Good Monday Morning, reader friends!
Today, we’re featuring an interview with Neta Jackson about her book Stand by Me.
Interview with Neta Jackson about her book, Stand by Me:
Alexis: What inspired you to write this book, Neta?
Neta: Actually, it was a comment from our adult son, Julian, who said I ought to write a novel about millennials who are all fired up to fix society’s ills and think they have the answers—but without the experience to know just how complicated real people’s lives are. Or something like that. At the same time, my readers were clamoring for “more” about the original Yada Yada Prayer Group characters. So I got this idea to bring a well-meaning idealistic white college student into SouledOut Community Church, who gets under the skin of our dearly beloved Avis—a wise, spiritually mature, African American leader and role model who nonetheless is struggling with some personal issues and has no patience for this know-it-all! Put them together and . . . fireworks!
Alexis: What is the significance of your story title, Stand by Me?
Neta: Without giving away the story, several of the characters in this novel struggle with personal conflicts and have to decide whether to push their rivals away . . . or find ways to stand together and support each other as brothers and sisters in Christ in the same church.
Alexis: Tell me about the SouledOut Sisters book series. What is the core message?
Neta: There are just two novels in the SouledOut Sisters series: The first is Stand by Me, which we are talking about here, followed by Come to the Table. The title of the series comes from the primary setting, SouledOut Community Church, a church merger of a black church and white church that happened toward the end of the Yada Yada Prayer Group series. Each of the novels has more than one “voice.” For example, in Stand by Me, there are two primary characters, Kat Davies and Avis Douglass, and the chapters go back and forth between their points of view. In Come to the Table, there are three primary voices sharing their points of view in different chapters.
As for the core message . . . life is messy and complicated, but we are a spiritual family in Christ, and if we hang in there and listen to one another and walk in each other’s shoes, God begins to do some amazing things in spite of our mess-ups!
Alexis: Why is it that you as the author of this story believe that, “Sometimes the person you most need is the one least like you?” Explain how that belief plays out in this fictional story world of Stand by Me.
Neta: Too often we in the church tend to categorize people either as “needy people who need to be ministered to” or “mature Christians who do the ministering.” But I believe that all of us have problems (even the long-time Christians), and all of us have spiritual gifts and life wisdom (even the newest Christian or person with seemingly big problems). If we humble ourselves and realize even the “neediest” person also has something to give, we may end up on the receiving end of just the encouragement or help we need from an “unlikely” source.
In this story, Avis and Kat are absolute opposites—and yet in the end, they each need each other in unique ways. The person who annoys Avis the most (Kat) ends up finding Avis’s missing daughter through her weird dumpster diving, and Avis fills a void in Kat’s life for the parents who have disowned her.
Alexis: Kathryn Davies is a leading character in Stand by Me. What makes her tick? What makes her heart smile? What role does she play in this story?
Neta: Kat comes from a wealthy, prominent Arizona family of physicians, and is under high expectations and pressure to follow in their footsteps. But the attractive young woman with the wavy dark hair and startling blue eyes doesn’t want to go to med school. She likes working with kids, and she’s interested in healthy food issues and how to solve world hunger. She shocks her family when she “finds Jesus” at a Christian Music Festival. But it’s the last straw when she drops out of her pre-med program at the University of Arizona and applies instead to a small Christian college in Chicago after meeting some young people from CCU at the music festival who feel like kindred spirits.
Kat is impulsive, energetic, and enthusiastic, has lots of ideas for improving hunger issues in the poorer areas of the city. After graduating with her master’s degree in education from CCU, she lands at SouledOut Community Church, along with several of her CCU buddies—and doesn’t understand why everyone at the church isn’t instantly on board with her ideas. Life gets complicated when she impulsively brings home a homeless mom and her little boy to the apartment she shares with her three “buddies” from CCU—especially when she discovers their identity. Her new “housemates” complicate her budding attraction to Nick, one of her best friends—but for the rest of that romantic tangle, you have to read Book Two in the SouledOut Sisters series (haha)!
Alexis: Why did Kathryn, whom you call “Kat” in this story, take a leap of faith at a Christian music fest and why did her faith leap cause conflict that resulted in making her family distant?
Neta: Kat was restless when she went to the music festival. She was on track to graduate from the University of Arizona in pre-med but realized she didn’t really want to go on to medical school—and she was drawn to all the young people who were excited about Jesus, a Jesus who cared about the poor, who gave His followers courage to be all-out committed to what they believed rather than simply climbing the corporate ladders of success. But as I mentioned earlier, Kat came from a family of prominent physicians in Arizona who had high expectations that she would follow in their footsteps. When she quit her pre-med program at UA and applied instead to a small Christian college in Chicago . . . well, she was a huge disappointment to her parents.
Alexis: Tell us about SouledOut Community Church. Where is it located in this story? What makes it special? Did you have a real-life inspiration for it?
Neta: SouledOut Community Church is roughly based on a multicultural, multiracial church in the Rogers Park neighborhood of Chicago. But the name actually comes from a bookstore in Canada where I did a book-signing—and I loved the name so much I asked if I could steal the name “SouledOut” for a church in my novels.
I placed my fictional church in a shopping center in one of Chicago’s northern neighborhoods. It first appeared in one of the last novels in my Yada Yada Prayer Group series—a merger of a black church and a white church (which is fictional). In the SouledOut series, I show some of the challenges and struggles such a merger creates, as well as the joys!
Alexis: What is it about the multicultural congregation that makes Kat feel like she belongs at this SouledOut Community Church? In what ways does Kat almost wear out her welcome?
Neta: Kat had visited this church as part of CCU’s Urban Experience program and wanted to share it with her friends. SouledOut excited her idealistic nature, black and white worshipping together. She and her friends had decided to live in the city for the summer and they wanted to find a church, so . . . why not SouledOut? They find an apartment to share nearby and jump into the church with both feet. But some of the church members get a little annoyed by Kat’s big ideas—especially Avis Douglass, one of the worship leaders. Everyone tries to be patient, but she manages to step on people’s feet—this suburban white girl, a new Christian, who sometimes has more enthusiasm than wisdom.
Alexis: Avis Douglass is also a leading character in Stand by Me, a woman of great faith in God. Tell us about her. What are her goals and passions in life? What makes her upset? What makes her happy? What role does she play in this story? However, she and her family are facing a trial that makes them wonder where God is in it. What role does faith in God play in this story?
Neta: Avis will be familiar to readers who have read the Yada Yada Prayer Group series. This attractive African American woman is an elementary school principal, mature, dignified, poised, well-educated, experienced—as well as deeply spiritual. She is the acknowledged leader of the Yada Yada Prayer Group which involves a multiracial group of women from several different churches and cultures. At SouledOut, she’s one of the worship leaders and Kat admires her a lot. However, Avis is also reserved and has little patience for this impulsive young woman who talks too much.
Unknown to many, however, Avis is having a crisis of faith because her youngest daughter left an abusive marriage with her little boy, and Avis doesn’t know what has happened to her daughter and grandson. They’ve simply disappeared. She struggles with God: Why has God let this happen? Why isn’t God answering her prayers? But God is gently opening her eyes that this annoying young woman is hurting, too, because of rejection from her family—and as her heart opens to Kat, she realizes that God is also using Kat to answer some of her prayers about her missing daughter.
Alexis: What is the moral of this story, Stand by Me?
Neta: Hmm. Just what the blurb on the book says: “Sometimes the person you most need is the one least like you?” I’m hoping readers will open their hearts to people they’re not naturally drawn to, realizing that that person may need them and that God might use that very person to meet a need in their life as well.
Alexis: Thanks for the interview, Neta! Do you have closing comments?
Neta: I’m hoping that readers who enjoy Stand by Me will also read the following SouledOut Sisters novel, Come to the Table. The story of Kat and Avis and others we meet at SouledOut—including Nick, Kat’s best “buddy,” who is falling in love with her, and Rochelle, Avis’s daughter, who is falling for Nick—gets complicated, even as God unravels the tangled web of relationships, inviting them “to the table” which represents the Body of Christ, which includes us all.
Thanks for the interview, Alexis! And thanks for your blog highlighting “diversity between the pages.”
*Interview conducted by Alexis A. Goring, contributor
About the Book:
Sometimes the person you most need is the one least like you.
Kathryn Davies is a bright young woman from a prominent Phoenix family. But after making a leap of faith at a Christian music fest, dropping out of med school, and moving to inner city Chicago, her family all but disowns her.
When Kat discovers SouledOut Community Church, she longs to become a part of the multicultural church family. But her tendency to immediately say whatever shes thinking steps on the toes of nearly everyone she meetsespecially Avis Douglass.
Avis has a strong faith, is the principal of one of Chicagos highest performing elementary schools, and is a founding member of SouledOut. But the countrys economic downturn has thrown both her and her husbands jobs in question. And Avis hasn’t heard from her youngest daughter in months, an estrangement that gnaws at her every day. Where is God in this?
Kats flamboyant zeal for living a radical Christian life is a stark contrast to Aviss more reserved faith. But in Gods timing, the two women discover they need each other in ways neither of them expected.
*Buy Stand by Me on Amazon.
About the Author:
Neta Jackson and her husband Dave are an award-winning husband-and-wife writing team, the authors or coauthors of more than 130 books that have sold over 2.5 million copies.
They are best known for Neta’s Yada Yada Prayer Group series and its sequels, as well as their forty-volume Trailblazer series of historical fiction about great Christian heroes for young readers.
Neta and Dave raised two children as well as a foster daughter and are now enjoying all the “grands”!
The Jacksons are thankful for their multi-cultural church and neighborhood in the Chicago area, which provides the characters and setting for their novels.
Follow Neta and her husband Dave Jackson on social media: