Wednesday, February 8, 2012

The Awful Truth

A mesmerizing tale of a family coping with the revelation of a secret that will change their lives...Jackson's most absorbing book yet, a lush, rich read with three very different but equally compelling characters at its core."
***Booklist Starred review

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: You know people who just--make you laugh so much your stomach hurts? There's goofy funny, but that's not Joshilyn. There's dopey-funny, but that's not Joshilyn. There's hilariously, brilliantly, uniquely and brilliantly funny--yes, that about says it.

I met Joss (Yes, Joss, not Josh, please..) at the South Carolina Writer's Workshop (here we are with a whole crop of writers there) where she cut a swath through the place with her funny stories and incredible insight--and left an entire roomful of people half-crying and half-howling with laughter at the poignant and dramatically told (I mean, with accents) of her first book sale.

Now she's a total hot shot. She really is. I wish I knew how her mind worked, but then again, maybe not. Her books are --well, there's no one who writes like Joss. And that makes every one of her readers happy. Today, I'm brazenly, or as Joss would say: "BOO-KITTY brain-fryingingly flat-out PUSHING like a HUSSY"--or something like that.

Her new book A GROWN UP KIND OF PRETTY is getting the buzz of buzzes. And she's here to day to tell us--it almost didn't happen.

Plus--she's giving away an autographed copy to one lucky commenter!

Brain Tricks

by Joshilyn Jackson

For me, writing has two purposes. First, I write to entertain myself. I like to invent imaginary friends and get them into scrapes. I like to make myself cackle with black humor that I feel vaguely guilty about perpetrating. I never outline; I want the plot to unfold in ways that surprise me as I go. I write, in short, because it is the most fun you can have with your pants on, and it doesn’t hurt that working from home means the pants in question can be saggy knit twelve year old rags coated in dog hair.

But under all that, writing is also my way of exploring the questions that drive me as a human being: How far into the black can you go and still find a light that will take you home? Is redemption possible? What does grace look like in this broken world? Does Love win?

I relish the fun parts, but I am a coward at heart. I will play all kinds of brain tricks on myself to try to avoid the realest part of writing---the part where I go down into the black and salty reaches of my own mental illness to wrestle around with the stuff that matters most.

My new book, A GROWN-UP KIND OF PRETTY tells the story of three generations of Slocumb women. Ginny is 45, her daughter Liza is 30, and Liza’s girl, Mosey, is 15. If you do the math, you can guess that Ginny and Liza want nothing more out of life than to get Mosey to 16 Unpregnant.

Mosey is so NOT that girl. She is a virgin who has never even been kissed, but she has had such vigorous two-pronged relentless helicopter mothering on the issue of sex that when she gets nervous or stressed out, she sneaks dollar store pregnancy tests into the woods and pees on them, just to see that test window come up white and blank and pure---a physical testament that she is not going to make the same mistakes.

When the story begins, Liza, an ex junkie wild child, has had a debilitating stroke. The only thing working for her is water therapy, but she doesn’t have health insurance. Ginny decides to put in a backyard pool and do it herself, but Liza’s sacred willow is in the way. The tree was Liza’s haven before the stroke. She has pressed all her pins from Narcotics Anonymous into the trunk.

When they dig out the tree, they find a silver chest buried down near the edge of the root system---a silver chest full of bones. Human bones.

When I began writing, Ginny and Mosey were the narrators. I alternated between Mosey and her best friend Roger’s rambunctious adventures as they try to solve the backyard murder mystery, and Ginny’s tale of finally blooming at 45, as her attempts to keep Mosey safe send her careening into the arms of the long lost love of her life. It was funny and sexy and fast paced…and utterly heartless.

One of my writing partners called me on it—how desperately I was hiding from the real work. She said, “You are so determined to keep Liza from talking that you gave her a stroke to shut her up. She is the chewy black nougat at the center, and you have to give her a voice or your story is all fluff and buzzes.” That was so tough to hear, and my first reaction was, “SHUT UP! NUH-UH. YOU ARE DEAD WRONG AND ALSO SHUT UP.”

I was mad---even hurt!--- but now I am so grateful to her!

I gutted the book, and made room for Liza to go on a wild ride through her own black past, seeking the truth and her lost language, and excuse me for being disgusting, but I love this book now. I am proud of it. I think it’s more than just a fun ride, and I want every person ever born on the planet to read it.

I think that if my friend hadn’t called me on my cowardice, I would have written an empty book that would have made me eventually quite ashamed.

I can’t imagine I am the only coward in the room….

Do you have a Lydia in your life who calls you out when you play brain tricks on yourself? Whats the hardest truth you ever had to hear? I have a hard time telling people hard things --- I am SOUTHERN and incapable of bluntness. Luckily my friends know me well enough to extract the point when I walk around and around the issue nudging and hinting. What’s the worst truth you ever had to tell a friend, and how did you handle it?

HANK: Ah, Joss, that's a tough one. I am a huge coward, and have some idea that things will fix themselves. Which hardly ever works. I DO think--would I want someone to tell me? And most often, I would. I'd tuck in a bra strap, or mention spinach in teeth, and even stick my toe into manuscript criticism. I guess the fear is when the toe turns into a whole foot. In my mouth.

The worst truth? Hmmm. Let me think...How about you, Reds? Or--what do you wish someone had told YOU?

And don't forget, A free copy of A GROWN-UP KIND OF PRETTY to one lucky commenter!


New York Times Bestselling novelist Joshilyn Jackson lives in Georgia with her husband, their two children, and way too many feckless animals. She is the author of five novels: gods in Alabama, Between, Georgia, The Girl Who Stopped Swimming, Backseat Saints, and, in January of 2012, A Grown-Up Kind of Pretty. Her books have been translated into a dozen languages, won SIBA’s novel of the year, twice been a #1 Book Sense Pick, and been shortlisted for the Townsend prize. A former actor, Jackson reads the audio versions of her novels; her work in this field has been nominated for the Audie Award, was selected by AudioFile Magazine for their best of the year list, and garnered a Listen Up Award from Publisher’s Weekly.

She is hard at work on a new novel titled SOMEONE ELSE’S LOVE STORY, expected in 2014.


  1. What a great post. And clearly another author I must read!

    Once, years ago, my best friend and I weren't getting along and I didn't know why. She likes to avoid difficult conversations, and I realized that, while I was used to talking about relationships with boyfriends (to excess in their view, I am sure...), I just didn't have the language to talk about issues between Jennifer and me. Somehow I brought it up and we cleared the air, and are still best friends, 35 years now. But it was tough!

  2. First off, if you haven't read any of Joshilyn's books, I can HIGHLY recommend them!
    2nd, Oh this question hurts in a big way.

    I have/had a friend who, in retrospect, probably is a high functioning Asperger's. Very pretty, but limited social skills, whatever she is thinking comes out her mouth, had problems talking to more than one person at a time, would go on and on about her life...etc., etc., etc., But in the course of knowing her, I got passed the outside, and got to know the brilliant warm, loving person behind.

    However, she was not well liked in our community. I defended her constantly, and tried to get people to see the person she was underneath, the person that I loved. And she would say to me, "I don't understand why people don't like me. What is wrong with me?"

    So one day we are discussing the situation, and I'm trying to be diplomatic, and she kept asking and asking , and I finally told her all the things I listed above. And she said to me, "Oh so while I've been thinking that our friendship is a mutual thing, you've been seeing yourself as my protector. Am I your friend because you like me or am I your friend because I am your good deed?"

    ANd I didn't have an answer. And I still don't really. But talk about awful truths...Sorry to go on and on!

    Loved AGKOP! Looking forward to seeing you in Orlando!

  3. Enjoyed this post and will look for the latest book. I read the first one and then "Joss" dropped off my radar. Don't know why. Dee

  4. Joss, so glad to have you visiting JRW today! Hank introduces us to the most interesting people...

    How long did it take you to accept the feedback about silencing your character?

  5. So great tomsee you here, Joss! I've seen nothing but raves for this book.

    Kudos to Lydia for her courage and concern, that led her to speak up. And kudos to you as well, for pushing past the hurt and defensiveness (two good friends of mine) and taking a deep beath and looking at things with new perspective. That's hard.

    I am in such horror of hurting people's feelings or causing embarrassment, I have always been afraid to say the difficult stuff. It took a really tough time in my marriage to learn I have to say the important things, and ask for what I need.

    I can't wait to read this.

  6. What an interesting post. Guess I've found another author to try!

  7. I can only say the difficult stuff if I feel like I've been invited to. The most difficult, and yet rewarding, conversations have been with a person struggling with her weight. She battled bulimia as a teen, then took a turn into alcoholism, fought her way out for two years, slid back for eight months, and has now celebrated her 30 month anniversary of continuous sobriety. However, she's 5'10" and weighs 110 pounds, works out constantly, and eats frosting, apples and cereal almost exclusively. She speaks openly about her issues, and one day she mentioned that she hadn't had her period in over six months. That was a final straw for me - I talked to her about her weight and how she was damaging her body. I'm at the opposite end of the food/weight spectrum, and the conversation was an eye opener for both of us because there were far more similarities than differences. She started seeing a doctor and got some nutritional advice, as well as a weight gain plan. It scares the crap out of her to gain weight, but she's increased by a few pounds and, despite major changes in her live, hasn't backslided.

    Now, all of that said - READ THE BOOK! It's fantastic, my favorite of all of Joss's books. I happened upon gods in Alabama 3 1/2 years ago and quickly grabbed up the others. Her blog is an absolute riot, too. (Please don't enter me in the drawing - not only have I read it on the Kindle, but I ordered a signed copy through her Virtual Book Signing. Someone else should have the opportunity to enjoy it!)

  8. AH..Yeah, I'm so terrified..I wonder if we don't say things to others because we want them to like us. And then--

    Well, I'll tell someone something small--like I said, spinach in teeth, and yesterday my intern had a piece of lettuce in her hair. That, I'll say.

    But on a small level--do you correct peoples' grammar? Or word usage? I can never decide about this.

  9. I am really looking forward to reading this book, Joss. Would love to be the Lucky Commenter.

    When I was writing my first book, a book of case histories, it was during a marital power struggle with my husband. One of my first readers, who knew of my issues at the time, noticed that very many of the women profiled seemed to "have the support of her husband". It was actually pretty funny. I did a LOT of rewriting.

    Best of luck with this new book!

  10. You've got to love how the font changes. I posted this..and when it went up, it was all the same size.

    This is a CONSTANT struggle between me and the forces of Blogger. You see who wins. Oh, la dee dah.

  11. I love Joss's books. I can't wait to read this one.

    I've always had a terrible time telling anyone anything difficult. I think it's getting a little easier as I get older.

    The one thing I wish somebody had come right out and told me was what a jerk my (now ex-) husband was. Took me forever to figure it out for myself, because I kept thinking it was all my fault.

  12. Ah, Julie...sometimes there are things we're not ready to hear..and wouldn't believe if we DID hear, right?

  13. What a great post. I've had that same experience at first frustrated by on-target criticism. THis book sounds right up my alley!

  14. Best book I have read in along Saints!!

  15. In response to Hank's question--I used to correct my husband's grammar but have long since given it up. My intentions were good, but he resented it and, to be honest, some lapses in grammar haven't affected his career. I'll continue to be a born editor (although that's not my job) and wordsmither, but my husband is off-limits in those areas.

    Joss, I look forward to reading your new book!

  16. Welcome, welcome, Joss! I picked up God in Alabama at a house where I was visiting and fell in love with it, but since I had to leave it there and my memory's shot, I didn't know who wrote it. (I know, as writers we hate to hear this.) It was only when Nancy Pickard led me to TLC that I found you again.

    I have two critique partners. We've been meeting for years, and we will call each other out in order to make the books better, so I'm fortunate that way.

    Before I tell someone something they might not want to hear, I tend to ask myself if it's worth losing the relationship. Because that can happen. Julie, if someone had tried to tell you what a jerk your ex was before you were ready to hear, you'd probably have dropped the friendship.

    Oh, good, my captcha is "beati." A sign that we are all blessed?

  17. And Hank, if you save your text down to Rich Text Format before you copy into Blogger, you'll avoid those annoying font changes--or at least, most of them. Blogger can never be wholly well-behaved. xoxo

    And this captcha is"durtyp." LOL

  18. In my day job as a lawyer, I've had a fair amount of practice telling people things they do not want to hear. Not just clients, either. I serve on some non-profit boards and often am asked to be part of difficult discussions. Apparently my colleagues think I do the direct thing well.

    In my personal life it helps that I am married to a mediator. Not much hides under our joint emotional rug.

    In my WIP, I had a similar experience to yours, Joss, having. sidestepped the opportunity to develop a particular character. The scenes between this character and my protagonist were nothing but lost potential. I covered my ears when the first few beta readers told me I had to go deeper. One finally told me so bluntly I could not ignore it. Back to the rewrite desk I went when I thought I was(i.e., wanted to be) done there.

    Ha! My captcha word is shill.

  19. Welcome to Jungl Red, Joss --

    I have many Lydias in my life -- worse yet, I've been Lydia in at lest one (former) friend's life.

    But isn't it the truth that so often that thing that niggles at you about a manuscript in process, that you think you're going to get away with, is the one thing that your hopefully not so gentle early readers will call you on? I hate it when they ask: WHAT ARE YOU AVOIDING?

    And I gotta ask, what's the story behind your interesting first name?

  20. This post makes me wonder what I'm overlooking in the WIP -- because we all miss something, right?

    When I was younger I would say anything -- have scarred ankles to prove it -- but hope to have learned some tact over the years. Still, when to speak is a dilemma -- some great examples in the comments -- thanks for speaking up!

  21. Hi Joss! Welcome to JRW. I have to agree with the cowards. There have been several times when I should have told a friend a hard truth, but I reasoned that they already know in their heart and don't want to hear it from me.

    Today's capchas are fun. Mine is worledu (does that mean spin learning?)

  22. “You are so determined to keep Liza from talking that you gave her a stroke to shut her up." -- for so long a metaphor for my life, Joss. Then came Stephanie to tell me about it. We've been closest friends since. Stephanie can be diplomatic, is often diplomatic but, I'm guessing, not with good friends.

    I am so happy to see you here today, Joss, and I look forward to reading your new book. xo

  23. took a while. Lydia agitated for quite some time with me ignoring here, and then one day she put it terms of liza not getting to have a voice, and that clicked home in the way hard truths do.

  24. Juliie..oh ya I have a strict policy...I never criticize a friends husband or her dog. Some relationships you just cannot get in if the husband was cheating and I knew it or being abusive I. Woukd speak up...I have in the past.

  25. Hi Joshilyn,

    I'll be a new Joshilyn Jackson reader when I pick up your novel. Looking forward to it!

    When it comes to telling the truth, I'm inconsistent. Most of my friends would say I'm pretty confrontational and blunt. And I can be -- with perfect strangers. An example: In the dog park. A guy raising his hand to his dog. I yelled at the guy for all to hear.

    And if I'm cranky with you, I'll tell you about it. I'll also mention the bra straps and spinach teeth.

    However, I don't like to hurt people's feeling either, so when something's truly emotional and delicate, I tend to tiptoe around it. One of my fears is that if I'm truthful, the person in question will turn back around and tell me a big truth--and hurt my feelings. I tread carefully lest my truthfulness bite me in the ass.

    Apparently, I can dish it out, but I can't take it. :-)

  26. PS: i love the photo of you holding the copy of A GROWN-UP KIND OF PRETTY with matching drink!

  27. I have some hard things to say to someone very dear to me. . .and I'm STILL a chicken. But this has made me think about it. :)

  28. The more I hear about this book the more I canNOT wait to read it!

    I'm firmly on the coward side...but I will gently and kindly correct people if they say "irregardless."

    (I am a hoot at parties...)

  29. I can't wait to read the book! And, I retired from 37 years with the federal government and got a contracting job with DoD as a writer/editor. I get PAID to tell people about their grammar errors! It's a great job - somebody's gotta do it!

  30. I have a friend I met in college who I can always, always, always count on to confront me when I'm headed somewhere I shouldn't be going. I do the same for her, and we are strong friends for exactly that reason: we don't pull any punches and we hit in the tenderest spot that needs to be noticed.

    One time I was acting out in life (hard to explain without going into my and other people's issues), and I was sailing along, thinking life was grand. We were long out of college by that point, and I wasn't really talking to her (biggest indicator that one of us is doing stuff we know we shouldn't be doing). She called me up one day and said, "I know you're doing something you're ashamed to tell me about, and I want you to stop it." When the situation was reversed, I have returned the favor to her and let her know to get her head out of the non-sun-shiney place and start thinking!

    It's like having accountability that doesn't sugarcoat anything that you know you need to hear about but no one else will just come out and say. It's hard to find, but when you hit upon a friend like that, you know that you've struck gold.

    I can dance around an issue if the friend requires it, but I prefer to be blunt and just get it over with. My husband's working on getting published, and I'm used to writers' tables (when I used to write more), so I also tend to be a blunt critic of writing. If something's not working, I say, "What do you think you're doing to this lady? Don't you know her better than this?" or something like that.

    Heck, it's kinda how we met (online) -- he asked for critiques of a short story, and I had been reading his blog, so I emailed him the world's longest critique. ;~) He still married me after we'd been friends for a few years.

    I can't wait to get my hands on this book once you've signed it! Woot! If I win the extra, I'm sending it my friend. :-)

    ~Jessica (the celt)

  31. Nancy JO--that's the life!

    And Paulabuck, that's's truly difficult for me to resist correcting people. I mean, I'D want to know, right? But I don't think they do...

    Jessica--great story! Thanks for visiting...

    (Tomorrow, the Reds are chatting about our dads...hmmm...)

  32. Joss, I've loved all your previous books and I'm so looking forward to reading this one. Also enjoy your witty blog, Faster Than Kudzu.

    Being Southern, it's very hard for me to tell some big truths and hurt anyone's feelings. I'm lucky enough to have a Lydia, and her name's Carol--a wonderfully honest first reader and great friend since our high school days.

    Hank, I'm still laughing over the lettuce in the hair remark! You come up with some good ones!

  33. Several friends told me after my divorce that they never did "see" me with my ex, a good man, but not a good match. Then as I dated following the divorce, a friend said to her husband after meeting my latest, "we really need to find Mary a good man to go out with." I think I might have benefitted from having a good matchmaker . . .
    Friends also used to run interference to keep others from taking advantage of me. I resolved to toughen up, but they said they'd rather I stayed sweet and let them handle it . . .

  34. Well, on two separate occasions, many years apart, I returned to work from a lunchtime walk with bird poop in my hair AND NOBODY SAID ANYTHING. It would have been SO nice if someone had spoken up! The first time it happened, I was sitting at my desk reading over a report I had written, and absentmindedly running my fingers through my hair. Just as I discovered the sticky goo, my boss walked into my office to ask me a question.

    Joss, I am working my way through your books. All I can say is "wow!" I look forward to reading the ones I haven't gotten to yet. I sure wouldn't mind winning one! (Hint, hint...)

    Deb Romano

  35. OH, Mary, tht's so difficult. I told a colleague once that I was worried about the guy she was dating. I was very hesitant about it, but I knew the man better than she did..and I saw exactly what he was trying to pull, and I decided I'd feel terrible if I didn't warn her.

    It was early in their "relationship," and she insisted I was wrong.

    They later married. I was stll horrified.

    They later divorced, very unpleasantly and for all the reasons I'd feared, and she thanked me for warning her.

    Oh! My captcha word is "Press" !

  36. Deb--they didnt tell you about the bird poop??? Oh. Gosh, I promise, I would have.

    Maybe they really didn't see it?

    (Lynn--you cannot make this stuff up! xoxo)

  37. Deb, bird poop? Oh, Deb, I promise I would tell you.

    Hank, your captcha was "Press"? That captcha is getting smarter every day!

  38. Yes, I love captcha.

    Now, its emper. (Or...)

  39. Hank, it's just your unbridled lust for power coming out in your captcha, that's all! ;-)

  40. And the winner is: Jessica the Celt! Jessica--email me at h ryan at whdh dot com with your address!

    See you all tomorrow...when we all discuss whether father really knows best..

    And Joss--you're amazing! xoxo All the best with this book and many more..

  41. I've loved everything you've written, Joss, and this one is brilliant! You always astound me, and I adore your work -- and you.

    Oh, and I'm not in the running for the signed copy, just so's everyone knows.

    I find myself saying "The hard thing to do is the right thing to do." Generally that means going to gatherings I don't want to attend, but it works in lots of other ways too, and adding Liza was brilliant, even if it was hard!

  42. Fran..the hard thing to do is the right thing to do. Oh. I love it. Thank you.

  43. Joss, I'm delighted to meet you, to hear about your books -- and I will track them down for my TBR stack. Great post.

    Great conversation today around the Jungle Red water cooler. Brave souls, Lydia and all of you.

    I'm ashamed to say, I corrected everyone's grammar when I was a kid. My parents had been correcting me growing up -- didn't we all want to know the 'right' way? Well... no. Nope. They didn't. So I learned (eventually and for the most part) to exercise a little muscle called restraint a/k/a Curb Tongue. Energetically it turned into feeling gracious and accepting. Funny how that one worked.

    Then back in about 1982 a boyfriend told me a hard truth. He said, Avi your problem is you have too many right answers. Whoa! Being right was wrong? But Sanehi was very bright and trust-able, and this had the ring of truth. I believed him. After many tears and some soul searching I understood I had been using 'being right' to come between me and connecting with others. My being right had an edge to it, like superiority. Oh no. I was devastated to see my arrogance and insensitivity.

    When I have a position now called 'I'm right,' I see my choices: Be right (like get the other person to acknowledge I'm right), or open my heart. Often I find I've been shadow boxing with stupidly small details, of little or no importance. With an important issue, I can express it as my opinion -- and sidestep the who-gets-to-win argument.

    I'm still finding my way with writing through these spaces. Whew! I sure hope I have a Lydia to give me that zen stick when I need it. (Be careful what you ask for...)

    Thanks for telling your stories here today, it's been inspiring. xo

  44. YAY! I can't believe it, and this is exactly the perfect way to end a hard workday. :-D Thanks to you and Joss for the chance to win and the book!

    I just emailed you, too.

    (My captcha is "mutsug," which...does that just mean "I can't believe I've won!" in captcha language?)

  45. VIKING (or celt)! I can't find your email..please send again to h ryan at whdh dot com

    thank you! Hank

  46. I just re-sent it. The subject is "I really won?! Yay! (trying again)" for the second email.

    Jessica (the celt)