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I went to Malaprop’s Bookstore on Sunday afternoon to see Joshilyn Jackson speak about her new book, A Grown-Up Kind of Pretty. I’ve seen Joshilyn speak multiple times, but I always love hearing what she has to say. She is hilarious, and she knows how to keep a crowd entertained.
I am most definitely paraphrasing Joshilyn’s words. My apologies to everyone if I get anything wrong.
She primarily talked about the inspiration for her characters and setting in A Grown-Up Kind of Pretty. When she was touring for her first book, gods in Alabama, she visited Bay Books in Mississippi. She said “I’m from the Gulf Coast of Florida, where the landscape is just so pristine and perfect, it hurts to look at it. Then I visited the Gulf Coast of Mississippi, and that was something entirely different. I couldn’t help looking at this fecund landscape thinking that anything buried here is not going to stay buried. It is going to burst out in new growth in unexpected ways. Being me, I thought about burying a body.”
Oh, and about fecund. She says that one of her assistants(?) has a drinking game where everyone has to do a shot whenever Joshilyn says the word while talking about A Grown-Up Kind of Pretty. Good thing Malaprop’s doesn’t serve shots or we would all have been calling cabs!
She also talked about where she gets the ideas for her characters from. She said, “If you ever see me sitting near you in a restaurant, reading my book, I can promise you that I’m not reading. I’m listening to every word you say. My favorite places to eavesdrop are airport bars. You overhear just enough as people walk by that you just have to fill in the gaps with your own story. And people are always upset in airports, so they’re talking loudly enough that you can hear them. I got the idea for Big (a character in A Grown-Up Kind of Pretty) in an airport. I could see a woman “of a certain age” as we say in the South, walking toward me, and I couldn’t wait to hear what she was talking about. She was striding angrily along in her cruel shoes (you know the ones–the ones that are oh-so-beautiful but they hurt your feet so badly), with her perfect hair and her perfect clothes, and this perfect wide Botoxed forehead. Her forehead made it into the book on another character. Anyway, she was talking on her cell phone and it was obvious that she was upset. As she walked by me, all I heard was, ‘She promised me that she wouldn’t do it anymore, but I know that she was doing it right then, on the phone with me!’ Well, the nicest thing I could think of was smoking, but I had a lot of fun from there. Anyway, that woman became Big, a grandmother at 45 who doesn’t want to be called Meemaw yet. She has a daughter who is 30, Liza. And Liza has a daughter, Mosey, who is just turning 15. You can guess that there is a lot of helicopter parenting going on about now, trying to make sure that Mosey makes it through to 16 un-pregnant. I wanted to write a bit of a love story, but surprisingly, the love story was Big’s. You would think the 15-year-old would be discovering young love, but she has bigger things to worry about. Big is only 45 but she’s lost most of her youth to raising her daughter and then her granddaughter. I wanted her to have another chance at life.”
Joshilyn says that her inspiration comes from the darkest Southern Gothic tradition. She likes to write very character-driven fiction in this vein and then tie it to a more commercially-viable vehicle. She said that gods in Alabama was her murder mystery, The Girl Who Stopped Swimming was her ghost story, Between, Georgia was her love story, and Backseat Saints was her thriller. She said, “I didn’t know what I was getting into with Backseat Saints. I wrote it like this [making an uphill, roller-coaster motion with her hands] and then I got to the top and I was all ‘Oh, crap, what have I done?!?’ [with a swooping downward motion of her hands]. I was ready for a break after that book. I decided that I was going to write my funny book that’s funny. And that’s what I did. I started writing A Grown-Up Kind of Pretty from the points of view of Big and Mosey, and it was so funny! It was the easiest book I’d ever written. I kept reading parts to my editor and my writing group, and they agreed that it was my funny book that’s funny. And then. Lydia Netzer was the one who came to me. (Her book comes out this fall by the way. It’s called Shine, Shine, Shine, and you have to read it because it will pick you up as you read it and set you back down a different person.) Anyway, she came to me, and said, ‘Joshilyn, this book, well…’
‘Yes,’ I said, ‘it’s my funny book that’s funny.’
‘Yes,’ she said, ‘it’s funny, but it’s not your book.’
‘Well, I’m pretty sure it is.’
‘No, bunny, it’s not. It doesn’t have a heart, and that’s just not your book. Liza wants to tell her story so bad, and you’re so determined not to let her tell it that you’ve gone and given her an early stroke. But you have to let her talk, or it will never be your book.’
I told her that she sucks, but I knew she was right. So I had to think about it for a while, then I came back to Lydia. ‘How do I give a non-verbal stroke victim a voice?’
‘Bunny, that is so not my problem.’
I told her again that she sucked, but I went back over the 80% of the book that I’d already written and wove Liza’s voice into it and the result is that now I have a book that I am proud to have written.”
She read a couple of excerpts for us, one from Big’s point of view and one from Mosey’s point of view. I’ll excerpt Big’s part here.
My daughter, Liza, put her heart in a silver box and buried it under the willow tree in our backyard. Or as close to under that tree as she could anyway. The thick web of roots shunted her off to the side, to the place where the willow’s long fingers trailed down. They swept back and forth across the troubled earth, helping Liza smooth away the dig marks.
It was foolish. There’s no way to hide things underground in Mississippi. Our rich, wet soil turns every winter burial into a spring planting. Over the years Liza’s heart, small and cold and broken as it was, grew into a host of secrets that could ruin us all and cost us Mosey, Liza’s own little girl. I can’t blame Liza, though. She was young and hurt, and she did the best she could
And after all, I’m the damn fool who went and dug it up.
She then read Mosey’s part, which was hilarious, and talked a little about some plot points. Then she left us with a great big ol’ cliffhanger: If Liza buried her own baby under the willow tree 15 years ago, where did Mosey come from? Then she laughed, and gave a big butter-won’t-melt-in-my-mouth grin, and said, “See, I told you earlier that Mosey has bigger things to worry about than young love.”
Check out her tour schedule. Go see her if she’s coming your way!
Listen to Joshilyn reading an excerpt of A Grown-Up Kind of Pretty. She reads her own audiobooks, and I bet she is fantastic.
When a long-hidden grave is unearthed in the backyard, headstrong young Mosey Slocumb is determined to investigate. What she learns could cost her family everything…
Every fifteen years, trouble comes after the Slocumb women. Now, as their youngest turns fifteen, a whole new kind of commotion is chasing all three generations. Mosey’s desperate to know who used their yard as a make-shift cemetery, and why. The oldest, forty-five year old Ginny, fights to protect Mosey from the truth, a fight that could cost Ginny the love of her life. Between them is Liza, silenced by a stroke, with the answers trapped inside her. To survive Liza’s secrets and Mosey’s insistent adventures, Ginny must learn to trust the love that braids the strands of their past—and stop at nothing to defend their future.
I have an affiliate relationship with Malaprop’s, my local independent bookstore located in beautiful downtown Asheville, NC; and Better World Books. I will receive a small commission at no cost to you if you purchase books through links on my site.