We’re very pleased to have Joshilyn Jackson as our guest today on the ball. Her third novel, The Girl Who Stopped
Swimming, was a national bestseller that Entertainment Weekly called a “ghost story, family psychodrama, and murder mystery all in one… a wild, smartly calibrated achievement.” It released in paperback this week. She is also the author of the award winning novels Gods in Alabama and Between, Georgia.
I’m a geek, okay? Not just “a little geeky.” A little geeky would be going to see the new Star Trek movie the day it came out. Which I did. In fact, I drove 40 miles to see the IMAX version, which definitely tips me over into Moderately Geeky. You might let me stay there, if I did not reveal that I left over an hour early to stand in line so I could have the best seats.
That’s irreparably red alert Geek-o-riffic. But perhaps not a terminal case. In my defense, I was not wearing a Star Fleet academy uniform. So. There is that.
ASIDE: I think they should issue Street Cred cards that we Geeks could flash at each other. The cards would showcase our top three nerd-factors, so we would instantly know where we stood in relation to each other on the geek-o-meter. My card would say,
–I’ve been on the internet, surfing BBSes and playing MUDs, since 1996. AND I AM A GIRL.
–My first two crushes were Leonard Nimoy and the constellation Orion.
— I own DVD box sets that feature Xena Warrior Princess. Which I bought to replace my VHS boxed sets of Xena Warrior Princess. *cough*
This card would put me higher on the totem pole then a person who, say, has seen Rocky Horror 411 times, but well under someone who claims to be trilingual because they are fluent in English, Klingon and Linux.
Like most geeks, I am charmed and intrigued by all kinds of supernatural whatnots. Vampires (the kind that eat you more than the kind that want to take their shirts off and kiss you). Aliens. Demons. Witches. And yes, I’ve long had a soft spot for ghost stories.
So I’ve often wondered why I didn’t go that direction when I got serious about writing novels. I guess we all tell the stories that mean the most to us, and as fun as I find movies featuring rubber puppets with big teeth, and as much I LOVE me some Stephen King, most of my favorite reads have been Southerny, gothicy things.
I retain endless love for books like Rambling Rose, Crazy in Alabama, Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café, Paris Trout, anything by Frank Turner Hollon or Flannery O’Connor. Those stories are personal to me, since my roots in the South are deep and go down under the sugar-sand to where things get dark and murky. I love this place. I felt the seven years I spent in Illinois as an adventure, but also as an exile.
Now that I am back in Georgia, I never want to live anywhere else. I think we Southerners are quirky as all get out, and I love us. I love here. And yet some things about my homelands repulse and horrify me, and our hyper-polite attention to manners is spread thick over a long, ugly, and blood-soaked history. Growing up here has influenced my writing more than any other factor.
I do not believe in ghosts, but if you live in Georgia, you’d have to have skin as thick as new bricks not to find cold spots in the rooms of a lot of our older houses, especially in small towns. I find cottages and fields and cemeteries that are clearly haunted by history, if not actual things that go bump and clang. Once, on a rambling drive up through North Georgia, we pulled over to look at the shell of an abandoned church, and the second I walked in, I felt like a cat with 40 foot whiskers—I could feel vibrations all through that place and the hair on my arms stood up like what remained of the floor’d been carpeted in electricity.
In all my wanderings through the South, I’ve never hit that kind of Shivery Something in a subdivision. It’s little lost rural places—where most folks don’t have the homogenizing influence of the internet and HBO and where Starbucks and Wendy’s have not yet appeared on opposite corners—that holds the South’s ghosts now. What we call The New South is becoming just another piece of America, with the same clothes from Target and the same dinners at Chili’s and the same water coolor conversations about American Idol.
Don’t get me wrong—-The New South is better is so many ways. Not least—I’m neither red nor blue, more of a purple, really—but my vote-wasting third party heart soared, watching some of my southern sister states vote for Obama. Not because of or even in spite of his race, but because they thought he was the best person for the job. That’s a miracle.
But seeing how the South has changed made me want to write a ghost story, after all. My kind, more related to The Lovely Bones than, say, Poltergeist. I had a yen to send the ghost of a young girl into one of those Laura Ashley fabric coated bedrooms that populate the ever-more-homogenized gated communities of the New South. The spirit of 14 year old Molly would wake up the woman sleeping there, Laurel Hawthorne, a hyper-conventional wife and mother. Molly would take Laurel to the backyard, to see her own small body, floating lifeless in the Hawthorne’s pool. She’d want Laurel to find out what happened to her, in this neighborhood that is, above all, supposed to be safe.
Worse, Molly would open a door that would let in Laurel’s childhood ghost—the Old South kind, the one that followed her family out of poverty stricken DeLop, Alabama. In order to help Molly and protect her own child, Laurel would have to face all the family secrets and skeletons she thought she’d muffled under Egyptian cotton sheets and shut out with a state of the art security system. I especially wanted Laurel to have to involve her strange, estranged and rowdy sister, Thalia in order to put those ghosts to bed…Thalia is a piece of work and probably my favorite character. I laughed out loud writing half her lines and blushed writing the others.
The Girl Who Stopped Swimming just released in paperback this week. If you aren’t familiar with my work, I hope you’ll give it a try. I think it’s a good summer read. That is, if you don’t mind a few shivers at the beach…
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