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Stones in My Passway - interview with author Jim Jackson

After meeting the devil herself at a lonely crossroads not far outside of Swift Current, Saskatchewan, Jim Jackson got an exclusive interview with the Princess of Darkness and a short-lived staff position as her PR writer. From that gig, he came away with a supernatural ability to tell a tale. Jim’s mission is to show that the stories we all grew up with – the heroes, the monsters, the adventures – are still solid, muscular realities that can shape our lives (for good or for ill). Jim is the author of Stones in My Passway: a Novel in Blues and How to Tell a Really Good Story about Absolutely Anything in 4 Easy Steps. He’s also a public speaking instructor, wine lover and amateur blues musician who can be found on the lonely, sepia-hued plains of Southern Alberta, or traveling the country, notebook, corkscrew and mouth harp in hand, looking for really good stories.

Why do you think people are so taken in by a well-told story?

Stories are who we are. When I say “I,” I mean someone who’s a collection of my particular past memories and experiences that I’ve distilled into a story of who I am.

Research in neuroscience backs this up. It seems that we, as human beings, are hard wired to learn and take in information through story. And, more than anything, that means that we learn about ourselves by putting our experiences into a cohesive narrative. That story defines how we see ourselves. We act according to keeping that narrative going in the same direction.

What I find most exciting about this is that we can change ourselves by changing our life stories. Of course, the experiences stay the same, but the way we interpret them into a story can change. We can reinvent ourselves by changing the story we tell.

How is it that by changing our stories, we change ourselves?

A few years ago, I came across the idea of the generative analogy. Basically, this idea says that if you choose a central metaphor for yourself – for your life or your career or whatever – it makes all decisions easy. You just follow the metaphor.

Let me give a personal example. I was just starting a career writing and designing educational materials for companies then, and I decided to put this idea into practice. I called myself a craftsman. That was my story. And it made decisions easy. If ever I was faced with an easy way or a harder but better-quality way, I’d put in the work and go with better quality. I was a craftsman. The story I told myself did all the heavy lifting for me. And, by choosing the high-quality road, I carved out a flourishing career.

It changed when I was off taking care of my daughter for the second six months of her life. I didn’t need the craftsman story – I was a caregiver, not a creator. It was then that I started writing fiction again. Maybe it was an attempt to make my legacy to my first child mean something more to me than doing work to help other people succeed.

It was a time of great personal change, and I needed to change my story to fit it. Otherwise, I would have been suffocated by it.

In your opinion, which are the key times of great personal change?

Well, there are the obvious times of great change like divorce or death of a loved one or things like that. From what I’ve found talking to people, we intuitively change our stories at these crisis times. Pain is an excellent motivator.

Times when it’s not so obvious that you need to change the story you’re telling yourself are the times when the change is positive. Maybe it’s the birth of a child or moving to a new town or getting married. I certainly had to take a hard look at my guiding story when I got married. I needed to make my story one of being a good husband, since I’d been quite the opposite for many years! Looking at the story I’d been telling myself helped me navigate through that change.

How does looking at the stories we tell ourselves help us to navigate these times?

That’s a great question. Let’s say you’ve just gone through a bad breakup, and you’re feeling like a victim. Is being a victim your story? Maybe the story you’ve been telling yourself about being a victim was what caused the breakup.

I’ve certainly had to face up to the stories I’ve told myself. And, when I have, I’ve more often than not found that those stories caused the crisis I needed to navigate through. They were false stories I told myself, and they took me away from where I should have been. As a novelist, of course, I can explore those false stories through fiction. It’s way easier than having to live it. But not as exciting.

What inspired you to write your novel Stones in My Passway?

Honestly? It was a good, old-fashioned, mid-life crisis. I’d just turned forty, I was working at a job that wasn’t awful enough to quit, but certainly wasn’t fulfilling and I had just started a family that I wanted to set an example for. I started looking at the story I’d been telling myself for the last fifteen or twenty years, and wanted another chance. I wanted to rewrite those chapters. Maybe have a bit more fun. Maybe be a bit more forgiving.

So that’s what the book’s about – if the Devil gave you a chance to undo some decision in your past, would you take it? We all have that one crossroads – maybe more than one – where we made a choice. But what would we give to know what would happen if we went the other way? Stones in My Passway looks at that idea. But with blues and devils and hellhounds. And sultry seductresses and music and the gates of hell. And a witch. All that good stuff.

It might be a truism, but there’s no better (or more fun) way to really take a look at the life story we tell ourselves than writing a novel. By delving into a story I created and that I had control over, I was able to take more control of the life story I tell myself and change what wasn’t working.

Without actually needing to make a deal with the devil.
Stones in My Passway - interview with author Jim Jackson Reviewed by JaamZIN on 5:41:00 AM Rating: 5
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