Bookpleasures.com welcomes as our guest, Joan L. Jackson author of Voluntary Chaos and her most recent novel, Just In Time.
Norm: Good day Joan and thanks for participating in our interview.
Please tell our readers a little bit about your personal and professional background.
Joan: I was raised in the small lake community, Silver Lake, Ohio, outside of Akron (LeBron James country—town hero). I graduated from Ohio State Univ. and taught secondary French in Kent, Ohio, then Lake Oswego, Oregon for several years; I went on to manage a French-Tahitian export company in Oregon, which gave me the opportunity to use my French in business (daunting at first), as well as travel extensively throughout the islands of French Polynesia. In L.A. I began writing classes at UCLA.I wrote a collection of short stories, published several magazine articles, then moved on to novel writing, at the suggestion of a professor I had.
Norm: How did you get started in writing? What keeps you going?
Joan: I never aspired to being a writer. A close friend told me I should write because my letters were so engaging, interesting. During a painful time when my son became a heroin addict, it was suggested in Al-Anon “to focus on yourself”, “get busy, you’ll get better”. I started creative writing classes at UCLA and never looked back. Writing was the only time I became so involved that I had no awareness of time passing. I keep going because I have no shortage of material.
Norm: What did you find most useful in learning to write? What was least useful or most destructive?
Joan: Useful: writing is a craft which I began to grasp through classes. Rewrites are essential to hone the craft; editing other’s work, and reading books yet observing how they’re crafted. What can be destructive or harmful is the isolation, avoiding others, relationships.
Norm: Are you a plot or character writer?
Joan: I believe I’m a character writer, dialogue driven. Character development leads to plot and dialogue moves or should move the story or plot forward.
Norm: What served as the primary inspiration for the writing of Just In Time and how did you decide you were ready to write the book?
Joan: The initial inspiration came while writing my 1st novel, Voluntary Chaos, published in 2009. My brother’s character, Steve, is introduced through some dramatic scenes in our Ohio home with our parent in the late 70’s & early 80’s. Some years later, after our parents had passed away and I’d just arrived in Ohio, my brother asked me: “How come you always get here just in time”. The book title was born. I began writing it in 2012.
Norm: Where did you get
your information or ideas for Just In Time?
Joan: Initially from my parents. 10 years into my brother’s illness, they began to accept it wasn’t going to go away. They became involved in parent support groups & NAMI. After their sudden deaths I became the “caregiver” from 2000 miles away. I reached out to my parents’ contacts. Most of all I learned from my lengthy visits to Ohio, living w/my brother day to day, and managing our childhood home gave me more than enough material for my novel.
Norm: What purpose do you believe your story serves and what matters to you about the story?
Joan: My story honestly depicts the ongoing circle of mental confusion and surprising clarity which can be misleading. A family begins to think they can be cured. My story will hopefully give a better understanding of the constant challenges for someone with this illness to perform daily tasks, basic self-care. And most importantly, there is hope that independent living is possible.
Norm: What's the most difficult thing for you in writing your book?
Joan: As a novelist, most of my characters are drawn from people I know. People who might be offended, either by revealing true happenings or those that never happened. I create scenes and characters, invent dialogue. Readers often take what’s written as actual. Sometimes it is, sometimes it isn’t. Their reactions can bother me. But it doesn’t hold me back.
Norm: In fiction as well as in non-fiction, writers very often take liberties with their material to tell a good story or make a point. But how much is too much?
Joan: Too much is the proverbial issue, an oft debated subject. Worry about offending someone close, ie family member, can take hold. Sometimes alienating families. Some writers ask permission. In nonfiction, ie memoir/biography, it might be useful for the writer to ask rather than risk a potential rift. I say it’s up to the writer.
In fiction, often based on writer’s actual experiences, the writer has “permission” to take liberties. That’s what fiction writers do. Narrative nonfiction, a popular genre today, allows the writer the freedom to enhance the drama, tension, to create more impact within a nonfictional story. My novel, to me, is narrative nonfiction. Too much, for me here, is hyperbole (exclam points!), over telling, explaining, not allowing the reader to fill in the blanks and experience the action or words on the page.
Norm: Is Just In Time based on people you know, or events in your own life?
Joan: Yes. My family.
Norm: What was the
most difficult part of writing your book, did you learn anything from
writing your book and what was one of the most surprising things you
learned in writing the book?
Joan: Without planning to, I was surprised at the realization that my son’s drug addiction overlapped with my brother’s mental illness--they’re both lifelong diseases. Abstinence for the addict, meds for the schizophrenic are the only answers for them to lead a “normal”, life. I also more fully recognized the despair my mother felt, now that I’d felt the same hopelessness.
Norm: In general, do you believe that the public is more aware today concerning mental illness and in particular schizophrenia? If not, what can be done to make them more aware? As a follow up, what are some ways in which you will be promoting Just In Time?
Joan: Much more aware today, however the stigma still persists; bipolar is now the most commonly used and heard diagnosis. It’s more acceptable, feels less harmful. While it’s not the same as schizophrenia, which scares people, many of the symptoms are similar: extreme mood swings, hallucinations, etc. Untreated paranoid schizophrenia can lead to violent behavior, homelessness, rage, and constant talking. When treated, they can function well and live alone. Journalists can help in their reporting with the words they choose. The police can restrain w/o excessive force by learning more about the signs of mental illness. I’m promoting my book mainly on social media and bookstore signings. Hopefully a benefit w/NAMI at a book fair in Palm Springs. And more interviews like this!
Norm: Where can our readers find out more about you and Just In Time?
Norm: What is next for Joan L. Jackson?
Joan: A vacation. R&R. Seriously, I have numerous short stories that I’d like to put in an anthology. Who knows, a short story might develop into another novel. Whatever it is, I know it’ll come to me.
Norm: As this interview draws to a close what one question would you have liked me to ask you? Please share your answer.
Joan: My publisher and how I found them. I waited at least a year after I’d finished the book, pondering self-publishing or seeking an agent. A friend in my writer’s group suggested speaking to Brooke Warner, editor/founder of She Writes Press, an indie publishing company, a hybrid of self-publishing and traditional distribution. All women authors. 6 years old and has achieved much acclaim. A month later they were holding their 1st Fall Retreat at The Boulders Resort in Arizona. I went. Perfect timing. I was in.
Norm: Thanks once again and good luck with all of your future endeavors.
Joan: AND THANK YOU!!!