6 Questions for Joshilyn Jackson

The local novelist on why she loves the AJC Decatur Book Festival
Photo by Troy Stains
Photo by Troy Stains

Novelist Joshilyn Jackson has read at every AJC Decatur Book Festival except one. (And at that one, she moderated a panel.) The Decatur author will continue the tradition during this year’s festival with a reading from her latest novel, The Opposite of Everyone, on Sunday, September 4, at 5 p.m. at First Baptist Decatur Sanctuary. She spoke to us about why she loves the festival, her current book, and what she’s working on next.

Why do you think the Decatur Book Festival is so successful?
Atlanta has a literati. We’re a reading town. It was big gap that we didn’t have a literary festival. Decatur Book Festival stepped in to a space that wanted to be filled. The way the festival has been run, it’s always been so diverse. There’s tracks for everybody—if you’re interested philosophy or popular fiction. The festival has always been very inclusive. I moved to Decatur because of this book festival.

Who are you most excited to see this year?
They get people I always want to hear, like Carolyn Parkhurst. She’s probably one of my favorite novelists on the planet. When I found out she was coming, I volunteered to moderate a panel. And this year, they’re doing this thing called #READdifferent, where you’re asked to step outside of your comfort zone. I am a big novel person, but this year I am going to follow the spirituality track.

Your latest novel The Opposite of Everyone blended genres like procedural, coming of age, and myth. How do you get a grasp on so many different themes and styles?
I am always using engines out of books from different genres. A lot of times I will use a murder mystery, but I’ll layer in a family drama. It’s because I am such an eclectic reader. I grew up reading The Secret Garden, To Kill a Mockingbird; I read all of those coming-of-age books you would expect I would read. But I had a brother who was older, and he was into pulp, H.P. Lovecraft, Conan the Barbarian. And my mom was a reader, so I read F. Scott Fitzgerald when I was 12. I stole and read Roots when I was 10, which maybe wasn’t a good idea. I think that’s why I write in so many genres. It makes it hard for people to market me, but it works. That’s exactly why I love this festival so much because I am such a huge reader, and it brings so many things into one place.

In the acknowledgements of your latest novel, you thank your yoga teacher. How did she inspire the book?
Astrid Santana, who teaches at Decatur Yoga & Pilates, is one of the best teachers I’ve ever had of anything. The book sort of started because she would say, “You’re about to do 90 minutes of brutal yoga in 100-degree heat, so let’s start with a story.” She would tell these stories from [Hindu scripture] the Ramayana, but the way she would tell them would be very Atlanta. It was urban stories set in oral tradition with these very old poems that were Eastern. I got very interested in that. When I started reading about [the Hindu goddess] Kali, it became very clear [Opposite protagonist] Paula was Kali, so I had to stop the book and start it over. It was a lot of reading and research. These myths are stories that are so true that it doesn’t matter if they happened or not, but they keep getting told because they tell us who we are.

What are you working on next?
I just finished a book. I am in edits right now. It’s about a female comic book artist, which is very male-dominated industry, and she has a really bad day at Fan Con (which is secretly Dragon Con). Her past sort of rises up and smacks her in the face, so she gets really drunk and takes a black Batman to bed. She gets pregnant, and then she finds out her grandmother is dying and goes to Birchville, Alabama, [modeled after Dadeville] to help her clean out the place and finds human remains in attic. It’s a murder mystery that goes back to the Civil War, but also has history and comics.

What’s your writing process like?
It takes me between a year to two years to write a book. I go somewhere on retreat for four to five days and don’t come back without 20,000 words. They’re awful words, but I have some shape and some images to revise. At the end of revision, there might be 1,000 words, and then I’ll go away again and write the next 20,000. It’s not efficient, but usually I go to a friend’s house or my writer’s group rents a cabin in the north Georgia mountains. I probably go on retreats three times a year. 80 to 90 percent of it is revision.