Thursday, July 9, 2020

Inside the Mind: J.S. Jack

Welcome to Inside the Mind where we here at The Faerie Review interview authors and creators.
Our guests today are Grace, the wonderful narrator and J.S. Jack, the author behind It's Only Make Believe.

Lily: Thank you so much for agreeing to this interview J. S. I really enjoyed reading It’s Only Make Believe. This book tells a really powerful story, what made you decide to write it? 
J. S.:  The novel started as a way for me to process my grief and complex PTSD, and it started 10 years ago as a nonfiction memoir. My best friend Bobby Atkins had died of leukemia when I was 11, and when I was 28, my Dad killed himself, so I started this book initially as a loose memoir about those two people, and about growing up poor in West Virginia. However, about halfway through the memoir, I had a hard time finishing my “truth,” because those two characters just came alive, and they wanted a different ending than what they got in real life. I shelved the book for a few years, and the two people lived on in a state of limbo, and then the last 2 years I got it back out and listened real hard and gave them a different ending.
Grace:  Well, Pap would say that truth is singular, but that we all view truth through a film of Vaseline or maybe a gauze like what a haunt wears - an’ that’s just the way of it. We make our own sense out of the truth, and we set our stories down not to share ‘em so much as to cypher ‘em next to one another and see if the sum matches other folks’ arithmetic. So I set my story down to leave my mark on a hard, cruel world that likes to forget we poor folk  ever existed or ever had a story worth telling.

Lily: It's a really powerful story. I'm glad you didn't pull any punches on what its like to grow up poor in a rural area. Grace is a great narrator, did anyone inspire her? 

J. S.:   Grace is a mixture of my own self and my 4-years younger sister. I was the kid that was at the trailer park library every day reading books, a quiet and observant child. My sister, on the other hand, was the “tomboy” sarcastic kid who would get into fights over her sarcasm and head-strong ways. I liked the idea of a character that was flawed, contradictory, and complex, because that felt real to me.
Grace:  Well, I reckon I am as I am, and I don’t know what was born into me and what was learnt on me. I can say that everything I do in life is with a thought about what Pap would do, or how Pap would approve. I aint never had much value on heroes or role models, but I just always wanted to be like Pap.
Lily: Well, I think Grace will stay with me for awhile. She's very memorable and relatable. Some scenes absolutely gave me chills, your imagery is so vivid. Were you able to write them without getting a little jumpy yourself? 
J. S.:   I have a very vivid imagination, so I’ll just say that when I wrote at night, I wrote with the lights on. Sometimes I would skip scenes and save them for later, when I could write them in the full daylight. I knew what I had to write, but I had to do it in small bursts. When I wrote, the world became so real it felt as if it was a place I could visit, and also a place I could not help but visit. 
Grace: Well, I lived it and I was scared to death to later write it all down, like somehow it would all come back to life just by re-telling it again. But that is life: life is about being scared all the time and having the courage to face that fear, or it just aint livin’ at all. I reckon that I got awful damaged by that livin’, but revisiting those times took away some of their power or hold they had on me.
Lily: I agree - life is about being scared and having courage. That's an incredibly profound answer. I feel like this is turning into a philosophical conversation and I can't say I mind. Out of all the characters, which one would you like to spend a day with? 
J. S.:   Well, both Pap and Robby were based on real people, and while I would enjoy a day with my childhood pal, it is Pap that I would give anything to spend even an hour with. As noted many times before, Pap was based on my real Dad, and the Pap character was so close to who my real Dad was that very little of that character is made up, even down to things Pap said in the novel, or Pap’s traits or inventions. My Dad was a remarkable human, and someday I do hope to tell his real story. There is so much I want to say to my Dad, so much I want to tell him or ask him. He was so strong when I was growing up, and I thought he would be around forever; I had no idea how fragile he was, or how rare. Almost every novel or story I write, my real Dad shows up in there somewhere: all of my stories somewhere have a “Pap” character.
Grace:  I sure do love my Daddy, and I miss him a lot, but I think he had a pretty good life. He wasn’t afraid to live, and he sure left his mark on me. For me, really, I just want more time with ole Robby Lee. Life aint about fairness or who deserves what, but I think Robby was the one that got cheated the most. For the most part, Robby is who I am after when I go out to explore what is left of the old cave system of the Appalachians, lookin’ for portals to other worlds.
Lily: I think a day with both would be wonderful. Now we’d like to talk about you as a writer. Do you like to plan, plot, or fly by the seat of your pants? 
J. S.:   Some of my stories come out of “What if?” speculations, but most of them come from vivid dreams. My dreamscapes are amazing places, unlike what most other people experience. It took me years to realize this, and I took it for granted for a long time, but I have dreams that often play out like movies. They can come to me fully-plotted, in vivid color, with speech, written language, and a bevy of miniscule details. I am so blessed and so lucky to have this Story Dream Machine in my head. Generally speaking, I am basically just transcribing my dreams when I write! Otherwise I have stolen the Stephen King method of writing, which is: I get a loose story idea, and at night before bed I tell myself that story idea. I do this night after night, until I finally know the tale I want to tell. Then I blaze that tale down on paper as quick as possible. It takes me about 2 months to tell a full novel in this manner, and then at least a year to refine it into a novel that is ready for others to read. I never do outlines, or much plotting, but I think this is because I know already the whole story I want to tell. The only X factor is when the characters get strong enough to go in a completely different direction, which they can do at times.
Grace:  I just tell things the way I remember ‘em, for the most part.
Lily: I love the idea of having a Story Dream Machine, and sometimes just recalling what happened is the best way to go. Are your characters always with you or do they only show up when you’re ready to write? 
J. S.:  The characters are always there, always chattering and giving their opinions on my everyday life. For those reasons my personality is very fluid, and extremely contradictory and fickle. I tend to keep a pretty loose hold of reality. When I was younger, this manifested as compulsive lying and living a kind of “Walter Mitty” existence, until I trained myself to channel the voices into stories.
Grace:  When I done set down my account of what all happened ‘round the time of them Killing Waters, I had a hard time recounting who said this or who did that. I am still not sure I got it all right. I have a lot of visions and daydreams, and don’t get me started on how plum wackadoo my night terrors are. I reckon I done the best I could, but I’m a gonna tell you this right now: take everything I say or write with a big ole grain of salt.
Lily: I can relate to both of you on at least some level, our brains can be strange things sometimes. Do you have a writing routine? 
J. S.:  I am fairly particular. I tend to sit down right after a cup of tea in the morning, and I set a loose goal of putting down a few thousand words or so. I don’t have to write any given day, but I have to at least sit down and set the time aside. While sitting there, I try to think of the story, even if I don’t write. I have found over the years that doing that not only helps grow my imagination, it makes that imagination more intense, and the habits alone help reinforce me on my weakest-willed days. The writing never comes easy for me. I feel I have a lot of talent, but that talent was spread thin among many different mediums. I have a hard time staying focused.
Grace:   I aint got no routine besides getting’ it done. I done come from a long line of criminals and farmers and liars and ditch-diggers, and one thing they all got in common is they sure can put a yarn together. It could be that I’m the first one o’ my family to put those stories to paper, but the fact remains that all my family are good at telling stories.
Lily:  I find focusing a bit difficult at times as well J.S. and I wish I could borrow Grace's ability to just sit down and get it donw. Let’s finish up with some fun questions and get inside your mind. What’s the best dessert?What’s the worst? 
J. S.:   The best dessert is white chocolate, and the worst is any dessert that has prioritized looks over taste. I find that to be the most disappointing dessert: one that is beautiful but tasteless. In my experiences, the prettier it is, the less taste it has.
Grace:  The best dessert is Pap’s home-made donuts. He would take a can of plain ole Pillsbury biscuits, and take a 12oz soda pop bottle lid, and poke out the center of each biscuit. Then he would fry them up in melted Crisco oil, making donuts, and the pieces he punched out he fried up as donut holes. He would fry these until golden brown, and then sprinkle powdered sugar over that. He would make these for me all the time after Robby died. Gosh I loved them. Worst dessert I ever had was my grand-pa’s homemade taffy. It was pert near ridiculous. All he did was mix peanut butter with Karo corn syrup, and freeze it, and feed it to me like that. That aint no taffy.
Lily:  I need to make some of those donuts! But I'll skip the taffy. What's on your perfect burger​?
J. S.:   My perfect burger would be a veggie patty, charbroiled, heavy paprika, with maybe some peas thrown in, and artichoke hearts, romaine lettuce, all on a whole grain bun. I am not a sauce lover, but maybe some kind of smoked chipotle sauce would top that off well.
Grace:  My perfect burger would be a venison burger from a whitetail deer me and Pap harvested ourselves. Then that burger would be grilled up on Pap’s old grill, and it would be put on two slices of white Wonder bread with ketchup, and I would smash that and then gobble it up.
Lily:  I think I'd like to try something that was a mix of the two, it's been too long since I had a venison burger. Would you rather spend a day by the lake, by the ocean, in the forest, or in the city? Whatwould you do? 
J. S.:   I would prefer deep in the forest, but maybe because that is the environment I was raised in, and I have been living in a city for 8 years now without a vacation. I would like to set up a camp, and just do some photography, or maybe find a noisy stream and sit down to sketch or write.
Grace:  Well, I like the woods, but most of all I like to explore. So I reckon I ought to say this: I done never seen a big city, and I never seen the ocean, so for now I would most like to see the ocean or a big, huge old city! I don’t know what I would do except just walk around and try to look at everything all at once.
Lily:  I prefer the woods or ocean myself. I've lived in the city and spent my summers in one, but I'm happy we live in a small farm town now. If you could spend a day with a character from any book, who would it be and from whatbook? 
J. S.:   I would want to spend a day with Ishmael from Moby Dick. Moby Dick is my favorite book. Since the narrator is Ishmael, then I figure that Ishmael can tell a very good story. I would want to hang out and see what all else he had done besides his whaling sea adventures. I am pretty sure he could make cleaning a latrine into high literature.
Grace: When I was younger, I would say I would want to hang out with Karana from Island of the Blue Dolphins, because I found her survival story amazing, fiction or not. Now that I am a bit older, I like boys a lot, so now I would want to hang out with Sam from My Side of the Mountain, and we could trade mountain survival information.
Lily:  I have to admit, I don't like Moby Dick much, had to read it my junior year of high school. I have read My Side of the Mountain and I remember being fascinated with the survival techniques and wondering if I could ever survive like that (spoiler: I can't). What’s the weirdest Wi-Fi name you’ve ever seen?  
J. S.:  The weirdest name is “Hemingway’s Ghost,” followed up with “CIA Flower Van.”
Grace:  What is Wi-Fi? Do you mean high five? I like high fives.
Lily:  CIA Flower Van definitely takes the cake. High gives are good too. If you could live as any animal (real or mythical) for a day, what would you be and why?  
J. S.:   I would want to live as a peregrine falcon. They are the fastest animal at over 200+ miles per hour. I am not sure how I feel about eating animals, so maybe instead I would be a fishing hawk, and eat fish. I guess too that it doesn’t have to be a falcon that flies so fast, and just the power of flying would be enough. Flying over the horizon, to me, feels like the ultimate freedom, and one of the few experiences I will likely never get to have in its rawest form.
Grace:  I would want to live as a rabbit. A rabbit is a mostly scairt animal, a prey animal, but I have seen a rabbit fight too. If you corner a buck rabbit, they can sometimes go on the attack. “Rabbit punches” is a real thing. One time, my friend Chauncey had a rabbit he kept in a hutch in his back yard, the poor critter, and he let it out one day in the grass. A cat came near and cornered that rabbit, and before we could intervene, that rabbit done stood up on its hind legs, and gave that cat about 20 punches in the nose, whip-crack fast. I aint never seen nothin’ like it! So I like that, that a rabbit is timid and peaceful but if it wants to it can tear you up.
Lily:  Both sound like they'd be great experiences. I have seen a rabbit punch and it was one of the most unexpected things. Is there anything else you would like to add that I haven’t included?  
J. S.:   No.
Grace:  Hun-Uhn, I don’t reckon.
Lily:  I've really enjoyed having you both here. How can readers discover more about you and you work?  
J. S.:   I am not very active socially or online. However, if asked, I will engage with anyone, provided that they are kind (not cruel) and they are not sarcastic. I can be reached through Facebook, for the most part.

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