Author Neta Jackson is on a roll. Quite literally, as she has now completed the sixth title in The Yada Yada Prayer Group series: The Yada Yada Prayer Group Gets Rolling.
This time around, a devastating fire wakes up the Yadas to a new reality: God is on the move. As the prayer group heads into a new year fraught with change, Jodi Baxter and her Yada sisters are realizing it is either hunker down with the safe and stagnant, or get rolling with God—even if it means letting go of the old and embracing the new.
In this interview, Neta discusses how much of the popular series is based on her own life, how her husband’s open-heart surgery and recovery miraculously didn’t slow down her writing schedule and how she transitioned from writing historical fiction for children to her current genre of contemporary women’s fiction. …
How did you come up with the concept for The Yada Yada Prayer Group Gets Rolling?
Gets Rolling is Book 6 in the Yada Yada series, so in many ways, the storyline follows the same characters and picks up events from previous novels. But I do tend to bring different characters to the fore in the various novels and highlight their stories. In Gets Rolling, the prayer group will soon celebrate their second anniversary—but, as Jodi says, “Why does God keep rearranging my comfort zone?” God is pushing the Yada Yadas to reach out beyond the group—but that also means letting go of the past in order to go forward. All the Yada Yada novels have a basic theme:
- #1 YYPG—is about grace (“I’m just a sinner, saved by grace”)
- #2 YYPG Gets Down—is about forgiveness
- #3 YYPG Gets Real—is about redemption
- #4 YYPG Gets Tough—is about spiritual warfare
- #5 YYPG Gets Caught—is about truth & freedom
- #6 YYPG Gets Rolling—is about letting go and reaching out
Is any part of The Yada Yada Prayer Group Gets Rolling factual?
There are bits and pieces of “real life” that get woven into this story (e.g. my husband led Bible studies at Chicago’s juvenile detention center like Denny does in this novel; we have had beloved pets die on us; we’ve celebrated a Christian Seder many times; etc). But I wouldn’t say any of the major events in this book are “factual” (not in the way the robbery by Bandana Woman in Book 2 and the attack by a white supremacist group in Book 4 were directly related to actual events in our life).
How closely is The Yada Yada Prayer Group Gets Rolling based on your life?
The whole idea for The Yada Yada Prayer Group was inspired by the real-life women’s Bible study I have been part of for about 12 years now, and I do what most novelists do—draw on many of my own experiences, feelings, and relational interactions to make the fictional story come alive. But I have to say, the characters and stories quickly took on a life of their own—and it IS fiction.
How long did The Yada Yada Prayer Group Gets Rolling take you to complete?
About one month in the planning stage and six months of writing—during which my husband had open heart surgery to repair a leaky valve! But he bounced back so fast, I only lost about one week of writing time (grin).
What is the symbolism for the title The Yada Yada Prayer Group Gets Rolling?
“Yada” in Hebrew means “to know and be known intimately” and is found 944 times in the Old Testament! (Of course, in Yiddish it means, “You know, you know” or “whatever.”) As for “Gets Rolling,” it’s often tempting for groups to become ingrown or standing still, and God sometimes has to knock the props out from under us in order to move forward. That’s what happens in this book.
How many books will be in the Yada Yada series?
I just completed writing the manuscript for Book 7 in the series, which will be the finale—a “seasonal novella” which will come out in October 2007, titled,The Yada Yada Prayer Group Gets Decked Out. That’s seven novels in five years … I’m ready for a break!
Do you have a favorite character? Why?
I have favorite characters! I want to be like Avis when I grow up, so full of the Word of God it comes out my pores. I want to pray Scripture like Nony … I prize Florida’s in-your-face honesty … Yo-Yo’s cut-to-the-bone non-churchy language … Hoshi’s quiet courage to follow her faith even though it means losing her family …I knew I couldn’t answer this question!
How much research did The Yada Yada Prayer Group Gets Rolling take?
I’m constantly researching everything from cultural celebrations to gang signs and street language, from Yiddish expressions to “living with HIV,” from third grade standard curriculums to the menus at various eateries in Chicago … you name it! In a sense, I live in this multi-cultural milieu, so it’s not foreign to me, but I try to back up my general knowledge with research. You should see my source files! (I print out everything—which probably makes me guilty of using up too many trees.)
Do you prefer to write contemporary chick lit?
You’re assuming I’m writing chick lit (grin). I don’t think Yada Yada fits the definition—my age range is too broad (from 20s to 50s), I have singles and marrieds, divorced and widowed—plus their men, their kids, their teenagers, their dogs . . . I think of Yada Yada as contemporary women’s fiction—and this is my first foray into strange territory! Whew, what a ride! Before Yada Yada, my husband and I were writing historical fiction for kids (the Trailblazer series, 40 titles) and I loved it. Suddenly I’m writing contemporary fiction, full-length novels, by myself, for adult women . . . talk about a hairpin curve in my career path. I’m still breathless! But if readers see those wonderfully quirky covers with the bright colors and crazy socks and think “chick lit”—that’s okay by me.
What are some of the challenges you face as an author?
First, the blessings! My husband is a writer, too, so we both work at home. No commuting. No staff meetings. We worked at home while our kids were growing up, so we never had an “empty house” for them to come home to. I get up every morning excited to get to work. I love what I do. The reader letters I get bless my socks off. It doesn’t get much better than that. But yes, there are challenges. We don’t have a steady income. (But we’ve learned a LOT about trusting God for our needs, and the importance of bathing everything in prayer.) Health insurance for self-employed writers is ridiculous (more than our housing). You don’t get any paid vacations or sick days. People think that since you’re at home you can chat for 30 minutes on the phone, not realizing we keep very strict writing hours—long ones. And every time we finish a book project, we’re basically “unemployed” once more. (Having a contract for a series is very nice—at least you know what your next work will be for a while.) Also, there are temptations to be jealous when other writers’ books take off and do well; discouragement when the book you really believe in gets bypassed by publisher after publisher, or if it does get published, sales are terrible and the publisher drops you or ignores you thereafter. But one of the best things that happened to my husband and me was to become part of an e-loop of Christian fiction authors—people like us—as a support group (called ChiLibris). We have gotten to know many other authors as real persons (the yearly retreat helps), with struggles and joys similar to our own. The Scripture is really true, that when one part of the “body” rejoices, the rest of us rejoice too! (And vice-versa.) Now, when a fellow author hits the best-seller list or gets a great review in a major publication, we all cheer. When someone is discouraged, the group prays and offers support. We share insights into writing and have helped each other grow. What a gift! God is SO faithful.
Are there any other new projects on the horizon?
I just finished writing the manuscript for the final Yada Yada novel, actually a “seasonal novella,” which will be coming out in October 2007, just in time for “the holidays.” The finale, The Yada Yada Prayer Group Gets Decked Out, will include celebration ideas and recipes at readers’ request. Then a new edition of the whole series will be coming out in 2008, with cross-cultural celebration ideas and recipes included at the end of all the novels. My husband and I are working on these now. But after that … well, it’s brainstorming time!
What advice would you give to a person trying to become a fiction writer?
PRAY. Ask God to show you if this is what you’re supposed to be doing with your time and your talents. B e a reader. Read widely, but also read the genre you’re most interested in. Historical fiction? Contemporary? Romance? Suspense? Attend a yearly writing conference—there are some excellent Christian writing conferences around the country: Mount Herman Writing Conference in the spring, Write to Publish in Chicago in early summer, Colorado Christian Writing Conference, etc. You will get to rub shoulders with authors, editors, agents—and others like yourself. The publishing world is a business. You need to get to know the trends, what publishers are looking for, etc. But don’t try to write like so-and-so. Find your own voice. Tell the story only you can tell. Park your butt in front of your computer and WRITE. Set aside regular times to write, if not every day, then several times a week. Or every Saturday morning. Whatever works. But do it regularly. Remember that writing is only partly inspiration; the rest is perspiration. Be willing to take critique. Learn from them. Be willing to rewrite. Writers are always improving their craft. None of us have arrived. Learn how to send out proposals (not the whole manuscript). A cover letter, a synopsis of the whole novel, plus 2 or 3 chapters that will show an editor how the idea translates into the stuff that grips readers—then send this proposal (a) to your agent, if you have one; or (b) to 5-10 different acquisition editors (by name!) at different publishing houses. PRAY. Keep praying. There’s no point in writing if you’re not praying. You want God to give you the stamina to keep going, God to inspire the ideas, God to move mountains. You do your part, but trust God to do His.
What message would you like your readers to take away from this book?
In this book, the theme is “letting go, in order to move forward.” As Jodi Baxter says, “Why does God keep rearranging my comfort zone?” Sometimes God has to knock the props out from under us in order to stretch us, to show us we can do far more than we think we can, and that He wants to use us to reach out to others. But in general, the “message” of The Yada Yada Prayer Group novels is the wonderful richness and diversity of the Body of Christ—and that we need each other.
What is your goal or mission as a writer?
First of all, I want whatever I do to bring honor to the name of Jesus, including writing. Secondly, I want to tell a good story. Jesus told stories, because people identify with the characters in a story, and the story becomes “their” story, they get emotionally involved. Thirdly, I want to tell stories that help to bring down the barriers that separate us in the Body of Christ—race, cultures, denominations, worship styles. To show God at work in unlikely people and places. To catch readers by surprise and stretch them beyond their assumptions and prejudices.
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