Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Q and A with Joshilyn Jackson

Joshilyn's latest, Backseat Saints (June, 2010), tells the story of Rose Mae Lolley, a fierce, tiny ball of war wounds who was a minor character in gods in Alabama. Her life changes dramatically when she meets an airport gypsy who shares her past and knows her future. The gypsy's dire prediction: Ro's handsome, violent husband is going to kill her - unless she kills him first...


“Positively Breathtaking” - Booklist, Starred Review

A sizzling chunk of Southern Gothic...But it’s not only the nail-biting, sinuous plot that gives the book, to quote one of its characters, “a hundred different kinds of pure, naked crazy.” It’s the way Jackson writes, like a woman whose hair is on fire, batting at the flames with one hand while scribbling like mad with the other. ---Atlanta Journal Constitution

 What's the backstory behind Backseat Saints?

Rose May Lolley, the narrator, was a minor character in my first novel, gods in Alabama. When I was drafting gods, I thought of her as “Jim Beverly’s Girlfriend” and she did not appear until chapter eight. When I finally got to the point in the novel where she first appeared, it was like an ambush! She started storming around, demanding a backstory and a history, instigating all kinds of mess. Trouble loved Rose, and Rose seemed to love trouble right back---that’s fiction gold.

I went back and revised gods towith Rose running loose in chapter one, and she upped the stakes for Arlene and the book as a whole almost immediately. She pushed her way into places she did not belong, demanding answers and attention. I should have known she wasn’t done yet! I thought about Rose on and off for years, but didn’t realize she had her own story to tell until one night, very late, I sat bolt upright in the bed, just knowing that Rose had lied to everyone in gods in Alabama. Even to me. It took me almost seven years to see through her, that’s how good a liar she had been. I got up out of bed right then and started writing BACKSEAT SAINTS.It wasn’t; a sequel – I knew that immediately, too. Rose wanted her own story. I would however call it a companion book to gods. They share some characters and thematic interests, and they can be read in either order. In a lot of ways, I think it might be cooler to read Saints first...

You're an expert at first lines. When do you come up with the very first line of your books?

Oh, thank you. I want my first line to set the tone for the book --- so I want it to be in some way a microcosm of the book’s central theme or conflict, as well as set the voice. It should be something that is phrased or shaped to reflect the narrator, or, if I’m in third, to reflect the main character.

Sometimes it comes very first, and I can’t really make the book “go” until I have it. Sometimes I think I have it, and the book begins to go, and then later I will realize I have to start somewhere else. Then I start crafting new first lines, and when I get it, it often means a read through of everything I have and a revision.

BACKSEAT SAINTS is a great title. Can you tell us the story behind it?

When I was drafting, I called the book Texas Rose Red, but as I went along, saints and saint imagery became more and more important to what I was doing thematically. Then I realized the word saints was handy to draw a connecting line between gods in Alabama and this book.

I thought I would do it with construction. gods in Alabama, so this book should be Saints in ______? But I couldn’t get the right word. Saints in Texas? Sounded like a sports book. Saints in Limbo? River Jordan already went there, beautifully. Saints Inside Us? Sounds...dirty, and not the right kind of dirty.

So I asked my Best Beloveds, the band of glorious humans who have formed a little community over on my personal blog, Faster Than Kudzu. They came up with a whole LIST of words to go in that blank, and one of them was Backseat. Saints in the Backseat. I loved the idea, but the rhythm was wrong, so I swapped it around to Backseat Saints. Which is the right kind of dirty. Those Beloveds...they are genius.

What books so you have your nightstand right now?

I am halfway through THE WEED THAT STRINGS THE HANGMAN’S BAG. I love it as much as I loved the first Flavia book, and that is saying a lot. Next? I am Adriana Trigiani’s big fan grrrrl, and her new one, BRAVA VALENTINE, is on the top of the stack. Then I am reading our own J. L. Miles’s latest in the form of galleys (I LOVED her Cold Rock River). I also have the new one by Yann Martel.

I am on the third book in two series I am really digging: THE GIRL WHO KICKED THE HORNETS NEST and A FAINT COLD FEAR by Karen Slaughter. Then I want to reread DISMANTLED by Jennifer McMahon---I zoomed through it too fast the first time, desperate to know what happened. That book is not done with me yet.

Those books are all in a treacherous pile on my nightstand right now, fighting for room with an empty wine glass, four remotes for various aspects of the confusing television, the dog-suck-moist chewy bone I stepped on getting out of bed this morning, and four shades of OPI polish...I need a bigger nightstand.

What was your biggest challenge writing Backseat Saints? Your greatest joy?

My biggest challenge is always cowardice. I want people to think I am a nice lady----and yet I do not write “nice” books. My characters always want to do things I do not necessarily approve of, like take guns and go lie for their husbands out in the woods, or marry violent fellas who are dangerous enough to need some shooting in the first place. They steal, they lie, they have sex with the wrong people in the wrong places, they make hideous mistakes and feel awful and try to atone. In other words, they are people, broken as we all are, and yet hopeful anyway. Part of me wants to be a lot less honest and a lot sweeter, but I don’t have that kind of story to tell. *I* don’t even believe me when I try to tell that kind of story.

My greatest joy came in those moments where Rose Mae took over---where I wasn’t second guessing myself or worrying about what my mom’s church friends would think. When I let myself feel empathy for Rose in spite of her damage and her flaws, gave her her head, and the words for it came---It’s magic. I got that flying feeling you get when you are IN the scene and it has you and you are making it and in some ways, it is making you. A lot of wasted words and boring worky hours of screen staring and frustration go into a book, but the moments when I am in the zone and I am making the things in my head translate onto to paper---best drug in the world.

It is why we do it, right?

New York Times Bestselling novelist Joshilyn Jackson lives in Georgia with her husband, their two children, and way too many feckless animals. Her debut, gods in Alabama, won SIBA's 2005 Novel of the year Award and was a #1 BookSense pick. Jackson won Georgia Author of the Year for her second novel, Between, Georgia, which also a #1 BookSense pick, making Jackson the first author in BookSense history to receive #1 status in back to back years. Her third novel, The Girl Who Stopped Swimming, was a Break Out book at Target and was shortlisted for the Townsend Prize for Fiction. All three books were chosen for the Books-A-Million Book Club.


Peggy Webb said...

Joshilyn, your books always keep me up way past my bedtime, then grab hold of me first thing in the morning so that I'm secretly ensconced in a corner frantically trying to finish reading before my doggies discover that I'm not at my computer making enough money to buy their dog chow. I guess you can tell... I ADORED Backseat Saints!

Joshilyn said...

Oh THANKS Peggy -- you are so nice. :) I deep in the release crazies, you iknwo all abotu THAT, so. Thanks for the kind words.

Augusta Scattergood said...

So many good things. I especially love what you say about first lines. Thanks for this!

Anonymous said...

Hi Joshilyn,
Thanks for reading my galley! You're a front seat angel. And God bless Rose Mae. I bought her story at Margaret Mitchell House and am enjoying the heck out of what she has to say. You're a genious!

Jackie Miles