Wednesday, Mar 17, 2010: Dedicated Issue: Grand Central

Grand Central Publishing: Titles by Joshilyn Jackson

Grand Central: gods in Alabama by Joshilyn Jackson

Grand Central: Between, Georgia by Joshilyn Jackson

Grand Central: The Girl Who Stopped Swimming by Joshilyn Jackson

Grand Central: Backseat Saints by Joshilyn Jackson

Returning characters! Riveting storytelling! Family secrets!

Editors' Note

Dedicated Issue: Backseat Saints

In this issue, with the support of the publisher, Shelf Awareness takes an in-depth look at Backseat Saints by Joshilyn Jackson, which will be published by Grand Central June 8. Stories about Jackson and her editor, Caryn Karmatz Rudy, are by Laurie Lico Albanese.

Backseat Saints coming in June from Joshilyn Jackson

Books & Authors

Bookseller Raves for Backseat Saints

"Backseat Saints stirs up the hollow ache of a torn mother/daughter relationship--the struggle, the tired smiles, the puckish verve, the reaching but without ever really reaching, and draws so near to the soft echo of 'Dear mother... I love you.'"--Frank Sanchez, Kepler's Books, Menlo Park, Calif.

"Jackson writes with a picture perfect Southern voice in all of her previous novels, and this one is no different... she takes a subject that is uncomfortable and gives us a great story. Her characters, richly drawn as always, are quirky, charming and full of various flaws. Pick this one up and you won't want to put it down!"--Karen Ford, McLean and Eakin Booksellers, Petoskey, Mich.
"Backseat Saints is a vibrant and truly satisfying read following an unpredictable path in finding and giving forgiveness, trying to outrun bad choices from Alabama to California while finding things are not always as they seem when it comes to family. Joshilyn Jackson has once again brought her fresh perspective and joyous words to life full stop, as we join Rose on her life changing adventure with her three-legged dog Gretel, her yellow cowboy boots and a few saints in tow."--Calvin Crosby, Books Inc., San Francisco, Calif.


How many have you read? Joshilyn Jackson

Joshilyn Jackson on Her Tough Characters

Joshilyn Jackson's characters tell lies. They lie to their mamas, they lie to their husbands, they lie to themselves. They even lie to Jackson! Indeed, Backseat Saints was born from a walloping pack of lies told by a secondary character in Jackson's debut novel, gods in Alabama.

"I never stopped thinking about Rose Mae Lolley after she appeared as a minor character in gods," Jackson says. "I couldn't figure out why she'd stuck with me until it hit me. I woke my husband up in the middle of the night and said, 'Baby, I got it! Everything Rose Mae told me before was a lie.' "

Jackson's husband--the "really really really nice" best friend/boy-next-door whom she married following a brief foray into traveling-troupe acting and atheism--hushed her back to sleep, but Jackson's storytelling spark had been ignited. Soon Rose Mae Lolley was telling her true history in rollicking, terrifying and hilarious scenes that take her on a breathtaking odyssey from Alabama to Berkeley, toting along her daddy's old gun pieces in her purse.

"She's an unreliable narrator, but she doesn't know she's lying," Jackson muses. "She's not deceitful. She doesn't tell the truth to herself."

A funny, fierce writer who hails from the Deep South and lives with her husband, children and a slew of pets in rural Georgia, Jackson has written four novels featuring heroines who find themselves in sticky or even dangerous situations that require resilience, intelligence, ferocity and sometimes less-than-ladylike grit to survive.

Speaking quickly and with lots of parenthetical asides that always loop back to her original point, Jackson describes her writing process as one in which her characters often live in her imagination for years before she writes about them. 

"I pull those people out and play with them and after a while they get really solid in my head," she says. "At some point one of them will become louder and that's when I know I'm ready to start."

Jackson is gifted at writing opening lines that pack a wallop. Her debut novel begins, "There are gods in Alabama: Jack Daniel's, high school quarterbacks, trucks, big tits, and also Jesus"--a sentence that paved the way for a five-house auction and ultimately landed her at Warner Books with editor Caryn Karmatz Rudy.

Backseat Saints also starts with a bang: "It was an airport gypsy who told me I had to kill my husband."

"I want the opening to say something about the person and to set me off running," Jackson says. "I want to go in and set something on fire; I blow something up and the fallout from that begins a trajectory that ends up with change. I'm not interested in people who don't change, I'm interested in people who change and grow."

Rose Mae Lolley has a lot of growing to do in this book as she flees from an abusive marriage back into a past that's also painful and damaging. Domestic violence is pivotal to the plot and to the character's growth, but Jackson is not an issue writer, and she's clear that this is not an issue book. Rather, Backseat Saints uses a simultaneously weak-yet-strong woman to explore universal questions of identity, self-discovery and the parent-child bond.

Perhaps fueled by her own escape from a fundamentalist church upbringing (eventually replaced by a "less rules-based faith") Jackson finds her writing frequently returns to the subject of homecoming.

"Homecoming--to me, homecoming is almost always tied to the idea of redemption. Sometimes home isn't there for you and sometimes it's not what you think it was... but I'm interested in traveling back through your past in order to find out who you are."

While Jackson cites Flannery O'Connor as a major influence; adores Barbara Kingsolver; and calls Faulkner "my boyfriend," she both resists and defies categorization as a Southern writer.

"I just want to tell the stories that I want to tell in the way I want to tell them," she says. "I am a Southerner; it's way deep down in me. I have really passionate and ambivalent feelings about the South, and that has come through in my books. I like to take Southern tropes and open them up into people."

Jackson's network of good friends and cohorts in the book world spans the continent and includes bestselling authors as well as a number of booksellers, most notably Jake Reiss at Alabama Booksmith in Birmingham, Ala., and Calvin Crosby, manager of the Books, Inc. store in Berkeley, Calif.

Of longtime friends Sara Gruen, Karen Abbott and Lily James, with whom she holes up several times a year for writing retreats, Jackson says, "Those crazy ladies, they're my posse." For her long-time editor, Karmatz Rudy, and agent, Jacques de Spoelberch, she's full of praise and admiration. And on booksellers and librarians, she's positively evangelical.

"I can't even tell you the gratitude and universal, unabated love I feel for librarians and handsellers," Jackson says. "They have given me this job I always wanted. I always wanted to be a novelist. I got to keep this job because people put my books into other people's hands. That's the only thing that builds readership."

That, and maybe the unwrapping of a good, solid lie to set off a bomb on the first page of a novel.

Praise for Joshilyn Jackson novels

Bookseller Raves for Backseat Saints, Part 2

"Joshilyn Jackson is such an amazing writer. She can take you to places you don't necessarily want to go, yet make you enjoy the ride! Backseat Saints runs parallel to the story in Jackson's outstanding first novel, gods in Alabama, as the ghosts of Rose Mae's absent mother, violent father, and her current, dangerous husband threaten her future. Jackson's deft plotting, unfailing ear for dialogue and unforgettable characters will hook you from the very first page.--Carol Schneck, Schuler Books and Music, Okemos, Mich.

"Jackson writes like a woman on fire, hooking you in the very first sentence ('It was an airport gypsy that told me I had to kill my husband') and demanding total absorption straight through to its ballbuster of a conclusion. There is nothing predictable in Backseat Saints except Jackson's strong voice and her genius at the art of storytelling."--Ellen Ward, FoxTale Book Shoppe, Woodstock, Ga.

"Fans of Joshilyn Jackson's charming wit and refreshing voice will love Backseat Saints. Filled with extraordinary characters and an engaging plot, her latest novel will keep you reading late into the night!"--Karin Wilson, Page & Palette, Fairhope, Ala.


Why the Editor Loves a Waitress Who Spits into a Cup of Cocoa

Caryn Karmatz Rudy is drawn to character-driven books, and Joshilyn Jackson's protagonists certainly are characters... as in wacky, risk-taking folks whose stories unfold with humor, suspense and drama coming at the reader with lightning speed.

"These are characters that people love," Karmatz Rudy says of Jackson's creations. "Strong and unusual people who you might not want to be, but you definitely want to know."

Karmatz Rudy is an executive editor at Grand Central, a division of Hachette, but she's been editing Jackson in hardcover since she acquired the author's first novel for Warner Books in 2003. Karmatz Rudy, who commutes to her Manhattan office from Philadelphia, where she lives with her attorney husband and their two children, kept her place at Warner when it was acquired by Hachette/Lagardère, and has edited all three of Jackson's subsequent novels.

"I loved gods in Alabama right away," Karmatz Rudy says. "Joshilyn has a special talent, a strong woman's voice that defies ordinary description: laugh-out-loud funny in some places and quite poignant in others."

While Backseat Saints features a heroine who appears as a minor character in Jackson's debut novel, the book is a stand-alone. You need not read one to appreciate the other, nor must they be read in a specific order.

"I was a little nervous about attempting a followup to such a beloved book, but then Joshilyn pitched it to me as, 'It's Rose Mae Lolley from gods in Alabama, and every single thing she told us in that book is a lie,'" says the editor. "How can you resist a book that comes to you that way?"

Listening to Karmatz Rudy extol Jackson and her work, one gets the feeling she thinks the novelist is somewhat of a "character" herself.

"There's always a bit of Joshilyn in her characters and she's horrified when I tell her 'that's you,' " Karmatz Rudy says with a laugh.

Misplaced motherhood, family violence and conflicting dualities--dual natures, double families and polar-opposite siblings--are some of the complex themes that run through Jackson's books. It's precisely these dark subjects paired with funny protagonists that keep readers and booksellers returning for more.

Jackson's first two novels were No. 1 Book Sense selections, and her third, The Girl Who Stopped Swimming, was a New York Times bestseller. Jackson has been championed by independent and chain booksellers alike, and Backseat Saints is garnering fantastic early feedback.

"There's a lot of talk that this is her breakout book," Karmatz Rudy says, pointing to a strong cover image featuring a photo by Cig Harvey that telegraphs the power and sharp originality of the storyteller and the story.

In addition to a large readership in the South, where she was born and lives, Jackson has strong pockets of support in other parts of the country, including "rabid fans" at Seattle Mystery Bookshop, Seattle, Wash.

Jackson's fans are many and "kind of cult-like," Karmatz Rudy says, and they flock to her blog Faster Than Kudzu faster than... well, kudzu. For those who didn't grow up in the South and aren't familiar with this fast-growing vine, it's a Southern phenomenon. Kind of like Jackson herself.

"What she's writing is so universal and her stories are so captivating, she appeals to people who are fans of good writers and good writing, not just Southern readers," Karmatz Rudy says. "You could pluck these characters from this book and put them in another part of the country and just change their names. There's some ferocious writing in here. Her scenes burn through the page with their intensity."

One of Karmatz Rudy's favorite scenes involves a young, pretty waitress who's caught spitting into a cup of cocoa she's about to serve.

Want to know more?

That's exactly what Karmatz Rudy is counting on.

Bookseller Raves for Backseat Saints, Part 3

"Joshilyn Jackson has once again created a vivid picture of contemporary life. The trials and turmoil Rose Mae Grandee (Lolley) is living are brought to life with the skill of Jackson's talent. I found myself giggling at the humor, cringing at the violence but mostly rooting for the resurrection of the woman called Ivy. It was very easy to get caught up in this novel."--Dan Radovich, Barnes & Noble, Buffalo Grove, Ill.

"Backseat Saints is a gritty novel that gets at the heart of abuse as well as redemption. Joshilyn Jackson is a reader favorite for a reason; she takes what some see as unattainable and she builds from it an amazing and unforgettable story."--Jennifer Northcutt, Borders, Ann Arbor, Mich.

"I finished Backseat Saints, and I loved it! She did one of my favorite things of all. She intersected a new story with an old one... it takes a great writer to create two stand-alone novels that can intersect like that much to the delight of serious fans without marginalizing the story for those who have only read one or the other."--Wanda Jewell, executive director of the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance, Columbia, S.C.

Book Brahmin: Joshilyn Jackson

Favorite book when you were a child:

Tie: A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett and Conan the Barbarian by Robert E. Howard. Some of my own characters could be the unlikely children of Sara Crewe (seeking redemption with hopefulness and faith) and Conan (inexorable and often violent pragmatism), so I suppose I have never abandoned these first literary loves.

Your top five authors:

Frank Turner Hollon, Haven Kimmel, Sara Gruen, Dennis Lehane, Cornelia Read.

Book you've faked reading:

I once wrote a 10-page paper on The Unbearable Lightness of Being, and yet I never even cracked it... oh, the wash of residual shame!

Book you're an evangelist for:

The Little Giant of Aberdeen County by Tiffany Baker.

Most humiliating readerly confession:

After I read Ian McEwan's Atonement, I flipped it shut and thought, "What a nice book. A little cheery and tidy for McEwan, I s'pose, but whatever...." I skipped the Author's Note that I assumed marketing had tacked onto the end. A couple of years later, looking for some sweet and soothing reading for a long plane ride, I grabbed Atonement. Halfway through the flight, I reached the "end" of the book and realized the "Author's Note" was actually a final chapter. I had never read the end of the novel! I flipped the page and the whole book reversed and brilliantly fell in on itself and destroyed me. I sobbed my guts out like a natural born fool all the way over Nevada, and then had to sit there sniffling damply between two seatmates who were reading OK magazine and nothing, respectively, and who clearly thought I was a loon.

 Book you've bought for the cover:

Bound South by Susan Rebecca White. It's a woman carrying very proper pumps as she scampers (quite improperly) barefoot across a tidy, manicured lawn. The image implies swift movement in subversive and unconventional directions.
Book you wish you had written:

Sin in the Second City by Karen Abbott. It reads like a juicy novel, but it's meticulously researched history. I can't do that--three paragraphs in, I would U-turn away from truth and take the characters haring off in my own direction. Novelists are such inveterate liars....

Book you've bought for the title:

Eating the Cheshire Cat by Helen Ellis. I stood there in the bookstore wondering, "How does one eat something with a mouth that big, before it eats you?" To my intense pleasure, the book answers that question on the thematic level.
Book that changed your life:

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, and I bet it changed yours, too.

Favorite line from a book:

"She would of been a good woman," The Misfit said, "if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life."

I love this piece of dialogue from Flannery O'Connor's A Good Man Is Hard to Find so much I had the narrator of Backseat Saints, who feels an odd kinship with both O'Connor and the Misfit's idea of redemption, quote it.

Book you most want to read again for the first time:

Life of Pi by Yann Martel. It unfolds so perfectly, and I wish I could read the beginning again, not knowing the end.

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