Interview with Jo-Ann Costa, author of The Bequest of Big Daddy, her debut novel!
Today I’m very lucky to be interviewing Jo-Ann Costa author of The Bequest of Big Daddy.
A HUGE welcome to Jo-Anna and many thanks for agreeing to this interview for The Most Happy Reader.
What are your ambitions for your writing career?
In four words: to please my audience. However, there really is something to the old adage, “One day at a time.” When I become anxious about whether or not anyone will like The Bequest of Big Daddy, I try to think of what I already have: a blessing of a husband, a son who is healthy and loves me, a ten year-old Siberian Husky who only wants us to love her, a roof over my head and plenty to eat. Each day, I try look at what’s really important. If my work is successful, it will be the frosting on this hundred-layer cake.
Give us an insight into your main character. What does he/she do that is so special?
Born Horatio Gage Janson, later called Ratio by his friends, and much later, Big Daddy by his respectful family, my main character is a dark individual who is born in remarkably troubled times just as the American Civil War begins. Born to a selfish daughter of Southern aristocracy who will never love him, as a child, Ratio is unwanted and resented. Raised in a world of chaos and change where many of society’s institutions are not only unfair, they are also racially heinous and obviously cruel. Amidst this hostile environment, Ratio is left to fend for himself. Couple this with the fact that he is considered a “nuisance” by his abusive mother and “inconvenient” to her lover, who supports her in exchange for sexual favors, Ratio runs wild. At a circus, he is abused by a freak, but he keeps this shame to himself, vowing to later kill his tormentor. When he is sent away at a tender age for having wanderlust, he enters into an adult world of back-breaking work and equally hard lessons, one of which is being accused of a crime he does not commit. As so it goes: one disappointing experience after another. What is so special about this man? His is a story of ultimate survival. He lives to become a shrewd, if not jaded, antihero who amasses wealth and respect because of his unflinching determination to do it.
How much research do you do?
The history of the Deep South has always interested me. When I retired from my day job, I wrote The Bequest of Big Daddy partly to show the historical side of the political and societal institutions during Reconstruction and beyond, through the telling of a troubled man’s life in those times. The idea for this book began as a writing project at the UCLA Writers’ Extension Program in the 1990’s and it was never far from my mind. I filled notebooks full of information – such as what it was like to work in a 19th century coal mine, how Yellow Fever was spread up and down the Mississippi River at the turn of the last century and how the leased convict system operated in the South. The leased convict system in particular, was fascinating to me. If you think about it, it was a continuation of slavery. While Southern states could no longer buy and sell human flesh, this system, instituted right after the Civil War, allowed enterprising sheriffs to arrest innocent former slaves on trumped-up charges. When they could not repay the sheriffs for their board and care while incarcerated, they were sold to the coal mines. The dangerous world of coal mining required hours of research, culling through archives and newspapers to grasp the fine line between waking up the next day above ground or else dying in an explosion, which was common in those days. I always keep in mind though, that while verisimilitude is important to historical fiction, it should not be at the expense of the story.
When did you decide to become a writer?
I was a stifled child, raised by a single mother who didn’t have time to listen and later enforced by a critical step-father, who believed in the Biblical reference that a child should be seen and not heard. My early way of speaking was to write down my thoughts. And so when I learned the alphabet, then to spell and read, it wasn’t a leap from sounding-out the text of “Down Singing River” in the second grade to becoming a spelling bee champion. As a birthday gift I was once given a diary (before journals became popular); in this, I saw a way to chatter daily and it felt like I’d been released from a cage. By the time I reached high school, the poetry I’d been writing turned me into an essay-winner in a high school writing competition. In college, I discovered Creative Writing classes where my musings were fueled by a professor who actually thought I had something to say. For me, becoming a writer was not a decision. Like my hair or eye color, writing has always been an essential part of who I am.
Do you read much and if so who are your favorite authors?
Carson McCullers’ The Heart is a Lonely Hunter deals with loneliness, being misunderstood and frequently thwarted in one’s personal desires—not unlike my character, Ratio Janson. I also admire the brilliant Peter Matthiessen. His Shadow Country, a distillation of three books, nailed a distinct mood, language and culture of the Everglades. William Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom, which portrays the ruthless Thomas Sutpen, could have been Ratio Janson’s literary brother. Thomas Savage is another of my favorite authors. The Power of the Dog, with its eerie mood, sense of place and deft characterizations, is exquisite. Yes, I read and read. I do this for two reasons: 1. For me, good storytelling produces its own “Rapture” and 2. as Stephen King once said, “The real importance of reading is that it creates an ease and intimacy with writing.”
For your own reading, do you prefer EBooks or traditional paper/hard back books?
I have both. My IPAD is a product of needing to have a communications and GPS device on the road with me while on tour. The byproduct of this is that I can download books in my hotel room after a long day. To be honest though, I like the heft and smell of a good old-fashioned paperback. I shamelessly dog-ear anything that is not hard-covered and love it when my husband slides a beloved book out of my fingers after I’ve fallen asleep reading in bed. Books are a comfort. Both of my parents once read anything they could get their hands on and my birth father had a book in every room up until the day he died. I admit to having a couple going at once!
Are you reading at the moment? If so, what?
New Zealand author Dame Fiona Kidman. Her work of historical fiction, The Book of Secrets, is loosely based on a true story about group of settlers led by a stern 1800’s Scots’ preacher who relocates them to New Zealand.
Is there anything else you would like to add that I haven’t included?
Warmest thanks Shannon, for your appreciation of good books. You’ve been a generous reviewer and lovely host to this author. I hope your readers will also honor me with reading The Bequest of Big Daddy.
How can readers discover more about you and you work?
Facebook: JoAnnCostaAuthor http://on.fb.me/12HpD9H
Amazon Author Page: www.amazon.com/author/jo-anncosta
Jo-Ann, You are truly delightful and The Bequest of Big Daddy a wonderful novel and a FAB way to begin your career as a novelist!
Thank you very much for taking the time out of your busy schedule to take part in this interview.