I fell in love with William Ashe at gunpoint, in a Circle K. It was on a Friday afternoon at the tail end of a Georgia summer so ungodly hot the air felt like it had all been boiled red. We were both staring down the barrel of an ancient, creaky .32 that could kill us just as dead as a really nice gun could.
The opening lines of Someone Else’s Love Story belong to Shandi Pierce, a young, virgin mother who is determined, if she can dodge bullets, to confront the secrets of her past. That choice will impact her friends and family, as well as the above-named William, currently at war with what feels like a dark destiny.
And their author is Joshilyn Jackson (pronounced JOSSilyn), a NYT-bestselling author, award-winning audiobook narrator, actor, MFA instructor, and all-round firecracker—which you’d know if you’ve ever taken time to visit her blog Faster than Kudzu. From her home in Decatur, Georgia, I’m so glad Joshilyn’s agreed to answer my questions about writing.
Jan: “Bullets” is the title of Part I of SELS, and it begins with the Emily Dickinson quote about hope being “the thing with feathers.” The dark humor and theme are familiar to those of us who’ve read your work. Why are you drawn to redemption stories? Are they inherently funny?
Joshilyn: Story is how I explain the world to myself. I have a hard time sitting still through a sermon, but I will listen to a parable all day long. I tend to engage with big questions, not to answer them, but to explore them.
Some of the questions that always interest me: What are the mechanics of redemption? How far can we go into the black, and what tiny lights can call us home? What does the imperfect, broken, sometimes ugly human modeling of perfect grace look like?
I think I touch on all these questions in every one of my books to some degree or other, and then each book has its own question, too. More on that in a second, but I don’t think redemption stories are inherently funny. I think they are inherently heartbreaking, and humor is my favorite coping mechanism. As a bonus, it can get people to read books on topics they might otherwise avoid like plague. But it has a downside, too. It can make me easy to dismiss.
Last week at a tradeshow dinner, one bookseller was recommending Someone Else’s Love Story to another. She said, “You’ll like it. It’s hilarious. A very fast-paced, light read. [pullquote]…humor is my favorite coping mechanism. As a bonus, it can get people to read books on topics they might otherwise avoid like plague. But it has a downside, too. It can make me easy to dismiss.[/pullquote]
The second bookseller asked what the book was about, and the first one began trying to explain. It was such a list of horrors: desperate grief, attempted suicide, extremely damaging sexual felonies, loneliness, terror, the willingness to trade your own life for another human being’s life.
She eventually petered out, and there was a pregnant pause. Then the second bookseller said, “That doesn’t sound hilarious.”
The one who had read it said, “It was, though. But…” She turned to me, slightly irked. “Dammit. Now I have to go back and read it again.”
Shandi grew up in a home with religious tensions, where minor decisions, such as meal choices, could ignite familial wars. For the most part, she’s learned to avoid spiritual conversations. Yet it’s her virgin birth and other “miracles” which push others into growth and accommodation. However accidental, is this a book about how America might heal its divisions?