Interviews

‘I Can Write All Day Without Looking up Once’

Jackie Ross Flaum doesn’t really remember when she wasn’t writing some story or another. Speaking to the Literary Express in an exclusive interaction, the author of Justice Tomorrow fame, who mothers two daughters, says she wrote her first novel when she was eleven years old. ‘My mother, God love her, typed it for me,’ the grandmother of four, who lives in a suburb of Memphis in Tennessee, the US, tells us with a smile.

Letting us know that she is more of a pantser, Ms Flaum says that she often tends to have a vague outline of the plot and a firm grasp of her main characters. ‘But I enjoy letting the story unfold in my head as the characters and original plot suggest. The hardest part of the book for me to finish is the end. I want to drag it out. Or, and this is worse, I don’t want to finish because, well, who wants to write a book when you already know how it ends?’ she says with a guffaw.

Jackie Ross Flaum

‘Tailored’ Truth

Talking about Justice Tomorrow, a book by her released in the midst of Black Lives Matter demonstrations this August, Ms Flaum says she feels the timing of the book launch was appropriate. ‘And that’s because the book shows a slice of the American civil rights era in the South that the world rarely sees in novels,’ she states, adding, ‘I was horrified to learn a book set in 1965 is considered historical fiction. I had just graduated from high school then and started college at the University of Georgia. And that seems very recent to me!’

Putting Investigators in Jeopardy

The author, nonetheless, goes on to explain that the germ of the idea for the book came ages ago when she learned how pairs of young investigators posing as couples tried to buy a house. She shares, ‘The black couple was treated one way and the white couple another although they had the same backgrounds and finances. Then I looked at the civil rights murders that were never solved or solved when the killer had died of old age. From all that, I created Justice Tomorrow, which is a secret and powerful organisation that recruited, trained, and sent out pairs of investigators to uncover and preserve evidence against those who killed civil rights workers until a time when justice was possible in a Southern court.’

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Letting on that Justice Tomorrow introduces former Boston college student Madeline Sterling and her partner Socrates Gray, a Black activist plucked from Yale University, Ms Flaum says they lead an undercover civil rights investigation into a picture-perfect Georgia town. ‘They do so to learn who lynched a Black teen, son of a local civil rights leader. The young investigators become so mired in racism, murder, long-held secrets, greed, and forbidden love that the mission and their lives are in jeopardy,’ she elaborates. 

Revenge, Murder, and All That Jazz

Be that as it may, her book entitled ‘The Yellow Fever Revenge’ is a novella of love and murder set during the time of the yellow fever epidemic in Memphis that killed nearly five thousand people. It was released on Amazon in April when the COVID pandemic was first raging through America. Says the author, ‘My heroine for this novella is a raped woman, who flees to Memphis to hide her shame and her baby son. Then her rapist moves to Memphis where she has built a decent life. She decides to kill him among so many dead in the epidemic. But what is one more body?’

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The morning writer, whose list of favourite authors changes all the time, has had her short stories featured in the award-winning anthologies Elmwood Stories to Die For and Mayhem in Memphis as well. ‘My stories also appear in Low Down Dirty Vote VIIStories Through the Ages: Baby Boomers Plus 2019,’ she says. We also learn that the online literary journal Backchannels published one of her stories in the spring and another story won second place in the online Short Storyland 2019 competition.

The Morning Star

While J D Robb aka Nora Roberts, Charlaine Harris and Janet Evanovich are her favourite authors as you read this, the author emphasises that all the authors she has ever liked have got one thing in common. ‘And that is they create rich, unforgettable characters,’ she states. ‘For example, I started the Sookie Stackhouse novels and ran through them as fast as I could lay hands on the books. That’s saying something for someone who normally has zero interest in vampire or werewolf tales,’ she adds with a smile. 

On being asked when she tends to write, the former reporter with  The Hartford Courant, one of the oldest newspapers, states that she is a morning writer. ‘And once I get going, I can write all day without looking up once. I don’t have a schedule, however. Sometimes, inspiration strikes me, and I have to sit down and write it down—those usually turn out to be awful. Other times I wander the house or backyard with a blank look as I try to come up with what happens next,’ she explains. 

Once a Dream, Now a Reality

Nevertheless, did she consciously decide to become an author? Says Ms Flaum, ‘Becoming an author was always in the back of my mind. After my stint with The Hartford Courant, I married and moved with my husband to Memphis. I worked freelance for years writing speeches and drawing up public relations and marketing campaigns for such companies as Federal Express, Schering-Plough, and Memphis Symphony Orchestra. I spent two years as a communication specialist for the Memphis City Schools, where things flew at you so fast that my colleagues and I often declared our offices a war zone,’ she tells us. She also lets on that once her husband retired, she decided to retire too and give the dream of becoming a novelist a try. 

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‘I had written some manuscripts while my girls were growing but didn’t really know what I was doing. Then I joined a local mystery-writers’ group called Malice in Memphis. That association helped me immensely through speakers, critique groups, and workshops. I grew as a writer, and today I’m president of Malice,’ she proudly says. 

The Perfect Grandmother

Conceding that juggling writing and tasks around the house or civic responsibilities has always been a problem for me, Ms Flaum, who never misses doing water aerobics and going to the gym each morning, iterates when she is really in the zone of writing, she is resentful of interruptions. ‘I don’t want to stop! I like to do things with my grandchildren, who live close by. I am active in my church and lead a tutoring program for inner-city students,’ she explains, adding that her hobby is creating jewellery. ‘On my webpage you can see pieces I’ve created to go along with my stories and novels,’ she shares with us.

A full-fledged author already, Ms Flaum tells us that she is currently working on a sequel to Justice Tomorrow which picks up where the novel leaves off. ‘Price of a Future examines the consequences of some gut-wrenching choices Sterling and Gray have to make to escape those who destroyed Justice Tomorrow. They want to fulfil their dream of having a world-class detective agency, and they must confront their own relationship as well as friendships lost,’ she shares, stating that the powerful people are now pursuing them for the Justice Tomorrow information Sterling and Gray have been given. Besides, she is also finishing up two short stories, one of them featuring Sterling and Gray, that she hopes to find a market for soon.

The Parting Message

As the conversation draws to a close, we ask her if she’d like to tell something to budding authors, and she says she’d want to tell them to find a writers’ group and get involved with writers. ‘If you don’t have a group of writers that makes you better, encourages you, critiques your work, and provides you with pointers toward markets or editors, then you really aren’t a writer. You have a hobby, that’s all,’ she says. She adds, ‘People say, “Oh, writers write.” But that’s not so. Lots of people write…and write…and write. They never share what they do—or worse, they put what they write on Amazon with a vile cover, mistake-laden manuscripts, and dreadful plots. Makes me want to scream.’

Quite naturally, Ms Flaum would want to change that if she could. ‘It makes me crazy that people throw up all kinds of trash on Amazon and make the self-publishing market look bad. The fact is, there are a lot of traditionally published and self-published authors who are terrific. But you’ll never find them amid the poorly written, poorly edited books in the marketplace,’ she points out, signing off. 

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If you don’t have a group of writers that makes you better, encourages you, critiques your work, and provides you with pointers toward markets or editors, then you really aren’t a writer. You have a hobby, that’s all.

Jackie Ross Flaum

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