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Interview With an Author: Joshilyn Jackson

Daryl M., Librarian, West Valley Regional Branch Library,
Author Joshilyn Jackson and her latest novel, Mother May I
Author Joshilyn Jackson and her latest novel, Mother May I

Joshilyn Jackson is the New York Times bestselling author of nine novels, including Gods in Alabama and The Almost Sisters. Her books have been translated into a dozen languages. A former actor, Jackson is also an award-winning audiobook narrator. She lives in Decatur, Georgia, with her husband and their two children. Her new novel is Mother May I and she recently talked about it with Daryl Maxwell for the LAPL Blog.

What was your inspiration for Mother May I?

I could answer this a thousand ways; a novel is so big and stretchy that each of my books comes from a thousand places. But it would be true to say that I was interested in the idea of two mothers, each in extremis, each coming to feel for and understand the other, but each fighting for her own child, so no matter what, they are heading for a conflagration. I love the intimacy and even empathy that grew between Bree and the kidnapper. So creepy and human.

Are Bree, Trey, Marshall, or any of the other characters in the novel inspired by or based on specific individuals?

Not really. I make ‘em up. But I will see little bits of truth scattered all through. One character might have my Aunt Susan’s 1987 haircut, and another might say a line she said at a wedding in 2012. Bree is closer to me than many of my narrators. We are both moms, we were both upwardly mobile, we both live in Decatur, and I was also a theatre major here in Georgia. I found this...uncomfortable!

How did the novel evolve and change as you wrote and revised it? Are there any characters or scenes that were lost in the process that you wish had made it to the published version?

I spend about 15% of my working time writing. I actually hate writing. I love revising! So with a process like that, I usually have a file of 50 to 100K words I throw away. No regrets. I always keep them, thinking, "Oh, I will go back one day!"—I have only ever done this once.

Is Funtime based on an actual place?

No. I made it up. But after I made it up and started imagining it and getting ready for the scenes set there, I got obsessed with looking at pictures of defunct theme parks and other such places. There is an artist named Matthew Christopher who has a series—Abandoned America. Obsessed. I love the visual arts, and often find looking at art helps me see my fictional world more clearly. That series was very influential in terms of mood and tone. I want one of his prints, but I can’t pick which one, yet. The trolley pictures. The toys. A roller coaster. A theatre. So good.

Mother May I is, at times, difficult to read. And yet, Thrillers are a popular fiction genre. Do you have an idea or theory regarding why people love reading things that are so frightening and disturbing in such real and immediate ways (as opposed to Horror where the scares come from the supernatural)?

I have no idea. But I love it myself. To me, it is so human and natural to invest in story, to be plot hungry, to experience excitement while being safe, to be unable to resist following a tense story to its resolution. It seems weirder to me that some people do not like them. Of course, I also love horror.

What’s currently on your nightstand?

Libertie by Kaitlyn Greenidge

Can you name your top five favorite or most influential authors?

Probably not, but here are five I read over and over. Another day I might have a different answer. I read a lot...

Lydia Netzer
Stephen King
Tayari Jones
Flannery O’Connor
Silvia Moreno-Garcia

What was your favorite book when you were a child?

Watership Down. It is still a favorite.

Was there a book you felt you needed to hide from your parents?

So many. I was a sneak reader. At nine or so I read Jaws, Tender is the Night, and Roots. I was also reading Conan the Barbarian and other delicious pulps. Later, like every other woman my age, I hid Judy Blume’s Forever.

What is a book you've faked reading?

I don’t know. I am sure I did this in school...I have faked Finishing quite a few more, and this is recent. Life is too short to finish a book I am not enjoying. But I never smack talk books and admit I DNFed.

Can you name a book you've bought for the cover?

Susan Rebecca White’s Bound South.

Is there a book that changed your life?

I think, no. I think it's books, not a book. Reading taught me empathy. Reading was my escape and my comfort in hard times. We moved around a lot when I was a kid, and reading was my stability and my home.

Can you name a book for which you are an evangelist (and you think everyone should read)?

Shine Shine Shine by Lydia Netzer.

Is there a book you would most want to read again for the first time?

Probably a hundred. Kindred. The Hobbit. The Stand. All of Jane Austen. All of the Jack Reacher books. Remains of the Day.

What is the last piece of art (music, movies, TV, more traditional art forms) that you've experienced or that has impacted you?

Oh my, I never leave the house these days. Heh. We are theatre people, and we have not been to a play in a year! We are museum people, and that has also been a nonstarter. These things are what I have missed the most.

The thing I have loved most recently is playing Dungeons and Dragons in a round-robin of written posts with other writers. It's collaborative storytelling, it is a game, it has huge elements of improv and theatre, and the people I play with are just masters of these things. Such a joy.

What is your idea of THE perfect day (where you could go anywhere/meet with anyone)?

Me and my husband out on a Scuba boat with our diving friends and the kids. We eat really cold fruit and read and chat in the intervals. We see an octopus. No one gets sunburned. Perfect.

What is the question that you’re always hoping you’ll be asked, but never have been? What is your answer?

This one.
That was a cheat. But I honestly have no answer. I am always happy to talk about my books. I love them. Each represents a significant investment of my time on earth, huge chunks of my precious, unrepeated life. I love to talk about them. I love even more to be read. I want to be asked about what engaged that particular reader, I suppose. I want to ask that reader what they saw or thought. It’s always so surprising.

What are you working on now?

Oh, another suspense. I am in love with writing these thrillers that are layered enough to be good discussion starters for book clubs. This one is about gaze and female bodies, but it’s also a white-knuckle domestic thriller in which a former sitcom star moves home to Georgia to flee an obsessive fan, only to find out that her stalker has followed her across the country. Or has he? The threat to her and her daughter is more serious than she ever dreamed, and home is not the safe place she imagined...Of course, it’s not that simple. It never is.

Book cover for Mother May I
Mother May I
Jackson, Joshilyn