In an all new interview, Open Book Society reviewer Alina, chats with award-winning playwright and novelist Penny Jackson, where they discuss the inspiration behind L.A. Child and Other Stories, teenagers-parents conflicts, advice and much more. Enjoy!
- Read our review for L.A. Child and Other Stories here at OBS.
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Penny Jackson: I am inspired by something I see, hear, sense – a girl with pink hair and a nose ring, for example, made me wonder and suddenly there was my story, L.A. Child. A trip to Disneyworld and I was reading Alice in Wonderland and All Alices was born. I am not an actress but I like to “become” other people in order to understand our world. I am very concerned about gun violence and I thought the best way to explore this was by “becoming” a high school boy whose best friend gives him a gun in order to avenge his girlfriend’s infidelity. Sometimes I just hear a voice and go with it – as with Two Minute Hero. As a former high school teacher and a parent I love to eavesdrop on teenagers and that is why so many of my stories are narrated by young people.
Alina: Is there a reason why there are exactly 13 stories in the collection ‘L.A. Child and Other Stories’?
Penny Jackson: I didn’t even realize that there were 13 stories! I had another story that I decided to leave out of the collection so originally the number was 14.
Alina: Have you been through a similar situation as any of the ones contained in your stories?
Penny Jackson: The closet biographically is London Bridges. I was obsessed with being English when I was a teenager, and when I visited London, I did become sick and end up in a hospital. Luckily I didn’t meet the two grifters in the story. As a rule, I don’t write from my own experience because I find it more interesting to write about people who are the opposite of me and live opposite lives – like the English teacher turned sex actress living in Hiroshima in Gaijin.
Alina: How do you, as a parent, see the teenagers-parents conflicts?
Penny Jackson: There will always be teenage-parent conflict. I remember my father yelling at me to turn that trash off when I played my first Rolling Stones album. I had fights with my own teenager and I’m beginning to understand that teenagers’ brains work in ways that are naturally combative with their parents. My daughter is now twenty-one so we’re passed that confrontational stage but I have other friends who are now experiencing epic battles with their teenagers and are just miserable. A friend said that children from age 13 should be sent to an island and not returns until they are 21. Tongue in cheek of course, but the teenage years are a battlefield and we parents still struggle to figure out the best strategies.
Alina: As a former teacher, what would your advice be to other teachers who deal with troubled teenagers?
Penny Jackson: Listen. Listen. Don’t judge. Sometimes it helps not to give advice but stay silent. Pay attention. Hope that this too will pass and your troubled teenager will find peace.
Alina: You are also a successful playwright. What made you resort to the form of a play to write about cyber-bullying?
Penny Jackson: I love fiction, but I felt that drama was the best way to communicate my personal no tolerance philosophy about cyber-bullying. The young actors in my play had all experienced cyber-bullying in high school and in college, and were eager to participate in a drama that highlighted this problem. What was so wonderful about our performances for I KNOW WHAT BOYS WANT is that people stayed in the theater lobby and wanted to discuss the play and how to figure out this problem. My drama did not provide easy answers, and unfortunately every week there is another story about a teenager who commits suicide because of something on Twitter or Instagram or who knows what social media. Adults returned to my play with their teenagers. Teenagers returned with their friends. The play will be published in an anthology. I will be speaking to students at Stony Brook University about this play. I’m not sure if I would have received the same community reaction if this play were a book.
Alina: I understand you are very interested in Lewis Carroll’s ‘Alice in Wonderland’ and are writing a book based on your short story ‘All Alices’. Is your Alice just as scary as you believe Carroll’s Alice to be?
Penny Jackson: I recently met an English woman who told me she wouldn’t dare to have read any of the Alice books until she was an adult. Carroll creates a very frightening world. Alice is constantly bullied, taunted, threatened by execution and nearly drowns in her own tears, which is a very disturbing method of suicide. As a child, I was terrified when the howling baby Alice holds turns into a pig. The pack of flying cards which attack Alice, the sadistic croquet game with flamingoes…I could go on and on. I have always said that Alice in Wonderland is not a children’s book. Alice is never allowed to grow up, which is in a sense murder. Just read the following quote from the book: “Still she haunts me, phantomwise, Alice moving under skies, Never seen by waking eyes.” So yes, my novel is scary. Girls are suddenly missing. Girls are not allowed to grow up to be adults. I have recreated the dark side of not just Lewis Carroll, but Disneyworld as well.
Thank you to author Penny Jackson for a wonderful interview.