Friday, April 20, 2012

Spice Up Your Week - An Interview with Neta Jackson

Spice up your week
An Interview with Neta Jackson
Author of Stand by Me
Q. Stand by Me is the first book in your new SouledOut Sisters series. What inspired you to start this newest series?
You mean besides the fact that if I don’t work, I don’t eat? (My husband says writers never get to retire, so we keep writing!) But writing the Yada Yada Prayer Group novels was my way of sharing some of the things God’s been teaching me on this life journey—and the SouledOut Sisters series is no different. Relationships don’t necessarily get easier, but God’s been trying to teach me the reality of I Corinthians 12, not only about the beautiful diversity within the Body of Christ, but also about how much we need each other. So this novel isn’t so much about “friendship” between women, but about coming to see that even those folks that seem to annoy us most may have something to give that we need.
Q. Most authors start a new series with a completely different cast of characters and setting but you have chosen to stay with the Chicago setting and have carried many of the wonderful characters in your Yada Yada Prayer Group series to the House of Hope series and now to Stand By Me, your newest novel and first in the SouledOut Sisters series. Why did you decide to do so?  
“Something old, something new . . .” I hear from a lot of readers who beg for more stories about the characters from the Yada Yada and House of Hope series. I consider it a compliment, because they’ve come to care about these characters and their families, living in a world that feels very realistic. As in real life, “life goes on”—and readers want to know “what’s happening”! So it was natural to pick up one of my secondary characters (Avis Douglass) from the Yada Yada series, move her to the forefront as one of the main characters so readers could get to know her in a deeper way and then introduce some new characters to give the storyline a freshness and keep us all on our toes.
Q. By now Avis Johnson Douglass, a primary character in Stand by Me and one of the founders of the Yada Yada Prayer Group, is so familiar to your loyal readers she might almost be considered a personal friend. By any chance, is she modeled after a real person, perhaps even a friend of yours?
Avis was inspired by a dear friend of mine whom I call “my Avis” because in many ways she has played a role in my life similar to the role Avis plays for Jodi Baxter in the Yada Yada Prayer Group. However, I need to emphasize that “Avis” IS fictional, and her life situation is not the same as my friend’s. In fact, as the series developed—and especially in this new series where Avis is a primary character and we see more of her inner struggles—Avis’s story resembles the person who inspired her less and less.
Q. Two of the characters in Stand by Me are dumpster divers, one from a sense of social consciousness, the other out of economic necessity. What made you decide to shine a spotlight on this unique way of obtaining goods? 
Many of my story situations grow out of real-life situations I’ve either experienced personally or that I’m aware of happening to people around me. In our church we have a dear guy who thrives on dumpster diving (by choice), rescuing food that he brings to church and passes out to whoever needs it. But homelessness is also a reality for many in the Chicago area, as are the “food deserts” where many of the poor live who don’t have easy access to the abundance of big grocery stores most of us take for granted. There are many complicated factors involved when it comes to hunger and poverty in our cities, some of which I wanted to weave into my story.
Q. In the beginning of Stand by Me, Avis and Peter receive what appear to be mixed messages from God and have a difficult time determining what He would have them do. Do you believe it is common for Christians to misinterpret circumstances that God often uses to guide and direct? If so, is there a way they can be certain they are truly following God’s will for their lives?
How many times have we all prayed, “God, if you’d just show me clearly what you want me to do, I’ll do it!”? But discovering the will of God isn’t an exact science. Many things enter in—the truths of Scripture, circumstances that God knits together, “open doors,” the “still small voice” of the Holy Spirit, a prophetic word, confirmation from several different sources—and more. Sometimes we act too fast when God wants us to wait. But sometimes, maybe even oftentimes, God only shows us the next step, not the whole direction, and wants us to move forward in faith, believing He will show us the next step in His own good time. (It’s easier to guide a moving ship than one dead in the water!) I often pray, “Lord, this seems to be the direction you want me to move, but if it is not, then stop me! Until then, I’m going to move forward in faith with as much understanding as You’ve given me so far.” As for Avis and Peter, as it is for any married couple, coming to unity on the direction God is leading them is critical. So one partner may need to wait until God reveals the same direction to his or her partner—or reveals why it isn’t time yet or a needed course correction.
Q. There are distinct signs of a romance blooming between Kat and Nick. Will readers be given a chance to watch that relationship grow and blossom in future books in the series?
Ha! Hang on to your hat. Would you believe a romantic triangle that gets very complicated?
Q. How many books will be in the SouledOut Sisters series?
At this time, I’m just planning on two.
Q. What are some of the challenges you face as an author? 
Taking longer than I’d hoped to write a manuscript, and ending up working six-day weeks. I usually set myself a two-chapter goal for each week, and if I don’t make it by Friday, I end up having to write Saturday, too. Same thing when I need to write THREE chapters a week in order to make my deadline like last week.
Q. What are you most hoping your readers will take away from Stand by Me?
Hopefully, readers will think deeply about how much we need the other parts of the Body of Christ, especially on a personal level—whether that’s a person in our church with whom we think we have nothing in common, or the “least of these” who have something important to give the rest of us or a neighbor or co-worker who may attend a different denomination who is nonetheless a sister or brother in Christ from whose life experiences or perspectives we have something to learn. 
As 1 Corinthians 12:21-26 says …
“The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I don’t need you!’ And the head cannot say to the feet, ‘I don’t need you!’ On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.”


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