Spotlight on The Edumacation of Jay Baker by Jay Clark

I just started an advanced copy of Jay Clark's debut YA novel The Edumacation of Jay Baker and look forward to seeing where this story goes. The main character, Jay Baker, is a funny dude, even (and perhaps especially) in the face of adversity.

About the book: Meet Jay Baker . . . or, as he is not-so-affectionately called by his opponent in the freshman-class presidential election--no comment.

A few random bullet points about Jay:
- He is stupidly in love with his best friend, cheerleading dynamo Cameo "Appearance" Parnell.
- He is also trying to score (points) with earthbound tennis-playing goddess Caroline Richardson.
- He is fighting a losing battle with Irritable Bowel Syndrome.
- He rocks a touché array of pop-culture references, jokes, and puns.
- His family life cookie is about to crumble.

Root for Jay as he exchanges ego-blows with his mortal enemy, gets awkward around his dream girl(s), loses his marbles in a Bermudian love triangle, watches his parents' relationship implode, and, finally, learns to keep it real and be himself(ish).

About the author: The Edumacation of Jay Baker is the debut young adult novel of . . . none other than Jay Clark. A tennis enthusiast and former teaching pro, Jay's essays and articles have appeared in The Washington Post and Tennis Magazine.

Until recently, Jay resided in Columbus, Ohio, in a condo owned by his sister, paying his post-grad dues at various lame jobs for zero financial gain. He did hold a gym membership during this dead-end tenure, albeit by masquerading as his sister's "husband" on her corporate account. Jay now lives in Virginia with his girlfriend, Caroline Baker, whom he met through a tennis blog (long story). Things are looking up.

I have traded a few emails with the author, Jay Clark, and he was kind enough to answer a few questions. Hey, Jay! Thanks for stopping by.
1. I think a lot of us draw from our personal experiences when writing fiction, especially in the debut novel. How similar is the main character "Jay" to the author "Jay"? And which scene (if any) in this book would your friends say, "OMG, that's so Jay Clark."?

It’s weird because in real life I’m actually a vampire with perfectly tousled hair and a crooked smile.  By the time I laid down in my Wi-Fi-equipped coffin to the write this book, however, that protagonist had already been done to eternal death.  So then I said to myself, “What about a socially awkward man-boy with IBS, you blood-slurping stud-muff, you?”  The rest is literary history.

I think Jay’s relationship with his sister mirrors my own pretty closely.  Even though I’d like to take all the credit, we actually did co-write the top-two classic, “I Just Ripped One.”  My sister, it must be said, is much warmer than Abby Baker, but she’s had many more years to resign herself to the fact that people are really annoying.

2. Your name is Jay and according to your Goodreads profile, your girlfriend's name is Caroline Baker. How many other names are straight from real life? What was your thought process on linking your characters in this way to folks in your day-to-day life?

Well, when I set out to write this book, it was my ultimate goal to get Caroline to sue me for libel.  In any healthy relationship, it’s important to keep your special someone on her toes, and I could smell the sparks that would fly from a mile away.  Unfortunately, while writing this book, C was by my side, every step of the way, being supportive (what a monster!), so she knew and approved of her namesake from the get-go.  No other actual names were used with the exception of my dog Buffy’s.  I’m paying her royalties in biscuits, though, so she’s totally cool with it.  I say that and there’s probably a dog lawsuit in my mailbox right now.  

3. Jay is a pop-culture phe-nom. In all of his conversations, he jokes by dropping a pun or slipping in a reference to a current event. That would be exhausting to someone who wasn't just totally aware of the world around him, and yet, he was so unaware of his own small personal world (i.e. what was happening with his parents and figuring out girls). Are you a pop-culture junkie? 

Hmm… That’s like saying to Thomas Harris, “Hannibal Lector is very manipulative and clearly relishes eating people – are you yourself a sociopath who enjoys human liver, fava beans, and a nice Chianti?”  Kind of puts the author in a defensive position.  No fair!  J

But to indirectly answer your question, I think we all have our blind spots. You can be the sharpest crayon in the box but still forget where you put your car keys every morning (hollaback, all you absent-minded professors out there!).  Part of what makes life a box of chocolates is that we, as humans, become so self-involved that we forget to notice the big, fat elephant in the room that’s taking a dump right in front of us.  I guess I don’t think it’s a stretch that Jay could be both intelligent and naïve at the same time, especially at fifteen.

4. And lastly, it seemed that when things started to get too personal or uncomfortable for Jay, he would make a joke. Did you consciously choose to allow Jay to escape getting real in this way?

No, I was actually in a self-induced coma the whole time I was writing this book. I’m just too humble to put a “Miraculously conceived!” starburst on the cover, despite my publicist’s insistence. 

Oops, I just got uncomfortable and made a joke just then—like protagonist, like author. 

Consciously or not, you’ve touched on the central theme of the book.  In the beginning, Jay and Cam use their (alleged) wit to ward off anything serious from coming their way.  It catches up to both of them, of course, as all bad coping mechanisms do, and Cam’s insouciant reaction to the hot-mess-in-progress is sort of a wake-up call for Jay.  From then on, he fights against throwing a blanket of jokes puns (and bad metaphors like this one) over his problems.  Being that old habits die a slow, slow death, though, he has his work cut out for him.  Whether or not he finds a happy medium by the conclusion is up for debate…if anyone is still reading this.

Booklist says: First off: not a thing happens here that’s unusual for a teen, or a teen book for that matter... But the magic lies in the telling. Jay, a large-hearted wiseass who’s nearly impossible to dislike, has a narrative patter so deeply laced with groaner puns, pop-culture bombs, and warp-speed free associations that it’s almost a new language.
Read full review here.

Look for Jay online:
Twitter: @jaypatrickclark

You can order Jay's book lots of places already, like B&, Amazon, and by calling any independent bookstore. Don't forget bookstores like Books A Million, Joseph-Beth, and small local independents... I think even Walmart will be carrying this one! Remember you can pre-order a book anywhere, not just at a few online places. Thanks for reading and supporting YA authors like Jay!