His wartime experiences inspired some of his most famous works. He witnessed the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, which led to his first published novel, From Here to Eternity. The Thin Red Line reflected his combat experiences on Guadalcanal. His last novel, Whistle, was based on his hospital stay in Memphis, Tennessee, recovering from his wounds.
His second published novel, Some Came Running, had its roots in his first attempted novel, which he called They Shall Inherit the Laughter, a thinly disguised autobiographical novel of his experiences in Robinson immediately after World War II. After several rejections for the work being too shrill and lacking perspective, Jones abandoned They Shall Inherit the Laughter and went to work writing From Here to Eternity, which won the National Book Award in 1952 and has been named one of the 100 best novels of the 20th century by the Modern Library. Conversely Some Came Running - albeit made into a critically acclaimed film starring Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Shirley MacLaine that was nominated for several Oscars - was savaged by the critics, who were especially harsh upon Jones' frequently misspelled words and punctuation errors throughout numerous passages of the book. Actually the critics had not realized that such elements were a conscious style choice by Jones to expound the provinciality of the novel's characters and setting. Jones apparently played around with this style with several short stories written at about the same time as Some Came Running (later incorporated into the collection The Ice-Cream Headache and Other Stories), only to abandon it altogether for the blunt but more grammatically sound style most associate with Jones by the time he finished The Thin Red Line in 1962.
Jones assisted in the formation of the Handy Writers' Colony in Marshall, Illinois, funded largely on the financial success of From Here To Eternity, and organized by his then-lover, Lowney Handy (Ms. Handy was still married at the time). Originally conceived as a Utopian commune where budding artists could focus exclusively on their writing projects, the colony dissolved after only a few years, largely in part because of Handy's own erratic behavior and Jones' focus on his own novels. The colony dissolved a few years after James Jones relocated to France following his marriage to Gloria Mosolino.
Jones would not live long enough to see the completion of his last novel, Whistle, (Jones knew he was dying of congestive heart failure while writing it). However, Jones did leave behind copious notes for Willie Morris to complete the final section of Whistle upon his death.
The posthumous publication of Whistle in 1978 saw the completion of Jones' war trilogy (the first parts being From Here to Eternity and The Thin Red Line), of which he wrote: "It will say just about everything I have ever had to say, or will ever have to say, on the human condition of war and what it means to us, as against what we claim it means to us."
Jones is the father of two children, including author Kaylie Jones, best known for writing A Soldier's Daughter Never Cries, a thinly veiled memoir of the Joneses living in Paris during the 1960s. Ms. Jones' novel was made into a film starring Kris Kristofferson, Barbara Hershey and Leelee Sobieski in 1998. The release of this film, which coincided with the release of a new film version of The Thin Red Line, directed by Terrence Malick, sparked a revival of interest in James Jones' life and works.