The following interview is with Joy Jordan-Lake, author of Blue Hole Back Home, who has had an admittedly odd professional life including time working as a college professor, author, waitress, journalist, university chaplain, director of a homeless program, and head sailing instructor.
Tell us about your background and how you started writing.
I was born in the inner city of Washington, D.C., but grew up in the mountains of East Tennessee. I was a pretty shy kid, and was sick a good bit in elementary school, so I read voraciously. Becoming a writer was absolutely the only thing I really wanted to do—though goodness knows, I’ve built in enough emergency back up jobs for the dry seasons (thus the Ph.D. in English Lit.) I feel fortunate that I do enjoy teaching a great deal, since it’s often helpful to bring in additional income. Books meant so much to me, and so significantly shaped how I saw the world, the idea of trying to write books that created a world and characters and ideas for other people just seemed like a worthy thing to do with a life.
How did Blue Hole Back Home come about? Was there anything that particularly inspired this ebook?
For Blue Hole Back Home, in paper and ebook form, the ideas came from my own hometown in the mountains of East Tennessee, and some events of racial violence that took place there. For the purposes of the novel, I conflated several events that actually happened about a year apart—including a riot in reaction to a racist court verdict, a cross-burning and a Ku Klux Klan road block—and put them in the same summer. Some of the characters were inspired by people from my hometown, but some were simply amalgamations of character traits I’ve found appealing or despicable or charming in the people around me. By taking actual events, I had a basic skeleton of an idea, and then felt free to fictionalize the narrative.
Tell us about the heroine. What is your favorite quality about Shelby?
Shelby Lenoir Maynard, known as Turtle to her friends, isn’t remarkably courageous or gorgeous or noble or possessing any of the traits of your typical heroine. But she has a basic stubbornness that she refuses to give in to the elements in her town who want to keep the world divided into “us” and “them.” As a pretty stubborn person myself, I guess I love the fact that sometimes this annoying and potentially ugly character trait can have its admirable side when its channeled into not giving up on situations or people.
Why did you decide to base the book in the summer of 1979?
This was around the time that several of the actual events, on which the book is drew its inspiration from, took place. Also it’s startling to a younger generation of readers, I’ve found, because it’s well past what we think of as the Civil Rights Era—it’s a time when things are supposed to be all peace and harmony on race relations, and the situation in the small-town South is far, far from that.
Do you base any of your characters or storylines on people, places, or events from your own life? If so, tell us more about the connections.
As I alluded to above, Blue Hole Back Home is, yes, inspired by some actual events in my own hometown. Interestingly, I don’t remember much talk about some of these events, including rioting over a terribly unfair, racially-biased court verdict, at that time—maybe because as teenagers, my friends and I were more focused on the next football game than the state of race relations and justice in the world. But since the book was published, I regularly hear from people who also recall various events around the KKK’s treatment of the Sri Lankan family who moved to our little town. It’s been fascinating to hear lots of different stories from folks who recall what they witnessed (such as a terrifying Klan rally back in the woods), or remember feeling like they didn’t know who to talk to about a frightening conversation they overheard. I think I’ve been haunted since age 16 by some of those events, and by my own inability to make sense of them for my Sri Lankan friend or for myself. I suppose when you’re haunted by something, that probably means it’s time to start writing about it.
What would you hope readers takeaway from Blue Hole Back Home?
Hmm, wonderful question. I hope the character Jimbo stays with them for a long time afterward, and what his ferocious hold on hope looks like. My faith tells me that hanging onto hope will look pretty foolish sometimes. Cynicism and skepticism look a lot more sophisticated, you know? I hope the book sort of turns the idea of foolishness on its head. I hope the story reminds us of the simple ways we let walls exist between groups of people, and the sometimes small, or sometimes enormously self-sacrificial acts that rock those walls and send them tumbling down.
The following interview is with Joy Jordan-Lake, author of Blue Hole Back Home, who has had an admittedly odd professional life including time working as a college professor, author, waitress, journalist, university chaplain, director of a homeless program, and head sailing instructor. Tell us about your background and how you started writing. I was born in […]