by Diana Hockley
This week we review new author Jackson Burnett’s first mystery novel The Past Never Ends, interviews Jackson, & you can enter to win a copy of the book-details at the end of this post.
The Past Never Ends by Jackson Burnett
This is one of the most interesting books I have read this year. At first glance, Jack Burnett’s novel is crime fiction, no more, no less. However, it soon becomes apparent that this is so much more.
Does the law serve itself or justice? Burnett uses a seemingly unrelated sequence of events to answer this.
The plot is engaging and starts with a bang. Chester Morgan attorney-at-law, discovers the body of a wealthy philanthropist floating in the YMCA pool. The man presumably died of natural causes, so Chester – though saddened – is not perturbed, until probate is requested of the man’s Will. Something doesn’t add up…
Alan Kinman, a shy and awkward 24 year old man turns up at Chester’s office without an appointment, but with questions concerning the death of a friend. “Something is not quite right,” he insists. Apparently the girl died in an accident, but when Chester investigates, he discovers the horrific truth.
The characters are excellent. Chester Morgan is a delightful character, one of the nicest I have encountered for some time. A kind, principled man, not given to wild gestures or over-the-top acts, he has a private grief to overcome and over the course of this story this is resolved, bringing new hope to his lonely life. The story of how this happens is as unexpected as it is heart-warming.
I think the most extraordinary aspect of this story is the quiet confidence with which Jackson Burnett methodically unfolds his tale and how the original question is answered.
I congratulate the author on this novel and will be keeping it on my Kindle.
An Interview With Jackson Burnett:
Diana: Did you start writing from a young age and are you a dedicated reader?
Jackson: Books have always been magical to me. My father, of blessed memory, would take his children to the public library instead of to sporting events. The stories there took me to places I couldn’t imagine. Reading still does. Writing came later. I didn’t have my own stories to tell yet.
Diana: What or where did you find your inspiration for the plot?
Jackson: After you practice law for a while, you see recurring patterns. The plot line for The Past Never Ends arose out of one of these patterns. It was important for me, too, to write a book that shows how lawyers actually experience the legal system. It’s often frustrating, messy, and the results not always satisfying.
Diana: How do you plan your books and for how long before you actually start writing?
Jackson: I keep a journal where I scratch out ideas for novels. Most just stay there, but I write what I find most compelling. A lot of times those ideas turn out to be no more than short stories. A novel takes a hold of you and won’t let you go until you finish it.
Diana: What research do you do for your novels?
Jackson: With so many novels being published, it’s important to check what already is in circulation. If somebody has already written the book you want to write, you should do something else. The world doesn’t need another John Grisham; the world needs what is uniquely yours and yours only.
If the story I’m writing is based on a real place, I try to go there before or while I’m writing. If readers can’t tell whether a novel is set in Hanford or Topeka, the author has missed a real chance to add some richness and depth to the story.
Diana: Do you set yourself a goal of so many words per day?
Diana: How do you go about planning your novels?
Jackson: Writing a novel can be like a romance or like a marriage. In a romance, you kind of know where you’d like to go, but the thrill is the mystery and the discovery. In a marriage, it’s a matter of working out details. My writing is more like a romance. I generally know where I want to go but I love the mystery and discovery along the way.
Diana: How do you cope with writer’s block?
Jackson: It’s usually best to try to write through it. If you can’t, it probably means you just need to move on to the next place where you can write.
Diana: Do you have a mentor–someone you can ring up and bleat too if necessary?
Jackson: My mentor passed away several years ago. He was an old-time newspaperman who wrote great fiction as well. He was the most profane person I’ve met. If I have a problem in my writing, I pretty much know what he would say. That gets me through. That’s good enough.
Diana: Does someone else check you plot as you go along, or do you keep it a secret until you have finished the first draft? Or finished altogether?
Jackson: I belong to a great critique group, and I gauge the reaction of the members as I go along. If I talk too much about the plot, the story loses its energy so I avoid it.
Diana: How do you keep track of the characters and what is happening at any given time in the story?
Jackson: If there are a lot of characters, I’ll keep a log that tells me where the characters appear in the manuscript and general information about them.
Diana: Do you do your own illustrations?
Diana: If not, who does and does the illustrator discuss the drawings with you first, or does he or she read the book and then do them from that?
Jackson: The publisher designed the cover of The Past Never Ends. It’s my first novel and I’m really pleased with the way the book looks and what it portrays.
Diana: If you had a choice–and you may well have–what time of the day do you like to write?
Jackson: I like to write anytime I can be so absorbed in it I don’t know what time it is.
Diana: Do you have a favorite book-signing or fan mail story which you would like to share?
Jackson: My wife reads a book or more a week. She is also constitutionally incapable of telling an untruth, even a white lie, and is, therefore, stingy with praise. When she finished reading The Past Never Ends, she put down the last page and said “This is good.” That’s the best compliment I could have gotten. Let me assure you, she would have told me if she thought it was dog food.
Diana: Future books?
Jackson: I have a rough plot and the first chapter imagined of a second Chester Morgan mystery. I’m not sure we’ll ever see him again, though. Two novels are actually in the works. One is a prairie gothic kind of thing. The other is a coming of age novel with magical realism twists.
Diana: What do you like to read? And do you read your own books after some time has passed and think “Oh no, I could have done that better!!!” and gnash your teeth?
Jackson: My reading tastes are pretty eclectic. I love finding an off-beat title by an unknown writer and finding out I have read a masterpiece yet to be discovered.
Diana: When did you start seriously writing and what did or do you do other than writing?
Jackson: I started writing seriously in my late 20s and practice law full-time. I’m a sole practitioner who represents regular folks and small businesses in civil, probate, and trust matters. I also enjoy playing the fiddle, car trips, and going to the roller derby.
Diana: Any advice for new writers?
Jackson: Write your dreams, not someone else’s.
Diana: Where do you see the publishing industry going in the next few years?
Jackson: It’s a great time to be a reader and writer. There are so many books you can read now that would never have been published without e-books. I suspect the major publishers will continue to print celebrity authors, but will go on losing their influence as gate-keepers. Readers will develop better ways to winnow out poorly executed novels, but we aren’t there yet.
To enter to win an copy of The Past Never Ends, simply email KRL at life@kingsriverlife[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “Past”, or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen January 12, 2013. U.S. residents only.