Sunday, May 16, 2010

Joshilyn Jackson: Cover Girl

In the year and a half I attended the second of my many colleges, I met this hippie-tastic genius of a theatre professor named Yo. I loved her then, I love her today, and I have firm plans to continue loving her tomorrow. Scott and I were hugely influenced by her---not just how we think about art and performance, but how we think about life in general.

We wanted to emulate her. Not just the passionate, committed way she approached theatre, but the way she lived. She had such gentleness with all little living things. Her yard was RIFE with five inch long waspy-waisted banana spiders, huge vile beasticles that I would have smashed with hammers while screaming, while Yo found them to be beautiful and useful. I so admired the non-judgmental, accepting way she loved any broken, ridiculous human who came into her orbit for exactly who and how and where they were, not for their potential or for what she wanted from them. Even the not very loveable ones.

She is currently the director and part owner of a black box theatre in Pensacola that was the inspiration for Thalia’s Fire Dog Theatre in The Girl Who Stopped Swimming. Yo's place is called Loblolly, after the ubiquitous Florida pine tree, and they do amazing stuff there. Yo herself pens 90% of their plays.

Back when she was teaching and I was at UWF, I took as many classes as I could with her. All her courses were self graded; So I knew I would be giving myself an A, but I still showed up on time, did the reading, passionately participated in the discussions, and learned. That tells you what kind of a teacher she is.

In her playwriting class, she had an exercise where she would show us a painting and we would all try to express the painting using words. We couldn’t be descriptive. We couldn’t be referential. There was a whole list of other things we couldn’t be. The idea was to pare away all the things that led us to write ABOUT the painting, and to write the painting itself, purely.

That’s how I feel about the cover image for Backseat Saints, only backwards. This is a visual image of what the book actually is. I’m blown away by it, because I do not have any kind of visual-y artsy talent; I never could have come up with anything like this, or even thought of the concept.

Backseat Saints tells the story of Rose Mae Lolley, a minor character from gods in Alabama, as she fights her way out of a deadly marriage. It begins with an airport gypsy telling Rose Mae a thing she knows in her gut already: Her beautiful, abusive husband is going to kill her, unless she kills him first.

My editor Caryn came up with the cover’s concept, but she wasn’t sure how or even if the image of a woman holding her own severed braid could be...not creepy, not horror-novel-y. Still, she wanted to try. And so the beautiful people at my publishing house, may God righteously bless them with many goats and ripe fruits, hired a brilliant art photographer named Cig Harvey and discussed several concepts with her, including this one, but this was what Caryn secretly hoped would work.

And Cig Harvey did it. She did it by deeply reading the book, and then responding its themes in her own language. She did it with location, putting Rose in the most verdant meadow on the planet. She did it with contrast, dressing Rose in a red-hot vintage dress that burns against all that cool green. She did it by getting a model with the most beautiful skin in the world and finding a thousand points of light in it. And she did it by continuing the image on the back cover, where we see Rose Mae’s tattered back hair in a wild ruffle, lofting her braid up to the sun in total victory.

That’s Rose, right there, that’s a visual expression of who my narrator is. Perfectly caught, it is a picture of someone I thought only existed in my brain.
Viva la Cig Harvey.

Backseat Saints launches on June 8th; one day very soon I will walk into a bookstore and my eye will catch on this image, blazing with all of Rose’s bright wildness.

I. Can’t. Freaking. Wait.

Joshilyn Jackson lives in Powder Springs, Georgia with her husband, their two kids, a hound dog, a scurrilous Boggart-kitten, an unkillable beta fish, and a twenty-two pound, one-eyed Main Coon cat named Franz Schubert. She wishes their neighborhood was zoned for goats. Both her SIBA award winning first novel, gods in Alabama, and her Georgia Author of the Year Award winning second novel, Between, Georgia, were chosen as the #1 BookSense picks for the month of their release, making Jackson the first author in BookSense history to have Number 1 picks in consecutive years. Her latest, The Girl Who Stopped Swimming, was a NYT Bestseller. Her fourth novel, BACKSEAT SAINTS, launches June 8th.


Anonymous said...

Man. That is some gorgeous cover.

aimee said...

I pink puffy heart that cover. I've already pre-ordered my copy, natch, but that photo would stop me DEAD in my tracks if I saw it in a book store.

River Jordan said...

A beautiful tribute to the immortal Dr. Yolanda Reed. If I had any writing advice to give to anyone it would be to sell the farm, move into the backseat of your car, and beg your way into the Loblolly Theatre to tote trash and shadow that gentle genius.

The Cover of Backseat Saints. Totally Golden. Has bestseller and major movie written all over it. Looking forward to a great read.

River Jordan

Niles Reddick said...

Great cover! And I love the story of Yo. Where would we be without great and wonderful teachers? I had hoped to meet ya'll in Canton, but we were on Sunday and didn't get in until late Saturday. Hope it all went well.