Now, that wasn't an accident. I planned it that way. I looked on her website at her tour dates, found one that was close enough to drive, yet far enough to be... away... and just made a few discreet Google inquiries. Then I found this wonderful place and invited a few friends to join me on a Book-trip. Now here I am.
And I have prizes for some of you!
But I'll get to that. First though, I'd like to give you this present. It's a few questions that I asked Joss to answer, and she did, friends! I'm hoping that, after reading these, you'll fall just as much in stalker-love with her as I already am. So, read on:
Joss, On writing...
dee: Please describe THE GIRL WHO STOPPED SWIMMING, in one sentence.
Joss: The ghost of a drowned girl draws a pairs of estranged sisters together to discover what really happened the night she died.dee: Why do you write? Is it something you have to do, like breathing? Or is it more of a way to pay the bills?
Joss: I write primarily to entertain myself. I’ve always been a story-teller, and I’ve always been easily bored. I hate waiting. And sitting. And driving. And housework. SO I find to fill that time, I tell myself stories. Sometimes the characters in the stories I tell myself get…internally loud. Those are the ones I feel compelled to write down.
Anyone who takes up writing fiction to pay the bills is clinically insane. You do it for love, I think, and then if the money comes, YAY. That’s a gift from heaven--- and readers.
dee: Can you describe your writing process? Do you have a crit partner? Who sees your work before the rest of us? How long does it take you to write a book? To edit?
Joss: I have a read aloud group for short scenes where pacing is a concern. I have a small writing group who reads chapters as I go and gives me feedback. I have one or two whole book readers at the end---one of these, Lydia, has been been my writing partner for over a decade and a half now. Then my agent, who used to be an editor, takes a look. When I have it as tasty and perfect as I can make it, THEN it goes to my editor. I do not like my editor to see the MS with curlers in its hair and crumbs down its front.
It takes about 18 months for me to write and edit a book. I would say 75% of that time is spent on revising, and that’s the part I like. Drafting feels messy, like I am spewing out awkwardly worded ideas. Drafting is how I get raw material, like clay, and then I try to make something worth looking at out of the clay.
Joss: Dee! You must read this ! love the wiki!
No, not all southern writing is Gothic, and I do not think I am a classic total genius deathless Southern Gothic writer like Faulkner or O’Connor, or to get current, the inestimable Tom Franklin. I do use elements of Southern Gothic. For example, in Between, Georgia, the Doll House/Butterfly museum mirrors Bernese’s smug, tunnel-tunnel-visioned, hypocritical inner landscape, and putting a first kiss in that disturbing, alien landscape mirrors the other instance of adultery in the book; That scene is me using The Grotesque.
I think I write character driven fiction that borrows from a lot of genres. I know I use both elements of Southern Gothic writing and an engine from commercial fiction. For example, a murder mystery propels both gods and The Girl Who Stopped Swimming, but neither book is actually a murder mystery. I have very eclectic influences---I read everything from classic literature to classic pulp, from Dennis Lehane to Haven Kimmel--- and I think the mish-mash of influences have a huge hand in the kind of books I write.
Joss: Oh you know – you meet other writers at conferences and such. I am not part of any sort of CLUB, no. Most of my friends are either writers or moms or both. I love that I have gotten to meet a lot of my absolute heros, and I love that they have treated me like a peer. That still blows my mind.
That said, a sense of a community of writers is not as important to me as a sense of community with other moms. I am under no illusions about which of my two jobs is more important, and which of my two jobs will have a more lasting effect in the world. I love writing, I love that my books are published, but my kids are what I will actually leave behind when I slip this mortal coil. My kid’s choices will have a real effect on the people around them. I want to do a good job. I want to raise people who will be kind and happy and strive to do what is right and who will treat other people with gentleness and empathy. It’s the only thing that matters.
Joss: OH, Thalia. She is a love her/hate her character. I think she is hilarious, but I know some readers will want to strangle her. I freakin’ love her—even though I do not ADMIRE her. She flirts with being a sociopath, but where she is capable of love, she does it fiercely and willfully. I am interested in her strange marriage…
By the other two strong women, do you mean Flo from gods and Mama from Between? I see very little of Mama and Flo in Thalia---perhaps all three are more pragmatic than dreamers, but Flo is broken. Mama is physically hampered. Both of those women are shaped by the strictures of their lives, and both are hugely shaped by loss.
Thalia, on the other hand, invented herself out of will and spittle and raw guts. She refuses to let anything shape her. She shapes herself.
Okay, maybe I DO admire her, a VERY little, but LORDY I would not want to be Thalia.
dee: In TGWSS, the romantic relationship is already established. They're married. However, Laurel, with Thalia's help, starts to question everything she knows about her husband and the way that they live. How was writing about an already firm relationship different from the others you're penned? Laurel and David have a history already, they are middle-aged, content in their shared life. How different was that than writing about Henry and Nonny, at the beginning of their love story?
Joss: One of the ways I think of this book is as a love story for married people; this is the first book I dedicated to my husband. gods and Between I dedicated to my parents and my children, because those are parent/child love stories. Romance…hmm. I think marriages are inherently more interesting animals than fresh romances. Complicated, layered relationships with history—and a marriage has its own language.
I wanted elements of romance in Between because Nonny is, at last, at 30, growing up, and finding a mate is part of that. In THE GIRL WHO STOPPED SWIMMING (and in gods, to some extent) I was looking at established relationships and how you find your way back to love in them…or not.
Joss: Mom. Because me and my husband, we made us some amazing babies. I may be slightly prejudiced in their favor, and my assessment of them may be made through fond eyes, but Sam and Maisy Jane seem to me to be the cutest best smartest most delightful children to ever grace the earth.
dee: You are having a Milestone birthday this month, correct?
dee: Do you think this birthday will change how you view the world?
dee: How you view your work?
dee: Has it already?
I may be in a teeny bit of denial. Yes, okay. I am turning forty. I am fine with it. If you need me, I will be upstairs sobbing into a blanket.
I do not know why this one is hitting me so hard. Maybe because I secretly wish I could have 1 or 2 more babies, but alas, we started too late.
dee: How is the Lent thing going? Why did you pick what you picked to give up for FORTY days? You've got some incredible willpower, woman!!
Joss: I gave up sugar last lent, and this year I gave up both sugar and wine. Not ALCOHOL, you understand. I can’t turn 40 without a martini. Or two. But sugar was not going to do it this year.
Before last Lent, I think I ate some sugar every day---I was addicted to it. Last year was a challenging Lent because I craved sweets all the time, every hour, for about the first two weeks. Then I stopped. And I haven’t craved sweets in that same way since. I also do not drink wine every day. But – probably most days, I either have a glass or two of wine OR a dessert. And my favorite thing ON EARTH to eat is a nice shiraz with bitter black chocolate. SO I gave up both.
I think the point for me is to give up something that I will miss every day---it doesn’t matter what the thing is, as long I feel the absence of it, which is what reminds me to pray and focus on things beyond whatever is in front of me. As for me having willpower? Hee! ee!! I have absolutely ZERO self-control, but there is a spiritual component to lent that is stronger than my baby- mouse willpower.
dee: You've mentioned many different drinks on FTK. Do you have an all time favorite drink? A solid standby? Something you know will be good no matter where you are? Are you currently flirting with any new drinks, after your recent trip to NY?
Joss: My all time fave is a dirty vodka martini with extra olives. This last trip to NYC, we made home base an upper west side speakeasy called Prohibition, and I LOVED it there. They have these delicious little miniburgers. Num. They have a “martini” made with Ciroc and blood orange juice, and it is TASTY. I am going to try to recreate it at home.
dee: People die in your books. Usually those people are in Alabama. Do you have a fascination with Alabaman death? Or death in general?
Joss: HA! In my books, people can DIE anywhere, but I do I seem to like for people to be murdered in Alabama…If you are going to be violently killed in one of my books, you almost always have to cross the line into the state that so rightfully calls itself The Beautiful.
In The Girl Who Stopped Swimming, I finally offed someone under suspicious circumstances in FLORIDA, so that was a big step for me, but the shooting all takes place in…Alabama. Even in Between, Georgia, which doesn’t have the elements of a murder mystery, you hear about one of the Crabtree cousins getting in a bar fight and killing someone in Alabama.
Alabama seems to me like the right state for committing murder. All those green hills and quarries---so many places to hide a body. Alabama air smells crisp to me, and violence seems more possible there. I am not sure Alabama is as real a place to me as Georgia and Florida and the other 47 states. I haven’t lived in Alabama since I was a baby, but all my people come from it. I mythologize it more than I do other places.
In the book I am writing now, the main character is from Alabama (She’s actually Rose Mae Lolley, from gods in Alabama, so) but she has lived for twenty years in Texas and California, and for her, Alabama is as dangerous and beautiful and made-up as Faerie. She says, “In Alabama, mushrooms only ever grow in circles, and things happen in threes.” So I am not done with my complicated relationship with that chunk of America yet, apparently. And Rose is herself a bit like my version of the state; she is beautiful and she shoots people.
dee: Will you tell us about where you are in the writing/publishing process right now? TGWSS is almost in stores. Where are you in Rose Unraveled?
Joss: About 1/3rd of the way in and STUCK, thanks! I am not sure if that will be the title. Not MARRIED to it, but it is fine for a working title.
dee: What's it about?
Joss: It’s the story of Rose, a minor character in gods in Alabama, but it is not a sequel. It is more like a companion book. The events in ROSE UNRAVELLED are taking place years after gods closes in 1997. Thematically I am revisiting redemption because I am not done with it yet. I am not sure I ever will be. All it takes is LENT to remind me of how interested I am in that!
I started to work on it when I realized that everything Rose Mae says to Arlene in gods is a lie, and I woke up one night KNOWING exactly why she was really looking for Jim Beverly in that book.
Getting the timeline to work is a little like fitting a puzzle together, and I find I am willing to sacrifice exactness to the book’s greater concerns, if I can make it make sense in my head. For example, in gods, Rose Mae and Jim Beverly are in the same class. In ROSE UNRAVELLED, Rose was a junior when Jim was a senior ---but I think of that as ARLENE’S mistake.
Arlene, coming in as a freshman, saw them as a unit, and put them in the same class---after all, I think back to highschool, I can’t tell you what class everyone I went to school with was in. And in ROSE UNRAVELLED, Rose has no diploma. She dropped out at the end of junior year, so it seems natural that Arlene would assume she was a senior. Meanwhile, I have time lines and charts scribble-scrabbled all over Delta envelopes and notes scattered throughout 3 different copies of gods. Yarg!
dee: When will it be out?
Joss: 2009? I hope?
dee: Isn't it crazy that your newest published book isn't even officially in stores yet, and I'm already begging for the next one?
Joss: No. I do not think it makes you crazy. I think it makes EXCEPTIONALLY pretty.
So. There you have it. Joss thinks that *I* am "exceptionally pretty". She said it. And, I must admit, I am slightly inclined to believe her today. After all, I'm sitting here with this amazing ocean view, listening to the waves crash upon the shore as I look at the pile of signed copies of TGWSS and eat off the majestic cheese plate that I've just made.
What's that, you say? Pile of signed copies of TGWSS? Why yes, I did say pile, didn't I. And pile I meant. See, I was in such a gloriously happy place last night, what with actually breaking bread with Joss before the signing and seeing all of those happy faces at the signing, that I just felt the need to share the love. So, if you don't mind, would the following people please send me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, with "I WON TGWSS" in the subject line, and include your actual mailing address? you don't mind? Good then. Please contact me so I can mail your book. Kristen, Chloe, Gail, Ray, and Tammy. I also have two audiobooks for Andi and Marg. (And I have a confession to make. One of you almost didn't get the audiobook. I almost kept it for myself! But only because I love you, and because Joss brought them, are you going to get them. So you better ENJOY!)
See Joss here? She's probably signing your copy of TGWSS, if you are a winner! And as for those of you that are not getting signed copies, IF YOUR BLOG IS LISTED UP THERE ON THE RIGHT ONLY!, please send me an e-mail as well, with "I WANT A COUPON FOR TGWSS" in the subject line. I will be happy to send you a coupon/gift certificate that will take care of a small portion of your TGWSS purchase. This is not for everyone, you understand. Just for those lovely people that helped me spread the word about this FABulous book by advertising on their blog. Please remember that the books will not be signed. But they will still be FABulous.
Ok, now I have to get back to reading. And relaxing. And finishing this Bloody Mary. It's only my second. Or is it my third? Oh, who's counting?
Keep Turning Those Pages!!