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August 8, 2022

Jones’s memoir From the Flood recounts her family’s struggle after Hurricane Agnes destroyed their home. The BookLife Review praised the author, saying, “with sparkling prose and a fine eye for detail, Jones easily pulls readers into her engaging narrative.” We spoke with Jones about what inspired her to write her memoir and about her advice for others seeking to do the same.

Your first work, There Is Nothing to Fix, was a self-help book. What made you follow it up with a memoir? 

Even though I’m a specialist in trauma and recovery, I never really thought of the natural disaster that destroyed my home and town as a traumatic event for me. Then, around the time that the massive earthquake struck Haiti, I connected with a colleague who travels to regions of the world that have been devastated by natural disasters and trains community leaders on how to use play to give kids the best chance of avoiding developing PTSD. It was then I realized that as kids, my siblings and I naturally used play after the flood to the same end; we just didn’t know it. Finally, when my father learned that the years after the flood, which were the worst of his life, held some of our best childhood memories, I felt like there was a story to tell.

How do you make sure you are telling “the truth,” or how do you refresh your memories when writing?

Because I was only six years old when Hurricane Agnes destroyed our town, I had to spend hours and hours talking to my parents, my siblings, and other family members who shared their memories with me so that I could create an accurate time line and retelling of the events. Memory is like a slideshow, with images in the mind of particular events having strong emotional associations. All the events in the book are true, and memory is sensory, which I drew upon to help put the reader in the story. I used dialogue to portray all the colorful characters in the book and to fill in any blanks. Of course, the thoughts and feelings and the way I made sense of things as a young child are very accurate.

Who is your ideal reader and why?

I wanted to write a book that would appeal to readers beyond those who experienced Hurricane Agnes. Anyone who grew up in the 1970s will enjoy this book, as will people who like stories of overcoming challenges and of resilience. The book transports the reader back to a time that was more innocent, when kids could really be kids. So people who like nostalgic, poignant, and inspiring stories will really enjoy this book.

What advice would you give to someone who wanted to write their own memoir?

The first thing I would say is to read as many memoirs as you can! The Glass Castle and Angela’s Ashes were my two biggest inspirations, which is why I chose to use a child narrator and knew that humor would thread throughout the book. Get a sense of the story you want to tell and use other memoirs to help you decide how to tell it. Remember, you don’t have to have a superhuman memory to write about events of the past. Talk to everyone and use their memories to help you piece together the story.

What’s next for you?

I’m hoping to go the more traditional route and see if I can find an agent and publisher for my next book, which is a novel. It’s important to me that my stories feel authentic and have emotional resonance. For that to happen, I need to write what I know, so the book is based on my own experiences. Amy Tan has said that fiction is the perfect genre because you’re not limited by the facts. I liked that, so I'm giving it a try!