Happy Wednesday, reader friends!
Today, we’re featuring an interview with Neta Jackson about Book #1 in her series, The Yada Yada Prayer Group.
Interview with Neta Jackson about her book, The Yada Yada Prayer Group (Yada Yada Series) Book #1:
NOTE: All of these answers are by Neta, as the YYPG novels were all written by Neta. Future author interviews will include Dave who is her husband and beloved writing partner.
Alexis: What inspired you to write this Yada Yada Series?
Neta: Our church was being very intentional about “racial reconciliation,” so at one point an African American sister and I decided to co-lead a women’s prayer group that was intentionally diverse—and getting to know these amazing women from different backgrounds and different life experiences, who had such deep and solid faith, had such an impact on my life that my husband, Dave, said, “You ought to write a book.” Nope, I said. Can’t. The stuff we share is confidential. He said, “I mean, write a novel, using your prayer group as inspiration, but make it fiction.”
Alexis: Who are the main characters in Book #1 of The Yada Yada Prayer Group? Describe them briefly.
Neta: As the title implies, this novel is about a group, though the POV character is Jodi Baxter—a typical, middle-class, white, “good Christian girl” and third-grade teacher who ends up in a multi-cultural prayer group led by Avis, the African American principal of her school. Avis is mature, gracious, and deeply spiritual, who wisely leads this group of women who are as diverse as a “drawerful of crazy, mixed-up socks”—forcing Jodi to confront her presumptions, prejudices, and ignorance in spite of all her “good intentions,” and to learn how to pray and worship in whole new ways out of her comfort zone.
Besides Jodi and Avis, the group consists of:
Hoshi—a Japanese grad student at Northwestern University, who has become a Christian and been disinherited by her Shinto parents.
Nonyameko—an African immigrant from South Africa, married to an African-American professor at NU (Hoshi was in one of his classes).
Adele—a blunt African American with her own hair salon, taking care of her mother, who is suffering from dementia.
Chanda—a single mom from Jamaica who wants to win the lottery.
Leslie (aka “Stu”)—a single white social worker, who seems to do everything better than Jodi, making Jodi feel awkward, inept, and jealous.
Florida—a middle-aged black mother, married, plain-speaking, former drug addict and street person who is “five years saved and five years sober!”
Ruth—a childless, middle-aged “Messianic Jew” who has a special place in her heart for Yo-Yo.
Yo-Yo—a white twenty-something ex-con who grew up in foster homes and is now the sole caretaker for her two younger teenage brothers. Yo-Yo isn’t sure about this “Jesus stuff” and doesn’t let any of the prayer group get away with religious clichés.
Delores—a Spanish-speaking trauma nurse originally from Mexico and mother of a loveable tribe of 5 kids, who are often babysat by Edesa.
Edesa—a Spanish-speaking black college student from Honduras.
ALL of these characters are essential to the development of the Yada Yada Prayer Group . . . which originally was going to be only one novel—but I found out you can’t put 12 feisty women in a novel and expect them to stay there! All their stories (past, present, and future) clamored to be told in depth—which is why there are 7 novels in the Yada Yada series!
Alexis: What are some of the obstacles that your characters have to overcome?
Neta: Delores’s teenage son is accidentally shot while taking his younger siblings to the park.
Florida is trying to find her 8-year-old daughter who got “lost” in the foster-care system when she was strung-out on drugs.
Chanda finds a lump in her breast, is terrified because her mother died of breast cancer.
Jodi causes a fatal accident “driving while angry,” doesn’t feel “worthy” to be forgiven—causing Florida to get in her face to help her understand she was never “worthy,” she’s “just a sinner saved by grace,” just like herself and all the rest of the sisters.
(That’s just the beginning—the prayer group faces a LOT more challenges as their stories spill into the next books in the series!)
Alexis: What was the “biggest crisis” of your life that you faced and how did your prayer group help you survive?
Neta: I think you are confusing me (the author) with my POV character, Jodi. It was Jodi that had the “biggest crisis of her life” (the fatal accident she caused) who was helped to survive by the prayer group. (However, for inspiration to write that episode, I drew on a fatal accident my mother was involved in years ago in which a child ran in front of her car, as well as an accident I was involved in, in which my father died of a heart attack. Both events pre-dated my being in my real-life prayer group, but helped me in capturing the emotions Jodi struggled with).
Alexis: What is the moral of this Yada Yada Prayer Group story?
Neta: I think a lot of us are like Jodi Baxter—at least that’s what my readers tell me! (“I’m such a Jodi!”) Growing up in a Christian home as a “good Christian girl” like Jodi, I had unrealistic expectations both for myself and others and had to learn that I too am “just a sinner saved by grace.” That can be a cliché, but the reality of knowing that is the key to accepting God’s forgiveness when we mess up big time—and being able to forgive others.
Alexis: What do you want readers to learn from this book?
Neta: The purpose for writing this novel was to share through fiction that the Body of Christ includes many people who are different from us, and even though stepping outside our “comfort zone” can be challenging, God uses the very people who represent a different part of His Body (in their gifts, life experiences, and cultures) to bless and enrich our lives! Not only that, but we actually need each other. I Corinthians 12:21 says, “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I don’t need you’.” Etc. If we stay in our comfort zone with people just like us, we miss the many ways God wants to enrich and bless our own lives, as well as teach us many things about Himself and others we might not learn any other way.
Alexis: What lesson did you learn while writing this book?
First, that my husband truly believed I could write this novel. Even though I was a writer for many years, we often did projects together—this was to be the first full-length adult novel I wrote by myself. I was scared. Dave took over the shopping, cooking, laundry, and a bunch of other stuff so I could write it! I never could have done it without his encouragement.
Second, that the Holy Spirit kept dropping ideas and people and experiences into my life while I was writing that God wanted me to share in this novel (so much for best-laid plans!). I learned it was important to listen to the Holy Spirit during any writing project.
Third, I had no idea how God was going to use this novel to touch so many lives. My reader letters are the most amazing gifts God could ever give me, showing me ways God has used The Yada Yada Prayer Group to encourage people to pray believing … to open their eyes to their own presumptions and prejudices, to hunger for new ways to worship God, to be inspired to start a prayer group, to be encouraged during difficult times in their lives. What I learned is that we use the gifts God gives us to the best of our abilities—and then watch as God multiplies them to bless others, just like Jesus did with the five loaves and two fish that the little boy gave him.
Alexis: How important is it to you to show diversity in your stories? Explain.
Neta: Very. But first, it’s important to “live diversity” in my own life. Even though I write fiction, I can’t truly represent the importance of having diverse relationships unless having those relationships are a reality for me. God has used my sisters of color and from other backgrounds and cultures to bless my socks off! I long for my readers to experience that same blessing. And besides, the real world isn’t just “white and middle-class.” If I want to write realistic fiction, I need to include diverse characters who aren’t just incidental, but critical to the story.
Alexis: Would you like to see more books with content like this one published by CBA? Why or why not?
Neta: Absolutely. Primarily because people of color are sadly under-represented in the world of Christian fiction. Why? Because CBA publishers and editors and publishing houses are still staffed mostly by white people! And yet . . . there are very talented authors who are people of color! They are part of the Body of Christ and we need them! (See 1 Corinthians 12 again!) There are so many amazing stories yet to be told coming out of the different cultures and life experiences (including non-white churches) that make up our own cities and towns in our own country.
Alexis: Thanks for the interview, Neta! Would you like to share closing comments?
Neta: The question I get asked most often is, why did you call this prayer group “Yada Yada”?
What really happened is this: A friend was showing me the meaning of “yadah” from a Hebrew/English lexicon to the Old Testament, which basically means “to sing and give praise to God.” But right there above the word “yadah,” was the word “yada”! To my astonishment, I discovered that the word “yada” appears 944 times in the Hebrew Scriptures, a root word which means “to know and be known intimately.” A good example is Psalm 139, which uses the word “yada” several times to express how intimately God knows us.
I thought, Wow! That would be an amazing name for a prayer group—to know God and be known by God intimately, and to know each other in the same way! And thus, the Yada Yada Prayer Group name for my fictional series was born!
*Interview conducted by Alexis A. Goring, contributor
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 provide the characters and setting for their novels.
Follow Neta and her husband Dave Jackson on social media:
About the Book:
What do an ex-con, a former drug addict, a real estate broker, a college student, and a married mother of two have in common? Nothing, or so I thought.
Who would have imagined that God would make a prayer group as mismatched as ours the closest of friends? I almost didn’t even go to the Chicago Women’s Conference–after all, being thrown together with five hundred strangers wasn’t exactly my “comfort zone.”
But something happened that weekend to make us realize we had to hang together, and the “Yada Yada Prayer Group” was born! When I faced the biggest crisis of my life, God used my newfound Sisters to show me what it means to be just a sinner saved by grace.