JoDee Neathery - Rich and Colorful Descriptive Storytelling
A life-long dream was realized with the publication of her debut, Life in a Box, in 2017 followed by A Kind of Hush published 2021. JoDee and her husband moved to East Texas where she became the chair of the community book club and has held that position for 20 years. "These ladies were my publishing cheerleaders and without them, my novels would still be pipe-dreams. I owe them any and all success I have enjoyed." As our Author of the Day, she tells us all about her book, A Kind of Hush.
Please give us a short introduction to A Kind of Hush
A moment in time changed the Mackie family forever. Having battled to recover from the unexpected death of their young son while in the care of their ten-year-old daughter, they were enjoying a June outing at a rugged park near their Buffalo, New York home when tragedy struck again claiming the life of one parent. Was this a horrific accident or something more heinous, and if so, whodunnit and whydunit? A mantle of ambiguity – a kind of hush – hangs between the survivors like a live grenade without its pin as each one deals with the circumstances and subsequent revelations as the pieces in the mystery unfold.
What inspired you to write this story?
I’m an avid reader of the daily news and often clip articles that intrigue me which reside in a box marked “future books?” One in December of 2017 was about a young boy and his four-year-old brother hiking with their parents in the Zoar Valley Gorge when they slipped while standing on the edge of a cliff. The boys were injured but the parents died in the fall. And in the middle of the night shortly after the publication of my debut novel, Life in a Box, an image of a young boy came to me. I scratched out his “old soul” profile along with a few sentences and the ending. I didn’t know the whole story, but I knew Gabriel Edward Mackie had to be in whatever I wrote next.
What makes the Mackie family special?
Kirkus Reviews says, “This family drama is steeped in suspense, but its likable cast of characters is its main draw.” I’m thrilled with this recognition as my goal was for them to be believable, flawed, and identifiable as neighbors, friends, or relatives. Family dynamics are complicated, but the Mackies embrace struggles, heartache, and joy as a family unit rather than individually. Readers have told me that every family needs a Patrick Mackie in their life – he’s the calming voice of reason with a wicked sense of humor…and he says of his grandson, “some people have strength of mind, his is of the soul.” Gabe’s character drives the narrative as the others feed off his uniqueness. He continues to “talk” to me, and I’ve teased my grandsons that he’s going to be in my will!
Please discuss why the gray areas between right and wrong are important themes throughout the novel.
Some say the color of truth is gray. It’s everything that falls between black and white – the absolutes. It is an important theme that runs through the novel as each character grapples with what happened that day at the Gorge and who, if anyone, was culpable. What would you do if you suspected but couldn’t confirm that a loved one was involved…the benefit of the doubt – the what ifs, where’s the proof – could likely represent the gray area between right and wrong. An intimate look inside the characters’ relationships with each other reveals there is not a definitive answer to the question. The family was shaken to the core and I purposedly wanted them to struggle with the moral and ethical dilemmas and what it takes to forgive and move on from tragedy.
Writing itself is a gray area – there’s not an equation with a single solution. This is what makes it an art by giving authors the freedom to find the extraordinary in the ordinary or what is universal, meaningful, and human in the uncommon.
Why did you pick Buffalo, New York, and the Big Bend area of Texas as the backdrop of your story?
I’ve explained the Buffalo connection as part of the inspiration for the story and the Big Bend area was a nod to my home state and offered a completely opposite setting from western New York. This area of far West Texas covers 800,000 acres along the Mexico border and is home to many attractions including the Big Bend National Park, an international dark sky park. The 1956 movie, “Giant,” starring Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson, and James Dean was filmed just west of Marfa. Twenty-four-year-old Dean died in a car crash in California before the movie was released. The entire region is sated with legends and enough stories to fill volumes…a virtual goldmine for a writer!
Readers say your scenes are descriptive. How did you pull this off?
One of my favorite aspects of writing is creating images with words allowing the reader to be part of the scene, not just read about it. My goal is for them to use all their senses and put themselves inside the pages of my novel… “The outdoor courtyard, lined with hanging baskets of ferns, their fronds stirring like a wind soughing through a canopy of loblolly pines embraced the warmth of the season…” I conduct extensive research into where my characters live and incorporate the details of their everyday life into my writing. We were on a road trip traveling through Louisiana and came across a cemetery in the center of a four-lane road. It spoke to me as if the “residents” were trying to tell me a story. I never did find out who they were or what they meant to the surrounding community, but I incorporated a segment in the novel because of that curiosity.
Why did you title this A Kind of Hush?
I had originally chosen The Whisper Room as the title as that is where Gabe retreats to when life gets complicated. He relishes and is comfortable in this haven and I loved the fact that it portrayed the quietness of introspection. However, a google search turned up way too many similar titles. I am drawn to many song genres as the artists are born storytellers and The Carpenters’ version of “There’s A Kind of Hush” was serene, melodic, and poetic and I knew it was a perfect depiction of the mood I wanted to develop. As the story evolved a kind of hush was the anthem representing the gray area between right and wrong. On a side note, the chapters are titled with many derived from song titles as in Chapter 9, Eric Clapton’s “Tears in Heaven” with messages of healing and hope for the strength to carry on.
The cover is very interesting. How did it come about?
I originally had in mind a beautiful sunset photo but after numerous conversations with my wonderfully insightful and creative friend/editor, Vivian Freeman Chaffin of Yellow Rose Typesetting, we determined the cover needed to convey the theme and mood of the novel. I give her full credit for her vision to feature a little boy sitting by himself and the transformation of his whisper room from “lavender walls brimming with daydreams, obscured from reality.” to repainting it a “verdant shade of forest green, adding a bright yellow commanding sun…”
Do you have any interesting writing habits? What is an average writing day like for you?
We have an office in the house so I originally thought that would be an ideal place to create but the room is surrounded by family photos and memorabilia – too many distractions. I use a laptop and have experimented with places to work but kept coming back to the bedroom. The secret to my writing is insomnia and discipline. I keep a notepad beside my bed and write little notes in the dark, so I won’t forget them the next morning. Writers must remember the chances are the story you want to tell has already been written, so we need to find a new way to tell an old story. There are formulas and warnings of “always do” like showing instead of telling and “never do that” like starting with the weather unless it is relevant to the plot.
I stand up to write (sitting is the new smoking!) and look at my night notes to start my writing day, generally wrapping up my projects (I write a light-hearted column for a local newspaper and write book reviews after our book club meetings) when the 5:00 p.m. bell rings.
There are no guaranteed formulas to reach bestseller status, other than writing a good story that people want to read, spending countless hours marketing, and patting yourself on the back for accomplishing a goal that not everyone can achieve.
What are you working on now?
A new literary fiction, Dust in the Wind, is in the developmental stage and as you can see, I’ve taken another title from a song, “All we are is Dust in the Wind” first released by progressive rock band, Kansas, in 1977. The lyrics draw a connection between humanity and particles of dust blowing around and the story speaks to the trauma of giving up someone you cherish to ensure they are more than particles of dust in the wind. It is set partially in Paris, France, 2014 and in a fictional German town in the heart of the Texas Hill Country – again two wildly different locations – and focuses on building a meaningful life while searching for the missing piece of your heart. Here’s a teaser.
To the casual observer Andrew Dupont and Gretchen Cunningham might be seen as a doting father and his daughter out for a Sunday stroll along the pedestrian bridge, the Pont Des Arts, over the River Seine. A keener look unwraps a different state of affairs as their love and lust reveals itself when they lean into each other, his hand on the small of her back, her eye-crinkling smile telegraphing her passion. With the Eiffel Tower in sight, they validated their commitment to each other by affixing a metal lock engraved with their initials to the bridge’s iron grill work, tossing the key into the water below. They were the perfect couple. His wife, Constance, disagreed.
Where can readers discover more of your work or interact with you?
I love connecting with readers and book clubs. It warms my heart that people are interested in me and my journey. My advice to anyone pursuing a dream, don’t let anyone tell you that you are too old or too young to try and always leave a piece of yourself in everything you write.
Both novels, Life in a Box https://www.amazon.com/dp/B073PF7D7V and A Kind of Hush https://www.amazon.com/dp/B098M282NP are available on Amazon and Smashwords. Both are also available on my website: https://jodeeneathery.com, Connect with me on social media: https://www.facebook.com/JoDeeNeatheryAuthor/
The Mackie family, slowly recovering from a horrific tragedy which took the life of their young son, is enjoying an outing at a rugged park near their Buffalo, New York home when the unthinkable happened again. One parent survived along with their teenage daughter and seven-year-old son. Was this an accident, or something more heinous, and if so, whodunnit and whydunit?