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Author Interview: Jodi Wright

Author Jodi Wright’s debut novel, How to Grow an Addict offers a cautionary though inspiring tale about a clever but vulnerable young woman’s descent into addiction, and the grit and acceptance of support required for her to emerge. The tale is told with clear eyed prose and steady humor - elements that characterize the author herself. It’s a wonderful novel... here was my brief review.

The prologue of J.A. Wright’s How to Grow an Addict alerts the reader, if the book’s title didn’t, that the novel’s central character, Randall, will end up in rehab for her addictions. With the same straightforward, appealing, if dispassionate voice, Randall’s first-person narration of this story starts from her seven year old viewpoint to relate how she navigates the troubling dysfunction of her nuclear family. She reaches for support where she can find it, and finds trouble when she can’t. Long before she sees what’s to come, the reader dreads this quirky child’s future, and wishes she had an endless supply of the occasional love and resilience that barely see her through. Simply and directly written, How to Grow an Addict lets the events in Randall’s life dramatize how to fail a child. We cannot turn away from her, when others do, and are rewarded for our loyalty in this powerful story.

As part of a community of women authors publishing together, I got to know Jodi Wright originally through her book, and then further through our involvement online with other She Writes Press authors who published books in the same season. Jodi, along with several others, masterfully accumulated best practices for publicizing and marketing her novel all the way in and from New Zealand, and then generously shared that knowledge with those of us who were motivated but less savvy. That was nearly five years ago and she has continued to contribute to our private writing community while remaining active in organizing and participating in writing retreats and conferences in New Zealand- this in addition to her day job organizing arts/performance festivals in Christchurch. And, she has a new novel in progress!

So, in planning my bucket-list month-long trip to New Zealand, I contacted Jodi and she generously offered to tour us around Christchurch. What a day it was! With her husband Peter, she not only showed us the sights in and around this vibrant little city, but told us much about the history, what daily life is like, and especially about the terrible earthquakes that destroyed much of the city in 2011. I was struck by how little of this devastation that made it into the news in the U.S., particularly in contrast to the more recent horror of the mosque shootings last year. Jodi was at the center of both of these cataclysmic events. Her entire family were in the city center when the earthquake hit. It took them four hours to reach their home 20 minutes away. And then, Jodi was pumping gas at the station across the street from the mosque last March when she heard shots and saw the shooter escape. These and many more stories of Jodi and Peter’s travels, their work, their interests- held us spellbound as we took in the sights of Christchurch’s rebuilt beauty, progress and whimsy and the gorgeous natural environs.

But back to Jodi the author... Here are some questions I posed to her in this first of what I hope will be many author profiles in these blog pages.

What’s it like being an American-born author in New Zealand compared to your perception of being an author in the U.S? I doubt I would have been thick skinned enough to publish a novel if I’d stayed in the USA. I would have been too worried what people would think. Having a bit of distance from my settings has been beneficial. I don’t feel inclined to be true to the place or the people. Being an author in New Zealand is no more difficult than having a job in New Zealand. I learned quickly that there’s a big difference between being a tourist from America and a competitor for a New Zealand job, pub deal or grant.

You and I had a great conversation about using stories/characters from your own life in your fiction. What would you advise other novelists about doing this? My thinking is if they didn’t want to be in a book they wouldn’t have danced naked in the kitchen after Christmas dinner. I follow a formula though; change their name, shoe size, religious affiliation and make them a few years older.

You’ve devoted yourself to facilitating writing community events here in New Zealand, but until recently, had never been in a critique group. How would you describe the benefits and/or challenges of writing groups? Of being part of writing community? I’m a founder and former executive director of the annual writers' festival in Christchurch. It was a great job for many years and I had some wonderful experiences with a few of my favorite authors, including Frank McCourt (I wrote an essay about my experience with him).

What do you want to tell us about your new novel? It’s the story of a family that falls apart because of illness, accidents and the Vietnam war. The setting is a roadside café and gas station located on a Washington state coastal highway in 1971.

How can readers learn more about you, and where can we find your book? My novel How to Grow an Addict is available in paperback, ebook and audiobook from all online outlets.

Thank you, Jodi!

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