Joshilyn Jackson's Mysterious Affair
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Joshilyn Jackson's Mysterious Affair
Joshilyn Jackson is quickly becoming the go-to girl of Southern writing. Her two previous books - Gods in Alabama (which begins with the best opening line ever*) and Between, Georgia - have been #1 Booksense picks. Her latest, The Girl Who Stopped Swimming, in which a happily domesticated suburban quilter is visited by the ghost of a girl who turns up dead in her swimming pool, is that rare combination of page turner mystery and literary novel peppered with characters who leap off the page - Jackson's trademark.
Before we get to her post below, however, I'd just like to note a few of her responses to my nosy questions: Jackson does not believe in ghosts; she believes in physics.
"That said, I have been places that felt haunted, and even physics believes that no energy is ever lost," she said. "Energy just changes form. So. There are more things in heaven and earth, etc. etc."
As for the Southern suburban existence she brings so vividly to life in The Girl Who Stopped Swimming, Jackson knows it well having lived in a suburb of Atlanta that was once "in the cotton" and is now being gobbled up by the usual accoutrement of more comfortable living - box stores, Chili's restaurants, malls. In her latest book, Jackson sets up two parallel universes - the suburb Victorianna and the old mining town DeLop - that are more haunting than the ghosts. DO NOT MISS THIS NOVEL!!
And now for Jackson's blog:
Since February 28th, I have been on tour for The Girl Who Stopped Swimming and today is the tail end of a 40 hour break at home before I head up to do the east coast. Last night I was SO happy to be in my own personal bed with own personal husband with my own personal cats tucking themselves in around the edges that I slept for twelve straight hours straight, and yet, even while entirely unconscious, I could not quite stop mulling over The Mysterious Affair of the Bicycle in my dreams.
Let me present the facts of the case to you:
While signing at a west coast bookshop, far from home, the Event Co-coordinator brought me a slip of paper and said, “You had a phone message earlier, and Kate, the manager, wrote it down for you.” The slip of paper said:
“Todd for Joshilyn Jackson: Bicycle of hers was left in his garage. Please tactfully pass this message on to the author.”
CRYPTIC! I do not own a bicycle! I do not know a Todd! And why would this message need to be passed on to me in a TACTFUL manner? It doesn’t sound PERSONAL or EMBARRASSING? Unless we assume it is a EUPHEMISM. It sounds like one, doesn’t it? If I were a man, and somewhat sexually indiscriminant, and if the message was from, say a “Toddina,” I would assume I had gotten someone pregnant.
This must be some former Todd? Some long forgotten bicycle? And yet, I can only dredge up two past Todds of any note, and they are so far back in the misty past that I can remember NEITHER’s last name.
1) Cupcake Todd. This Todd was circa fourth grade, and he was my first love. Well, he was my first REAL LIFE love. Before him I had crushes on Spock (Yes. That Spock. Pointy ears and all.) and Lurch (the Adams Family’s groaning butler) and the constellation Orion (I know, that one is especially weird, but, come ON! He fought BEARS!!!) My type was apparently Tall, Dark, and Totally Emotionally Unavailable, so it surprised no one more than me that when at last I fell for a Real Alive Boy, he should be a sunny dispositioned, white-blonde object, two inches shorter than me with a face as round and smooth and white as a Vidalia onion.
I expressed the depths of my Todd-ian adoration every day at lunch by taking ONE of my hostess cupcakes and kissing it surreptitiously. Then I would offer the kissed cake to Todd, and I would pretend to be very busy and important as I peeped sideways in little sipping glances to watch him eat my kiss. For the record, let me assure you it was a blameless kiss, close-lipped and chaste, and yet it was as fervent as possible for a girl who had not yet even HEARD of how they bussed their flaky pastries in the wilds of debauched France.
Within ten days, rumors of my secret dessert-kissing went from best friend Yvonne down a long chain of other girls, until a vicious little hussy named Lisa (who liked Todd herself) TOLD him what I had been doing, and then it worked its way back up the chain and right before lunch, Yvonne told me in hushed tones that TODD KNEW. (!!!!!)
That day, terrified but too in love to quail, I kissed the cupcake and proffered it as usual, and Todd took it and ate it as usual, which was to me and my gaggle of friends and the bitterly disappointed Lisa proof positive of his reciprocal devotion to me. In retrospect, it occurs that he may have only been expressing a devotion for cream filling, but at the time, the general assumption was that Todd and I were “going together.”
I did have a bicycle in those days, a pink one with streamers on the handlebars, and I may very well have left it in Todd’s garage a few times. And yet I can’t imagine he would search me out at a bookstore in California and ask a manager to TACTFULLY tell me so via phone message, lo these thirty years and change later.
2) Beautiful Gay Todd.
He was from my last college days,and he was MASTER of the bon mot. I LOVED talking to him. My relationship with Beautiful Gay Todd mostly consisted of running into him at parties and spending an hour gabbing with him and laughing ourselves sick, and then we would circulate onwards. For the rest of the night, I had to tell about 50 single girls who had seen me talking to him and wanted an intro that he was gay, and then they would sigh and say, “Oh. What a pity,” and if my friend Steven was near enough he would pop into the conversation juuuuust long enough to say, “Well *I* don’t think so,” and waggle his eyebrows.
I have no memory of any doings with Beautiful Gay Todd beyond these and certainly no memories of him having a garage or me having a bicycle that I would have put in it and abandoned.
The Abandoned Bicycle remains a mystery wrapped in an enigma served with conundrum sauce, and I keep waiting for something to happen to clarify it all, and the something keeps not happening. This is VERY unsatisfying, but, to bright-side here, it’s one of those little niggling things that keeps intruding into my imagination. I find myself making UP plausible Todds, plausible bicycles, plausible reasons for TACT.
I strongly suspect that unless an explanation is offered, in about ten or so years of mulling, I will have the makings of another novel, in much the same way that six enigmatic sentences in a short story started Gods in Alabama, nine years before I wrote it. It was an inexplicable piece of graffiti that started Between, Georgia, a good eighteen years before I wrote THAT. THE GIRL WHO STOPPED SWIMMING began seven years before I wrote it, when I saw a particular quilt by fabric artist Pamela Allen, and started trying to imagine the sort of mind that would need to take quilting—a traditional cozy big-bosomed Amishy female mother thing---and turn it into an edgy statement about women’s roles without EVER losing a sense of humor.
*As for that best opening line, ever? "There are gods in Alabama: Jack Daniel's, high school quarterbacks, trucks, big tits and also Jesus."