20 Sep Episode 177: #AudioWriter with Joshilyn Jackson
Joshilyn Jackson doesn’t just write best-selling thrillers. She narrates them, too. Should we?
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LINKS FROM THE PODCAST
#AmReading (Watching, Listening)
I Like to Watch: Arguing My Way Through the TV Revolution, Emily Nussbaum
Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World, David Epstein
Gretchen, Shannon Kirk
The Better Liar: A Novel, Tanen Jones
Lady in the Lake, Laura Lippman
Little Shop of Stories, Decatur, GA
Our guest for this episode is Joshilyn Jackson.
She is the author of:
This episode was sponsored by Author Accelerator, the book coaching program that helps you get your work DONE. Visit https://www.authoraccelerator.com/amwritingfor details, special offers and Jennie Nash’s Inside-Outline template.
If you enjoyed this episode, we suggest you check out Marginally, a podcast about writing, work and friendship.
Transcript (We use an AI service for transcription, and while we do clean it up a bit, some errors are the price of admission here. We hope it’s still helpful.)
KJ: 00:01 Hey all. As you likely know, the one and only sponsor of the #AmWriting podcast is Author Accelerator, the book coaching program that helps writers all the way through their projects to the very end. Usually Author Accelerator offers only longterm coaching and they’re great at it, but they’ve just launched something new inside outline coaching, a four week long program for novelists and memoir writers that can help you find just the right amount of structure so that you can plot or pants your way to an actual draft. I love the inside outline and I think you will too. I come back to mine again and again, whether I’m writing or revising. Working through it with someone else helps keep you honest and helps you deliver a story structure that works. Find out more at www.authoraccelerator.com/insideoutline.
Jess: 00:57 Go ahead.
KJ: 00:57 This is the part where I stare blankly at the microphone like I don’t remember what I was supposed to be doing.
Jess: 00:57 All right, let’s start over.
KJ: 00:57 Awkward pause, I’m going to rustle some papers.
Jess: 00:57 Okay.
KJ: 00:57 Now one, two, three.
KJ: 00:57 Hey, I’m KJ Dell’Antonia,
Jess: 00:57 and I’m Jess Lahey.
KJ: 00:57 And this is #AmWriting,
Jess: 00:57 with Jess and KJ.
KJ: 00:57 #AmWriting is our podcast about all things writing. Long things, short things, book proposals, entire books, short articles, blog posts, YA, pitches, whatever we can think of. And as I think most of you know, #AmWriting is really the podcast about sitting down and getting the work done.
Jess: 01:43 I’m Jess Lahey, I’m the author of the Gift of Failure and an upcoming book about preventing substance abuse in kids. And I write for the Washington Post and the New York Times and various other outlets.
KJ: 01:53 And I am KJ Dell’Antonia, author of a novel forthcoming next year and also a parent-y type book How to Be a Happier Parent, former lead editor and writer for the New York Times Motherlode blog But I saw someone in one of our reviews accusing us of having a nonfiction focus on parenting writing. To which I was like, ‘What?’ I mean that has certainly been our professional writing, I guess our guests probably see it that way. But not today.
Jess: 02:27 Not today. I’m so excited. Can I introduce? Cause I’m super excited. Today our guest is Joshilyn Jackson. She is a New York Times and USA Today best selling author of nine novels, including one that I am (spoiler) not finished with, so be careful – called Never Have I Ever, it is so good. But one of the big reasons we wanted to have Joshilyn on today is that she does something that almost no one really does, which is narrate. She narrates her own fiction audio. And we know a lot of people, including ourselves who narrated our own nonfiction, but fiction is a whole other game. Not only does she narrate her own fiction, she’s really, really good at it. She’s won a bunch of awards. She was nominated for an Audi award, she was on Audio File Magazine’s best of the year list, she was an Audible All Star for the highest listener ranks and reviews. I mean that’s huge. And then I also have to add, because near and dear to my heart, she also works with an organization called Reforming Arts. And she has taught writing and literature inside Georgia’s maximum security facility for women. So we have that in common as well. Welcome so much to the show, Joshilyn. We’re so excited to talk to you.
Joshilyn: 03:56 Oh, thank you for having me. I’m really happy to be here.
Jess: 03:59 We love talking to authors, but one of the topics that has come up a lot for us is narrating audio books. Not only because Sarina Bowen (one of our frequent guests and sort of almost another host) has a podcast about audio books. Specifically, I’m a huge audio book fan and we’ve been talking a lot lately about people who choose to narrate their own fiction cause it’s really hard. So we would love to talk to you about that today, but we’d love to start with sort of just how you got started with writing. What’s your story?
Joshilyn: 04:40 Oh, I’ve always wanted to be a writer. When I was three, I published my first novel using the Crayola stapler method. My mom helped, and to be fair, it wasn’t a very good book. Yeah, I’m dating myself, but when Walden Books came out with Blank Books, I was in middle school and I would buy a Blank Book and write a novel into it and the novel would be just however many pages the Blank Book was. And I was a huge Stephen King fan. I would write these books, I remember one was called Don’t Go Into the Woods and all these girls who looked a lot like girls who were kind of mean to me in middle school, one by one went into the woods and never came back. It’s terrible, but really derivative Stephen King novel.
Jess: 06:54 Alright, so let’s skip ahead to your adult life. How does writing become a part of your adult life?
Joshilyn: 07:02 I mean it’s my job, is that what you mean?
Jess: 07:08 Yeah, exactly. In terms of your professional work. I know one little thing about you that I would love to interject here, a bit of trivia. You got plucked out of a slush pile. How did that go down?
Joshilyn: 07:22 Yeah, I didn’t know any better. So what I did was I loaded up 160-something query letters into a shotgun, pointed it at New York, which is of course insane, don’t do that. If you’re getting ready to query a book query 10 – 15 agents, if you don’t get a 20% return of agents saying let me see a partial or your manuscript, your query is not good enough and it doesn’t matter how good the book is. So to shoot off that many at once is just to burn all your lottery tickets when you don’t know if your query is good enough and is representing your book to a point where somebody is going to take you seriously. Out of the 160-something queries I got one request to look at the work and that was my agent.
Jess: 08:12 Wow. And that was the one that got pulled out of the slush pile?
Joshilyn: 08:31 There’s thousands of those they get everyday. And it wasn’t the best query, but he was interested in the idea. So he asked me to send the manuscript, and I did, and we ended up working together.
Jess: 08:42 And how did that first that first book deal go for you? How did that all come about?
Joshilyn: 08:47 Oh, it was a long time coming. So, he was my agent and he was interested in me. We had a couple of phone conversations, I sent him some short stories I’d had published. And he shopped two nonfiction book proposals, a children’s book series, and two novels for me. At that point I was pretty ground down about it. That’s a lot of rejection, and a lot of years, and a lot of work. So I just quietly said to myself, ‘You know, I’m not gonna break up with my agent. I’m not going to have this big dramatic thing. I’m just going to stop sending him stuff, I’m gonna stop calling him, I’m gonna stop bothering him because I’ve done nothing but cost this guy money. So, you know, I’ll just let it go and New York can suck it. I’m going to write cause I can’t imagine not writing, but I’m done trying to be published. I was butt hurt, I picked up my toys and went home. And that Christmas he sent me a present, and a letter, and it was like his family Christmas letter. And at the bottom, he had written a little note just to me and he said, ‘When am I gonna see something from you again? You really are one of my favorite writers.’. You don’t say that to somebody who’s never been published. You say you’re so talented. You say you have so much potential. You say, I think we can sell this. You don’t call an unpublished person, one of your favorite writers. So I sent him the manuscript I’d been working on and he sent it out, he said this is going to auction. And he sent it out to I think eight places like saying, this is an auction, you have two weeks. And we had a preempt in two days and he made me turn the preempts down. I was not going to turn that preempt down, I was so excited. It was an offer of actual like folding for a book I’d written. And he was like, no, we’re turning this down. And I was like, okay, technically I’m the boss of you and we’re not turning it down. He said, ‘It’s cute that you think that, but I’m the one who understands this industry and we’re turning it down. We turned it down and he sent word out to the other houses that we had turned down a preempt. And everybody had 48 hours to get their best offer in and five of them showed up to bid.
Jess: 11:27 That’s fantastic. I emailed with shaking fingers in return when I heard that we had a preempt that was for an amount of money that I was like, ‘Whoa.’ I remember typing back. ‘Oh, okay. I trust you.’ But in my head I was like, I totally don’t trust you, we should accept this. I saw that you were part of a book called Don’t Quit Your Day Job: Acclaimed Authors in the Day Jobs They Quit. So what was the day job you quit?
Joshilyn: 12:07 It’s a job that I called tote monkey. I’m dating myself again, but there was a car parts place that had these dot matrix printers and when the stuff was all down on the floor from the printer, I would take a huge stack and peel those rinds off and then separate it like white, blue, pink, goldenrod, white, blue, pink, goldenrod. And then I’d file each of those colors where they had to be filed. And by then the dot matrix printers would have other huge stacks lined up and I’d just take them and peel them is all I did.
Jess: 12:43 Were you so sad to have to quit that job to become a professional writer?
Joshilyn: 12:48 I had dropped out of college to be an actor and eventually was starving and had to take this day job. I called my father and I said, ‘I want to go back to college.’ And he said, ‘You can go back to college until you get a B, I’ll pay for it until you get a B.’ So I went back to college and I never got a B, that job taught me that I didn’t want to be doing that job.
Jess: 13:18 So the acting stuff leads us to the big questions that I’m dying to ask you about how you got started narrating your own audio work. And did that start from the beginning? Was that something that you specifically trained to do? Please tell us all about it. Because, and I have to sort of spoiler here is that some of the conversations we’ve had is about like, Ooh, that’s kind of interesting. I wonder what it would take to be able to narrate our own fictions. So what does it take, Joshilyn?
Joshilyn: 13:48 I don’t think it’s necessarily a good thing most of the time when authors read their own books, to be honest. Because it is a really specific skill set. And I did go to school in theater and I did live off the grid for awhile as an actor and a playwright. And most of the time when I made money, it was doing voice acting and I got some pretty good gigs. I’ve done voice acting for local commercials and radio spots. But I’ve also done stuff for a documentary that PBS was doing, stuff like that. So I had a theatrical background and when my first novel came out, while the narrator of that novel is a wildly, promiscuous murderess and people always think that your first novel is autobiographical, which of course my first novel was, but as you know from earlier, it did not sell. This was my third novel, so it wasn’t autobiographical. I am not a wildly, promiscuous murderess, for the record. And I wasn’t sure how much I wanted to be associated with her anymore than I was. You know, with a debut, that’s the first question you get – so how much of this is your life? And so, I didn’t really want to do it. My second novel, I figured I had that distance. Plus I also thought Arlene should sound really young and I don’t think I’ve ever sounded particularly young. She has to sound young for you to forgive her. But my second book, I really thought I could do it. So I went to my editor and I said, ‘You know, I used to be an actor and I’ve done a lot of voice acting, do you think I could read the audio book?’ And she said, ‘Oh, no, don’t do that.’ And I said, ‘Okay, but I really have done it before.’ And she was like, ‘You know, I was with Warner Books and they were the most theatrical of the audio books. Some audio book companies want a real straight read with just very light differentiations between the voices and some of them want it to be really theatrical.’ This was a very theatrical one that wanted big differences in the voices and they put musical tracks in and stuff. So I said, ‘Well, can I audition?’ And my editor said, ‘Yes, you can audition, but you’re not going to get hired. But, sure.’ So, I had a friend named Darren Wong, he’s actually an author, too. He wrote The Hidden Light of Northern Fires, which is a great book. And he used to run an audio book magazine called Verb, it was an all audio magazine. So he had a home studio and an edit board and professional grade equipment and he helped me edit it and set levels. So it was a really good recording and I did a fight scene with five different men having a fight. And I did a comedic scene so they would know my timing and I did straight narration with energy so they knew I could get them through the landscape descriptions or whatever. And then after I turned that in, like two weeks later, my editor called and she was like, ‘Oh yes, you can read your audio book.’ So I started reading my own and the first one did well. And so after that, the next time we got a book contract, they had a little clause in there that said, I had to read the audio book, it was already in the contract and I thought that was really flattering. And now I read for other people who aren’t me, too.
Jess: 17:32 I had heard that actually because as I said, our frequent guest, Sarina Bowen, has a podcast called Story Bites with Tanya Eby. Tanya has her own studio and they tend to really pick apart narration. Especially since Sarina picks the narrators for her books and she’s very picky about that and they raved about your narration. So they were one of the reasons we found out about you.
KJ: 18:03 You were episode three of their Story Bites Podcast. You’ll want the rest, but if you want to taste it for free that’s one way to do it.
Jess: 18:22 Well, and Sarina also raved about The Almost Sisters. That was a book that she really enjoyed and we trust her judgement. What I meant was you guys have read The Almost Sisters, I have not yet. I’m going to now though because the first of Joshilyn’s books that I have read is Never Have I Ever, and I am so deep in and what I wanted to say is I’m listening to the audio and I also have the hard cover of the book, as well. And one of the things I wanted to say about your narration there is you have two very different women in particular that are sort of at the heart of this book. And I have to say that what I was struck by from the very beginning is your depiction of Rue, one of the two sort of main-ish characters. And you do such a brilliant job with her because I’m not even sure what it is you’re doing because I don’t have the technical words to describe it, but there’s something in her voice that renders her a completely different human being than your protagonist who has such… I’ve heard for various audio book narrators that they’ll often have recordings of their characters or are you able to do that just sort of as you go through?
Joshilyn: 19:56 I don’t use recordings, I do use my husband. I met him doing black box theater. We were working at a regional repertory theater together. The first time I ever saw him, he was learning to stage sword fight – that is hot. So we’ve known each other since we were teenagers. I was 18, I think he was 19. And he is a theater guy, his masters degrees is in stage management. So when I’m getting ready to do an audio book, I go through and set voices with him and he says, ‘No, that’s not right.’ Or, ‘Oh, that sounds just like her, but can you take it just a little deeper? Drop your register just a little bit.’ So he works with me on the characters and it’s good to have that because my voice sounds different in my head. So he’s sort of my feedback loop. And then I’m an outside enactor like I was never method, where you go inside, and try to find some memory, and attach it. I’ve always been like, if you put your body and face into the shape, you’ll feel the thing that your body is in the shape of. So the way I set characters is with a stance and a facial expression. So if I get into a certain position and hold my face a certain way, that voice just comes out because that’s what I have the character attached to. So I’m sure it looks bizarre to my sound editor and director when I’m in there doing a scene with a bunch of different people talking as I fold myself into different shapes and make these weird facial expressions, but it works.
Jess: 21:30 That’s really interesting. What that reminds me of – I was lucky enough to see Bradley Cooper play The Elephant Man. And at the very, very beginning, he walks out to the middle of the stage to center stage as just a guy, as Bradley Cooper. But he becomes the character by changing his body shape, that’s how he does it. And he does it right in front of you so that you can see it happen. And it’s a really cool thing. I think you should totally set up some videos so we can see what it looks like. .
Joshilyn: 22:00 I would rather not see it myself. I don’t want to feel self conscious about it because it works and maybe I don’t want to see that.
Jess: 22:10 Well, so the next question I have then is now that you do all this narration, do you hear your characters as you write them?
Joshilyn: 22:19 I guess, but I always have. And I mean, the kind of stuff I’m talking about with setting voices, that takes a lot longer for a book I didn’t write. For a book I did write, I know what these people sound like in my head and I just try to approximate that with the voice and the range that I have. Which you know, is getting harder as I get older. In another 10 years I probably won’t have the vocal elasticity to do my side gig anymore. So I’m trying to do a few more because I love it. I’m doing a few more a year than I used to, just to be able to do it while I can. Because you really do need some good elasticity and I’m not willing to give up drinking or fried food entirely and coddle my vocal chords to try and get another five years out of them.
Jess: 23:11 Can you tell ahead of time when a line is not going to work? KJ and I talked about this because we were lucky enough to be able to record our nonfiction books. And other friends and advisors have done the same – where you hit a line (and I used to be a speech writer as well) and I remember specifically I wrote a speech for a governor and we got to rehearsal with the prompter and there was just a line and he was like, ‘This is never gonna come out right.’ It’s just not coming out of my mouth right. Do you ever hear that when you’re writing or do you just not worry about that?
Joshilyn: 23:44 I definitely it when I’m writing because I read aloud to myself as a writer. Like especially dialogue, I’ll read it out loud while I’m writing. I mutter and talk while I’m writing. And if a paragraph doesn’t sound right or I’m having trouble with it, I’ll read it aloud and sometimes I edit aloud. I’ll just change it mid-sentence to make it sound better and then just write down what I heard myself say.
Jess: 24:12 I will say, over my 20 years as an English teacher, I have told my students over and over and over again, if you want really good editing, if you would like to really get your paper clean, you’ve got to read it out loud.
Joshilyn: 24:24 So smart. And just speaking as an audio book reader, as a person who reads them aloud, and I listen to them obsessively. You can tell the people who don’t read their work aloud from the people who do. Not that it’s that huge of a difference where now the book’s not good or anything like that. But like people who read them aloud have so much less unintentional, internal rhyme. When you’re just looking at words, you can write a sentence like Mike took the bike down the street with his friend Rike and they ate a pipe. You don’t hear it cause it’s visual and you don’t see it. But then when you were listening to an audio book, I’ll hear a string of rhymes and I’ll be like, ‘That person did not read their book out loud.’
Jess: 25:07 Well, and actually when we interviewed Steven Strogatz about his book that just came out recently about calculus that’s just beautiful. He said that he dictates when he writes and he found his last line of his book because of the rhythm, cause he was walking at the time. And so that rhythm then made it into his writing because it was spoken in the first place and not because it was just his fingers dancing across the keyboard. So I find it fascinating. And Sarina Bowen also uses dictation software as well and our guest Karen Kolpe that we interviewed just recently also uses dictation software. So, I’m always curious about the difference between dictation and just writing with your hands and being able to hear those things and how that changes your work. So that is fascinating to me. It had never occurred to me that maybe I would be writing in rhymes unintentionally.
Joshilyn: 26:02 Yeah, I’ve never tried to use dictation software, but maybe I should because I listen so much. It’s weird; I tried to be a playwright for a while and I’m not a very good playwright to be honest, because I’m not willing to leave that room. Like a play should be a framework where a director can come in and do things and then there’s room for actors to come in and do things so that it’s a different play every time. And I’m just obsessively (and I’m not saying I have control issues, but I have control issues) and writing a play, I’ve just always felt I was trying to lock stuff down and make it be the way it is in my head. And it felt like the whole front of my head would heat up. Whereas when I’m acting or when I’m writing a novel and I am in control of what I do, even though of course you’re being reactive, I feel like it’s coming from the occipital lobe. It feels like it comes from a different place in my brain.
Jess: 27:08 That’s so interesting. There was an interview a long time ago that I heard with Michael Ondaatje and he said he does not hear his work at all, he only sees it. And it’s very difficult for me, I don’t hear my work either. I do nonfiction though, so maybe it’s different. But for me it’s very visual and not sound related. So it’s always fascinating to get into the head of someone who writes differently. Like I just don’t hear it.
Joshilyn: 27:34 Yeah, that’s interesting. If I’m engaging it just in the terms of the visual, it’s not going to get where I need it to be.
Jess: 27:45 One of the things you did for for this most recent book (a central thing in this book is scuba diving) and this was something you had never done before, right?
Joshilyn: 27:56 No, never.
Jess: 27:59 So how did you even, not having had the experience, I just assumed when I listened to the book that Oh, that’s something she does and isn’t that cool? She knows what the words are, but how did you even know that was going to be a thing if you had never done it before?
Joshilyn: 28:15 Amy was always a scuba diver, I wanted the metaphor. The ocean was so perfect for what I was doing in terms of like, (if you’ve ever dropped your sunglasses off a boat, you know the ocean can hide anything) you’re never getting those back. In terms of being like this massive place where you can put things that you are just gone forever and also being kind of an entity with its own breath, so that your secrets are sort of housed in this living system. There were lots of metaphors that I wanted that scuba diving gave me and so I watched YouTube videos and did some interviews and I was like, I’m not getting this. I went to my husband and I said, ‘Hey baby, it’s about time for my midlife crisis and I need to learn to scuba dive for this book. I think my midlife crisis is going to be scuba diving. Would you like to have it with me?’ He’d already had his midlife crisis – he learned to play the bass and joined a band. But he was like, ‘Yeah, I’ll do yours with you. That sounds really fun. If the other choice is an oiled cabana boy, I say scuba diving.’ So we started diving and it really changed the book. I knew that Amy (Amy’s my narrator, the protagonist, the scuba diving instructor), she’s the one who has sort of the dark past and she’s entirely reinvented herself. And you know, I wanted that baptismal imagery – go into the water, come up a different person. She’s very self-destructive after she does this kind of terrible thing, she almost doesn’t survive it. she has so much guilt. And then she sort of navigates her own understanding of grace and she reinvents herself and finds a life she can sustain. But I needed something to be the pivot that she uses to save herself. And I tried a bunch of different things and scuba diving was also in there. And then after I was diving, I was like, I don’t need anything else. This is what saves her. Because it’s so, it’s like yoga plus plus – it is meditation, it is prayer, you cannot project into the future, you cannot worry about the past, it grounds you entirely in the present. You actually use your own breath. Like once you have a good technical ability to dive, once you’ve practiced enough and you’re not fussing with your equipment all the time and you really understand how to get neutrally buoyant in the water, you actually change levels in the water and aim yourself just using your own breath. So it’s your breath inside the ocean’s breath. It is, it’s also like super fun.
Jess: 31:02 I loved the idea of someone finding freedom in an activity that many people would find completely claustrophobic and closed in. So there was something really interesting about scuba diving as a metaphor. (as I also scuba dive) Something that a lot of people wouldn’t be able to bear because it would feel too close. For her, it’s exactly that that gives her the freedom. I really loved that metaphor. Well, one of the things I wanted to say about this book – so KJ and I talk all the time about people’s ability to a) stick the landing on books, and b) surprise us. Well, the surprise thing I can attest to because I was listening to it as I was before I went to sleep last night and I had headphones on and my husband was reading something else and I got really upset and I said, ‘Oh, well, duh. I figured that out a while ago.’ And then you totally tricked me, you completely messed with my head. I thought I was ahead of you and you were so ahead of me. And I love that. I mean, the ability to be surprised is huge, it’s especially huge for me because there’s so many books (KJ can attest to this) that I have thrown. I’ve joked about throwing books across the room because I get so angry at formulas that make me feel dumb as a reader. And you made me feel like – you had me.
Joshilyn: 34:45 Oh good. I’m glad I enjoy a plot twist.
KJ: 34:49 How much of that do you set up ahead of time and how has that evolved over the course of nine books?
Joshilyn: 34:59 So this was my first book that is really leaning hard into domestic noir.
KJ: 35:05 I would agree that this is twistier, and I can actually only go back to The Almost Sisters, but that one’s pretty twisty, too.
Joshilyn: 35:15 Yeah. I always use the engine of a murder mystery or a thriller (sometimes to greater degrees than others) plot twists because I enjoy it. But, really the only thing that’s changed in terms of genre is the stakes and the pacing. The stakes are super high, I don’t know how to explain it, it really is just about stakes raising. It’s still my voice, my kinds of fierce, female characters who act instead of reacting, my thematic things I’m always interested in, you know, I’m always writing about redemption and motherhood. So, I would agree with you. But for me, the plot is the thing that comes last. The plot is the cookie. I understand what I want to address thematically very, very well. I understand these characters down to their bones. Sometimes I think about characters for years before I write them. I’ve been thinking about Rue and for a vehicle to write Rue for more than seven years and she was a hard person to place because she’s difficult. You wouldn’t want a place in your life. She’s a nightmare, but she’s a very interesting nightmare. So, I know the characters, I know the stakes, I know the themes, and the plot is the cookie. I try to play fair, too. Like something will happen and it’ll really surprise me and then I go back and edit and put in clues and foreshadowing and I’m good at it. I have a facility for this. I think as writers, we all have things that we’re good at and things that we really struggle with. I’m good at crafting those kind of plot twists. That’s the thing that comes easily to me, because it’s fun and I’m surprising myself, too. And I try to play fair so that at least some readers will catch onto what I’m doing. Or if you go back and read it a second time, you’re like, ‘Oh, right there. She practically tells me right there.’ But you slide it into these little moments where you’re describing a car and nobody’s paying attention or you know, there’s all kinds of tricks you can do to misdirect. It’s like a magician’s sleight of hand with coins. They do everything, they just got you looking at the wrong place when they do the thing.
KJ: 37:35 I’m at the stage of a revision where I have a list of about six things that I just need to go back and make sure are properly set up. And it doesn’t take that much, you know? I did read something recently where a character very suddenly took a turn that I really was like, ‘What, what?’ There was like one warning of this and none of the warning came from the character. So it yanked me, and you have to find that line where you’ve given people enough preparation that they aren’t pulled out of the story by wait a minute, is this consistent with what happened before?
Joshilyn: 38:22 Flannery O’Connor says you have to get to an end that feels inevitable, yet surprising. And I love her.
Jess: 38:36 It’s so funny you guys are saying that about fiction because that’s what I’m working on right now. Even in nonfiction where I have two chapters and they’re sort of two chapters that really go together and one was submitted with my proposal, so I wrote that a long time ago. And then the other one I just finished. So I have them now side by side because I need to plant seeds for one in the other, in order for the reader to be led a bit down a path and for things to at least feel like I’ve prepared them a little bit for what’s coming next. And I love that part of the process. I love it. You know, with nonfiction it’s not really about hints, but it is, it is anyway, it’s narrative hinting, even though it’s nonfiction. I love that.
Joshilyn: 39:23 Yeah. I think that’s really actually cool that that translates into nonfiction. That’s really interesting.
KJ: 39:33 If there aren’t a bunch of through lines, then you just get a bunch of different stories.
Jess: 39:47 Well, and it’s funny that you were talking about hearing and I said I don’t hear my work, but that’s actually not true because I always try to end on a major chord. You know, there’s that sort of resolution to a major chord at the end where your reader can go, ‘Ah, okay. Yeah, it feels good.’ And so I do hear that little bit. I try to come back to a major chord at the end of a chapter so that I leave my reader feeling at least not like they’re, you know, hanging there on a dissonant note and that I’ve just dumped them off the edge. So there is a little bit of sound there.
KJ: 40:20 Let’s hope we’ve left our listeners on a major chord at this point. It’s think it’s time to shift gears and talk about what we’ve been reading.
Jess: 40:32 Please share with us – you first.
Joshilyn: 40:35 I always have a book and an audio book going. And can I do a little commercial for Libro FM? So the way I get my audio books is through a service called Libro FM, which it’s just like any other subscription service. You know, you get a credit every month, and your credits never expire, and it costs exactly the same, but it benefits your local independent book seller. You choose the store you want to shop through. So of course I’m all over that. So I was listening to Gretchen by Shannon Kirk and this is some next level WTF. Like I loved this book. It is so smart. Like I don’t even know if it’s a thriller, it verges on horror. But, then I loved the character so much and the character of Gretchen – I dream about, it’s really good. It’s about a young woman who’s on the run with her mother and they have hidden identities and they move into this little shack. And then they have to leave and they’re on the run again. And the girl next door is named Gretchen and she finds herself involved in this (puzzles are a big metaphor) game with Gretchen that has these very far reaching consequences.
Jess: 42:02 I’m on their website right now getting this book, I’m so excited.
Joshilyn: 42:08 And then the book I just finished reading with my eyes is called The Better Liar by Tanen Jones. It doesn’t come out till January. Here’s what I liked about it – it’s a thriller, it’s suspense, which I really like, but it’s fun. Like the plot is fun and twisty and sinister, but she’s doing something so smart and so emotionally resonant just under the surface. I went to it for like a fun, twisty read and it is – I got that. But at the end I was not just like, ‘Whoa, what the twists.’ I was like, ‘Whoa, Holy crap.’ There was an emotional surprise. It’s about a woman who has to appear with her, estranged sister to claim her inheritance and she has reasons for needing the money. And when she goes to find her sister (who’s a troubled person) she finds her body, but she meets somebody else who looks like her sister, but who has secrets of her own, and they go to try and claim this inheritance. It is great.
Jess: 43:26 Oh, that is a great premise. I’m going to have to buy that one, too.
Joshilyn: 43:32 I just finished both of those and I just started Lady in the Lake by Laura Lippman and it’s great so far, which is completely unsurprising because I’ve never read a Laura Lippman book and gone, ‘Oh well that was disappointing.’ She’s so good and I’m loving it so far.
Jess: 43:49 Okay. KJ, you’re up. What have you been reading?
KJ: 43:52 I have not been reading anything, to be honest. I’m in the middle of something that I like, but I’ll wait until we finish it. I’m in the middle of Range by David Epstein, which we’ve talked about before. I’m rereading, I’m doing a lot of rereading right now. I have a list of like fresh books I read this year and I was thinking I should make a list of books I actually reread, too.
Jess: 44:17 I have been joking around on our text trio that I have been (because my brain is so occupied right now with getting to my deadline and this book) that I’ve been doing a lot of re-listening. And my re-listening choices have been Sarina Bowen books. And so every once in awhile I’ll text Sarina with some observation about some characters she wrote like eight years ago. And it’s just really comforting.
KJ: 44:46 It occurs to me that I did forget to mention that I might have just read a book called Never Have I Ever by Joshilyn Jackson.
Jess: 44:57 I was just about to say that exact thing.
KJ: 44:59 So, I did just read an entire novel. Which normally would’ve been what I put on #AmReading. And it is great, and it is twisty, and it is turny, and it is satisfying, it’s really satisfying.
Jess: 45:16 I really, really love it. And while I have you, I do have to ask you one quick question, Joshilyn, did the title come first or did the premise come first?
Joshilyn: 45:25 The premise came first. In fact, I had almost finished the book with a completely different title that I don’t remember, it wasn’t a great title. And my friend Sarah Gruin was like, ‘Why aren’t you calling this Never Have I Ever? I was like, ‘Oh, I don’t know. You’re so right. That’s obviously the title. Nevermind.’
Jess: 45:48 I love that because ever since I started the book that was kind of one of my first questions. I wrote it on the inside flap – which came first, the cover or the title or the premise – because it’s great. Both of them are great. I also have been listening to Emily Nussbaum, who’s the television critic at the New Yorker. She has a book called I Like To Watch and it’s all about being a television critic, which is something I don’t think I would do, but I’m fascinated by the job. I’m fascinated that the job exists and I’m a huge fan of Emily Nussbaum to begin with. So I’m loving this and this is a book that you can read in chunks because it’s sorta like essay, more essay format. And it’s really lovely, which is not surprising because Emily Nussbaum is a lovely writer, so I recommend that so far, I’m not done with it either. Alright. An independent bookseller?
Joshilyn: 46:42 I live in Decatur, Georgia and we have so many Indies. They’re my favorite things to visit when I travel. I live like four blocks from EagleEye, so that’s my walk up and get a book independent. And then down on the square there’s a store called Little Shop of Stories, which is a kid’s shop. It’s like an independent that just sells children books and a lot of YA, but they have a super curated adult section and sometimes I get overwhelmed at the bookstore and I like to just go to a Little Shop where you only have this many books to choose from and they’re all handpicked by hand sellers who read obsessively all the time. You’re not going to get a bad book there, so I can just go in there and it’s kind of relaxing to have less choices.
Jess: 47:33 Visiting bookstores all over the countries is like our sport, that’s one of our favorite things. And then, and then I have to help KJ winnow down what she’s purchased cause they won’t all fit in her suitcase, that kind of thing. She’s even worse when she goes to England. She goes to England and then brings back like a box of books with her, it’s ridiculous.
KJ: 47:55 Well it’s so fun when you’re somewhere else and you can find books that have not been published here. I had a lovely time with my Canadian cover of Educated. And then I was sitting by someone at the pool this summer and I looked over and I was like, I’ll bet they’re from Canada cause they’re reading Educated with the good cover, not the cover that I didn’t like, which the American publisher put on it.
Joshilyn: 48:18 What does the Canadian cover look like? Not the pencil?
KJ: 48:22 Well, by comparison I thought it was less evocative than the children’s school desk set in a middle of a field in front of the mountain that she actually lived near. To me, it worked a lot better than the pencil, which while there wasn’t anything wrong with it could go with a lot of books. Like say Jess’s book…
Jess: 49:25 Alright, well man, we have gone long, but I have to admit I could talk about this stuff forever. You’ve been such a great guest and so generous with your time and thank you and keep narrating. See, this is another fun moment where now I have a new author, I loved this book, and now I get to go back and listen to your other books. I have those queued up now. So I’ve got some listening to do, I’m so excited.
Joshilyn: 49:56 Thank you very much for having me on. This was really fun.
Jess: 49:59 If people would like to find out more about you, where should they go?
Joshilyn: 50:03 Joshilynjackson.com, spelled my weird way. I’m also on Instagram and the Twitter.
Jess: 50:12 We’ll link to all of those places in the show notes for this episode of the podcast. And again, thank you so much. And for everyone who is listening, keep your butt in the chair and your head in the game. This episode of #AmWriting with Jess and KJ was produced by Andrew Parilla. Our music, aptly titled unemployed Monday was written and performed by Max Cohen. Andrew and Max were paid for their services because everyone, even creatives should be paid.