Joshilyn Jackson’s fans, who might come to her work expecting lyrical portrayals of the Deep South and a collision of complicated characters, will not be disappointed with her sixth novel, Someone Else’s Love Story. But they may be surprised.
“This book is such a big departure for me, it’s scary,” says the bestselling author, who lives in Decatur, Ga., about her latest work, which Morrow publishes later this year. For one, the book has two narrators. The first, Shandi, is a young woman typical of the writer’s earlier protagonists, including her 2005 debut, Gods in Alabama. “I tend to write feisty, troubled, rural Southern women who don’t always make the best choices,” says Jackson. “It’s William, the other narrator, who is the biggest departure for me.”
Her first-ever male narrator, William is a 30-something geneticist and staunch atheist with Asperger’s syndrome. “He is a character I’ve wanted to write for about 12 years now, but I didn’t have a way into him,” she says. “It wasn’t until I found Shandi and realized that they could be foils for one another that the two stories began to intertwine.”
The process of weaving the two stories together took both time and significant trial and error—including an abandoned first draft. “I got 40,000 words in, felt I was failing, threw it out, and then came at it in a different way,” says Jackson. “The second run, at 30,000 words, there was a moment when William talks about the feeling of having a hole in him, and I began to get his voice right—to see how he gets impatient with metaphors, how he processes information.” Though parts of William are locked away by his neurological condition, Shandi has the ability to break through to him—and the reader. Says Jackson: “She lights up William’s love story because he can’t tell his own love story.”
Jackson’s interest in Asperger’s and the autism spectrum stemmed from her own family’s predisposition to the conditions, once considered rare and now relatively common (one out of every 54 American boys is diagnosed with being on the spectrum, according to the Centers for Disease Control). “As I was becoming a mom myself, I was watching this thing that ran in my family for generations grow more prevalent,” she says.
Jackson hasn’t been to BEA since the release of Gods in Alabama, but she remembers the excitement she felt being there: “It made me feel that I was a part of something big,” she says. Signing books today at Table 18 in the Autographing Area, 1–2 p.m., she hopes to capitalize on that energy. “I want everyone on the planet to read this book,” she says. “I love all my books, but this one is special—it may be the best thing that I’ll ever write.”