I continue to learn from every single writer I meet, and yesterday I had the distinct pleasure of meeting Joshilyn Jackson—author of gods in Alabama, Between, Georgia, and Someone Else’s Love Story—who was at the Newnan Country Club to speak to our Newnan-Coweta Chamber Business Women’s Network. (Helpful hint: arrive early to such lunches and you get to personally stalk the speaker. Ahem.) In addition to meeting an author whose work I have long read and enjoyed, I had the happy experience of having my chicken salad lunch served with a side of writerly inspiration. So I scribbled as fast as I could and filled up quite a few pages in my pocket notebook. Here are some of the things I learned from her.
1. Don’t expect overnight success. “I freakin’ love my job,” Joshilyn said, and it took her a good seven years to find success as a novelist. Her path included initially sending too many query letters, experiencing the dejection of rejection, and actually calling an agent (“The thing you don’t do is call an agent”). But even after she failed to sell her first book, she had a short story placed in a popular literary magazine, and that drew the interest of some New York editors, and … long story short, she got a great agent and eventually sold that first novel.
2. Be ready to support your fellow writers. It’s always fun to hear which authors another author likes. Who is she reading? Joshilyn eagerly cited (and I might have missed a name or two) When We Were Worthy by Marybeth Mayhew Whalen and Leaving Atlanta by Tayari Jones, and she is also a fan of writers Lydia Netzer, Haven Kimmel, and Michelle Richmond.
3. Everyone loves a little humor. Isn’t it great to go somewhere and hear a roomful of laughter? It’s hard to imagine that Joshilyn doesn’t provide some wherever she goes. She had our group of businesswomen quite rapt. At some of these luncheons, not a single question will be asked during the Q&A session, but that wasn’t a problem this time. The questions (and Joshilyn’s answers) kept coming, and more than a few women lined up to chat with her after the program.
4. Characters are important. Joshilyn had a lot to say about characters and considers herself a very character-driven writer. She had a clever way of explaining it too. “Characters drive my car,” she said, but theme and plot are in the front seat and fighting over the radio dial.
5. Writing is indeed a business. Joshilyn says she spends about two-thirds of her time writing and one-third of her time working on marketing, which includes such tasks as posting on social media, speaking, and attending trade shows. And finally, what writer wouldn’t have loved the note she chose to end on: “I take a lot of pride in my craft, and I always try to get better.”