Here we go: Blog #1 in my retrospective of Things Trish Learned at the Festival of Faith & Writing. Up first: Joshilyn Jackson.
Let me set the scene: I slunk into her session exhausted. From life, from the prospect of a new book coming out in what feels like 45 seconds, from the sense every writer I know has that we're not writing/promoting/blogging/tweeting/getting ourselves featured on NPR nearly enough to escape the threat of total failure. So I slid into the front row and flopped in a chair, not because I wanted to get as close to this celebrated novelist as I could, but because I was too tired to squint from the back.
JJ--as I now call her, because in my mind we're not only BFFs, we're cousins (we're both Irish, so it's disturbingly possible)--broke me right out of my funk. She has a self-deprecating sense of humor that she swings about like a sword--slightly manic, and yet in total control. My favorite quote: "I don't understand why authors say that their books are like their babies...you don't sell your babies!" I had to cross my arms in front of me to keep myself from jumping up to hug her.
She shared about being raised in an ultra-conservative Christian home (musical instruments weren't allowed in her church?!?) and then taking a wild turn in the opposite direction when she was old enough to make her own choices. She tried all the things that make new adulthood interesting: sex, drugs, booze, more sex, random men, friends who don't know your last name but know your beer preference... Eventually she realized that she was in over her head, that she and her friends were careening past fun exploration, into full-on self-destruction.
In one of those "whodda thunk it?" moments, she turned to God. After reaffirming to him that she didn't believe he existed (I was laughing so hard I hiccuped at this point) and said, "Fine! I'll read your stupid book!"
What I loved about her story is that she never said she regretted any of her life experiences. As someone with my own adventurous past, it felt good to hear someone else confirm that the world is not black & white, that each of us are on our own spiritual time line, and that things work out in unexpected ways.
Plus, she gave me a vision of how to write a novel that includes faith, but isn't about faith. She gets that books are, first and foremost, about entertainment.
I'm reading her third novel, THE GIRL WHO STOPPED SWIMMING now, primarily because the bookstore had sold out of her first two by the time I got there. I will be forever grateful to JJ for re-energizing me...both in terms of the long full day on Friday, and my dream of a long productive (interesting!) life of humor & creativity.
And for giving me the best possible answer for those awkward moments when someone suggests that my books are somehow substitutes for babies :)