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An Interview with Patchree Jones

Patchree Jones

PATCHREE JONES is a Thai-American author and currently lives in Southern California with her husband, two children, and one lazy dog. She has always enjoyed reading and consuming all kinds of stories throughout her entire life. As a girl, she grew up watching Thai dramas with her mom and dreamt of being a playwright as a teen. While life took her on a different path, her love of stories never faltered. Patchree believes that everyone has a story to tell, and we are all the stars of our own narratives. It takes a fighter to share their vision with the world, and Patchree hopes to blaze the trail for all children to go after their dreams unapologetically. When she is not planning new stories in her head, she is usually reading, binge watching her favorite anime and Asian dramas, or vibing to her Thai Pop playlists.

As a debut author, she believes that writing is not for the faint of heart but every story is written one word at a time. Her forthcoming middle-grade novel, SKYLIGHT, will be her debut work of fiction and is slated for publication on June 25, 2024 with Sorra Books.

What inspired you to start writing this book?

Whenever I talk about SKYLIGHT, I always mention how this story idea began as a family project with my daughter one summer. She and I traded off writing paragraphs and while she stopped on page two, I kept going. I never imagined that the book would actually get published or that anyone outside of my family would read it! It took me almost four years to complete the first draft and another year to revise it to industry standards.

At the end of the day, my children were my inspiration for this story. I wanted it to be a fun and engaging way to introduce them to Thai culture and I wanted to create characters they could identify with. I incorporate Thai food, customs, and language into the book as a soft landing for those who are unfamiliar with our culture. I see parts of my kids in my characters and I’ve infused some of their personalities into the story. The more I started writing, the clearer the message of the book became for me. My kids inspired the book, but I wanted to create a story for all kids who feel like they don’t necessarily fit into the world around them.

Tell us the story of your book’s title. Was it easy to find, or did it take forever?

The original title of the book was actually TROPOSPHERE because the sky world Sofia visits exists behind a magical veil in that layer of our atmosphere. That explanation was a bit too technical for my publishers and didn’t feel very marketable for middle grade audiences. We cycled through about a dozen options before landing on SKYLIGHT. The title has a dual meaning because it’s the English translation of Sofia’s Thai name and references the sky world she ends up in. The process didn’t take too long, but it took awhile for SKYLIGHT to sink in for me because I called it Troposphere for so long! As an homage to the original name, we kept Tropos as the name of the Mehk kingdom.

If your book had a soundtrack, what are some songs that would be on it?

This is a really interesting question because I had never really considered a soundtrack for the book. However, my daughter often spoke about how she creates playlists for her OCs. She listens to them while she’s drawing and uses them to inspire her art to get a better understanding of her characters. While waiting for my editors to review my developmental edits, I actually sat down and curated a Spotify playlist for SKYLIGHT, picking one song per chapter. Having gone through this process, I would highly recommend this exercise to others because it gave me an appreciation for how music affects our moods and can set the tone of a piece much better than prose. I liked mixing music from different genres and included a handful of Thai songs in my playlist as well. My top three songs on my playlist are “Big” by Betty Who, “Ephemeral” by F. Hero and Add Carabao, and “Back to You” by Tony K. The first song is what I’ve deemed as Sofia’s theme song because it fits her character perfectly. “Ephemeral” reminds me of Tropos and fuses two Thai genres beautifully. The third song is dedicated to Plaek, the shapeshifting octopus. He’s my villain’s minion and plays a pivotal role in the book. This playlist embodies my interpretation of the story and while the songs may not feel like they match each other, I know they capture the essence of the book beautifully. Here’s the link to the playlist if you’d like to give it a listen!

What other professions have you worked in? What’s something about you that your readers wouldn’t know?

To be honest, I never set out to become a writer, even though I dreamt of being a playwright in high school. I actually went to college to become a high school English teacher! When I started taking literature courses, I quickly discovered that I could not stand the classics and those became my most painful classes. During my freshman year, I stumbled into the field of communication studies and competed in collegiate forensics. As a member of the speech and debate team, I found a home in the communication field and changed majors pretty quickly. While I was in graduate school the first time around, I taught public speaking at the collegiate level as part of the graduate teaching associate program. I enjoyed teaching a lot and loved listening to my students’ speeches.

Before completing my Master’s in Communication, I ended up entering the corporate world and started a professional development firm with a colleague. If I thought teaching adults as a twenty year old was tough, running a business is even tougher! We made so many mistakes and had a difficult time translating academic theories into corporate practice. The two worlds did not want to mix, but we found a happy medium through much trial and error. When we closed our firm, I ventured into private consulting and worked with restaurant start-ups and other real estate developments. I’ve worked as a tutor, project manager, copywriter, and an office temp, which doesn’t even count jobs I had as a student.

In the past twenty years, I feel like I’ve lived so many lives and worn so many hats! I still teach professional writing courses online and went back to school to finish my Masters degree. Something readers wouldn’t know about me is that I have two graduate degrees in very different disciplines. I had planned to enter a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine program, but had absolutely zero medical chops. So I entered a one year graduate program to learn the basics. Now, I hold a Master of Science degree in Medical Sciences with a concentration in Physiology and Pharmacology, plus I have a Master of Arts degree in Communication. I’m hopeful that I’ll return to the classroom one day, but enjoy the freedom of consulting work. As cliche as it sounds, my favorite job of all is one I never really saw myself having and that’s being a mom. My kids are my world now and they keep me on my toes!

What books did you read (for research or comfort) throughout your writing process?

I’m fortunate enough to speak Thai, even though I’m the only one in the family who was born in the US. Unfortunately, I don’t read Thai at all. I watched a lot of Thai dramas to keep myself updated on Thai colloquialisms and trends. Thai shows like The Crown Princess and The Legend of Muay Thai: 9 Satras inspired the development of the Mehk royalty and fighting style. Using muay thai was a given, since I learned it as a kid, but I also drew from my memories of old Thai movies that were set within the royal palace. I always loved the aesthetics of those movies and tried to recreate that in SKYLIGHT. I also read Phra Aphai Mani, an epic Thai poem similar to the Odyssey and the Ramayana. This rooted my world in fundamental folklore and mythology which was also very important to me.

For a more contemporary feel, I read Christina Soontornvat’s A Wish in the Dark and fell in love with her writing style. I’ve gone on to read The Last Mapmaker and her Legends of Lotus Island series as well. Other modern middle grade books I dove into include Sisters of Glass by Naomi Cyprus, Aru Shah and the End of Time by Roshani Chokski, Lalani and the Distant Sea by Erin Entrada Kelly, and The Serpent’s Secret by Sayantani DasGupta. These reads helped me develop my middle-grade voice and help me feel attuned with other books in my genre.

What is one thing you hope readers take away from reading your book? How do you envision your perfect reader?

SKYLIGHT is the first in a planned trilogy, but there’s always the potential to build upon the world. I want young readers to see themselves in my characters and know that there are more worlds and cultures besides what is considered mainstream. While I’m happy with the rise in Asian American stories, Thai-Americans are less visible than others. Growing up, I always had to explain where Thailand was since most people automatically assumed being Thai meant I’m from Taiwan. There’s more awareness now, but I feel like Southeast Asian cultures get lost in the discussion.

If there’s one thing I hope readers take away from reading SKYLIGHT, it’s that being different is not a curse but we must all learn to love ourselves before we can truly blossom. Sofia faces these challenges throughout the book and she must decide who she really wants to be. Ultimately, I want readers to fall in love with my main characters and the world.

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