JACKIE WARREN TATUM
It has been a privilege getting to know Jackie Warren Tatum, to share, in her journey as a writer. I hope you enjoy learning about this as much as I did.
WHEN DID YOU FIRST CONSIDER YOURSELF A WRITER?
After I retired as a Mississippi special assistant attorney general, I took some writing courses with Donna Ladd, the editor of The Jackson Free Press. During those courses, I began to understand inside me that I was a writer–maybe for the first time–even though I wrote poetry in high school; majored in English at the University of Alabama in Huntsville; was an English and radio and television and newspaper journalism teacher; and attended the University of Mississippi Law School, becoming a member of the Law Journal.
Too, as I conducted a private law practice in Ripley, MS, as the first female member of the Tippah County Bar Association, and then in the Attorney General’s Office, I wrote briefs and pleadings and interrogatories. Still, I never thought of myself as a writer. I think the realization that I was a writer had something to do with my choosing to pursue writing for writing’s sake, as opposed to my writing in order to get through school or accomplish tasks in my profession.
As a result of the writing courses, I was asked, along with the other students, to submit a paragraph for Donna to publish in the paper. I submitted a blurb about my training for and walking a half marathon in San Diego the year I turned 65. Donna requested that I expand it into a cover story, which I did. That led to my freelancing with The Jackson Free Press and Boom Magazine for several years, after which I began writing Unspeakable Things a novel and devoted full writing time to it.
WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO WRITE YOUR FIRST BOOK?
I guess the same thing that inspires an artist to paint a painting or a chef to create a new dish: I sat down to explore some issues. I had tried, over the years, to write “a novel,” always reaching a point, in other attempts, past which I could not go. I think of it as being the equivalent of the “sound barrier,” which is defined as “the increased drag, reduced controllability, and other effects that occur when an aircraft approaches the speed of sound, formerly regarded as an obstacle to supersonic flight.” That traveling speed is about 767 mph.
According to an article in the Business Insider, when an airplane exceeds 770 mph, all of the air in the craft is smushed together and then breaks away behind the aircraft and a sonic boom results. Exceeding my own 767 mph occurred when I wrote Unspeakable Things a novel, during which I confronted various emotions connected with loss.
One of the major losses in my life was becoming a widow and single parent at age 25. My high school sweetheart and husband and father of our two children had a heart attack, unexpectedly, at age 28, and died suddenly. My life shook like an aircraft as it reaches the sound barrier.
In order to write Unspeakable Things a novel, I got back in the shaking plane and pushed the throttle, creating characters and a plot that invited me to revisit losses and exceed the 770 mph. The novel is fiction, but the emotions of some of the characters in the novel are real emotions. Writing Unspeakable Things a novel, this tale of loss and devastating truth woven into a crime thriller, was a healing experience for me.
I think I was only ready to write Unspeakable Things a novel after I had done enough self work over the years, including journaling, working with a counselor, and purposefully getting involved in my spiritual journey. I think I was not emotionally/spiritually ready to exceed the sound barrier in my earlier attempts to write a novel.
WHAT ARE YOUR CURRENT PROJECTS?
I am marketing Unspeakable Things a novel. I have had some 45 writing events since my debut work of fiction was released at Lemuria Books, Jackson, MS on December 7, 2016. Unspeakable Things a novel is getting 5-star reviews on Amazon and Goodreads. I am enjoying meeting the savvy folks who own and manage our brick and mortar independent bookstores.
I am enjoying speaking to civic groups and book clubs and discussion groups and a college class and Friends of the Library Groups and conducting workshops in bookstores and libraries and at writers conferences. I am discovering how much I enjoy speaking to groups and how rewarding it is to me when the energy I bring is well received.
I am writing on two projects. One is a work of fiction set in central Alabama in the late 40’s, early 50’s, which explores race in that place and time. The other is a fictional version of being a writer, maybe something akin to a work of historical fiction that has nothing to do with history and everything to do with experiences as a novelist. Somehow, I think that as I move through the first of the projects, the latter will take better shape. They are very different, but, somehow, connected.
WHAT WAS THE HARDEST PART OF WRITING YOUR LATEST BOOK?
Writing a tale of loss and devastating truth woven into a crime thriller takes organization, a wild imagination, persistence, and the willingness to throw caution to the wind. It is time-consuming. I would write and let what I had written set for a time. I would revisit what I had written and sometimes would spread my manuscript out on the floor or the bed and rearrange what was where, so I could assure myself that the work would flow for the reader and not overwhelm the reader, would create a trail for the reader, but not tear down the bushes along the trail and let the reader see too much. Too, I had no outline. I let the story unfold itself. Often I was astounded at what I wrote.
Too, I ran headlong into a wrestling match with my characters. I had assumed I was in charge of writing this novel and they assumed otherwise. We fought. On occasion I did not want or intend to take them off in the directions they went; I would try to pull them back and they would balk. Eventually, I gave up and followed them, fueling them with my own internal understandings. It sounds tricky. It was. I didn’t conceive that arrangement. It was what happened. I was intimately involved with the writing. The easiest part of the writing for me was the dialogue. I had fun writing dialogue. I think dialogue is the key to conveying the story to the reader.
After about three years of writing on Unspeakable Things a novel, I had West Nile virus. For another year and a half, I was not able to focus much on the work. I picked it back up when I had enough energy and completed the manuscript and spent a year researching how to get it self-published and then another year working with a self-publishing service company to publish Unspeakable Things a novel. It took about seven years from start to release.
DO YOU HAVE A SPECIFIC WRITING STYLE?
I write a rough draft of a part of whatever I am writing and edit it until I wear the keys off the keyboard. I write more. I do the same with that and then I go back and re-edit the previous writing(s). With this novel I wove the story around and, consequently, rearranged the layout of the manuscript several times. I actually eliminated a first chapter I had added, after the writing, attempting to soften the edginess of the work, because of feedback from a friend. I then picked up the necessary info from that first chapter and inserted it into other chapters. Some writers write an entire novel and then go back and begin editing. Not me. I edit as I go and then I go back, also, after it is all written, and edit. Edit. Edit. Edit. I simply cannot write that word, “edit,” enough times.
DO YOU HAVE ADVICE FOR OTHER WRITERS?
The advice that Donna Ladd always gave her classes: show, don’t tell. Showing attempts to afford the reader a chance to experience what he/she is reading. A writer uses dialogue and action, emotions instead of explaining. I can tell a reader lots of stuff and bore them to death, even if what I am telling them should be exciting. If I show them the story, I can snag them.
Also, I try to throw all the adverbs away. Toss them in the garbage can. Sometimes I stumble over an adverb and feel like I have stubbed my toe.
And, my own opinion is that writing lots of mediocrity isn’t how to be a writer. Writing less, but of higher quality, is the formula. I think there is a tendency, sometimes, for us writers to think the more books we can publish the quicker, the better. Maybe. Maybe not.
I belong to the Mid Mississippi Writers Guild and the Mississippi Writers Guild and I interact with other writers. I conduct workshops with writers and share my experiences and ideas. I particularly enjoy conducting workshops about marketing. I think many very good writers struggle with marketing. Writing and marketing are very different skills.
In addition to continuing to receive 5-star reviews on Amazon and Goodreads and having been dubbed a “page turner” by its readers, Unspeakable Things a novel has been listed in the 14th American Book Fest 2017 Best Book Awards as a work of fiction that you may be interested in for Mystery/Suspense as well as Thriller/Adventure.
Unspeakable Things a novel is available in soft back from major brick and mortar retailers in Mississippi: Lemuria Books, Jackson; Fair Trade, Jackson; Reed’s GumTree Bookstore, Tupelo; Barnes & Noble, Madison and Southern Miss and Tupelo; Square Books, Oxford; Cut Loose, Madison; The Book Mart & Cafe, Starkville; Ripley Drug Co., Ripley; Hillyer House, Ocean Springs; Southern Bound Books, Biloxi; Lorelei Books, Vicksburg. Turnrow Books, Greenwood, MS, and Pentimento Books, Clinton, MS. Coldwater Books, Tuscumbia, AL, also stocks it.