Q&A With Joshilyn Jackson
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Q&A With Joshilyn Jackson
To start off this week is a Q&A with USA Today and New York Times Bestselling author Joshilyn Jackson. Some of Joshilyn’s southern fiction includes Almost Sisters, Backseat Saints, The Opposite of Everyone, Someone Elses Love Story & A Grown Up Type of Pretty. Joshilyn’s Mystery Suspense novels are Mother May I, Never Have I Ever, & her recently released novel With My Little Eye.
Q: Joshilyn would you like to talk to the readers of the blog and I a little bit about the novel With My Little Eye, and how you came up with the concept for the book?
A: I started as a playwright and an actor, and in fact I met my husband doing a season of summer stock.
I still do voice work, reading my own audio books as well as those by other authors, including Patti Callahan Henry, Lydia Netzer, and Christopher Swann. I have done this often enough that I qualified for my SAG card last year—an old dream 20 year old me held so tight and dear, I am sure she will never recover from the joy of seeing it actually happen. My early plan was to finish my theatre degree, go to LA and pursue a career writing and acting for television.
I wanted to set a book in that world to explore that “path not taken.”
Q: You are an award winning audio book narrator performing most of your work. What’s it like?
A: I love it. Those four or five days in the studio are a joy to me. And the WITH MY LITTLE EYE audiobook is incredibly special to me. They did a full cast production with some audio book narrators I have loved for years, plus me reading Meribel, and my own daughter reading the part of her daughter, Honor. Honor is autistic, and I wanted an actor with autism to read her because representation matters. Maisy Jane (who currently majoring in theatre and working in a professional summer stock rep company, just as I did when I was her age) auditioned and the director loved her take on Honor.
So, one thing I learned when I was coming to terms with my own autism (and my daughter’s), is that women on the spectrum are often attracted to careers in creative writing and theatre. I’ve heard it posited that this is because women are under so much pressure to be empathetic and pick up on social cues, and writing novels or acting (as well as reading or going to the theatre) are acts that teach empathy.
Q: What made you gravitate from writing southern fiction to mystery suspense?
A: Here’s the truth – I didn’t do in on purpose. I just wrote NEVER HAVE I EVER the way I wanted to write it, and it turned out to be a book better shelved in domestic suspense than with family drama.
But fi you read me on the regular, you know all my southern fiction titles except BETWEEN GEORGIA have a murder mystery lurking in their hearts, and even BETWEEN, my gentlest and sweetest title, has a big old splash of arson.
I do work harder to have more narrative drive now, but my writing is still very character driven. I am still interested thematically in motherhood, sex and power dynamics, the lives of women in the arts, and in the thorny path one takes toward redemption. All my books are still set in the South. I’m just a little more “Murder forward” these days.
Q: If you were to try writing in other genres which genres would they be and why?
A: Well, it be more of a revisiting than a new try—I want to dip into playwriting again! I always say I am a much better novelist than I ever was a playwright, but then, this may be because I only wrote plays in my teens and early twenties.
Plawriting begins alone but only comes alive as a collaboration. That used to scare me, and I used ot try and defend against directors and actors inside the text. These days, I feel myself releasing control and moving toward collaboration. This is very new for me. I am also currently writing a novel collaboratively. I love it. I will let you know how it ends up!
Q: When in your life did you know that your calling was to be an author? Growing up did you have anyone among your family and friends encourage your writing talent?
A: I penned my first novel when I was three. My mother published it using the “stapler and Crayola method. “ I have always been a storyteller – and a devourer of stories.
My mom was a huge encouragement. So was my father, in that this extreme pragmatist agreed to pay for a liberal arts education and was always so proud to come see me in plays and share my early publication far and wide. But it was my mother who read to me every day of my young life, and who told me my own stories were amazing. She still reads all my books in very eearly draft form. Just her, at that point, because she always thinks they are the best, even when I know a draft is a mess. I get it though. It is a mom thing. I always though tmy own kids’ ship pictures were the most amazing ship pictures ever drawn by a five year old! I am in my fifties, and my mother still thinks my stuff is the best.
Q: Is it fair to say that you get some of your inspiration for your novels from bits and pieces of people you know and places you’ve been? It’s amazing that authors can use bits of reality to create fiction.
A: Oh yes. I am a total magpie! I collect shiny bits of weirdness everywhere I go. I think a big part of having a career with longevity is never losing that curiosity, that fascination with people watching, that desire to explain a random moment you see in passing.
That said, it really is about bits and pieces. I never retell a whole story from real life. First of all, it;s always too weird to be believed. Fiction can’t be as random and strange as real life; no one can suspend that much disbelief!
Q: If you are writing a new novel right now, can you spoil a little bit about it?
A: It’s an idea I have had for years, but I couldn’t figure out a way to do that wasn’t too dark. I am an optimist, at heart. Now that I am writing thrillers, I have some leeway, but even then, I hate nihilism, and torture porn, and despair.
It’s about two very different women who start as antagonists, but become friends as they realize their pasts are actually entwined and they investigate each other’s greatest losses.
They each are missing a sister, and they each feel weirdly responsible for the loss of the sister. They are polar opposites, but their grief and guilt is the same. It was too dark, even as a thriller—until I moved the losses back, farther into the past. Nothing fresh, so the focus can really be on their relationship and on discovering long buried truths and finding ways forward. I love it now!
Q: How do you deal with writers block if you deal with it at all?
A: I do not deal with it all. It doesn’t exist. NO SUCH THING. That said, I never look directly at it, or it WILL manifest and come out from the under the bed and eat my face right off my head.
Q: What do you consider the most rewarding part of being an author? What do you consider the most challenging part of being an author?
A: The most rewarding part of being a published author is being read. I tell stories because I want people to read them. It is extremely magic to make up a person and then have other, real people come to know that person. I love literary fests and events where I get to meet folks who have met my imaginary friends and will gossip with me about them.
The most challenging part of being an author is being read. People bring their own histories and prejudices and preferences and loves and hates to the text. No one reads the exact story I set out to tell. They read it in the light of their own lives. It’s a vulnerable thing, to put a story I love so much out into the world, peopled with folks I care about deeply. I do have a pretty thick hide, but I also have to practice self care by insulating myself from the folks who do not like what I do. I know it just isnt; for them, and that I have a great readership who loves my work, and I am so lucky and grateful, but the negative stuff sticks longer, if I open myself to it.
Q: What advice would you give to new authors on how to deal with negative reviews, online trolls and family and friends who may or may not be that supportive of their writing goals?
A: As I said above, stay away from it. People who think Amazon or Goodread reviews are constructive crit are opening themselves to pain. Those are not reviews. They are opinions. And you can’t write to try to please everyone, or you end up with a bland bowl of oatnmeal that no one likes. Follow your own true north and write for yourself and the people who see what you are doing and love it.
I recently got a letter sent directly to me by a reader who hated one of my older books. She had loved all my other books, she said, but then she excoriated me in my own inbox for daring to tell one story that didn’t appeal to her, personally. She demanded an apology! For telling a story that is so personal and dear to me! That level of entitlement and attack is a thing that happens when you publish. You have to learn to hit delete and go on.
Q: What is your advice to anyone wanting to become a great author?
A: Read. Literature is a conversation. If you want to join it, listen before you talk.
Q: Does Hollywood have any interest or rights to your work? Hollywood is severely lacking in the creative department and could use more book ideas.
A: I have sold options on all of my books except one at least one. I have sold options multiple times on four of my titles. Twice we got very very very close. Like, “have a script, have a showrunner, have a director, have a studio,” close. But then it fell apart before the package came together. Alas…
I hope one day a project of mine goes all the way. I would love to see that happen!