Saturday, January 28, 2012

J. Anderson Coats: It Only Had to be Collected

I grew up in a bustling, active house full of soccer practice and family games and yard work where nothing was produced without a recipe or a pattern . I realized early on that I had a sort of free-form creativity that didn't fit in with my orderly, by-the-book household. It was never actively discouraged. It was only viewed as extraneous and impractical, worth pursuing only in the spare moments in between productive work.

When I was thirteen, I found myself in a bad place at school, and all of the adults close to me refused to see it. All adults, I should say, but one -- my father. He didn't know how to help me with my immediate problems, but he knew about notebooks. He gave me his to page through without a word about why. He never told me to keep one myself. He never asked for it back.

My first intentional notebook was a blank spiral-bound sketchpad I bought with my allowance after my mother told me I didn't need it. But I did. I slit open every metaphorical vein and let all of my anger and despair sluice onto the page. It didn't solve my problems, but it gave me a pressure valve. It gave me a place to work things out with words, to give form to my anxieties and fears and anger.


I was much older - eighteen or so - when I picked up my father's notebook and read it. Really read it, I mean; not just flipped through it with the vague self-absorbed glance of an early teen. I read page-by-page through my father's notebook, and suddenly I made a lot more sense in my hidebound family.


My restless, color-outside-the-lines creativity was not freakish or isolated. It could be herded, albeit like cats, toward productive ends. It could be harnessed and directed, like light through a prism.

It only had to be collected before it slipped away.

A suggestion for young writers: Don't be afraid to write pure garbage. Just get it on the page. It's much easier to fix what's there than what isn't.


J. Anderson Coats has dug for crystals, held Lewis' and Clark's original hand-written journal, and been a mile underground. She has a cool surgery scar unrelated to childbirth, she reads Latin, and she's been given the curse of Cromwell on a back road in Connemara. On a clear day, she can see the Olympic Mountains from her front window. On the foggy ones, she can smell the Puget Sound.

Jillian writes historical fiction set in the middle ages that routinely includes too much violence, name-calling and petty vandalism perpetrated by badly behaved young people. Her work is represented by Ammi Joan Paquette of the Erin Murphy Literary Agency.

THE WICKED AND THE JUST, Jillian's debut novel, is forthcoming from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt on April 17, 2012.


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1 comment:

  1. So interesting to hear the stories of the notebooks, & this seems as if Jillian had writing in her bones. The book sounds good; always happy to see someone have a first book!

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