Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Joshilyn Jackson

Listening to writers is such a pleasure for this retired English teacher.

Last night, I was able to listen to yet another writer talk about books, writing, and living.

This writer was Joshilyn Jackson, author of three books, two of which I read: Gods in Alabama and The Girl Who Stopped Swimming. Her other novel, Between, Georgia, I haven't read.

I finished The Girl Who Stopped Swimming the afternoon of the author meet and greet.

*chuckle, chuckle*

The book club, which I don't belong to but was invited to because they wanted a larger audience for the writer, seems to be of about eighteen to twenty women -- all middle aged or older, even though it looked like one woman had brought her teenage daughter who disappeared pretty quickly after Jackson began to talk. I laughed out loud at the fact that one of the oldest of the group held tightly and proudly to her Kindle the whole time. She was also the most opinionated.. I wonder if that goes together?


The hostess's home was a ranch -- built in the 1960s or 1970s and located on a huge tract of land in west Cobb --- as usual, I was driving in the dark and the rain with crappy directions from Google. Argh.. Google told me to turn left when I needed to make a right -- I knew it as soon as I saw the house numbers. It's always fun to turn around in a strange driveway ... only not.

The hostess had her house lit up for the evening, and her husband graciously waited in the long driveway to help park the cars. When I asked if he was the valet, he dryly retorted, "No, I'm just showing the hags where to park their brooms." We both laughed. Somehow I thought he might be serious....

When I parked my car, I heard his wife yell at him from out of the dark: "Beeeennnneeett? We need more coffee."

I heard him mumble under his breath as he shuffled up to the house.

The inside of the house was typical ranch -- kitchen and den combined together and separated by a bar/counter. The fireplace was roaring, the "hags" were grazing around the cracker and cheeses, and I took in the antique collection of hand bells and small farm implements and looked for the one person I knew. I was introduced to four women pretty successively, and then whamo! I forgot their names. In the large den, I settled in on a nice comfy leather with the chair that Jackson would eventually sit in right across from me. It would allow Jackson to make a lot of eye contact with me, which she would do often, and I would nod back at her like I used to do my Algebra II teacher. The difference -- I nodded at Jackson with understanding -- Algebra II not so much.

Jackson arrived, took time to sign a few books, and then sat in a hard-back kitchen chair and began to talk. I could listen to her all day.

Jackson is a Southern girl [married with two kids and a cat and a dog]-- even though she didn't say where she was born, she did mentioned her grandmother being from Alabama and growing up in a "garden shed lean to." She said her grandmother was "broken" and poor.. which was a double whammy. Her own upbringing was solid with loving parents, even though her website quotes her as saying her family was "a wild tribe of Fundamentalists." Her parents, she credited with being the backbone of who she was. Even though two of her three novels are not for "mother to read," she did write Between, Georgia, a book that she said she would hand to her mother or daughter without question.

She told us that she "shamelessly loves her books," and that she could "talk incessantly about them." She says that readers have complained that there is always a murder in her books. She retorted -- "I'm from the South -- there has to be kissin' and shootin'."

She giggles.

Jackson giggles a lot, and this already rounded out her vibrant, warm, and obviously smart personality. Not only was she a writer, but she had spent time doing voice overs for commercials and documentaries, in the theater where she noted there are "no morals and three ethics," and got shortlisted for an Audie for her reading of her book Between, Georgia.

About the Audie: She told us that her agent/manager told her that she had little chance to win since her competition was Maria Shriver, Maya Angelou, Cookie Roberts, and David Sedaris.


As a group, we asked few questions. Jackson easily slid from one story to another:

she told about how she goes to writing retreats --

defined by her as "a hotel business suite complete with refrigerator in Alpharetta for four days"


the most recent one with a girlfriend at the Breakers in West Palm where "there are only so many mojitos you can drink before you are exhausted..."

she told how she sets goals --- 14,000 words in four days

she told how she gets the characters first -- then the story


how she always wanted to be a writer.

When she was in middle school, she got her first stack of blank books which she said she filled with the worst blather -- one of his stories was called "Don't Go Into the Woods." She said she reread it recently and laughed her butt off... it was so trite, so adolescent, and so lame.

She believes that most books need two reads.
The first read for plot ....
The second read for other aspects -- imagery or theme or motifs.

Note to former students: See, you morons. You don't just read books once....

Jackson admitted that there are books on her shelf that she is still not through reading - - that she has read them two and three times and is not done yet...

To Kill a Mockingbird
Life of Pi

Everything that Rises Must Converge
Poisonwood Bible ...

Uh, I'm not so sure about Poisonwood Bible, but I have friends who think that book is awesome. I'm not in that camp....

She talked a great deal about her own novels --- and how she saw the characters, their faults, and their stories.

Jackson was a delight to listen to --- and I am glad I had the opportunity to do so.

When I was leaving, two of the book club members stopped me.

Member One: You're young. What did you think of her books?
Me: Uh, well, I liked 'em okay. I liked her better.
Member Two: Uh. Huh.
Member One: She sure was smart.
Member Two: Uh. Huh.
Me: Totally --- and she was smart, but in a whacked kind of way.
Member Two: Uh. Huh.
Member One: I bet she's got that disorder.
Member Two: Uh. Huh.
Me: What disorder?
Member One: The one every child on McDonald's playground has.
Me: A.D.D.?
Member Two: Uh. Huh.
Member One: That's the one. I couldn't think of it.
Me: But she's gifted.
Member One: Who to?
Me: No. It's like being exceptional.
Member One: To whom?
Me: No, it's a good thing. You are creative, talented, and learn quickly. Jackson is definitely gifted.
Member Two: Uh. Huh.
Member One: I'm so old. I can't remember any of these "distinctions" that they put on diplomas these days.

LOL -- those two ladies were a riot. It made me think of how hard it is sometimes to explain the way we have labeled children in so many ways in "education."

This group club asked me to join them. Their next read for January -- Olivie Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout, 2009 Winner of the Pulitizer for fiction.

Do I join?
If so, is it so I can blog about them?

BTW: I don't always trust the Pulitizers. Just sayin'.

Right, Edie?


  1. Pulitzers? Nope! We hold out for the National Book Awards. Maybe when I retire we can go return to our goal of reading all of them . . . except I'm not rereading The Moviegoer!

    I love the blog tonight. I wonder what Bennett thought of Mrs. Jackson.

  2. Wow, what a great evening! Wish I had been there! This isn't the book club that you went to last time is it?

  3. I always read the books twice for your class. The night before and the morning of.

  4. I have really enjoyed reading all three of Joshilyn Jackson's books! I love the way she tells a story. You should read Between, Georgia. I think it is my favorite!

  5. Gotta love a woman who giggles.
    Don't ya? ;)

  6. I think I am addicted to your blog.