects, such as “A Strange Compendium for the Consummate Educationalist” that is an educators’ guide, and “Strange Journey,” a board game. Both are graphics heavy.
FPD: Are there other artistic mediums within which you’re also working?
JCJJ: Over the years I created a collection of original mixed-media works I call Whimsical Doodles that I really haven’t done much with. They’ve been exhibited a few times, but I’ve never been serious in thinking they could compete within the professional art world. They’re fun to create; perhaps therapeutic but certainly not critical works of art. As an example: http://jcjjones.deviantart.com/art/GHOST-DANCE-129289635.
FPD: I personally feel your art can “compete” with those “more practiced” artists! They’re so fun and carnival-like! Indeed, whimsical!
JCJJ: Lovely words, Frank. I’m complimented. My “Whimsical-Doodles” are simply meant to entertain, although there may be a “serious note behind the joke.” For example, the one titled, “First Impressions” depicts the repercussions that occur as two creatures meet (most likely) for the first time. The first one (on the left) appears to have something happening to its back while the second loses a bit of itself…which is noticed by the first creature.
The Doodle titled, “The Rastafarian Flutist Arrived Late” depicts a rather laid-back, colorful otherworldly being (presumably a musician) riding atop a sleek vehicle (that is also a harp-like instrument) approaching what might be an entertainment venue. Could we also say, “his music transports him?”
As I create each Doodle, a story forms. “The Flight of the Bubbling Juggler…or the Juggling Bubbler” depicts a highly creative entity (precariously balancing on a tight-wire bead) while his ideas/concepts keep forming and spinning around; they become hard to contain…so they simply fly away. And isn’t that what happens when we have a creative thought that we fail to utilize? It’s simply lost. So the moral of this story would be, when it comes to creative concepts—“use it or lose it.”
FPD: How did you get into screenwriting and producing?
JCJJ: I began writing at age eight. Fortunately (or unfortunately), I managed to maintain a passion for writing right along with a youthfully short attention span. Writing for visual media…short form commercials and long form feature-length scripts…satisfied my (limited) abilities to physically write fast enough to keep pace with my imagination, as it churns out ideas, scenes, dialogue, etc. Prior to sitting at the keyboard to begin writing, I usually have already formulated the major story beats, so it takes every bit of energy and concentration I can muster to write from one beat to the next without my fingers stumbling across the keyboard or going nuts. I can’t get the story down fast enough. It’s like having an amazing dream then frantically trying to remember the details upon waking (I keep a notepad and pen on my bedside table for that).
FPD: Ha! I feel the same way, Jan! When I begin work on my own efforts (or in writing my own dreams down) I also feel I can’t get the words down fast enough! And I actually do also similarly worry about “stumbling over my fingers”! It’s also neat to know you keep a bedside notebook! I love to hear stuff like that about others!
FPD: You’d won some screenwriting awards, n’est-ce pas?
JCJJ: Oui! Certainement. Frank, I’ve won a number of writing and video awards and it’s certainly nice to have one’s work recognized, especially when recognition and credits can bring one additional paying work. With any public presentation of my written work, the much grander “pay off” or “payback” is seeing for myself how the work affects people as they watch or listen to what I’ve created. Do they laugh at the anticipated moment? Are viewers moved or emotionally impacted? Does the “story” provide a meaningful message that evokes thought? Are others inspired by it?
FPD: Yes, it’s neat to see how others interpret our efforts! And it’s not always as we expect (for good or ill). I love that! You created Forest Rose Productions LLC. Are you still active with it? Can you tell us a little about it, and any current projects?
JCJJ: Forest Rose Productions (www.forest-rose-productions.com) was founded in 2003. The company has produced or co-produced some interesting projects that have taken me (as researcher/writer/producer) to some VERY interesting places. Even projects that didn’t come to fruition provided some remarkable experiences; hanging out within our nation’s Capital’s rotunda (in the dark) at midnight; climbing around rooftops of Disneyland attraction pavilion; blundering through snake and alligator-infested Florida Everglades at night (because no one thought to bring flashlights); investigating an alleged haunted house; exploring Bavaria’s Neuschwanstein castle to research characters and a story’s location. Thank you, again, Frank for participating (on-screen) in a docudrama I researched and wrote that focused on the topic of our government’s history in possibly using soldiers and civilians as guinea pigs to develop non-lethal (lethal) weaponry, titled Government Guinea Pig: When Uncle Sam Wants You.
(FPD: You’re most welcome, and that’s so funny you mention Government Guinea Pig! As I wrote up these questions I thought about mentioning my part in it in my question…but more along the lines of how I simply could not keep a straight face in one scene and I think I had to be pulled from that scene! Remember? It was a scene in which I was a part of a line-up of “soldiers” getting chewed out or something, and I kept cracking up! Yeah, I was like that in my AFROTC training. I did a lot of push ups because of that…)
Video/film production is a difficult business, because it’s so very competitive and costly. I think it’s atypical that investors recoup their money and even rarer for anyone to make money. If one can produce an extremely small (low budget) project that passionately demonstrates their story-telling ability, their talent and potential may be recognized. They might be invited (or hired) to participate in a larger production. Seizing every opportunity to work (behind-the-scenes) on productions can provide considerable insight into that world of which most isn’t very glamorous. Getting on-the-job experience means working long hours that can be uncomfortable and frustrating while receiving little-to-no pay. The better news is that with low-cost, pro-sumer [FPD: as in “con-sumer”—“pro-sumer”; technology that is a better-than-standard “consumer” level, yet slightly lower in quality or expense than the professional level of same] technology and the Internet, there’s greater opportunity for newcomer video- and film-makers to attract a global spotlight to their genius without great financial risk. Bottom line: at the foundation of any project is good writing and solid story telling. If a storyteller has a tale they’re burning to tell, they need to devise a clever way to present it.
FPD: A Journey With Strange Bedfellows. Tell us a little about this newest project of yours! As well as the really neat-looking graphic novel you’re also developing for it!
JCJJ: The growing popularity of audio programming delivered via Internet streaming and podcasts motivated me to write an audio script, which was a format I’d never attempted. With audio stories, the sky’s the limit, since the budget excludes costly items like locations, wardrobe/costumes, makeup, etc. The entire cost goes into only those facets that are heard, like voice talent, sound F/X, music, and sound engineering.
A Journey with Strange Bedfellows is a Victorian Gothic horror adapted from (or inspired by) six immortal short stories penned by literary masters Nathaniel Hawthorne, Bram Stoker, Jack London, Jerome K. Jerome, Wilkie Collins, and Hector Hugh Munro (aka, Saki). I melded the stories into one continuous journey and produced it as a two-hour long audio drama as a means to re-introduce listeners to some classic literary works. In October 2014, Forest Rose Productions [in association with FinalRune Productions; directed by prolific audio production veteran Fred Greenhalgh (Portland, Maine)] released it as a four-part episodic “mash up.” It received a 2015 “Mark Time Ogle (horror) Award” for excellence in audio storytelling and was featured as an “Official Listening Selection” at the 2015 HEAR Now: The Audio Fiction and Audio Arts Festival. Audio samples and free download “surprises” can be unearthed among the webpages at www.a-strange-journey.com. Now the audio drama is being adapted into a “read along” graphic novel (long-form comic) by sequential illustrator David Stoll. Samples and more information can be seen on the project’s Facebook page at www.facebook.com/AJourneyWithStrangeBedfellows.
This endeavor has been—hands down—my most satisfying project to date…mostly due to its being “my baby.” At this point, I’m in control of every aspect, so if it’s successful, I can take 100% credit for it, and the largest component of finding/hiring the right talent who carry forth and improve the project at every next step.
FPD: Do you have plans to take the Bedfellows graphic novel to Denver’s Comic Con?
JCJJ: This will be my fifth year as a volunteer for the Denver Comic Con (June 30 – July 2, 2017), which is hosted by a collection of educators who are devoted to promoting and boosting literacy at all levels. DCC is a fundraiser that supports activities undertaken by the non-profit organization, Pop Culture Classroom. After a three-year search, I discovered the work of sequential illustrator, David Stoll at DCC. His illustrations style matched my vision for Bedfellows, so Forest Rose Productions hired him to adapt Bedfellows into a graphic novel and it’s now over half way to completion. Once the 120-page graphic novel and accompanying educators’ guide are finished, they’ll combine with the audio drama to comprise what I call a “listen, look, learn” educational bundle to be used in high school English classes, by home school educators, in English as a 2nd language and other literacy programs. The educators’ guide aligns with the S.T.E.A.M. (science, technology, engineering, art, math) core competencies. I’ve enlisted some remarkable, seasoned educators to help with that component.
Comic conventions (“comicons”) would be one venue for introducing what will be the Bedfellows franchise, but education conferences would obviously make sense. I’m hoping to be able to begin such introductions by the end of 2017. It might be nice if a recognized publisher of educational materials (Scholastic, McGraw-Hill, etc.) would see the value and step up at some point.
FPD: This is exactly what I mean by how freaking creative you are, Jan! It’s not just in the creation of fictional content, but in how to exploit those works! You’re a genius! And how is semi-retirement treating you (go on, rub it in!)?
JCJJ: I officially retired in 2013 knowing the only thing it meant was that I could stop answering the phone and dedicate my time making my own dreams come true rather than fulfilling others’ ambitions. Along with Bedfellows, I’ve written a number of short comic scripts that are being illustrated and published in comic book anthologies published by WonderFunders. My first story in that venture is “Kingdom of Braggard,” a fable where greed results in a kingdom’s grave loss. There are five or so other stories in the queue that will be published in the following months. Since joining that creative group, I’ve met some extraordinary artist-illustrators and may have opportunity to enter into some graphic novel collaborations that will utilize some of my feature-length movie scripts as a story basis. I’ll keep you updated.
FPD: Do! And again, your mind is always working…always looking for “outside-the-box” avenues to get your efforts out there. Of all the people I know, you are the most creative I know in this department! To change the subject a bit…you have a new love in your life! His name is Brent Berry. We got along great upon meeting each other. He is quite complimentary to you! Has he become part of your production efforts, and if so, how?
JCJJ: All our lives, Brent and I knew the “perfect other” was waiting “somewhere out there” and we finally managed to find one another December 2015 after I very briefly looked into online dating. After some tens-of-thousands (really) of phone conversations, text messages, emails, and actually meeting in Denver last February and, again in Tulsa, OK in April, we knew we couldn’t let time and distance become insurmountable obstacles. He moved permanently to Colorado from Oklahoma in October. I continue to be amazed at everything he had to do, and it was astonishing how many factors had to align, for that move to happen. Like me, Brent has a right-left balanced brain. As an engineer, he retired from a 35+ year career in the oil and gas industry with several machine patents to his name. He traveled the world representing, introducing and educating internationals about the newest technological advances in petroleum production and field monitoring. He continues to be a bit involved in that business as a consultant, but he’s also a poet and a musician who plays a very nice, soulful jazz trumpet. We laugh that one minute we may be discussing politics or some new scientific discovery, then unexpectedly switch topics to acknowledge our excitement for a forthcoming film release or concert. He’s a gadget and computer geek, so that keeps me updated on the latest electronics. He and I discuss collaborating to invent a distinctive way to visually and/or aurally present his poetry that could involve photography, art, video, electronics, or some combination. We attended the 2015 Denver Film Festival and saw a number of interesting shorts and animations that may inspire projects along those lines. In the meantime, we’re greatly enjoying each other’s company and making up for lost time by fulfilling our mutual bucket list.
FPD: Outstanding, Jan! Is there anything else you’d like to add or mention that I didn’t cover?
JCJJ: I enjoy encouraging others to pursue their ambitions regarding their respective creative endeavors. One may never make a living from them, but one can reap enormous joy and self-fulfillment. Ceasing to try could be psychologically and emotionally damaging, so the act of being creative can certainly be therapeutic. Creation requires imagination and exercising the imagination can lead to great innovation as (for example) “science fiction leads to science fact” and the craziest ideas aren’t necessarily crazy after all.
FPD: And this is also another saintly aspect of you, Jan: you are an “Army of One” who is extremely supportive of “creatives,” as you like to say! If someone needs your help—with or without asking—you are there, asking if you can assist in some way, offering out-of-the-box thinking, analysis, and creative expression. Your suggestions constantly blow me away! There have been many times I’ve tried to anticipate your responses—your ideas—and you always blast down out of the sun with something I’d never considered. You’re one-in-a-million, Jan!
FPD: What do you like to read, and/or are currently reading?
JCJJ: I love to read, but when I became a dedicated writer a horrible thing happened…when I read something that wasn’t written well, I’d stop reading to write something I thought better. When I read something that was well-written, I’d stop reading to try to improve what I’d written or was in-process of writing. One of my favorite authors is Mary Roach (“Stiff,” “Spook,” “Boink,” and “Grunt”) who writes non-fiction. Her “voice” is quirky and she approaches extremely serious (sometimes unpleasant) topics with a light touch that entertains as she educates. Brent has introduced me to one of his favorite poets, Mary Oliver. I don’t know if it’s her poetry I like or that I’m completely mesmerized by the resonance of Brent’s rich baritone timbre as he reads it to me, but he could read the ingredients in laundry detergent and it would sound wonderfully poetic.
FPD: Ha! I love that last part to your response above! How sweet!
FPD: Jan, if you were to have a gravestone, what would you have engraved upon it?
JCJJ: A storyteller’s greatest challenge is to write his or her own epitaph as there’s simply not enough space provided for the details that make a proper story. I guess I’d have to write, “I’ll try harder next time.”
FPD: Thank you so much for your time and sharing, Jan! What a wonderful and fun interview! It’s always a pleasure! And I wish you the very best with A Journey with Strange Bedfellows! It was a fun read—and listen!
JCJJ: Thank YOU, Frank, for including me and devoting the space for this interview in your blog. I applaud your continuing to follow your path as a writer/author. I enjoy watching your progress. It’s the long road that makes for an interesting journey, is it not? So…write on!
- Adventures of the Last Jelly Bean Dragon (fpdorchak.wordpress.com)