Karen Jones – Death for Beginners

What is your most recent book? Tell us a bit about it.

My most recent book is a nonfiction how-to book titled Death for Beginners: Your No-Nonsense, Money-Saving Guide to Planning for the Inevitable (Quill Driver Books, June 2010), quite possibly the only book about planning for ones death that mentions the Sex Pistols, Roy Rogers, lawn crypts, potato guns, the body farm, the hokey pokey, Drunken Pin the Tail on the Donkey, Burial Bingo and Hells Angel Harry ‘the Horse’ Flamburis. This book is a humorous, money-saving, pragmatic workbook approach to planning for ones death. Breathe deeply and remain serene

Tell us something about yourself.

I am a native of Virginia Beach, Virginia. I have fifteen years of experience in television news at WVEC, an ABC affiliate, as an on-air anchor and feature reporter. I directed the Virginia Writers Conference for five years, am a member of the National League of American Pen Women and The Authors Guild. I’ve taught writing workshops and seminars at Louisiana State University, Austin, Peay University, Old Dominion University and have taught courses in romance novel writing at the University of Richmond and Christopher Newport University. I was a hippie and lived on a commune during my college years. I currently teach weeklong writing camps on Ocracoke Island, NC. www.jonesbrehony.com

What inspired you to write this book?

I was inspired to write this book after watching a close friend deal with an unexpected death. I decided right then and there that no one else should ever have to go through what my friend went through. So I put my 15 years of television journalism experience to work and began learning about the death business from the ground up … or rather the ground down.

Do you have a compelling argument to encourage folks to read this book?

Yes, saving money and emotional stress. When someone dies, even if it is an expected death, survivors’ brains shut down and decisions are handed over to a funeral home, an easy but costly thing to do. This book will alleviate this situation and those left behind can concentrate on celebrating your life instead of wrangling about choices and expenses. And believe me, wrangling does happen!

Is there anything in the book that made you laugh out loud?

The book has plenty of stories that help the reader make it through the material. One of my favorites is my nephew’s suggestion for a way for people to divide household items: “Drunken Pin the Tail on the Donkey.” The other thing was finding out about the “Stripper Coffin” – a beautifully made performance platform with a dancing pole that converts into a coffin for your, um, final show.

How did you choose the title?

I chose the first three words because of the rhythm when these three words are spoken. My publisher and I worked on the rest of it together trying to make sure the intent of the book was reflected it that title.

What obstacles did you encounter in getting this book published?

The major obstacle was that it is a book about death. Run, hide! I originally had a contract with a major publisher but they pulled the contract because their accountants were afraid of the content. The second obstacle was that while I am on local television news, I do not have a major national platform from which to promote the book. I suppose I should have participated in something scandalous! The first question a publisher will ask is not “what is the book about, how well is it written?” but “What is the author’s platform?”

How did you overcome them?

I overcame the “topic” obstacle by having a great agent who flogged the book for years until she got a solid bite. I overcame the “small platform” obstacle by my sheer persistence of will with the publisher. I gave him an extensive outline of all the publicity opportunities I might have and all of the opportunities I would make. It was a very very long list. In 2001 I co-authored a book called Up the Bestseller Lists!, Adams Media, that offered hands-on advice and guerilla techniques for authors who want to aggressively and successfully promote and market their work, s I knew what I was doing

How did you know you wanted to be a writer? How did you get started?

I come from a long line of southern storytellers so stories are in my blood. I began writing in the seventh grade when an uncle gave me an empty notebook and told me to fill it with stories. I did and never looked back. I wrote my first novel in 2000, Kingdom of Hearts, and then the nonfiction how-to Up the Bestsellers Lists!

Do you have any writing rituals?

Yes. I have a picture of a kitten with wings holding a wand. I put this up beside my computer when I begin my serious writing to remind myself that there is no “writing fairy” and that creativity comes from within.

How do you come up with the names for your characters?

My characters tell me their names. I begin with a generic “x” and while I am writing their character sketch, the name just appears as I type.

Did you learn anything from writing and publishing this book? What?

I learned that promoting nonfiction is more difficult and complex than promoting a fiction work.

What types of books do you like to read?

I like to read southern fiction, historical fiction, creative nonfiction.

Who are your favorite authors?

My favorite author is John Kennedy Toole who wrote A Confederacy of Dunces, best book every written, in my humble opinion. Also Shirley Ann Grau – The Keepers of the House, Sebastian Unger – The Perfect Storm, Jon Krakauer Into Thin Air.


I am partial to southern fiction, I like the rhythm of the writing. Just reading the works of a good southern fiction writer can have you swaying in your chair like an old lady in a church pew, fan waving, sweat dripping, nodding and amen-ing to the preacher.

Are you working on your next book? What can you tell us about it?

My next book is fiction: The Marcell Glide. This southern fiction coming-of-age novel set in 1951 North Carolina tells the story of a young girl’s transformation from victim to survivor through humor, hard truths and grace.Aunt Maybell turned, gave me a look and smiled. I didn’t like her teeth. They looked like she’d snatched them from the mules out behind the barn. “Hello Aunt Maybell.” I was my most polite. She was unknown territory and with Marcell back on the farm, I needed all the friends I could get. I settled into the car’s backseat and kept a close eye on those teeth. They made me uneasy.

What is the best advice you could give other writers about writing or publishing?

Persistence and patience with the writing process, edit, edit then edit again, and beware because scoundrels abound from fake agents, to fake publishers. The wildly successful romance writer Phyllis Whitney once told me to “write every day” and to “use setting as a character” which is something I teach now in all of my writing classes.

Who is the perfect reader for your book?

The perfect readers for my book are Baby Boomers who are rapidly entering their fifties and sixties, and who are facing their parents’ impending mortality (and their own – yikes!)

Where can readers learn more about you and your book?

Readers can learn more about my book at www.deathforbeginners.com be prepared to laugh.