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An Interview with JoDee Neathery, author of A Kind of Hush

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East Texas author JoDee Neathery has written two award-winning novels: Life in a Box, published 2017, and A Kind of Hush, released July 2021. Both have won the International Firebird Book Awards for literary fiction and were awarded Readers’ Favorite 5-Star designations. A Kind of Hush received critical acclaim as one of five finalists in the highly contested mystery category of the 16th annual 2022 National Indie Excellence Awards, the 2022 Silver Medal Winner, Readers’ Favorite Annual International Book Awards, Literary Fiction, and was a shortlisted finalist in the 11th annual 2022 Millennium Book Awards and winner in the literary fiction category.

Her journey to publication followed an unconventional path void of author credentials, but with the encouragement of her book club, a passion for the written word, a vivid imagination, a sense of humor, and a story to tell she plucked a few personalities off the family tree and Life in a Box debuted asking the question how much would you sacrifice to hide a secret? “One of those all too rare literary gems,” Midwest Book Review noted, and a 5-star review posted on Amazon UK offered this assessment: “There is an understated audacity to her style of writing which I find quite spellbinding.”

A Kind of Hush was born in the middle of the night when the first sentence, the ending, and a profile of a young boy appeared. “I didn’t know the whole story but knew Gabriel Edward Mackie had to be in whatever I wrote next,” praise followed. “This family drama is steeped in suspense, but its likable cast of characters is its main draw.” – Kirkus Reviews. “Witty, warm, uplifting, and utterly heartbreaking.” – Book Viral Review. “Poignant and emotionally rich.” – Book View Gold Medallion. “Intelligent, crisp prose.” – The Prairies Book Review.

JoDee chairs her community book club, is writing another novel, Dust in the Wind, and contributes a lighthearted look at life with her byline, Back Porch Musings, to a local newspaper.

What inspired you to start writing this book?

I’ve always had a burning desire to write and was inspired by my maternal grandmother’s journals which I inherited after she passed. She always told me I could accomplish anything if I didn’t let others deter my goals. I guess I didn’t believe her until my book club encouraged me to take a leap of faith and write a novel. Without their support I doubt if I would have pursued the “impossible dream.” I’m indebted to them for their faith in me.

Tell us the story of your book’s current title. Was it easy to find, or did it take forever?

A Kind of Hush started out to be The Whisper Room, but after I searched for those titles with “whisper” in the title, I found too many to consider. I’m a huge music fan and of course the Carpenters released the title. In choosing it I wanted to convey that there is often a gray area between right and wrong and in this case as the drama unfolds in the novel, that theory plays out.

If your book had a soundtrack, what are some songs that would be on it?

LOVE this question! Almost all of the chapters in the novel are song titles—too many to list—but to give you a sample, Chapter 1 is titled “Slow Dancing in a Burning Room” by John Mayer—normalcy in the midst of disaster. “Just a Bend in the Road” by Eddy Arnold—a life-changing course. Barbra Striesand’s “The Way We Were”—the breakup of a marriage. “Tears in Heaven” by Eric Clapton—a message of healing and hope. “The Road Less Traveled” by George Strait—there’s a winding road that never ends, full of curves lessons learned at every bend. There are many more, but it ends with “At Last” by Etta James and “Lean on Me” by Bill Withers.

What books are you reading (for research or comfort) as you continue the writing process?

I always have Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird and Stephen King’s On Writing and I keep the CMOS nearby. Pat Conroy and Elizabeth Strout’s body of work are constant sources of inspiration for me. Learning is a continuous process. As for “comfort” reads, as chair of our book club and responsible for the selections along with my committee of two others, the stack of TBR continues to grow. We choose books that foster conversation and are well-written. In my hand right now is There Are No Rules for This by JJ Elliott which has moved me to tears and double-over-laugh-out-loud moments in the same paragraph—a masterful tribute to female friendships and enduring love.

What other professions have you worked in? What’s something about you that your readers wouldn’t know?

I’ve been in the banking industry and a public relations executive recruiter in my past life. I’m naturally a people person so these professions fit my personality and gave me insights into the complex makeup of human nature. I feel certain some of those I have met on my journey to writing are reflected in traits of one or a dozen characters.

Who/what made you want to write? Was there a particular person, or particular writers/works/art forms that influenced you?

I aspire to write one sentence that the late Pat Conroy would applaud. He is the master of the written word and those words are often so powerful that I gasp just reading them. Elizabeth Strout is another source of inspiration—she commented on my writing in a review I published of her novel, Olive Kitteridge, and sent me an autographed copy of the book. If I could have done backflips without a trip to the emergency room, I would have. I also had an opportunity to meet both Pat and Elizabeth at an event and will never forget…in awe of their talent!

Where is your favorite place to write?

Insomnia is my friend as I keep a notepad on the nightstand so whenever I come up with a certain scenario, character profile, or plot twist, I scratch the details out in the dark, hoping to be able to read them when daylight comes. The little boy in A Kind of Hush, Gabe, came to me in the middle of the night and I knew he had to be in whatever I wrote next…and he was. He’s a special character in so many ways—an “old soul” in the body of a little boy.

Do you have any writing rituals?

I write standing up—I heard that sitting is the “next” smoking so I try to keep on my feet!

What is one thing you hope readers take away from reading your book? How do you envision your perfect reader?

You seldom know what a reader will take from your book. Sometimes it is a complete surprise to hear what they have to say. I cherish feedback—positive and negative—and my ideal reader would be one that is transported into the setting, tasting each morsel of food, embracing the awe of a majestic sunrise, and feeling empathy for the plights of the characters. I would hope when they turn the last page, they know that my heart and passion was in every word. I also think humor is an important element to any novel and being able to laugh at some of the dialogue is very rewarding especially to this author.

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