Conversations with Mindful Writers: Lori M. Jones, A Stellar Woman
In March 2011, when the Mindful Writers Group (North) met for the first time, Lori was one of the five participants. She is the only one from that meeting who continues to participate and occasionally lead the group of twenty writers.
Since that March, Lori has become an award-winning author of women’s & children’s fiction. Her first children’s book, RILEY’S HEART MACHINE, was released in 2012, followed by CONFETTI THE CROC in 2014. Mother of two young daughters, Lori’s younger daughter’s heart defect was the inspiration behind Riley’s Heart Machine. Her debut novel, RENAISSANCE OF THE HEART has won the SILVER medal by READERS’ FAVORITES in women’s fiction. Her second novel, LATE FOR FATE, is forthcoming in 2016.
Lori is on the national Board of Directors for the Children’s Heart Foundation and the president of Pennsylvania Chapter. She travels to schools and libraries delivering assemblies on writing stories from the heart. When Lori is not writing or spreading awareness for Congenital Heart Defects, she can be found cheering on her beloved Pittsburgh sports teams and participating in 5Ks. Lori was awarded the Community Quarterback Award by the Philadelphia Eagles for her work with the Children’s Heart Foundation.
In my heart, Lori M. Jones is a stellar mindful writer. A star that shines and radiates and sends out expansive waves of energy and warmth. No one in need is refused her touch. She emits warmth and chooses to shine expansively into the world with mindfulness and attention.
Recently, I had the pleasure of interviewing her about her writing life.
What inspired you to write children’s books and romance novels?
When my first daughter was born – Sydney – I made up a story about an island of beans and Sydney Kidney Bean was the queen of the island. I told her the story so often, I finally wrote it down. That started the children’s book journey. Riley’s Heart Machine came about a few years after my second daughter was born, based on her heart defect. As far as the novel journey, I’ve always known that I had a novel inside of me, but I let fear control my thoughts and I kept telling myself I couldn’t do it. Then after a series of dreams, I decided to write them down. The first novel was partly from a dream, mixed with something that had happened to me in the past. Although that first novel had a strong romantic component, I actually write women’s fiction. I enjoy going deep into the female psyche and exploring and explaining all of our deep – and sometimes crazy – emotions and thoughts. And taking the real life stuff that happened to me and turning it into fiction was extremely therapeutic too!
Why do you write? As a member of the Mindful Writers Group, how do you define Writing Meditation Practice?
For me, writing meditation is disciplining your mind, body and heart to work in harmony and clear out unnecessary debris, so that you can fully focus on your writing. Its success for me is due to the group dynamic which holds me accountable for committing to the practice at least once a week.
Writing is my expression of art and the way I channel emotions and life’s experience into story form. I write to make sense of the world. If my writing helps others see the world from a different perspective, or helps someone feel not alone in their own emotions, then that is great. Or, if I’ve entertained someone, that is wonderful to. I’ve tried many times to stop writing, but that turned out to be as successful as trying to quit eating.
Riley’s Heart Machine and Confetti the Croc your children’s books were inspired by a bedtime story you told your daughters Sydney and Riley, what inspired you to write Renaissance of Heart?
Riley’s Heart Machine was inspired by daughter’s heart defect and my fear of what she’d encounter with her peers, as she grew older. When I was 24 weeks pregnant, a paled and panicked OB looked at me during a routine exam and said, “I can’t find her heartbeat.” Those words forever changed the course of my life. When he returned to the room with a sonogram machine, he said, “I found her heartbeat, but something’s not right. It’s half the rate it was last week.” After testing at the hospital, it was determined she had a defect in the electrical system in her heart. If she survived, she would need a pacemaker and a lifetime of intervention. She’s 9 years old now and is doing great with a pacemaker! But when she was 2, I turned to writing again and penned a poem of a little girl afraid to tell her school friends about her broken heart. She finally did share with them her story. That poem, later became, Riley’s Heart Machine.
Confetti was inspired by a painting project I was doing with my daughters when they were little and I had painted a crocodile orange with polka dots. I later expanded Confetti after meeting with children at schools while reading Riley’s Heart Machine. The kids loved sharing their medical challenges with me, so I incorporated that into Confetti’s story.
Renaissance is a mixture of a real life situation that happened to me, mixed with a lesson I learned about forgiveness, mixed with my love for the city of Pittsburgh. I started to write it after I began having a certain reoccurring dream and didn’t know why. Turns out, it was the voice of one of my characters coming to life. Stefanie Meyers – author of Twilight – was being interviewed on Oprah and said she wrote Twilight after a dream and decided to just write it out as a fantasy. So I did the same, and Renaissance was born.
You are a walker/runner, how does running help your writing process?
I believe walking and running out in nature relaxes my body and mind and clears away stress, negativity, and makes me feel empowered to tackle plot problems etc. I do a lot of “writing” while walking outside. It’s magical! You’re breathing effectively, circulating the blood and the mind is open to allow those creative juices to flow. It has helped me tremendously.
When I’m not exercising, I have found that I’m more prone to anxiety and sadness and I’m not as productive creatively. So, walking, running, joining nature in some way is vital to my sanity and my creative process.
Does your writing convey your personal beliefs and values?
Yes, every epiphany my protagonist experiences contain some of my own lessons I’ve learned in my life. I have a strong faith in God and I think that comes through in all my protagonist’s journeys. My second novel, LATE FOR FATE, explores the idea of us being in control of our destiny and how our choices impact our life. This was a fun concept to explore in writing. I think I used many different characters to demonstrate my thoughts and feelings on this topic.
Has writing meditation helped you grow as a person?
I would say I pay more attention now to my emotions and how they are affecting my body and my creativity. I try to be more mindful with my thoughts and my actions. It is a practice I’m trying to carry into my day-to-day activities and not just my writing. I’m trying to be more mindful in my friendships and with my family relationships. So, yes, I hope so.
What do you want your readers to take away from your books?
With my children’s books, I want children to love their differences and celebrate what makes them special. Especially the children who have heart defects. I also want children to be kinder to other children who face challenges. To be a good friend to each other. I’ve heard from moms all around the world who have told me that their heart child loves having a character in a book that they can relate to. They’ve taken the book into their classrooms and used it as a tool to share their stories with their friends. That is extremely special.
In my adult novels, I hope they can find something relatable with the protagonist and cheer her on in her journey. But more than anything, I hope my readers are entertained and can for those few hours of reading, can escape their problems for a bit, and worry about a fictional character’s troubles for a while. And if a reader says to me, you made me cry, or you made me think, or your characters stayed with me for days after reading – then I am completely thrilled!
When I think of you I always think of an accomplished woman who was given lemons but she made lemonade.
Yes, I think that too. I love that I was given the gift of storytelling and writing so that I could take a situation my daughter faced, and share it in a public way so that it can now help other children and parents. Right before Riley’s Heart Machine was released, I wanted to research children’s heart charities so that I could donate some proceeds too. That led me to finding the Children’s Heart Foundation. I volunteered to help with one event, which led to a seat on the PA board, which led me to being the chair of the Pittsburgh Congenital Heart Walk for the 5th year. I am now the president of the PA chapter and sit on the national board. It’s been the most fulfilling experience of my life, and it all started with penning a poem, which led to a book. Even more fulfilling is when a mom of a child with a heart defect writes to me and says, “Thank you! Your book has helped my child so much.”
The experience with the heart community has led me to writing a middle grade novel about a 13 year old struggling with her self-esteem as she faces life-threatening heart defects. I never thought I could write a book from a 13-year-old’s point of view, but it tumbled right out of my heart. I was able to take so many stories I’ve heard about heart kids, and write it all into Anna’s story. Maybe the kids who are reading Riley’s Heart Machine now, will someday be able to read that middle grade novel!
The writing journey as a whole has led to many new friendships and experiences for which I am so grateful. It’s given me an outlet to be creative and express my feelings that has brought me great joy. I believe that we can’t always control what happens to us, but we can control how we react to those events or situations. Not only do I believe every dark cloud has a silver lining, but I believe it also has a rainbow connected to it and a pot of gold and abundant sunlight and so on and so forth…
What is your process of writing from the moment idea strikes to the moment a book is published.
For Riley’s Heart Machine, I was grappling with a quagmire of emotions over Riley’s Heart Defect. I began to hear it in my mind as a children’s story. Any time I hear a children’s story in my mind, it comes out in rhyme. Must be Dr. Seuss’s influence! I did jot this down as a poem and never did anything else with it. A few years passed and I dusted it off and decided to submit it. I found a publisher who had a health line of books and had just released a book about a girl who had needed a liver transplant. The publisher wrote back to me a month later and said she liked my story, but didn’t publish books in rhyme, and would I consider re-writing it. I did, and she offered me a contract. I got lucky with that one; the publishing process has been a lot more grueling for my novels! Just how every person’s life journey is unique, every book’s journey is unique and each has a special story all its own!