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Holly Goddard Jones Advance April 2011
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Author Holly Goddard Jones Makes an Impression with 'Girl Trouble'

Posted on Sunday, April 10, 2011 [9:22 PM]

Holly Goddard Jones
Holly Goddard Jones'  Girl Trouble was published in 2009.

COLUMBIA, Ky. -- One of the South's exciting new authors will give a reading and speak on April 12 at Lindsey Wilson College.

Holly Goddard Jones will read from her recently published collection of short stories, Girl Trouble, at 7 p.m. CT on Tuesday April 12, in the W.W. Slider Humanities Center Recital Hall. The reading -- which is part of the 2010-11 Lindsey Wilson Cultural Affairs Series -- is free and open to the public.

A native of Russellville, Ky., Jones' Girl Trouble was published in September 2099 by Harper Perennial. Most of the eight stories in Girl Trouble are set in the fictional Western Kentucky town of Roma, which has led some critics to compare Jones to Kentucky author Bobbie Ann Mason.

"I'll take a comparison to her any day," Jones said in a phone interview from her office at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, where she teaches in the school's master of fine arts in creative writing. "It's not something I worry about at all. If I'm going to be compared to a writer, to be compared to someone who inspired me from an early age and inspired me so much, is pretty nice."

Jones and Mason are similar in that their stories are often set in their native Western Kentucky, and they both write about mainly working-class people coping with everyday problems. But their styles are quite different, both in the pacing of their stories and the language they employ.

Jones and Mason also share a similar academic background -- both wrote for their college papers. As an English major, Mason wrote for the University of Kentucky's Kernel; Jones wrote for Western Kentucky University's College Heights Herald before transferring to UK to major in English.

Although she only studied journalism for a year, Jones' stories often display a journalist's eye for detail. Her short stories contain details and fragments of characters' lives that are woven into a rich expository style.

Jones often tells her stories in third person -- six of them in Girl Trouble are told from a third-person point of view -- which allows readers to achieve a great deal of intimacy with the characters.

"I actually think that third person can be more intimate than first (person) because I feel like with first person you're always questioning the character, you're always feeling as though maybe the character isn't always being wholly truthful with you," Jones said. "Whereas with third person you can get in their heart, write about them with the same level of intimacy that you can with first, but you can do it in a way that makes it seem as though you are spying on the character. They're not confessing to you -- you're just sort of reading what's in their head and heart without their permission, which seems like a different kind of truth."

Many of Jones' stories are informed by events, people and places in and around her native Russellville.

"I definitely use material -- things I've heard, things I've heard about happening," she said. "But generally when I incorporate things that are real I don't even realize it. … It's happening on a pretty subconscious level. And so this embarrassing thing happens when the story is coming to fruition and I realize, 'OK, there's this thing in it that so-and-so might read and take literally.'

"In general people have been pretty kind about it, and I think they realize too that when I take stuff like that it's generally in a context that is so distinct from reality that you might recognize the detail, but it's coming out of a familiar context so it's rendered alien in that way."

Two stories in Girl Trouble were inspired by a real event many readers will recognize -- the murder of college student Melissa "Katie" Autry.

In May 2003, the 18-year-old Autry was found raped, stabbed and set on fire in her Western Kentucky University residence hall room. She died four days later.

Stephen Soules and Lucas Goodrum were charged in connection with Autry's death. Soules eventually pleaded guilty to murder and six other charges, which allowed him to avoid a death penalty. Goodrum was acquitted by a jury on all charges.

The sensational nature of the case and its strange circumstances led to a great deal of national media coverage, including a nonfiction book that sought to explain the murder.

In Girl Trouble, Jones tells the story of a fictionalized murder case in the short stories "Parts" and "Proof of God." "Parts" is told from the point of view of the mother of Felicia, the murdered college girl who resembles Autry; "Proof of God" is told from the point of view of a man named Simon, who appears to parallel Goodrum.

"I definitely followed the case. … I was pretty haunted by it, couldn't get it out of my head," Jones said. "I was inspired by the idea of it."

Unlike the Autry case, there is less class disparity between the murdered college student and one of the alleged perpetrators in Jones' stories.

"What's interesting about the Katie Autry case is that there's definitely class issues there … so my decision to make the young woman who dies upper-middle class was purposeful because I didn't want it to be just a kind of class story where this kid from privilege hurts this poor young woman and have that be too distinctly the point of things" Jones said.

Although "Parts" and "Proof of God" are both stories about a fictional murder case, they will deepen the reader's understanding of the seemingly senselessness Autry murder case.

"I don't know what the truth is, and that's not the point of the stories -- they are just getting at a different truth," Jones said. "It was incredibly complex, and I don't think a fiction could get at all the layers of complexity."

Up next for Jones is her first novel. Also set in Roma, she hopes to have the three-year project finished by the end of summer and then hopefully picked up by a publisher.

"I'm really just figuring out how to write a novel as I go," she said. "One of the things ironically I've learned is that although I have these long short stories that cover long periods of time … the novel I'm working on is only covering about a month of time."

Her novel is going to be at least the temporary farewell to Roma. At least for now.

"I feel like the short story collection and the novel I'm working on very much go together," she said. "And I think I'm moving beyond that place as a writer. … There might be a point where I realize that I have more stories to tell there. But I do feel that for now the characters I'm writing about are kind of on the move, so next phase of whatever my life is as a writer the characters are not going to be rooted in that central place." 

More ...
Click here to read a Q&A interview with Chapter16.org.
Click here to read Jones' blog. 

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