Did you miss our Campus Conversation with Joy Jordan-Lake? Read and catch up here!
Questions From the Community
@Tom M 🌱 : It says in your bio that you started A Tangled Mercy 20 years ago, why did it take so long to develop and complete? And how did the story itself first manifest?
Since all of you are students, you'll understand more than anyone that I was in grad school for English lit and really floundering, tired of being a grad student, discouraged about my research, weary of locking myself away in archives with books no one had touched for sometimes 200 years...
And the parts of the research that really fascinated me had to do with a slave revolt I'd never heard of before, and also some white abolitionists I'd also never learned about in Charleston, South Carolina. So some characters started to come alive for me, including a floundering grad student named Kate Drayton whose life is falling apart. And a blacksmith, based on an actual person, named Tom Russell whose work was superb and artistic and powerful, but he was enslaved. And asked to be the weapon maker for the revolt. But he initially turned it down because he was certain they would fail.
So that's where the story began 20 years ago. But it was originally just an historical novel, with the modern-day Kate figure just in my head. Only about 3 or 4 years ago did I try weaving a contemporary story with the historical. And then in 2015, there was a terribly shooting in Charleston you may have read about. Since several chapters of my supposedly just-finished manuscript, all set to be sent off to editors to acquire from my agent, took place in the very church where the shooting occurred, I had to either shelve the book forever or include the tragedy and try to honor the victims and the whole city.
And part of the real challenge was including that tragedy, but still reflecting how both in 1822 and 2015, love really did stand up powerfully to violence and hate and cruelty and betrayal. So it became a story of hope and courage across 200 years
@Sian Louise: You have quite an impressive yet diverse job history including working as a university chaplain, director for homeless program and a sailing instructor, what pushed you towards so many different careers and do you use any knowledge/skills gained from these various roles to contribute towards your writing?
Great question. And that's the good news for those of us who jump around professionally: it can all be useful somewhere down the line. All those various experiences have helped give me insight into the human condition, I hope. Something as "lowly" as waiting tables lets you observe people at their best and worse--ever noticed how nasty people can be when they're hungry or with a date they can't stand? All that becomes fodder for a writer!
@Juwon 🍔⚽️🌚 : After writing an end to your books, do you ever feel dissatisfied afterwards upon rereading it and feel as though there were ways you could've improved on the ending?
Interesting you should ask that about endings. With my first novel, I actually waffled a bit on the ending, and over the years, readers--it has been especially embraced by university students--would tell me they loved everything except, for some of them, the ending. Since I'd waffled on it myself...
and yet I didn't want to simply re-write the plot, when I got the rights back to the novel last summer, I tweaked the ending just slightly, but I think it gives more hope to what's out ahead. And new readers have reacted quite enthusiastically. That novel is called BLUE HOLE BACK HOME, just re-published.
With my latest novel, A TANGLED MERCY, the ending really sort of just poured out. I remember typing just as fast as my fingers would fly. So no waffling or regrets there!
@SATYAM GUPTA😊🤗😂 : What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating your books?
Ah, interesting question!
I think I've learned how to listen better. To be a decent writer, you have to imagine what it would be like to walk through life as someone of a different gender, race, personality, background, economic class...you name it. So unless you're incredibly arrogant, you have to listen well when other people talk about their lives and how they see the world, you know? You have to be willing to read articles you might not read otherwise, and listen to people different from you respond to recent events, and to history
I'm curious: how much do the students in CampusSociety typically follow the events in the U.S.? I realize I'm asking for a generalization...
@Oonagh T: It's pretty big on the news here, we hear about all the major things. Which events do you mean? I knew about Charleston for example…
Yes, just everything: Trump. Shootings. And, yes, the Charleston shooting specifically
Both my novels are quite relevant to current events in Europe and the U.S., since they both deal with white supremacy and race relations.
@Clara Eastwood: I heard about the Charlottesville riots
@Oonagh T: that was very big news here
Yes, Charlottesville: tragic
I was actually in the very process of tweaking the ending of BLUE HOLE BACK HOME (2.0) with the re-release of it when Charlottesville happened. So even though the majority of the novel takes place in 1979/80, including confrontations with the Ku Klux Klan, the first and last bits are contemporary, so I wove that in.
When I spoke to lots of college campuses about BLUE HOLE BACK HOME back in 2009, students in the U.S. would say they loved the book, but that thank goodness, their generation had solved the race problem here and moved on to other things. The past few years have demonstrated VERY clearly that we have NOT even remotely solved the race problem here
@Clara Eastwood: That’s amazing to see how you incorporate the real events into your work. Does it help people understand the issues more in a different context?
Clara, great question...
I find that including issues relevant to today helps me not just write musty old historical fiction or shallow contemporary fiction that is either too romanticized or too hard to believe or too far removed from present day concerns. I try to include plenty of good old-fashioned suspense and storytelling and humor in my fiction, but also deal with real and urgent social issues
As a college student, I was a big fan of writers like Charles Dickens who took on the issues of his day, but also knew how to be entertaining. He actually was a crucial part of getting some social reform laws changed. I have no desire to beat people over the head or bore readers--far from it. But my favorite reviews are those that talk about not being able to put the novel down and staying up all night, but also...
Finding the story made them laugh and weep and see the world a bit differently...and want to be a part of change. And want other people to read the book so they can discuss together. That's when I know I've done my job.
@Clara Eastwood: Are there any contemporary works that you recommend that also focus on the same?
I was just laughing with a writer friend the other day and both of us were confessing that we read constantly, but when asked for book recommendations, we go blank.... But let me try... ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE is so gorgeous, and deals beautifully with people trying to survive in desperate circumstances and live lives of integrity and courage, but also the tensions when living with integrity and principle could mean death for you or the ones you love
@Neil Sanyal: My signal is pretty bad and on my mobile but was wondering, do you like audiobooks and would you narrate your own?
HI Neil, I LOVE audio books, but wouldn't narrate my own because they really depend on the acting gifts of the narrator. Aren't you astounded at how many voices a good audiobook actor can do?
@Neil Sanyal: Ah ok. Yes I am! It is definitely a skill to be a good narrator. What is your favourite audiobook that you’ve listened to out of interest?
A couple of writer friends of mine have narrated their own, but they both have backgrounds in theater.
@Neil Sanyal: I am listening to one at the moment narrated by Ben Kingsley called the autobiography of a yogi.
Hmm, well, the Harry Potter audiobooks are AMAZING. And Ben Kingsley is fabulous, yes!
@Neil Sanyal: Ah nice, maybe I will give your one a go
I liked the audio production of A TANGLED MERCY quite a lot. It's one male and one female narrating the two timelines, and they're both excellent. The male voice is J.D. Jackson, and also has done some of John Grisham's novels--at least one. Thanks, Neil!
@Peter Mckain: What inspired you to write Whitewashing Uncle Toms Cabin?
And re- The Whitewashing Uncle Tom's Cabin question... It was my Ph.D. dissertation. I really thought, and was assured by colleagues, that I'd really done all the hard work already, so might as well publish it as a book, right? Groan...
Vanderbilt University Press acquired it, and they were terrific to deal with, but I ended up needing to do a good bit more research and writing. Glad I didn't know that before I signed on because I might have jumped off that train before it left the station if I could have seen all the work ahead--especially at a time in my life with young kids and my teaching....
Jenn 📖☕: How different is it publishing a book vs writing your PhD dissertation?
It was quite a bit different, really. People will tell you you've done the work, as I mentioned above, but a good academic press will then have experts in the field read it, and of course they need to prove their worth, so they have to point out things you did not address and simply must, things that are their areas of expertise. So it's a great process of making you stretch and think deeper and better and do more research, but easy it is not! But then, all of you are students, so you probably didn't sign up for EASY WAY OUT, right?
@Clara Eastwood: Do you have advice for someone considering doing their masters?
Do it! :)
Try and find a job on the side like waiting tables that pays well but requires very little of your brain space OR, alternately, find a job that gives you experience in your field.
I've had a couple of friends who got all the way through a graduate degree, in one case a Ph.D., only to find they didn't much like actually doing what they'd been trained to do--such as teaching, in the case of the Ph.D.
So do be sure you are getting a masters in the right field for you. That might mean working for a while after college and then going back to school. The danger there is starting to make money and enjoying not living on 5 cents a day, which makes it harder to go back to school
Rapid Fire Questions
Do you like tea or coffee?
HA! important question. I've been a tea drinker for years, hot and iced, as we have it in the American South. But just lately, I'm drinking more coffee and loving it.
@Clara Eastwood: ICED?!?!
And, yes, iced tea. I had to have something to replace my addiction to Diet Coke. I was a student in London, in fact, for my last year of college, and also had classes in Stratford-on-Avon, and I lived on Diet Coke and chocolate digestives because I didn't have enough money to finish the semester. But I loved eating that, so no tears for me :). AND I got to be in the UK!
Do you like the Harry Potter series?
Love the Harry Potter series. All three of my kids are huge fans, so the books and then the movies are all big deals at our house. And--embarrassing to admit, maybe--I've been twice now to the Harry Potter theme park in Orlando, Florida, part of Universal. Sounds totally cheesy, I realize, but it is so well done, right down to the bathrooms and the butter beer!
Which Uni were at in London?
It was a program through Furman University here in the States, so we took classes at Univ. of London and up at Stratford. Did not want to come home! I came from a small town in the American South, up in the Tennessee mountains, so for me living in London was like being transported to another planet. I think I spent what money I could have eaten on in buying theater tickets every night.
Any advice to students studying abroad for a semester?
Ah, advice. Yes, take enough money to eat more than digestives!
What was the best show you saw while in London?
My favorites were the RSC productions. Kenneth Branaugh, who is now big in movies, was a young-ish star then, and was the lead in both Hamlet and Love's Labor's Lost, if I'm remembering right. Lots of us showed up early the day he was to lecture to our class about his role as Hamlet: front row, so we could sit 4 feet away from him :(
About Joy's Time in London
@Anushka P: Did your time in London inspire any of your work?
I think my time in London did inspire my work, yes. Traveling is always a good thing for a writer, I think--again, to help you get our of your own skin, your own life, and see things from other perspectives. I was startled by how globally students in the UK thought, and how they were well informed about U.S. issues, whereas I had to really hustle and read up to understand the current issues in the U.K. and Europe--more than just basic headlines, you know?
@Anushka P: That's really interesting! I've noticed that too actually.
I think Americans can still be bad about being too insulated, focusing too much just on U.S. news
Jenn 📖☕: I've found since moving here that London is a crazy diverse city. At Uni is was hard to find someone actually from London.
Oh, wow, really! How cool that it is so diverse and so global! I lived in a room walking distance from the National Gallery, and thought I was in heaven (heaven with diesel fumes :)
And I need to go in just a minute to...here's the exotic life of a writer...help my youngest child with her Tacky Christmas Sweater that is actually an enormous wearable Christmas tree--for a party tonight. I'll post pictures on author Facebook page and Instagram if anyone wants to keep in touch. I would love it!
Thank you so very much for letting me chat with you all. And please do feel free to connect on social media! If any of you read my latest novel or anything else, I would absolutely love to know!
@Anushka P: I would like to see this jumper haha
Yes, JUMPER! Sorry, forgot what language I should be speaking :)
I've so enjoyed this! What a great way for you all to connect with other students! Thank you to all of you for your time! And, Jenn, thank you so much for your patience and graciousness as we tried to fix the video portion. No doubt it was something I didn't do right, though I'd rather just blame it on the server.... Happy holidays, everyone!
Find out more about Joy and her work here:
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