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Thursday, May 28, 2009

Author Interview ~ River Jordan

River Jordan is a southerner with a global perspective. She began her writing career as a playwright and spent over ten years with the Loblolly Theatre group, where her original works were produced, including Mama Jewels: Tales from Mullet Creek, Soul, Rhythm and Blues, and Virga.

Ms. Jordan's first novel, The Gin Girl (Livingston Press, 2003), has garnered such high praise as "This author writes with a hard bitten confidence comparable to Ernest Hemingway. And yet, in the Southern tradition of William Faulkner, she can knit together sentences that can take your breath."

Kirkus Reviews described her second novel, The Messenger of Magnolia Street, as "a beautifully written atmospheric tale." It was applauded as "a tale of wonder" by Southern Living, who chose the novel as their Selects feature for March 2006, and described by other reviewers as " a riveting, magical mystery" and "a remarkable book."

Her third novel, Saints In Limbo has been painted by some of the finest fiction voices of today as "a lyrical and relentlessly beautiful book," and "a wise, funny, joyful and deadly serious book, written with a poet's multilayered sense of metaphor and meter and a page-turning sense of urgency."

In addition, The Deep, Down, & Dirty South – a southern girl recollects, a collection of short essays, has become a popular must have for everyone who loves River Jordan's words.

Ms. Jordan teaches and speaks around the country on "The Passion of Story", and produces and hosts River Jordan Radio on WRFN, Nashville.

When not traveling the back roads of America, River lives with her husband Owen Hicks, and their Great Pyrennees lap dog, Titan in Nashville, Tennessee. She thinks about where stories come from - places and people and moods of the heart while rocking on her front porch. And long after the sun sets over the ridge, she waits for the moon to rise, watches the stars come out, and stares off into the blue-night sky believing with all her might.

Tell us a little about your latest release:

Saints In Limbo is the most recent novel. It’s very southern with a mysterious twist. I love it and am very excited about the release. It is currently featured on the Random House website as one of the Editor’s Choice selections for the month. I’m very surprised and pleased for this distinction.

How did you come up with this story? Was there a specific 'what if' moment?

There was a moment but it was more of an image in my mind. An older woman sitting on the front porch of an old country house and whirlwind twirling, picking up dirt on the road in front of her house. I knew there was something special there and it continued to form and take shape.

Tell us a little about your main character and how you developed him/her:

The main character is Velma True. I think she is a compilation of all the older, wonderful women in my life. My Memaw and my aunts. She is also just fully Velma True. She’s an old southern, apron wearing, biscuit maker. And I sure hope some of them are here as long as the earth should turn.

What did you enjoy most about writing this book? Least?

I most enjoyed the story the characters were telling. The story surprised me all along the way. The least part is always the final line edits and proofing but that is really more about the final publishing process – not the writing. When I fall into a story I’m basically living in it until it’s finished and I surface and all of that I love.

What made you start writing?

It seemed as natural to me as breathing. Maybe, more so. Even as a young girl I kept a diary. In sixth grade I started writing poems and stories.

What does your writing space look like?

Anywhere I can be alone. And preferable have a window to glance out of on occasion while I’m listening or thinking. I used to always make certain that we had a bedroom or space that was designated as my office. But I didn’t get any more words written. I find that kind of space really helpful for taking care of bills and business. Writing – maybe a cave or a hilltop. It’s the solitude that helps me most.

What kind of activities to you like to do that help you relax and step away from your deadlines for a bit?

Two things – I love to go for drives. The Natchez Trace is really beautiful and peaceful. But that is more like a work exercise for me because I drive and listen to the story and where it’s going next. Total deadline stress relief? Movies. Going to the movies, sitting in the dark, eating popcorn and just being carried away to another place. It’s losing myself in another story that takes me out of the one I’m writing for just a little while.

What's the most difficult part of writing for you (or was when you first started on your novel journey)?

Not cleaning the closet, out from under the bed, the fridge, the backyard, my car – in other words – sitting down to write because as much fun as it is, it’s also work, work, work. So the most difficult thing is parking myself at the computer and knowing I’m going into that story place and won’t be back for hours. That’s why retreat spaces with one room and nothing of my personal life in them are great for this writer.

Do you put yourself into your books/characters?

Completely. I’m so lost in that place and those characters that if someone calls on the phone I sound a thousand miles away when I answer the phone. It’s better for me just not to answer.

What message do you hope readers gain from your novel?

That life is the most precious gift we have. In that I mean the relationships and people we’ve been blessed to take this journey with and that every moment has it’s own special magic if we will let it. Sometimes we lose our life in all those moments that are given over to frustration and worry and unhappiness. I think simple pleasures are the best and that family and friends are some of those greatest simple pleasures. Most of us take that for granted everyday.

Briefly take us through your process of writing a novel—from conception to revision.

Sometimes stories bubble up in me that I carry around for a very long time. So I may be carrying several stories around for years. When I first get a since of place or person, I let that go through a development stage inside of me before I try to put it on the page. Or else I end up writing chapters that will be tossed because it’s not quite the true story. When I hear the right voice and the place is solid in my mind, I begin. The blank page everyday is new to me and the characters are always saying or doing things that are a surprise. I’d describe my process as very organic and not very methodical.

What are a few of your favorite books (not written by you) and why are they favorites?

Okay. Let me see. A few of my favorites. That’s really tough because hundreds come pouring to mind. I’ll tell you a few not written by me or people I know or have met.

To Kill A Mockingbird - which everyone says but it is. The voice was so perfect, the story to simple and profound. I love everything about it.

West With the Night - it is just beautifully written. It’s an old book and not everyone knows it. What a jewel though. I will read it forever.

Ella Minnow Pea - it is one of the most little, creative works I’ve ever discovered.

Peace Like A River - I’ve read it twice and will read it again. The narration and the story just captivate me.

Gilead – how painfully, beautiful. What a great story.

On The Road With An Archangel – a beautifully written little tale, captivating and sweet. Maybe because an angel tells the story.

The Book of the Dun Cow – just flat out brilliant in the fable, its meaning and the execution.

Childhood books - Tom Sawyer, Nancy Drew, and Lord of the Rings.

The Spanish writers and a hundred books by author friends.

What do you wish you’d known early in your career that might have saved you some time and/or frustration in writing? In publishing?

That getting your first novel published will not change your life overnight. That you can do write a great story and still not get your story out to as many people as you like.

I think what I have learned from that is that the real story is real life. What’s unfolding around us is the greatest thing. My ideas of success have changed as I’ve gotten older and matured just a little.

How much marketing do you do? What have you found that particularly works well for you?

Marketing is a little off and on for me. I feel a little guilty when I’m working on marketing because I feel I should be working on my next writing project. I think my marketing is best put by the fact that I love to attend readers and writers conferences and speak to people about Passion of Story. That’s not work for me because it is such a true love.
I love to do radio interviews as well because I love radio and talking about story. Those are the kind of things that just feel like fun instead of marketing work. I do mail out postcards occasionally and give away bookmarks at events and to bookstores when I’m there. But that would be my major marketing. Oh, and maintaining my website and other sites like facebook/my space, etc. Those are little busier. And I try to remember to do those after I’ve written my words and not when I should be working on my new novel.

Tell us what we have to look forward to in the future. What new projects are you working on?

The new novel in progress is about the people in a small, southern, coastal town and what happens in due time. I’m really enjoying hanging out with them and listening to what they have to tell me. It’s all southern moss in the trees and salty, gulf in the air. And the main character is just talking up a storm so I guess I should go write it all down!

Do you have any parting words of advice?

Believe. Always.


  1. Lovely interview. I'd wondered if some writers might start with a picture in mind, so nice to read that you might. I haven't read Dun Cow yet, but I might now after your recommendation. And I'll look out for your books.

    1. Sheila,
      So sorry. I've just found these comments after allll this time. The Dun Cow. Classic good vs evil.

      Thank you for your comment and for checking books out!


    2. Kelly,

      Thank you for all. You might also enjoy the novel that followed, The Miracle of Mercy Land. I hope this finds you well.

      Blessings for 2012!


  2. I just finished Saints in Limbo. Poetic? Yes. Unique? Yes. Great? Yes.

  3. Love the title. Love love love the cover. And if Kelly likes it, then I'm sure the story rocks as well. I look forward to reading it. Enjoyed the interview. Thanks ladies!

    1. Gina,

      Thanks for dropping by so long ago. ANd this may be one of the longest blog responses in history :).


  4. After reading Saints in Limbo, I had to read more. The Messenger of Magnolia Street is a wonderful read also. I bought The Deep, Down, and Dirty South at GF Weekend. Thanks for sharing your sparkling imagination with us.

    1. Beverly,

      Thank you for backing up and reading Messenger which is very different. I love all my books in a different way. Girlfriend Weekend! Nothing like it in this world.




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