An Interview With
Chris Jonnes is a busy man. During the week, he runs his company, American Polywater Corp., working long hours, returning at night to his rural home to spend time with his wife and three kids.
What most people don't know about him is that he's also a writer. Jonnes has spent most of his free time and evenings over the past several years writing his first novel, a suspenseful thriller about a man who can dream the future. It's a secret he kept, even from his closest friends.
"It was the kind of thing I didn't want to tell people about until I had done it. I didn't want to pass myself off as a writer until I had something to show for it," he said. So the 1975 Stillwater High School graduate (his mother is Beverly Jonnes--née Bonn--a long-time teacher at Stonebridge Elementary School) who spends 60-hour weeks making a better lubricant for electrical cables, spent eight more each week for four years writing and refining his novel, titled "Wake Up Dead." Then he spent another three years trying to get it published.
The book, which spends over 150 pages in a fantasy world where dreams can control reality, is itself the product of a dream. Jonnes says he had been studying lucid dreaming--a form of wakeful dreaming in which a person can learn to control the outcome of their dreams while they are dreaming them--when he dreamed the plot of his novel.
"I read an article in a science magazine on how you can induce lucid dreams. It was a very simple idea that took a lot of work, and after a few weeks of attempts, I learned I could lead a dream around. I also learned that when I woke, I could retain memories of the dreams," he said.
"One night, I dreamt this story, and said 'wow.'" I wrote it down and ... well, I came up with a story about dreaming and now all my dreams are coming true."
Jonnes said he always wanted to write, but that he didn't take it seriously until he was 30. Once he decided that he could no longer ignore his writing bug, he began researching a second career in earnest--subscribing to Writers Digest, reading everything in sight, and finally sitting down to write his first book (not Wake Up Dead), a work he says he'd never publish now. "It was a good experience, though. I learned a lot and it paved the way for me to write this book," he said.
After years of fruitless effort and several rewrites, Jonnes finally found a publisher who would take him seriously. Salvo Press out of Oregon agreed to publish "Wake Up Dead," releasing it in April of 2000.
Although sales have been brisk and he has several book signings lined up across the midwest, and possibly even a film or television deal, Jonnes said he is keeping his day job. "It's unbelievably hard to get something like this done. I'm sort of glad I didn't know the odds against getting published when I started, because it is really daunting," he said.
That said, he is partially finished with his next book and is having his ear bent from publishers who suggest he turn "Wake Up Dead" into a serial.
Still, he said it's a labor of love, not money. And his budding success has been as much of a burden as a blessing.
"I chose writing because I enjoy it, and because it's something I can do. I was not prepared for success, and the hardest part for all of this is accepting all I have to do to make this work. I assumed they'd send me a check and I'd write another book, but don't send me out there to promote it," he said with a laugh.
"I've got to sell books to make this pay. When you divide all the hours by the money I've earned, I'm not near minimum wage yet."
So why do it?
"There have been a lot of times I've sat there and asked myself, 'Why am I doing this?'" But Jonnes, who is also a marathon runner, said the challenge is the same as when he runs a race. "Like running, there's just something that drives you to do it. I don't understand the logic, but I guess I buy into it. I feel better when I'm done," he concluded. --Mark Brouwer