Joshilyn Jackson is the author of gods in alabama and Between, Georgia, in addition to writing short stories and plays. A southern writer who writes books set in the South, Jackson was "raised by a tribe of wild fundamentalists who taught her to be virtuous and upright." However, she declares, it didn't take.
Yeah, me too.
Joshilyn's short fiction has been published in TriQuarterly and Calyx. Her plays have been produced in Atlanta and Chicago. gods in alabama was a bestseller and number one BookSense pick, and her second novel Between, Georgia has also gotten great positive response all over the place, notably from Kirkus and Booklist.
An interview with Joshilyn Jackson:
LG: When did you know you wanted to be a writer? Was there one AHA! moment, or was it a longer process?
JJ: I have always wanted to write, and I have always written. My mom has boxes of books I wrote and published myself using the Crayola and Stapler method. I filled up blank books all through middle and high school with horror novelas---I loved me some Stephen King, oh yes I did. Still do. Although in High School. Christine was probably my favorite. Now it's Hearts in Atlantis.
LG: Who, or what, encouraged you in becoming a writer?
JJ: My parents. Our house was full of books, and when we moved ---which was often as my father was in the army -- my mother would find the public library before she found a Piggly Wiggly.
LG: What writers do you admire? Do you feel any of them have influenced your own work?
JJ: I read and read and read. I think reading the kind of books you love will teach you how to write the kind of books you love better than any class or computer program. I of COURSE love all the Southern Gothic greats -- Flannery O'Connor is my favorite writer of all time. I would like to HOPE she had an influence on me. Sometimes reviews will say her name as an influence, say they see flashes of her in my work, and I have a hard time not keeping those reviews under my pillow...
Alive and working right now? I read eclectically, but there are some writers I'll buy every book they put out: Haven Kimmel, Kaye Gibbons, Sara Gruen, Cassandra King, Pat Conroy, Mindy Friddle, Jodi Picoult, Emily Giffen, Frank Turner Hollon, Paula Wall...all these and many more (my husband says TOO many more) are hardback immediate must have reads. I also LOVE manly gunplay detective-cop-lawyer sorts of books, especially Lee Child, Michael Connelly and Dennis Lehane.
LG: Do you keep a strict writing schedule?
JJ: Ha! I have two small children. I don't keep a strict ANYTHING schedule. Some days, I am just pleased to get a shower...
LG: How difficult is it for you to balance writing with other aspects of your life?
JJ: It can be challenging. For this last book, I left my house and went and stayed in ahotel down the road for aweek to get this very hard section drafted. When you love something, you find time for it. You make or steal time, if you have to. Also, my husband is The Best Man Living. He creates time out of stellar fatherness and magic. If I had married a different man I don't think I could do what I do. I would also be a very unhappy woman.
LG: Do you attend writing workshops, or writers' groups? If so, how have these impacted your work?
JJ: I teach workshops, actually, when I am invited. I love going to conferences and running workshops because I stopped teaching when my son was born, and I miss it. I do have a writer's group---you can't overestimate the value of fresh, wise eyes as you are writing. Mine is made up of a few smart, savvy critics and excellent writers in their own right. I listen to them.
LG: Do you have a specific method of choosing character names? How closely do you identify with your characters?
JJ: No. I can hear in my head when it is right. Sometimes characters change during the course of rewrites, and often their names will change. The book I just finished had a very central character named LeeAnne Rainwater. By the time the book was finished, that was SO wrong on so many levels. She became Laurel Hawthorne, and that's much more her. For minor characters, I flip through my high school yearbook or church directory to get last names, and look in the baby names book I bought while pregnant with my daughter to find the first names.
As for identifying with them---none of my characters are me, but they are ALL mine.
LG: If you could give aspiring writers a few words of advice that have helped you, what would you say?
JJ: Don't choose “to be an author.” Just play. Read everything you can get your hands on, and reread the things you love 100 times to understand why you love them. Read so deep you can’t be trusted to read on the stairs or you will fall down them. Then write. Write the kind of book you love to read. Write to entertain yourself and to understand the world you live in better. Write for the sheer raging pleasure of it and for that stretching feeling, that hard soreness it gives you in your brain. Of course you query, of course you try to place your work, but don't take that part seriously. Do that part like it was Lotto, because it is. Let all your energy go into the actual writing. The industry is a business, a job, and while you meet incredible people working in it, the job itself will never speak to you or love you back, any more than a job as an accountant would.
The writing will.
LG: As a public library employee I have to ask, what role have libraries played in your love of reading and writing?
JJ: Oh, it was my haven. As Arlene says in gods in Alabama, military kids quickly learn the art of instant friendship, but moving every year or so was still hard. It was better knowing that Trixie Belden and Jo March and the latest Nancy Drew would be waiting for me at the library, no matter what town we went to next.
Thanks so much to Joshilyn Jackson for this wonderful interview!