Monday, July 17, 2006

Read Between...

Hi, blogland! Today I have the pleasure of introducing one of my favorite contemporary Southern novelists, Joshilyn Jackson. Joshilyn's first book, gods in Alabama, came out to rave reviews and achieved the #1 BookSense pick for the month it came out. In an amazing move, the BookSense gods again smiled on Joshilyn and her new book, Between, Georgia, is also a #1 BookSense pick! Here's a bit more about Joss and her work.


Joshilyn Jackson was born in the Deep South and raised by a tribe of wild fundamentalists who taught her to be virtuous and upright. Unfortunately, it didn't take, and Ms. Jackson dropped out of college to pursue a career as an actor. She worked in regional repertoire and traveled the southern third of the country with a dinner theatre troupe, but after a few years she realized that she preferred writing plays to acting in them.

She decided both virtue and an education were worth the work, so she went back to college to study English literature, focusing on Modern and Medieval Theater. She graduated with honors from Georgia State. She moved to Chicago and managed to recover from a near-terminal case of culture shock just in time to earn her MA in English from the University of Illinois at Chicago. Ms. Jackson taught English at UIC, trying to explain the function of the gerund and why Moby Dick is a great book to crowds of hung-over 18 year olds. In her first year of teaching, she won the Student's Choice Award for Best English Instructor.

After graduate school she ran for warmer climes, returning to her hometown and marrying the boy next door. She currently lives just outside of Atlanta with her husband, their two children, and a twenty-three-pound, one-eyed Maine Coon cat named Franz Schubert.

Her short fiction has been published in literary magazines including TriQuarterly and Calyx, and her plays have been produced in Atlanta and Chicago. Her first novel, gods in Alabama, was a bestseller and a number one BookSense pick. Her second novel, Between, Georgia, is the #1 BookSense pick for July and has already garnered starred reviews in both Kirkus and Booklist.

She is currently at work on her next novel, The Girl Who Stopped Swimming, the story of a good mother who is visited by a drowned girl's ghost.


gods in Alabama NOW IN PAPERBACK!
When Arlene Fleet headed off to college in Chicago, she made three promises to God: She would never again lie, she would stop fornicating with every boy who crossed her path, and she'd never, ever go back to her tiny hometown of Possett, Alabama (the "fourth rack of Hell"). All God had to do in exchange was to make sure the body of high school quarterback Jim Beverly was never found.

Ten years later, Arlene has kept her promises, but an old school-mate has recently turned up asking questions. And now Arlene's African American beau has given her a tough ultimatum: introduce him to her family, or he's gone. As she prepares to confront guilt, discrimination, and a decade of deception, Arlene is about to discover just how far she will go to find redemption - and love.

Between, Georgia #1 BookSense Pick!
There's always been bad blood between the Fretts and the Crabtrees. After all, the Fretts practically own the tiny town of Between, Georgia, while the Crabtrees only rent space in its jail cells.

Stacia Frett is a deaf artist with a genetic condition that is causing her to slowly go blind. She's lost the love of her life, and when her vision goes, she'll lose her career as well. She's asking God why He keeps her breathing in and out, until the night fifteen year old Hazel Crabtree shows up on her doorstep brandishing a stomach swollen with a pregnancy she'd hidden for nine months. Stacia thinks Hazel's unwanted baby might be God's answer, and so the Fretts decide to steal it...

Thirty years later, Nonny Frett is a successful interpreter living in Athens, Georgia. She understands the meanings of "rock" and "hard place" better than any woman ever born. She's got two mothers, "one deaf-blind and the other four baby steps from flat crazy." She's got two men; Her husband is easing out the back door and her best friend is laying siege to her heart in her front yard. She has a job that holds her in the city, and she's addicted to a little girl who's stuck deep in the country. And she has two families; The Fretts, who stole her and raised her right, and the Crabtrees, who lost her and can't forget that they've been done wrong.

In Between, Georgia, population 90, the feud that began before Nonny was born is escalating, and a random act of violence will set the torch to a thirty-year old stash of highly flammable secrets. This might be just what the town needs, if only Nonny wasn't sitting in the middle of it...

(for Joss's new book... read praise for gods HERE)

In her accomplished second novel, Jackson sweeps the reader away to a place where gravel crunches underfoot and the smell of corn bread wafts in the air. Between, a tiny dot on the Georgia state map, is oversized when it comes to personalities. The plot is precise and sweet, and Jackson includes the perfect ingredients: quirky characters, a picturesque setting and ample surprises. Evocative and lovingly crafted.
- Kirkus *starred review*

After a great debut with Gods in Alabama, Jackson's follow-up poses the same dilemma for readers: you can't wait to finish it but don't want it to end... Jackson's got a winner.
- Library Journal

"Between, Georgia is a raucous novel, populated by wild characters, tenderly drawn. Joshilyn Jackson proves to be a wiley guide who writes with wit and warmth about the complex nature of family, while handing down a beautiful and fierce new definition of motherhood."
- Julianna Baggott, author of the national bestseller Girl Talk and, with Steve Almond, Which Brings Me To You

Jackson returns with a second quirky and touching novel about the South. Jackson has been compared to Fannie Flagg, and rightfully so; her characters are vivid and lovable, put in situations that are so hard to explain that it's just easier to pass the book lovingly along to a friend...A climactic ending with perfect story resolution makes this book tidy and uplifting, and even the most cynical reader will surely smile as the back cover closes.
- Booklist *starred review*

"What a charming, magical book, filled with everyday marvels! Jackson's inventiveness and attention to detail are dazzling, and her characters so quirky and true.
- Diane Thomas, author of The Year the Music Changed

"Funny, wrenching, and pitch-perfect, Joshilyn Jackson's Between, Georgia explores the ways people belong to each other and how far they'll go to keep what's theirs. I'll carry Nonny and her family-the whole tangled, fierce, devoted lot of them-around with me for a long, long time."
- Marisa de los Santos, author of Love Walked In


Q. How did you get this idea for this book? Please describe how the book grew from a glimmer of an idea into a whole novel.

A: As a freshman in college, I did a lot of driving back and forth across Georgia between Athens and Atlanta. I went down highway 78. I was a freshman at UGA and I was majoring in Beer with a minor in Dating, and I spent most of my time in Atlanta…I had friends there, and whenever I had a break, like, say, when my classes were meeting, I would go. 78 takes you right by the exit for Between, Georgia. There was a sign there that said something like “EXIT HERE TO SEE BETWEEN, GEORGIA, POPULATION 92” or somesuch. I never got off the highway and went to look at the place, but I have been imagining it ever since, mapping it’s streets, giving it a small, closed economy, and populating it with made up families. It took me until now, 20 years later, to find the story that had to be told in that town---a town with no identity, named not for what it is, but for what it is next to…

My main character, Nonny Jane, is by birth one of those trashy Crabtrees, but she is stolen and raised by the upright and respectable Fretts. The town itself is almost a character, and I love how Nonny’s circumstances gave me so much room to ask questions about identity---nature v/s nurture, and how our choices make us into who we are

Q: Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?
A: Read everything you write out loud, multiple times. It will make you better.

Q: What's your writing day like? Any tips or tricks for getting organized?
A:HAHAHHAHAHHAHA! Asking ME about how to get organized is like asking a monk how to truly pleasure a woman. Do you have tips for me? I would love to be able to FIND MY KEYS every now and again. I think I simply LOVE writing, love it, and so I always somehow find time for it. I MAKE time for it, the way some people make time to watch Survivor. If it’s your favorite thing…it gets done. If it isn’t, then I say go find the thing that IS, and do that. Life’s to short to waste your precious free moments on something that doesn’t make your little red boat bob up and down all happy in the water.

Q. What's been the most exciting thing about publishing? The most frustrating?
A:The best thing, bar none, is having my work out there. I love talking to readers, visiting book clubs. Once a book is published it belongs to its readers, not to its author. A book becomes a conversation between itself and its reader,and I have no place in it. Readers bring there own history and belief system to the experience of reading, and so no one reads the exact book I wrote. It’s a neat thing to witness and talk about with folks.

The worst thing, bar none, is having my work OUT there. It’s a strange and vulnerable feeling, and some days, when I get a letter from someone who doesn’t get or doesn’t like what I am doing, and who have to take it out on me, personally…yikes. Or when people make big assumptions about me based on the characters in the books---that’s uncomfortable, because I truly do write fiction.

Q: Do you think you might write a follow-up to this book? If not, what else is in the works?
A: No. I am done with these people and this town…Of course, I said that about gods in Alabama, too, and now I am THINKING I might write about what happened to Rose Mae Lolley from that book. Or rather, what things Rose Mae CAUSED to happen. Not a passive girl, that Rose.

But right now, I am writing a book called The Girl Who Stopped Swimming. It’s about a woman named LeeAnne who is visited by a drowned girl’s ghost. She becomes obsessed with finding out how the girl died. She’s very intuitive – a high E.Q, and she’s married to a man who is all I.Q. I love how they react to each other. And then, very much against his wishes, LeeAnne and her crazy, theatre-owning, amoral sister begin an investigation in the present that reveals and illuminates their shared past. It’s my brand of humor and violence colored by my pervading interest in how grace works, how love works, and how we find redemption…and it draws on a LOT of my experiences working in small theatre—black boxes, traveling dinner theatre, and regional rep. I’m excited about it.

Thank you so much, Joshilyn! You can buy Joss's books at any good bookstore, or via the Internet at Amazon (gods, Between) OR Barnes and Noble (gods, Between). My personal favorite idea is this: Joshilyn's local indy bookseller will get you your own SIGNED COPY of either book--or BOTH!--if you click here.