An Interview with
Inspirational romance writer Neta Jackson and RTR Review Coordinator Linda Mae Baldwin.
loved Yada Yada Prayer Group so much; it earned the Reviewers Award for The Road to
Romance where I am the Inspirational Review Coordinator. Its a great book, and
Ill be impatiently waiting for book two. Thanks so much for giving us the
opportunity to interview you and let our readers know more about you.
LMB -- Theres more to your career before Yada Yada, would you like to tell us a
little about that?
NJ -- I've been writing since I was sixteen years old, when a short story I wrote won
First Place in a Scholastic Magazine contest. That blew my mind--especially when the prize
was $100. I bought an Olivetti portable typewriter (teal blue!) and never looked back!
After graduating from college, I put in my time "learning the business" by
working as an editor for various publications, while also writing freelance articles,
columns, and essays. Mostly life experience and marriage and parenting issues . . . which
is the scary thing about being a "life-long" writer. All my well-meaning but
naive twenty-something and thirty-something ideas are out there for the whole world to
read. Fortunately, magazine articles have a short life. And by God's grace, sometimes I
got it right in spite of myself.
LMB -- Your husband and you co-authored books together, how did that come about?
NJ -- My husband Dave was a journalism major, with a similar work experience as mine
(working as an editor with various publications). But in the 70s we got interested in the
phenomenon of Christian communes--and ended up traveling around the country in a VW bug
with our three-year-old in the back seat, visiting various Christian communities,
everything from "Jesus People" type communes to communities with a long history,
such as The Bruderhof. When we returned home, we wrote our first book together:
"Living Together in a World Falling Apart."
A couple other non-fiction books and a dozen years later, we quit our day jobs and
launched our writing business (Castle Rock Creative, Inc.), mostly
"co-authoring" books with others (for example: "Tinkering with People"
which we wrote with a doctor about medical ethics). But eventually we realized what we
REALLY wanted to do is write STORIES, good stories for kids like the ones we devoured when
we were kids. For the past thirteen years we've been writing a series of historical
fiction novels for kids about great Christian heroes. The result is The Trailblazer
Books--40 action/adventure chapter books about people of faith all over the world who
impacted their society and the people around them, people like Florence Nightingale, Amy
Carmichael, George Mueller, Hudson Taylor, George Washington Carver, Mary McLeod Bethune,
Festo Kivengere, Frederick Douglass, Governor William Bradford, etc. etc. For all the
titles, readers can check out our kids web site: www.trailblazerbooks.com.
LMB -- What are some previous titles of your work?
NJ -- Our most recent non-fiction title is:
"No Random Act--Behind the Murder of [Coach] Ricky Byrdsong" by Dave & Neta
Jackson, about the shooting spree of a white supremacist on July 4 weekend, 1999, that
took the life of Ricky Byrdsong, former basketball coach at Northwestern University--who
also happened to be a member of our multi-racial church and a friend. It's a powerful true
story! (This book and other titles for adults and older youth can be found at
Our most recent Trailblazer titles are:
"Caught in the Rebel Camp" by Dave & Neta Jackson--a Civil War story about
"Exiled to the Red River" by Dave & Neta Jackson--a story about Chief
Spokane Garry as a boy.
LMB -- What does your workspace look like?
NJ -- We have an office in our basement (groan), with two computer desks, separated by a
large island work space--out of necessity, because some of our writing involves a LOT of
research and we have piles of papers and books and maps all over the place. It's nice and
bright and business-like--except for Tino the Office Cat, who insists on supervising all
our work--but our fantasy is to have an "upstairs" office with lots of windows
looking out over a lake or mountains or some other pastoral scene. Someday . . .
LMB -- Whats a typical writing day for Neta?
NJ -- Up around 6 or 6:30, spending about 30-60 minutes with God, the Bible, and prayer
(and a huge mug of tea with milk and honey).
Around 7:30, Dave and I "go exercise"--mostly at a nearby fitness center during
the cold months, but in spring and summer we also we enjoy biking along Lake Michigan
(about a mile from our house).
Back home around 9:00, it's breakfast, shower, dress, chores like sticking in the laundry,
feeding the birds, cleaning up the cat throwup (one of our cats has a very sensitive
We both get to the "office" about 10 a.m. . . . and stay there until about 6 or
6:30 p.m.--whoops! it's already 7:30 p.m. tonight and it's my night to cook!--only coming
up for air to make more tea or eat lunch (which I often eat at my desk, because if my
writing is going well, I'm too impatient to take time out to eat).
Because Dave and I both work as writers, we take turns cooking at night. We always eat
better the nights Dave cooks because he is a GREAT cook--the Salad King of Chicago (he
grows his own everything in our backyard garden).
Evenings we either collapse with supper and a video, or go babysit our grandkids, or meet
with my own prayer group of women (every Tuesday night).
LMB -- Do you play music or have some outside stimulus going when you write?
NJ -- We often play music CDs--everything from gospel to classical to old classic rock 'n
LMB -- What role has having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ played in your
NJ -- My relationship with God . . . what HASN'T it touched in my life? Like a good
marriage or a good friendship, my relationship with God is always full of surprises,
taking me places I never dreamed I'd go, challenging me beyond my comfort zones (just read
the Bible--it'll rock ALL your comfort zones!), yet also that Solid Rock when everything
else in my world feels like quicksand. But the great marvel is that I am learning to live
with sorrow and joy at the same time, because I know I am created in His image, loved by
God so much that His Son Jesus "died for my sins while I was still a sinner,"
and knowing that He created me for a purpose.
As for how my faith impacts my writing, a lot of the things God teaches me along the way
find themselves into my stories--the importance of healing broken relationships, the
freedom of forgiveness, that God loves justice, mercy, and truth. (You don't really want
me to go on, do you? because it's hard to shut up once I get started!)
LMB -- Your writing is fresh and natural. I didnt feel like Id been
preached at when I read, and neither did I want to go brush my teeth, because the book was
so sweet it made my teeth hurt. What kind of feedback do you get about your style of
NJ -- Thank you, Linda! I consider that a great compliment--thanks for the encouragement.
Sometimes we take ourselves so seriously! It's healthy to be able to laugh at ourselves,
and enjoy the ride, rocky as it is. (I often tell newlyweds: "There will be times in
your marriage where you want to either cry hysterically or laugh hysterically. Choose
laughter.") I'm delighted when letters and reviews say the book is "fun,"
"delightful," that there were moments when the reader laughed right out loud.
(But thank goodness no one has called it trivial.)
In Yada Yada, I decided to be as honest as I knew how to be with my characters, which is
why I decided to write in first person and let the reader inside Jodi's thoughts and
prejudices and reactions to the people she meets. Because I know what I'm really like,
putting on a "good girl" image on the outside, and struggling with pettiness,
selfishness, pride, self-protection, fear--the list goes on and on--on the inside. I love
the letters I'm getting that say, "I'm so much like Jodi!"--because, no matter
who we are, we're all a little like her, struggling to live up to the person we want to be
but aren't. And it's exciting when we discover--we can't do it either! That's why we need
God's help! And that's a very freeing place to be.
LMB -- Who is your writing audience?
NJ -- I didn't want to write one more book just for white middleclass readers, or just
Christians, or "just" anybody. I wrote for any person (though they will probably
be mostly women) who is willing to get out of their comfort zone and embrace relationships
across the barriers that often separate us. My characters are very diverse--white, black,
Asian, Latino; middle class, poor; educated, uneducated. But each one has something
important to give to the Yada Yada Prayer Group--and give to the reader. It would be my
biggest joy if Yada Yada readers included both white folks and black folks and everything
in between, because that's the vision of this book: that we need each other.
LMB -- Why did you choose to write Yada Yada by yourself?
NJ -- Ha! It kinda chose me. Actually, the idea for the book was my husband's. After the
Trailblzer series ended with book #40, we wanted to move to adult fiction, each trying our
hand at something of our own. So we'd been brainstorming ideas with each other. One
morning I woke up and Dave wasn't in the bed, or in the house either. He'd awakened with
this idea: Neta should write a novel based on the women in her "women's Bible
study." He was out walking with a tape recorder talking about his idea, then he told
me to go for a walk and listen to the tape recorder. At first I thought, uh uh, no way.
That gets too close to home. But he was right--the women in my Bible study/prayer group
have changed my life, and their stories are powerful testimonies of God's redemption. Plus
they are just too funny for words. No, I couldn't tell the real stories. It had to be
fiction. But "something like" . . . And Dave couldn't write it. Only I could
write it. So, shaking in my tennis shoes, I put together a book proposal and wrote a
couple chapters--and was shocked when Integrity publishers jumped on it! And what a
wonderful wild ride it's been!--everything from the eye-popping cover with the outrageous
socks to the book being recorded on audio CDs by Barbara Rosenblat. (She is SO good.) Now
they want Yada Yada #2 and #3.
LMB -- Do you have certain technique or way of making your characters? How do you find
NJ -- Some of the main characters--Avis, Florida, Yo-Yo, Ruth, Nony--are
"inspired" by real people in my life, though fictionalized. As for the others,
they are combinations of people who have crossed my path (Stu, the person who makes Jodi
feel like a klutz; Adele, who is intimidating; Chanda, who thinks she's going to win the
lottery and solve all her problems). I made character sketches of all my characters, from
where they grew up, family background, their birthdays, names of their kids, the kind of
car they drive (or don't drive), etc. I keep adding stuff to these character sketches,
because I keep learning new stuff about my characters as I go along. I even find pictures
of who my characters look like and keep them taped around my computer.
LMB -- How much of the book is based on real life experiences?
NJ -- In the general sense, a LOT of it. I, too, am part of a prayer group as crazy and
diverse as Yada Yada. My kids and grandkids live in the Rogers Park area of Chicago where
the story is set. Snippets of conversations . . . a song that moved me . . . an incident
that happened to me ten years ago or ten days ago--all might find their way into the book
somehow. In the specifics, however, the story and the characters are all fictionalized.
LMB -- I love the fact that Jodi - our heroine, in Yada, fusses so over her husbands
beer drinking. Have you had complaints about this? Usually when alcohol is mentioned in
Christian fiction it has bad connotations some of which youve addressed in
NJ -- Nobody has complained yet--though some people probably think I'm giving a
not-so-subtle message about drinking. Which actually wasn't my point. I just wanted Jodi
to fuss about something that "seemed" to be a clear-cut moral issue for someone
brought up "Christian," while ignoring her own inner sins. Until SHE is the one
who "drives angry" (rather than drives drunk) with disastrous consequences. This
is what needs to happen for Jodi to learn that she is "just a sinner" like
-- What message do you want readers to go away with after they read Yada Yada?
NJ -- That barriers between people can be broken down, one relationship at a time.
That our sisters and brothers from other other Christian traditions, from other ethnic
groups and cultures have much to offer us. In fact, our lives will be poorer if we stay in
our comfort zones of people "just like us."
And finally, that the ground is level at the foot of the cross--which is where we all need
to fall down on our knees, confess that none of us is "good enough," and receive
that wonderful gift of grace.
LMB -- I love the discussion questions in the back. I imagine many womens groups
will use this book for discussion. How does that make you feel?
NJ -- My Bible study group is praying that "Yada Yada Prayer Groups" will spring
up all over the place. Wouldn't that be awesome? Readers are writing me and saying they
long for that kind of prayer experience with sisters. We pray for all the people who write
LMB -- Are you agented? If so who is it?
NJ -- Yes. Dave and I are both represented by Chip MacGregor of ALIVE COMMUNICATIONS in
-- Any tips for new writers?
NJ -- * Don't start out trying to write a book. Start smaller. Write personal experience
articles. You DO have experience or knowledge or ideas that will bless or benefit someone
else. Get published so you have "clips" to send other editors/publishers.
* Go to Writer's Conferences--there's one that's right for you. You will meet editors and
published authors, each one with something wise to offer. You'll learn at LOT! Put what
you learn to work.
* Listen to your heart. What do you have to offer? What topics are passions for you? Don't
TRY to be unique; just know that you have something to offer, too.
* And of course, read, read, read! Read good writing. Believe it or not, you learn a lot
by osmosis, soaking up good writing. Even type out some of your favorite writing--how do
the sentences flow? What images do you especially like? Different authors are good at
different things. What do you like? WHY do you like it?
LMB -- When will the sequel be out? I can hardly wait to review that one!
NJ -- I'm 3/4 of the way through writing Yada Yada #2--and I'm at the point where I wake
up in the middle of the night, my brain "writing away." I'm hoping I'll get done
soon so I can get a good night's sleep. Integrity plans to release #2 in Fall 2004. In the
meantime, I will be writing Yada Yada #3 . . . oh help. After that, the Yada Yada gang and
I are going on vacation!
LMB -- Thank you so very much, Neta. And congratulations on the great book!