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Jon Odell answers questions about "The Healing"

Created: 02/22/12

Replies: 22

Posted Feb. 22, 2012 Go to Top | Bottom | link | alert
admin

Join Date: 10/11/10

Posts: 369

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Jonathan Odell answers questions about The Healing

Back in February, when The Healing was published in hardcover, Jon Odell joined us to answer questions. Below are the questions and his answers.


Posted Feb. 22, 2012 Go to Top | Bottom | link | alert
lynneb

Join Date: 08/23/11

Posts: 47

As a man, how do you write so well from a woman's point of view?

I am always amazed when a male author can get so deeply inside of a female character's personality. How do you manage to write such strong and vivid female characters' points of view in this novel?


Posted Feb. 22, 2012 Go to Top | Bottom | link | alert
lorettaf

Join Date: 04/22/11

Posts: 11

Are any of your characters based on real people?

I loved the rich characters in the "The Healing." Were any of them based on people you encountered in the slave narratives or through your research?


Posted Feb. 22, 2012 Go to Top | Bottom | link | alert
EileenL

Join Date: 02/02/12

Posts: 8

How did you create such a nuanced portrait of plantation life?

The depiction of life on the plantation was so detailed and rich. What was the source of the detail that created such a nuanced portrayal of life in that time and place?


Posted Feb. 22, 2012 Go to Top | Bottom | link | alert
susanr

Join Date: 04/14/11

Posts: 80

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What do you think of reviews that compare The Healing to The Help

What do you think of all the reviews that compare THE HEALING to THE HELP.


Posted Feb. 22, 2012 Go to Top | Bottom | link | alert
jonohoh

Join Date: 02/07/12

Posts: 13

As a man, how do you write so well from a woman's point of view?

Hello Lynnneb, I'm afraid I don't have a choice but to write from a women's point of view. I've deliberately tried men's voices, but it ends up dead and boring. I believe it was because when I was growing up, men in my family never talked--only maybe about crops or weather or cars. It was the women who told the stories. I was no fool and I hung out with the women, my aunts, grandmothers, my mother, and the black women I was raised around. They were full of life and emotion.

Jon Odell


Posted Feb. 22, 2012 Go to Top | Bottom | link | alert
jonohoh

Join Date: 02/07/12

Posts: 13

Are any of your characters based on real people?

Lorettah, thanks for that compliment. Most were composites of folks I had read about or perhaps met. Except for Polly Shine. She was based on a 91 year old midwife I was honored to interview in 2002. I believe a link to that interview is on this site. She was powerful, devilishly witty, totally in charge, and loving in a tough way. Being with her for 2 hours changed my life. Her name was Mrs. Willie Turner, or Mother Turner as the community called her. In my first book, THE VIEW FROM DELPHI, I put most of my family! The main character Hazel is based on my mother. She has since forgiven me.

Jon Odell


Posted Feb. 22, 2012 Go to Top | Bottom | link | alert
jonohoh

Join Date: 02/07/12

Posts: 13

How did you create such a nuanced portrait of plantation life?

Eileen, much of the source material for the layout of the plantation came from journals written before the civil war, essays written at that time by northern travelers and from interviews with ex-slaves themselves in the WPA Slave Narrative collection. Also I visited many restored plantations in Mississippi and around Charleston, S.C.

Jon Odell


Posted Feb. 22, 2012 Go to Top | Bottom | link | alert
jonohoh

Join Date: 02/07/12

Posts: 13

What do you think of reviews that compare The Healing to The Help

Susanr, I'll have to dodge that question, because I have purposely not read THE HELP or seen the movie (tho I hear Viola Davis is phenomenal). When something has permeated the culture as much as that work has, I stay away from it for a while to protect my own creative voice. Though when I hear people describe THE HELP, I really can't see the similarities, except both authors are white and are from Mississippi and have written book that contain black characters.

Jon Odell


Posted Feb. 22, 2012 Go to Top | Bottom | link | alert
gracie

Join Date: 01/16/12

Posts: 6

How did you get the idea for The Healing?

How did you get the idea for the novel? That is, how did you, as the writer, brainstorm the fundamental plot until you began writing?


Posted Feb. 22, 2012 Go to Top | Bottom | link | alert
jonohoh

Join Date: 02/07/12

Posts: 13

How did you get the idea for The Healing?

Hello gracie, I wish I could think linearly but when I write a novel there is no compelling sense of plot until toward the end of the process. I start with ideas I want to explore and characters who I would like to see react to those ideas. So I end up writing many, many scenes, not necessarily connected but which do reveal how a character interacts with her setting and how she develops as a person. That's when I begin to get a sense of the arc of the character. Then I begin lining up the scenes to demonstrate that development. Some novelists are plot driven. Others are character driven. I fall into the latter category. To me, character is everything and if plumbed deep enough, will yield a plot.

- Jon


Posted Feb. 22, 2012 Go to Top | Bottom | link | alert
jonohoh

Join Date: 02/07/12

Posts: 13

How did you get the idea for The Healing?

Gracie, I also get ideas by reading non-fiction and some wonderful characters are suggested by history. The book that made the most difference for me in character development was Working Cures by Sharla Fett. I got so many of my ideas for the novel from her book. An AMAZING piece of work.

- Jon


Posted Feb. 22, 2012 Go to Top | Bottom | link | alert
sarahd

Join Date: 10/16/10

Posts: 84

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Was the Amanda-Granada relationship based on history?

Hey, this question has already sort of been asked, but I am wondering if the Granada-Amanda relationship was one you made up or if you came across similar scenarios as you conducted your research? I found this aspect of the novel to be one of the most interesting...


Sarah D
Posted Feb. 22, 2012 Go to Top | Bottom | link | alert
sarahd

Join Date: 10/16/10

Posts: 84

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Why not focus entirely on Polly Shine?

Why did you choose to tell your story in flashback through Gran-Gran, rather than focusing entirely on Polly Shine?


Sarah D
Posted Feb. 22, 2012 Go to Top | Bottom | link | alert
jonohoh

Join Date: 02/07/12

Posts: 13

Was the Amanda-Granada relationship based on history?

Sarahd, While I was reading the ex-slave narratives, I was struck by how many of the slaves had memories of being the Mistress's "pet". Dressed up and cuddled and given special privileges. It really made my stomach turn. I wondered what effect that kind of treatment would have on a young girl's psyche and how it could separate her from her own people.

- Jon


Posted Feb. 22, 2012 Go to Top | Bottom | link | alert
jonohoh

Join Date: 02/07/12

Posts: 13

Why not focus entirely on Polly Shine?

Sarahd, I must have used and discarded half a dozen ways of structuring this novel, from flashback to totally linearly, to all backstory, to multiple viewpoints. Polly Shine is the real energy of the novel, and I wanted to get her in earlier, but I had to build up the need in the reader for a savior, a savior for Granada, Gran Gran and Violet.


Posted Feb. 22, 2012 Go to Top | Bottom | link | alert
jonohoh

Join Date: 02/07/12

Posts: 13

Why not focus entirely on Polly Shine?

Sarahd, also after I had friends read my drafts, one said, "You know, this book is about the healing power of story. You really ought to try telling it in story form, the old woman telling the story all the way through the book.'" as soon as she said that, it felt true in my bone.

- Jon


Posted Feb. 25, 2012 Go to Top | Bottom | link | alert
tracyb

Join Date: 09/22/11

Posts: 29

Where did you get the idea about buying a healer?

One of my favorite books. I loved the vivid characters and the "quaint"sayings throughout the book. I am also a lover of radical, strong and loving women. A Healer brought to a plantation was a surprise to me. OK it is the name of the book. $5,000 was a lot of money then. Did this really happen? The strange circumstance that Granada was put in at birth. There were so many threads to tie and I loved the way that they ended up. I think that there was a confusion that plagued almost any child that was brought into the "House". Where did they belong?


Posted Feb. 25, 2012 Go to Top | Bottom | link | alert
jonohoh

Join Date: 02/07/12

Posts: 13

Where did you get the idea about buying a healer?

Thanks, Tracyb, I'm so happy you were pleased with the book. Yes, i love radical, strong, and loving women as well. I believe they are our hope of the future!!

I got the idea about buying a healer from an antebellum newspaper account (from Maryland I believe) about a slave who had reputedly discovered a cure for a poisonous snake bite. He was the healer on a plantation (men were rarer than women, but they did exist). The owner gave the slave his freedom in exchange for the 'recipe' so he could patent it.

And yes, that is the quandary at the center of the book--belonging. That is a theme that arises in all my work, and I guess always will. It's a personal question that I have grappled with--being a gay man raised in the religious South, I have the age-old feeling of not fitting in.

Jon Odell


Posted Feb. 26, 2012 Go to Top | Bottom | link | alert
tracyb

Join Date: 09/22/11

Posts: 29

Where did you get the idea about buying a healer?

Very interesting that the healers were often men. I am glad that you made this healer a woman.

I too can relate to the belonging dilemma being a person with a disability that often goes unnoticed for awhile - just a small right hand; add an evil step-father and unknown father. I was raised in a very small town in New Hampshire. In the woods far from everyone. As a child reading let me know that there was another life besides that that painful childhood. YES A strength can come from this and my grand parents were the ones always there for me. As an adult my life has been reaching out to the forgotten ones 70's feminist, HeadStart, GLBT sensitivity training & developmentally disabled adults are a few of the areas I have worked in or been part of.

OK I won't go back to any high school reunions ever!!!!!! Visiting my mother is a once a year trial. My work has helped me discover who I am as yours is doing for you. There is hope and light in the grace of your words. Thank you


Posted Feb. 27, 2012 Go to Top | Bottom | link | alert
jonohoh

Join Date: 02/07/12

Posts: 13

RE: Jon Odell answers questions about "The Healing"

Tracyb, thank you for trusting me with your story. I find it inspiring. It's so wonderful the kind of folks you meet through the common love of books.


Posted Feb. 28, 2012 Go to Top | Bottom | link | alert
davinamw

Join Date: 10/15/10

Posts: 505

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What about the book jacket?

Hi Jon,

There's a great discussion going on about the symbolism of the cover: http://www.bookbrowse.com/booktalk/messages.cfm?threadid=7AE8A619-5056-A34B-62777EC544CC0D02

Would love to know your thoughts on this. Is there a specific way you interpret the cover image, or are we all just reading too much into it? :)


Posted Feb. 28, 2012 Go to Top | Bottom | link | alert
admin

Join Date: 10/11/10

Posts: 369

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What about the book jacket?

Jon posted an answer to the question about the book jacket in the discussion topic linked in the post above. His answer is cross-posted here for other people's interest:


I was asked to offer my comments about the cover. The artist is African American and submitted almost "as is" after she read the book. I was stunned with the colors and the imagery. It was a visceral, not a rational, reaction, which is what the best art elicits. I too have studied it and tried to logically analyze it, but when you break it down piece by piece, you learn the whole is bigger than the sum of the parts. Nor is it stagnant. It's like a picture in motion. There is something spiritually moving to have the black girl's heroic profile, half on earth, half in the heaven, rooted yet reaching upward, incorporating Polly's teaching that all things contain perfection, it's just a matter of remembering.

Jon Odell


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