K.M. Jackson has ideas, for books and books, for series upon series. "I have more ideas than I have time," said the author, whose romance As Good as the First Time launches this month. "The ideas come way too fast." Her new bulletin board is covered with ideas. "They come from the weirdest spots." Her Pinterest board is full of ideas. "The spark could come from anywhere."
A pastor sparked the first book in Jackson's Unconventional Brides series, in which protagonists arrive at love via unexpected paths. Delivering a sermon on marriage, the pastor spoke about the tendency to focus not on the marriage, but on the wedding. "Insert groom here," he joked from the pulpit. "Boom! I wrote it down," Jackson recalled. The pastor, now a bishop, later publically endorsed the book he unwittingly named.
Jackson's Creative Hearts series follows creative women: a fashion designer a photographer, and a painter. That idea sprang from Jackson's past professional life. "I was a fashion designer for ten years. I designed women's sportswear. I have a real affinity for women working in creative fields."
Sugar Lake, Jackson's current series, begins with As Good as the First Time. The book centers on a career-focused, lifelong New Yorker who finds herself in Georgia, baking pies in a charming lakeside town, which is a bit of a departure from Jackson's usual New York-set stories.
But Jackson knows herself, knows what pulls her forward from idea to book, and so for this small-town, bakery-themed romance she started thinking not about cupcakes and pies, but about families, about people. "It's character first, always, for me."
"I started thinking about family and family dynamics. I was born and raised in Harlem and Washington Heights. My husband is from Savannah." Today, the two live in Westchester, just north of where Jackson grew up, but once or twice a year they head to Georgia. "I love Savannah but I always feel like a fish out of water. I can get in the car and go wherever I want to go, but I do feel like a little bit of an outsider."
New York. Georgia. An outsider who is also family. A southern town that is familiar, but not intimately known. Jackson's main character, Olivia Gale, emerged from this batch of details, a New Yorker who travels south to help an injured aunt in her bakery. South, south to Georgia, south to … Jackson closed her eyes. "I just sort of saw Sugar Lake. I like the water, so I made up this town with a lake. When I close my eyes, I can just see it. I can see the house, the fishing shack."
Jackson began writing Olivia forward into the book, and into Sugar Lake. Typically she sketches only the briefest plot outline, and lets her character go, and grow. "I plot as little as I have to in order to get my editor to say okay," she joked. "If I over-plot, I get bored with the story. I know the big points of it, but I like a lot of latitude. I know the characters. I can see the characters. I can feel the characters. They're inside me, but there's a lot of depth in them, and it only comes out when writing them."
Jackson journeys deep into the narrative unknown when writing, but grounds herself with visual cues. She curates Pinterest boards that speak to current projects, including a "Sugar Lake" board. This summer, when Jackson spoke to Spine, she was growing the Sugar Lake board to spark inspiration for the second book in the series, centered on Drea Gale, Olivia's sister. She was also gathering blurbs from other writers and, in one instance of unplanned marketing, getting the first Sugar Lake book into the hands of a past president.
James Patterson and Bill Clinton recently co-authored a mystery, The President is Missing. Jackson's mother Kay is a huge Patterson fan, so she and Jackson attended a July book signing. When they arrived at the front of the line, Ms. Kay got maternal, proudly promoting her daughter's book. "My mother goes, 'Well my daughter's an author too, you know.' Clinton was really sweet, he was really kind. He said, 'Hillary and I read all the time.'"
He wanted a copy of As Good as the First Time! Jackson had a review copy with her. "I took his pen and I signed it! After, my friend said, 'I cannot believe you did that.' I cannot believe I did that either."
Unlike the Clintons, other eager readers will have to wait until the 30th to read As Good as the First Time. Until then, they can visit Sugar Lake on Pinterest to get a peek at where they're going.
Susanna previously wrote for the online design community Dribbble, helping transform their occasional blog into the online publication Courtside. Her bylines also include AOL News, Boston Globe, Boston Magazine, and Publishers Weekly, among other publications.