Book Signings, Appearances, and Events

In exciting, super short notice news, I’m going to be speaking tomorrow at the Swarthmore College library in Swarthmore, Pennsylvania! It is such an honor because many of the photographs in my book–including the cover–came from that archive. Some of my absolute favorite days spent researching were spent in the Swarthmore College Peace Collection and while getting photograph permissions was chaotic and stressful, the archivists at Swarthmore were by far the kindest, most helpful, most patient people I encountered in the whole process. Not only do they preserve history, but they were excited to share it.

The lecture tomorrow is the first in a series and this particular speaking event is about COs in WWII mental hospitals, given by the amazing George R. Cooley Curator, Wendy Chmielewski, and I’ll be given a few minutes at the end to talk about the COs at Byberry specifically and about my wonderful experience in the archive. It’s open to the public so if you’re available, please come visit!

McCabe Library, Swarthmore College, 500 College Ave, Swarthmore, PA, Friday, October 4th, 2:30-3:30 pm

In less short notice, I’ll also be at Barnes and Noble doing a signing on Saturday, October 19th. I’ll have a bucket of Halloween candy and will be signing copies of my book and available to answer any questions you might have! (I know a lot more about Byberry than I could fit in the tiny book!)

Barnes and Noble, Neshaminy, 300 Neshaminy Mall  Bensalem, PA 19020, Saturday, October 19th, 2:00-4:00 pm.

Hope to see you all at one or the other!!

Omgosh, how fancy and official is this!? My sister spotted it at the Barnes and Noble last week.

Omgosh, how fancy and official is this!? My sister spotted it at the Barnes and Noble last week.

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The Reviews Are In!

Byberry and my book served as the cover story for Philadelphia CityPaper a few weeks ago. How neat is this artist’s interpretation of the underground tunnel system that served the hospital in its heyday?

Byberry State Hospital has been out for two months this week (it doesn’t feel like it’s been that long already!) and it’s been getting some great reviews in the local Philadelphia newspapers. Thought I’d share!

Byberry State Hospital . . . tells the real-life horror story of Northeast Philadelphia’s notorious mental institution, shuttered since 1990, in a meticulously detailed narrative and 200 historical photographs. Jones’ balanced portrait of life at Byberry State Hospital ranges from photos of therapeutic art and music classes to graphic evidence of wards where patients spent all day naked in grotesquely unsanitary, overcrowded conditions.”

Dan Geringer, Philadelphia Daily News, “New Book Delves into Terror at Byberry Hospital.”

“[The book] focuses on the rarely discussed positive aspects of a facility, infamous for all its shortcomings. And this is a good thing. While tales of violence, neglect, abuse, and mismanagement have become the hospital’s legacy, little is said or remembered of the hundreds of staff members, volunteers, and directors who did their best to help the helpless and forgotten people in their care. Here, instead, the reader is treated to images of picnics, performances, art and music therapy—and even Byberry’s own Boy Scout troop. Open houses and tours were an attempt to educate the community while gaining support for the hospital. Jones concludes the book with a look at the abandoned crumbling structures in their final days, shot by Hidden City contributor Chandra Lampreich. Byberry State Hospital allows the reader a glimpse behind the walls and fences into a rarely seen and less understood world.”

Ethan Wallace, Hidden City Philadelphia, “Two New Books Provide a Fitting Eulogy to Byberry State Hospital.”

I was also interviewed by Patrick Rapa at the Philadelphia CityPaper for an article exploring “What Did We Learn From Byberry?”

If you haven’t picked up a copy of the book yet and are still interested it’s available for purchase, as Mr. Geringer so helpfully pointed out, at “Smith’s Hardware on Torresdale Avenue near Disston in Tacony, at Walgreens on Bustleton Avenue near Byberry Road in Somerton, at SEPTA headquarters’ gift shop on Market Street near 12th, and at all area Barnes & Noble stores.” And if you’d like a signed copy, you can order it from me through the site (see the order button in the right hand margin).

(Image Credit: Philadelphia CityPaper.)

Book Releases, Blog Birthdays, and Graduation Anniversaries

How great is this dog’s birthday cake??

May was a big month: the blog turned two [throws confetti in air], it marked two years since I walked down the aisle at Bloomsburg in a cap and gown, and on top of all those awesome reasons to celebrate, my very first book published.

On the social media sites, I’ve been seeing that a lot of friends and colleagues are in the midst of graduating with Master’s degrees, something I detoured, and it made me think about where I would be if I had taken that path instead. I’m pretty happy with my self-designed MFA in Non-Fiction Writing (note: not official. Just what I’m personally calling it. Still only have a formal BA degree!) because really, when you think about it, the time and research investment I made in this book was equivalent to an MFA. As much as I love learning and education, my real goal is to be a writer, so I’m happy that I spent the past two years working on what has become a published book. I prefer that path for myself.

Referencing Neil Gaiman’s “Make Good Art” speech, as I’m wont to do, I think focusing on my writing, rather than another degree, is helping me get closer to my mountain. Hopefully the next two years will yield something even more wonderful. (An agent, another book contract, a published YA novel…? I’d be so happy with any and all of the above. On that note–off to more novel revisions! I need to perfect the manuscript in order to shop the manuscript!)

On the blog front, The (Writer’s) Waiting Room has more than doubled in followers and views since this time last year, which is a lovely feeling. It’s been great connecting with an ever widening community of writers!

(Image: July 1922, Flickr Commons, Library of Congress.)

On Killing My Darlings and the Most Author-Friendly Way to Buy a Book

The book is done. All the photograph permission forms have been signed, the copyediting changes made, the final page proofs approved. As we speak, the book is at the printer, making 1,200 neatly bound, neatly stacked copies of my little paperback.

It’s done.

This book, as you will see it, as I will hold it in my hands, ended up being something quite different from what I expected it to be. As some of you know, I originally developed a soft spot for Arcadia Publishing when I stumbled across a copy of Yardley, an installment in their Images of America series. It was my dad’s hometown, where he was born and raised in the early 1930s, and as I flipped through, many of the images illustrated stories I had grown up hearing, over and over again, like a broken record. There was the steep hill, with the elementary school at the top, where my dad had rode down on his scooter, the bolts and screws popping out as he descended, until it and he was a broken mess at the bottom. There was the girl he had taken to his senior prom. There, smiling, was the public school principal who had beat my dad, day after day, trying to break him of his left-handedness until he finally became ambidextrous. There was the duck farm where my grandmother would get their Christmas dinner. And then there, sitting cross-legged in the front row, wearing his Boy Scout uniform, was the unmistakable face of my father. He was probably no more than eight, but from the handful of surviving family photographs, I recognized him, without even needing to look at the caption for confirmation.

That moment was really special for me, because my dad had died of cancer two years before, and he would never be able to tell me those stories again. Not only that, but the fact that he was preserved in this published book and without doubt on other people’s bookshelves–it was a form of preservation beyond the limitations of my own family. No matter what happens, my father will never be erased from history.

When I started work on this book, I wanted to provide that same magical feeling to other readers. I wanted someone, somewhere, to suddenly get smacked in the face with an image of someone they loved. Whether they were a nurse, a doctor, a volunteer, a student, or a patient at Philadelphia State Hospital, I wanted to give their families something that illustrated their moment in history.

But it wasn’t meant to be. Due to copyright restrictions, I ended up having to blur many of the faces in the book. Not just patients–which I would have understood, to protect their privacy–but also the faces of nurses, doctors, people beaming at the camera. I’m not ashamed to admit that I cried when I blurred out some of their faces, because I felt like after unearthing some of these long-lost photographs from the depths of archive obscurity I was turning around and burying them all over again, burying their story, hiding them, disguising them, taking away their chance to be remembered in history. Many of these people, with their expressions–some hilarious, some sorrowful–became full-blown characters to me, and it was, at times, like killing my darlings.

Copyright law is a messy, complicated, and at times completely impractical thing. In one case, I couldn’t track down the copyright holder of this really amazingly haunting 1940s lithograph by Robert Riggs of a mental ward at Philadelphia State Hospital (his most famous work, titled “Psychopathic Ward.” Really, it’s amazing, I’m begging you to click through and look at it). This is simply because, in the extensive network of surviving family members and art dealers and museum archives, the information got lost somewhere along the line. I talked with one family member on the phone who was terribly sad about it. She explained that, were Robert Riggs alive, he would have been thrilled for me to include it in my book. As an artist, he and many others like him, are being pushed into obscurity, because the tangle of copyright laws surrounding their work and the associated fear of possible legal retribution have, essentially made it too hard to reproduce or display their art.

I could go on forever about my opinion on copyright laws, but really, my point is that this book wasn’t turning into what I had thought and hoped it would be. I was crushed with disappointment. As it sat with the publisher, getting polished up for publication, I mentally pushed the book from my mind and tried to focus on my next project.

But I read over the page proofs a few weeks ago, with fresh eyes, I realized that though it wasn’t what I had originally wanted it to be, the book had in fact become something much better. It is so much more than a local story, of interest to a handful of Philadelphia residents and the families of those portrayed in the photographs. The terrible conditions at Byberry in the 1940s, which were exposed in a 1946 Life magazine article, fueled a national mental health reform movement that improved hospital conditions across the country. Byberry ended up being the birthplace of the National Mental Health Foundation.

The research, if I may say so myself, is impressive: it is the product of dozens of interviews with former staff members and the ancestors of former patients (so many people welcomed me into their homes, dug up old scrapbooks, spent entire afternoons reminiscing with me) and weekends upon weekends upon hours upon hours of archival research at the Swarthmore College Peace Collection, where I read the actual, original, handwritten diaries of conscientious objectors stationed at Byberry during World War II. I can’t even explain to you how excited I was when I was trusted to touch these and read these, flipping through the pages of their impressions of the wards. It felt a little bit like when I touched hieroglyphics when I visited the Great Pyramids in Egypt. If you’re a history fangirl like me, there’s really nothing as awesome as seeing and touching history. My research was also heavily dependent upon archival research (again, weekends upon weekends, hours upon hours) done at the Temple University Libraries Special Collections Research Center, the Philadelphia City Archives, the Pennsylvania State Archives, and the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, among others. All of this research has resulted in a book unlike any other.

And though when I was doing it, it felt like I was blurring every face, it’s really just a small percentage of the 200 total photographs in the book. And beyond the blurring, this book provides an unprecedented inside look at the hospital’s ice cream parlors, beauty parlors, woodworking shops, libraries, baseball fields, dairy cows, and bowling alleys.

But I think my absolute favorite thing about this book is the fact that never before has there been a published history of the Philadelphia State Hospital at Byberry. And now, with my book, a history exists: spanning from its early farm colony days in 1906 until the doors closed permanently in 1990. (I was only one year old!) When I was researching, I came across hundreds of people–on Ancestry.com news threads, online forums, and blogs–desperate for information about their relatives who had been patients at Byberry. They only had scraps of information–a family story about their illness, told in hushed tones, a name, a possible death date. They wanted to know what had happened to those relatives, many of whom entered Byberry and never left. In a way, my book is a history of the faceless, the nameless, the undocumented, the forgotten. I hope it gives as much comfort to those relatives looking for information, clues regarding what their relative’s experiences might have been like at the hospital, as I found in my father’s photograph.

I learned so much while writing this book and had so much fun researching it. The book developed into exactly what it was supposed to be and I believe I wrote it exactly the way it needed to be written. I’m so flipping proud of this book and I can’t wait for you all to read it.

On that note, I wanted to mention the most author-friendly way to purchase a copy, if you’re so inclined. All that research I had so much fun doing, and all those photograph permissions I had to get were expensive. Actually, it was mindbogglingly expensive, and almost restrictively impossible on my salary, especially considering the fact that I didn’t get an advance for this book. (Common in non-fiction publishing.) Until a relative stepped in and offered a personal loan, I really didn’t think I was going to be able to finish writing the book. The quality of the images I was able to afford to include, therefore, is largely thanks to her. It was an investment I don’t regret making, because I’m proud of the history this book effectively preserves. But, that said, I do have to pay back that loan (no interest, of course, I’m so lucky to have such great and supportive family members!)

Here’s the nitty-gritty:

Total expenses (photograph permission fees, archive travel costs, etc.): $2,266.70

My contract dictates that I get a normal royalty rate of 8% per book, which, by my calculation should be about $1.75 per book. And on the first print run–who knows if we’ll even ever go to a second print run–there are only 1,200 copies to sell. If the print run sells out, I’ll make about $2,100. I won’t even break even on the loan.

However, I’ve bought 200 copies at a 50% discount from the publisher and can sell them as I please, though I am bound by my contract to sell them at full price, $21.99 (I know, Amazon and Barnes and Noble have a discount war going on, and are offering the book at somewhere around $14.00 right now.) But this means I get a 50% royalty rate on these 200 copies. That’s about $10.99 per book. If I manage to sell all 200 copies, I’ll make $2,199 and I’ll kick in the remaining sub-$100 to pay back my relative in full.

[Updated July 3rd, 2013: I have been notified by my publisher that my calculations were incorrect. Though the royalty rate is, indeed, 8%, it’s 8% off the net, which means I can actually expect something closer to 80 cents per sold book.]

The book will be published on May 20, 2013. If you’d like to preorder a signed copy from me, you can order through PayPal.

Buy Now Button with Credit Cards

For those of you I know and love and am dear and geographically near to, I can hand deliver! Or, if you prefer, checks, money orders, and cash are options. Email me at HannahKJones10@yahoo.com to discuss this method of payment further.

I’ll be absolutely thrilled if you buy a copy of my book wherever–online or at a bookstore. But if you can afford the full book price and would like to help me out, I’d really appreciate it. I never wrote this book with a goal of making money–it was always about the history–but breaking even would be nice!

[hugs everyone who read to the end of this extremely long blog post]

Feeling Like the Official Author of a Real Book

Images of America, Hannah Karena Jones

This week has been terrible. It’s been one thing after another ever since Monday. Each day I would wake up and think that it couldn’t possibly get worse, and then it would: the latest fiasco was that my washing machine–which I got repaired less than three months ago for a pretty penny–broke again. Curses.

So that’s why it was an extra special treat this morning when I noticed that my book is up for display on the publisher’s website. [eeeeee!] And that it’s available for preorder on Amazon and B&N.com [OMG!] And that, even though the beautiful cover you’ve all seen and admired isn’t displayed there yet, the book is on Goodreads and you can mark it to read. Guys, it has an ISBN number and everything!!

Feel free to do all of the above. Go on. I’ll wait.

[taps toes]

HURRY UP I HAVE MORE THINGS TO TELL YOU! :]

Before this, it didn’t really feel real yet. But now I can tweet, Facebook, pin–EVERYTHING–the real life link to share it’s existence. (Feel free to do this too, if you’re so inclined.) But now there is so much PROOF all over the INTERNET in all these places where I learn about, drool over, and admire beautiful, lovely books that I love desperately or am desperate to read. It’s REAL. May 20, 2013, I will officially be the author of a published book.

Before today, I’ve been a little lackluster in real life about the release of this book. I think this is because my real, not-so-secret, heartfelt dream has always been to be a fiction writer. Specifically, a children’s book/YA fiction writer. And for some reason, this book has been feeling like a deviation from that path; like it’s not as worthy of celebration as a novel would be because it’s only 10,000 words long and relies a lot on photographs telling the story rather than my own words. Maybe I’m not as proud of it as I would be a novel because it isn’t a complete creation of my own imagination: I didn’t build a detailed world, construct amazing characters, or pen tear-jerking plot lines. This is just…history. It exists. It’s always existed. I just organized it and wrote some clear interesting sentences to present that information. For some reason all these feelings and hang-ups had me thinking that this accomplishment wasn’t really an accomplishment at all. It wasn’t all that impressive and it wasn’t something to be proud of, because its mere existence means I’ve failed to write and publish a fiction book yet.

I know, how completely ridiculous do I sound?

But now, seeing it in all these official places, all these online bookstores, I’m finally starting to be rational about it all, and proud. I remember how much work and research I put into it. I mean, I sifted through archives and dug up old photographs and hand-written diaries and read dry annual reports to create this thing, this 128-page volume compilation of history that’s never been compiled and published before. It’s a book people are going to read because they want to know things. How cool is that?

Definitely something worthy of celebration, I think. So in that theme, I’m inviting all of you to celebrate with me and tweet, Facebook, pin, preorder, and put my book on your to-read list. I know Amazon and B&N.com have the book listed at $14.95 and $14.65 respectively, but I’d ask you to hold your horses and consider ordering a copy from me. (I’ll be adding a buy button to this blog, and I intend to link it through PayPal, as soon as I find someone tech-savvy enough to help me design it and put it up.) It has something to do with royalties and something to do with the fact that there will be some swag and other personalization involved, if you’re interested–stuff I’ll talk about at a later date–but I wanted to warn you that, contractually, I’m required to sell the book at the list price of $21.99. I can’t offer discounts and compete with the publisher, the way bookstores can. So if that six dollar difference is really important, I completely understand. Really, no matter whether or where you preorder it, borrow it from the library, or simply mark it to-read for some far off date in the future, I’m going to love you and appreciate it a million.

I’m really excited how this is starting to feel real. But I’m even more excited for when you all read it. That’s going to make it even more real, and I can’t wait!

Cover Reveal!

I’m still, technically, burrowing to finish up this book. But my editor sent me the cover last week and I just couldn’t resist sharing it.

Images of America, Hannah Karena Jones

I was able to recommend which photograph would be used for the cover and as I was sifting through the hundreds of Byberry photographs I’ve collected, trying to decide, I knew this was the one. I wanted to avoid an exterior building photograph, because even though most locals would recognize the distinctive hospital brick design, it wouldn’t be all that attractive or intriguing. And I wanted to avoid graphic photographs that depicted how terrible conditions were there, on occasion, because it wouldn’t have fairly represented the book (of course these photographs are inside, to provide a complete history, but I didn’t want them being the iconic cover). I didn’t want to misrepresent the history. Even though Byberry’s remembered for the exposes of poor conditions, there were huge expanses of time where the patients were clean and well cared for, where the buildings were new and the budget was sufficient; also, fun fact, Byberry used to be a working farm!

This photo was exactly the feel I was going for. It’s a little mysterious in that it draws your attention. You look at it, and you want to know more. Also, it gives a tantalizing glimpse inside, giving a look at what night shift on a women’s ward looked like. Calm, isn’t it? And I really liked how the angle of it makes you want to walk down that row; it’s almost like a “Welcome, come in! Open the book!”

Currently, the cover is my laptop’s background. Every time I glimpse at it, it motivates me to keep writing. And now, that’s what I’m off to do. The book’s almost done and the deadline is even closer, less than three weeks away!

Hope you all like the cover as much as I do :]

(Cover Image Courtesy of the Swarthmore College Peace Collection.)

Burrowing

When I write, I have to burrow. I burrow in my condo, at my desk, or in my room, or on my couch; usually, literally, burrowing under blankets. I can’t be distracted by TV noise or other people’s conversations or music (I seriously don’t understand how some people can have playlists for their books. I would never be able to focus on my own words).

In college, the biggest project I ever undertook was a huge research paper on Joan of Arc for my combined history capstone and honors program thesis. I had well over one hundred sources; this included entire seasons of Joan of Arcadia, some great old movies starring Frank Sinatra and Ingrid Bergman (not in the same film, mind you), and dozens and dozens of books, both fiction and non-fiction. And I only had one semester to do it. Not only did I only have one semester, but that was on top of a full course load and working at the library fifteen hours a week. It was just too much and something had to give. It ended up being my deadline.

It was the most humbling and embarrassing experience to have to go to my adviser, about three weeks before the semester ended, and explained that no matter how I crunched the numbers, I simply wouldn’t have enough time to finish researching and writing the paper before the semester’s end. I hadn’t slacked off. I had done TONS of research, I just hadn’t gotten around to actually constructing my argument on paper yet. And it was destined to be a twenty-plus-page paper with some hefty footnotes, so it was no quick all-nighter. This was because I had designed a schedule that only allowed me about five hours of research/writing time for this particular project a week. And trust me, I had already long ago cut out sleeping, socializing, and TV time. There was just no more room in the schedule. Thankfully, my adviser gave me an extension–the second week of school the following semester. Which meant that I spent the month-long winter break pumping out pages and rewriting them, formatting my references and organizing my thoughts, all squeezed in the margins of Christmas shopping and wrapping and baking and family time.

As you all know I have this book I’m writing about Byberry State Hospital. It’s already under contract with Arcadia Publishing and the final manuscript is due November 11. And this deadline is non-negotiable. I’ve done a TON of research so far. I feel like I really know my topic–which I wasn’t feeling so confident about a few months ago–and I’m starting to organize all the photographs in InDesign (it’s like digital scrapbooking and I’m loving it!) and write down the captions. Technically, there’s going to be between 180-240 photographs, with each caption being a maximum of 70 words each. Then there’s an introduction and acknowledgement page and slightly longer 350-word chapter openings. When you break it down like that, 70 words is nothing. It’s laughable. I can get those done no problem. But in total, it’s probably going to be a 18,000-word book, which is a lot more formidable. And I haven’t written it down yet. And the deadline’s in less than two months. If I write 1,000 words a day, I can get it done in 18 days. But last night, it took me an hour to write two captions, a total of 140 words (I have to cross-reference a lot of notes and sources, to make sure each caption is historically accurate). So it’s looking like I’m going to have to dedicate a lot more time every.single.day to get this done.

So, somethings gotta give. And this time, it’s not going to be my deadline. Instead, unfortunately, I’m going to have to give up this blog until the deadline is done. And all other social media. And a slew of other personal responsibilities I took on that are just too impractical and time consuming at the moment. I have so many blog posts jumping around in my head, ready to write, but it just wouldn’t be responsible to take an hour away from time that should really be spent writing this first draft. So before it’s too late, I’m shaving down my schedule and adding as much writing time as possible.

I’m looking forward to providing the final update on this book: Done. Wish me luck!

(Image: Flickr Creative Commons, Nationaal Archief)