Author’s Eavesdropping Leads to Imperfect Characters Modeling Grace

On an evening kissed with rain and just a hint of light in the night sky, a group gathered in a large beautifully decorated auditorium at the historic Boling-Haxell House in Richmond. The group sat raptly listening to the vibrant voice of a Southern author.

The author was Joshilyn Jackson, who was in town – thanks to Fountain Bookstore – to talk about her newest book, A Grown-Up Kind of Pretty.

Joshilyn Jackson

Joshilyn Jackson discusses where she finds her ideas. (Photo by Cynthia Price)

She tells the audience, “Y’all are a dying breed. You take a night and sit around and discuss literature.”

Audience members had lots of questions for the author, too.

When asked where she gets her ideas, Joshilyn first offers a facile answer. “Take a mentally ill person and a ream of paper and have them love each other very much,” she tells the audience, which erupts in laughter.

Then she turns serious – for a moment – and explains that her characters come from both the landscape and from eavesdropping.

“I find Southern landscapes evocative,” she says. She grew up on the Florida Gulf Coast, which she describes as “white, sugary and pristine.” She later moved to the Mississippi Gulf Coast, which she describes as a deep, rich green. “It is a verdant landscape,” she says repeatedly, noting that she has been chastised for using the word “verdant” too often. She even catches herself during her talk and stops using the word.

Joshilyn admits to being a “terrible inveterate eavesdropper.” She warns her audience, ““If I’m ever sitting next to you reading, you better watch your mouth.”

An airport is a favorite place for eavesdropping. “Everyone is going somewhere, and you only get two or three sentences” of the conversation, she says. Then she simply imagines.

One such overhead conversation at an airport became the basis for the character Mosy Slocumb in her newest book, which she originally intended to be her funny book.

However her friend Lydia Netzer – author of Shine, Shine, Shine – told Joshilyn that she needed to rework the book and find a way to let Liza speak. At first, Joshilyn says with a chuckle, “I simply hated Lydia.”

She took the advice, though, and reworked the book. “It took off when I let Liza go and let her infest the book,” Joshilyn admits.

The premise of most of her books is straightforward. “How can imperfect people model the best version of grace that they can?” Joshilyn explains.

Most of her books, she says, take her between 18 months and two years to write. “I’m really blessed that I don’t sleep,” she says. “Really, I don’t.” She often is up at 4 a.m. and will write until it’s time to send her children to school. Then she heads to a coffee shop to write until her children return. Joshilyn, while supportive of her children’s activities, says she’s not above “stealing an hour” at soccer practice, track meets or ballet rehearsals to write.

She also speaks highly of her editor. Joshilyn describes an editor as “a person who shows you where your map has failed.”

So far, Joshilyn’s map has not failed.

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