By Mary Kennedy
Recently, I sat down with Melanie Jackson, author of The Ghost and Miss Demure to talk about her new release, where she finds her inspiration and her lifelong love of history.
On your website, you invite readers to take a walk on the Wildside, visit the past and explore new worlds. Are you drawn to any particular genre as your “first love” or do all genres attract you?
I’m a voracious reader of most genres and also non-fiction, but the first adult books I read were Gone With The Wind and Conan The Barbarian.They kind of wedged themselves in the subconscious and an awful lot of the stuff I’ve written is some weird hybrid of the two.
Can you tell us about the inspiration for The Ghost and Miss Demure?
Ghosts are not my usual material, but since I’m both Celt and also have family in the deep south, it was probably inevitable that I would end up writing about ghosts eventually. Hugh Vellacourt, the main haunt, is a fictional character, but the supporting cast of haunts and eerie experiences are courtesy of my cousin, Richard Magruder, and assorted family legends told around the fire on winter nights.
I was struck by the first line of your 2008 release, A Curious Affair. “Everything was the same until I was hit by lightning.” Do you often start with a line of dialogue, a fleeting thought, a setting, as your inspiration?
A Curious Affair was a very intimate book where the heroine talked directly to the reader and I thought carefully about where someone would begin a story about a paranormal encounter if they were not a novelist. However a story begins, be it epic or intimate, the first lines need to draw the reader in. I love a slow pace to build mood and descriptive narrative and all that good stuff– but not at the first line of the book.
Both Writ on the Water and The Ghost and Miss Demure feature Southern plantations. What is it that draws writers (and readers) to Southern settings?
Ever been out in bayou? Nature is there, patient and hungry, just waiting to kill you. We– humans– don’t belong there. Where better to place a story of murder and ghosts than in a place where cell phones and airbags can’t save you?
You have a wonderful essay on your website about why you write. Can you tell us what writing means to you?
Being a storyteller is not just who I am. It is what I am. Life without writing would only be a shadow of what it is now.
Your husband said, “Melanie’s first book, Iona, will always hold a special place in my heart.” He went on to say that you both are bibliophiles. Was your love of reading what drove you into writing?
Since my grandfather asked, I announced at seven that I was going to be a writer, but I actually knew long before that. The first book I taught myself to read was The Night Before Christmas. It dawned on me that each word being read to me corrsponded to symbols on a page. Then my mom explained the book– those symbols– were written by a man called Clement C. Moore. I felt sandbagged. Someone– some actual person– had made up this story! It wasn’t just a factual telling of events like dad talking about going to the hardware store, but something they MADE UP in their head. I wanted to do that too.
Any advice for aspiring authors?
Stick with it. Stubborness counts almost as much as talent.