I am so damned proud of this stack of paper. You might be thinking, “C’mon, Jessi. You write novels, and it’s a novel. Why is this one standing out?” This one is standing out first because it’s poignant. It’s got a mix of mythologies, generation gaps, Southern flavor, fights to embrace sexual and racial identities—all while packed with laugh-until-you-hurt moments.
But I’m also damned proud because I had so much trouble getting back to this novel to edit it after I wrote it. I worked on it while I was in a very abusive relationship, one that culminated in nightmarish domestic violence. It’s not an autobiographical novel at all, but I wrote it in spite of my circumstances. And everything created in that time felt touched by it. I remembered what I was going through when I penned different scenes, when I tried to edit and stopped.
I am proudest because I have taken my novel back. You can’t see it, but I know I not only had to write it, I had to wrest it from an abyss of panic, anxiety, and doubt. My abuser does not get a book, much less the best one I’ve written so far. I want to share it with you all far too much. I’m living with this stack of paper for now, putting on finishing touches and recording audio soon. You’ll get a native Southerner for the drawl of New Orleans! And I am excited to share both the drawl and the story.
“There are years that ask questions and years that answer.” –Zora Neal Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God
I have been through what felt like years of questions and some brutal answers since I penned the ending to Where Angels Can’t Follow. In the last year, I’ve used my powers of the pen in the technical arena, and I have used my writing to empower victims of violence to not stay silent, to be screaming loud. My home was broken into a few months ago, and I was attacked quite violently by someone I was close to. It has given me perspective and deep gratitude for my village. But none of those people could have helped if I had been cowed into silence.
I still felt like I briefly lost my voice, the one I speak with and the one I write with, when I was stuck in hellish flashbacks. It’s not the kind of time loop one wants to be in. I discovered from reading The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel van der Kolk that research indicates one does indeed literally lose activity in the part of the brain responsible for speech when reliving traumatic memories. I am grateful to my caving community and every friend who reached out. You helped me find my voice again when I could barely find the air to fill my lungs.
I can think of quite a few literary greats who struggled with loss, depression, anxiety, and pain. Though it’s a hell of a crucible, the pain makes us great; it makes empathetic people who can get at the heart of any struggle with accuracy. I have my well of pain now to pull from as I write. And it’s a comfort to know that all I have been through the last couple of years will be instrumental in creating powerful new worlds and characters with depth.
Where Angels Can’t Follow is in some final editing phases now. I’m nitpicking the word choices and filling in the gaps. This one will be done this year so that I can make room for the other characters that keep trying to push their way to the front of my mind. Thank you all for waiting so patiently. And thank you to my friends who are not so patient, too. (I needed the nudging.) I am looking forward to sharing my mix of New Orleans, voodoo, archangels, classical Renaissance art, and generational differences with all of you.