Raleigh author Eddie Jones is worried that boys today are spending too much time with video games and not enough time with a book.
Hes hoping his latest young adult novel, Dead Mans Hand, will help reverse that trend. Hes trying to lure nonreaders with a story featuring a 14-year-old protagonist who visits an Old West ghost town and finds himself encountering figures such as Jesse James and Billy the Kid. They disappear after a deadly firefight, leaving the books hero to solve the murder.
Responses have been edited for length.
Q. Why focus on literacy in young males?
That is really why I write for boys. (Growing up), we didnt have the variety of things online books were a way for readers to escape and get into a different world. I read Tom Sawyer just about every year. Recently, Ive noticed we have a hard time getting boys to read. They engage the world through action and aggression.
The problem with books is theyre based on creating dialogue with your eyes and scenes through your head. With boys, that can get kind of boring.
What reading does is it teaches our brains to think creatively. I just feel like if were not careful, were going to wind up losing that male reader.
Q. How do you write a book that draws in that audience that might not otherwise read for fun?
Youve got to write a book that features a male character. Girls, on the other hand, will read a book that has a male lead. Boys, a lot of them wont read a book where a girls the lead character.
He has to have a unique skill, something to overmatch an adversary. For a lot of guys, theyre interested in the action. Theyve got to see a goal set early in the story, and there have to be consequences for failure. Ultimately, there has to be a moral choice, and thats when you work on the character of a reader.
Boys do like storming the castle and saving the princess.
Q. How are you getting the book into the hands of nonreaders?
One of the bigger things were doing is the Buy a Boy a Book campaign. We dont specify whether its my book or somebody elses book as long as you get a boy a book, that gets them engaged. If you can get a boy to read, youre going to develop him into a leader.
Q. What can parents do to encourage reading?
Encourage them to have their own man cave it can be a treehouse or a special spot in a closet. Establish a particular reading time; let the boy pick what it is. Reading aloud helps a lot. Kids just like having a book read to them.
Another cool thing you can do is encourage kids to collect bookmarks. They become like trading cards. You can build a collection that way.
Q. In addition to writing for boys, you write novels for adults, boating books and Christian devotionals. Why write such a diverse mix of genres?
Im probably fortunate I didnt have an editor or agent early on that pigeonholed me or put me in a box. Ive always just been excited about words. I love telling stories, and it doesnt make a difference to me what the story is about.
A lot of it still comes back to where Im writing for the male reader. I finally realized what I was doing was writing romance for men.