Please welcome Joe Nordstrom to my blog. Good morning, Joe, please take a seat while I grab our coffees.
1. Please introduce yourself to those reading this blog post.
I am J. John Nordstrom (“Joe”) aka Joseph John Jablonski, Jr., born in Worcester, Massachusetts, and raised in the small suburb town of Millbury, by mother Sandra and my late father Joe Sr. I am a poet, novelist, lawyer, sociologist, and political scientist. My poetry and fiction nom de plume, J. John Nordstrom, was taken in honor of my great-grandmother Gerda E. Nordstrom and my grandmother, Elna E. (Nordstrom) Anderson, as well as my mother Sandra Lenore (Anderson) Jablonski, who have all, in their own ways, majorly encouraged my literary endeavors. My great grandmother gave me a now-treasured copy of Aesop’s Fables for a seventh birthday. The fable of the tortoise and the hare was her favorite, as it is mine.
My poetry stresses intuition over reason and is heavily influenced by the Romantic tradition of poetry in both America and Britain. It explores natural, emotional, personal and artistic themes, for example, lost love, the mystery of soulmate love, death, beauty, wisdom, the human being’s relationship to nature, the mystery of the Muse, and life’s existential mystery.
My debut novel, A Thing With Feathers, should be considered as fictional autobiography. The novel draws from academic, literary, professional, and personal experiences over my lifetime, in Worcester, Millbury, Boston, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Washington, D.C., Cincinnati OH, Fairfax, Arlington, Falls Church, Richmond, Williamsburg, Charlottesville. and Roanoke VA, Baltimore MD, and Claremont CA. I have remained a bachelor and have several other novels in the works.
2. Has writing always been part of your life and when did you “know” that it was time to start writing your first book?
Yes. Ever since I started writing in the 1st grade. It was when I was 13 that I began to compose my own poetry after I read T.S. Eliot’s “The Hollow Men,” Robert Frost’s “Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening,” Poe’s “Annabel Lee” and Emily Dickinson’s “Hope is the thing with feathers.” I twice won 1st prize for poetry in the ICON Literary Contest at my high school, St. John’s High School, Shrewsbury, MA, my sophomore and senior years. I knew it was time to write my first novel after having a compelling experience with a woman named Jill, for whom the novel is dedicated. She is a literary type and she reminded me of Emily Dickinson. Jill used to call me “her rare booksman” and told me that the poetry I wrote for her reminded her of Poe’s poetry. Jill also told me she adored “prose that read like poetry” and so that is precisely what I tried to give her in A Thing With Feathers.
3. How difficult was it writing your first book?
The novel went through several drafts over the last several years. It was first conceived in 2006 and the actual hard writing of the novel began in 2014 four years after I arrived in Claremont CA in Sept 2010. It was really a labor of love–I spent considerable time improving the story itself and getting the lyrical prose and poetry right. I wanted the product to be “prose that read like poetry,” and I feel that I succeeded to some extent in doing that. Jill was always on my mind when I wrote the novel. Sometimes I would awake at 3am and sense that she Jill wanted me to write this poem or this passage that ended up being in the novel. I filled several black marble notebooks with poetry and prose with 3 am inspirations. I felt I was connected to Jill on some kind of soulmate wavelength and that novel and its poetry are a product of the soulmate energy that Jill created in my own literary heart.
4. Have you ever wanted to give up and what stopped you?
No, I never wanted to give up, but I had often wondered when I was really going to be satisfied enough to hand it over to a publisher. I was writing the novel for “Jill,” to show her how much I loved her and how much influence she had had on my life for the better, and so I cannot say I wanted ever to give up or stop. Jill is my muse. Her identity needs to be kept a secret for now.
5. Who is the most supportive of you and your dream to be a writer?
My mother has been among the most supportive of my efforts as she herself wanted to be a novelist as a young woman. My mother enrolled in the Famous Writers Course in the 1960s and I still have her books in the attic at home in Millbury. She was enamored of Hemingway, Hardy and Updike, and I was enthralled with Fitzgerald, Tennessee Williams, D.H. Lawrence, and T.S. Eliot. My mother and I used to challenge each other to remember the author and exact title of a famous novel. She used to buy me Cliff Notes and Monarch Notes for novels I was reading—all of which I still have in my library at home. She always took me to the Worcester Public Library where I used to take out 1-20 books at a time and audiocassettes too.
Jill, the woman to whom the novel is dedicated, had been very supportive of my writing ambition. She believed I had the talent to be a novelist. She told me, “I love prose that reads like poetry.” Jill told me that Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things is an example of beautiful lyrical prose.
Aria Ligi, https://arialigi.com/, a great poet who writes in the Romantic tradition, has been and remains a huge support for my prose and my poetry. She has been involved in editing both my prose and my poetry and always believed that my work should receive the highest literary recognition. She pushed me to write my very best.
My friend and fellow novelist Mary Carr Jackson, author of Two Sisters Torn (2012) has been and is very supportive of my writing, both my prose and my poetry.
My editors Daniel Burgess, Rob Bignell, and Gay Walley were all hugely supportive of my work. Joseph Sale, my British editor, @josephwordsmith has been especially supportive of my work.
6. Anything specific you want to tell your readers?
The novel is borne out of my love for Jill who is also a fellow writer but, like Emily Dickinson was during her lifetime, she’s not yet ready to share her work with the world. If I hadn’t met Jill, I could not have written this novel. She reminds me of Emily Dickinson and she gave me the initial inspiration for A Thing With Feathers.
The novel also owes a great deal to a number of Poe’s short stories, including The Assignation, The Cask of Amontillado, The Tell-Tale Heart, and The Oval Portrait. It is difficult to assess precisely how many references, hidden, implicit and explicit there are in the novel to Poe, and to Dickinson for that matter.
Fellow poet Andrew Benson Brown, author of Legends of Liberty Volume One, who recently reviewed my novel, noted that “Poe is everywhere” in Nordstrom’s novel A Thing With Feathers. See https://classicalpoets.org/2022/01/04/review-of-a-thing-with-feathers-by-j-john-nordstrom/#/
Pulitzer Prize winning poet, the late Sylvia Plath, exerts a profound influence on me both as a novelist and as a poet. Her novel The Bell Jar and her poetry generally have greatly inspired me, “Parliament Hill Fields” and “Ariel.”
7. What is the best advice given to you (book or otherwise), and by whom?
Follow your instinct, write your heart out, do not obstruct your deeper self, in all its ugliness and in all its beauty, and then figure out later what your subconscious was trying to tell you. Talcott Notch Literary Agent, Paula Munier, has been a mentor and fan of mine; she advised me that I had to write a crackerjack 1st chapter or you will lose the read from the get-go. Munier thought initially that I was a “new John Irving,” thinking of his novels The World According to Garp and Cider House Rules. Mike Neff, from Algonkian Conferences and Author Connect, compared my work in A Thing With Feathers to Michael Cunningham’s The Hours (Pulitzer Prize 1999) and to A.S. Byatt’s Possession (1990 Booker Prize).
8. What is your target audience and what aspect of your writing do you feel targets that audience? My target audience is the world of the literate.
I think the women of the US will absolutely love this novel because it revives the tradition of soulmate love which was so written about in the 19th century during the heyday of the Romantic tradition in the US. Poe’s poetry captures the tender sentiments man and women felt for each other in the 19rth century and the novel is an attempt to re-introduce this kind of love in the 21st century that surely and sorely needs it.
9. Did the cover evolve the same way, or did you work with someone to make it come together for you?
Yes, most certainly, I was working with the poet Aria Ligi, and Joe Sale and Ross Jeffery, my British editors, and we all came up with various ideas, Aria wanted a more classically romantic cover design, but I wanted to depict Poe as a raven and Emily as a wren/sparrow as she self-described herself and it was Joe Sale who finally found what we were all looking for. The cover also captured Amherst MA in the winter with the wreath, the forest and the snow motif. See the wraparound cover.
10. What are you working on now? Can we get a peek, an excerpt?
I am working on a sequel novel to A Thing With Feathers with more of Jonah’s poetry for Julia and Julia’s poetry for Jonah. It is looking more like a trilogy now. Here is a draft of a poem I am thinking about using in the sequel. Jonah writes another poem for Julia:
Jonah Q. Cincinnatuski, Jr.
When my soul first entered yours,
My heart tentatively followed,
Still afraid once again to be crushed to powder,
But I overcame that fear and gladly so.
We assuaged each other’s anxieties
Until the storm in each of us lost its rage.
I fell in love with thee, tempestuous insanity thou art.
When you told me you loved “prose that reads like poetry,”
I heard thee speak my own language.
You and I discovered soulmate love is real.
Afraid of the dark were you like I was,
As I would tremble in the night like an earthquake,
Until your hand lifted to brush gently my brow.
When dawn’s rays tiptoed under the curtain
Like a ballet dancer goes excruciatingly low to the floor,
Happy as birds in a nest were we for a moment,
But thence waves of sorrow did crest and break upon us–
To know death would knock one day,
And we thus felt like dying together,
In the exact same instant,
That we would enter the vale simultaneously,
And that neither would ever have to suffer
The loss of the other–
That would be our heaven–
And then we walked along the shore
Of a sea filled with our own tears of joy
As children do in love with a life
That no thought of death could ever trespass upon.
11. Any last words before we wrap things up?
I think writing and publishing a novel was the most satisfying project I have ever been involved with. I had written a ton as an appellate lawyer, countless briefs and a few law review articles, but nothing as so much fun as writing fiction which is quintessentially literary. I really enjoyed narrating, from the POV of 3rd person omniscient, the romance between two characters, Jonah (Poe-like) and Julia (Dickinson-like).
“A Thing With Feathers” takes me back to those novels reviewers used to categorize as “sweeping.” Why is that? Because every scene is written so deftly, so vividly, that I felt like I was quite literally standing by the side of the character at the time and living these moments with them. To say this is unforgettable would be an understatement. A litany of emotions are written to the nth degree; heartbreak, longing, hatred, tragedy – you name it, it’s in here. This is a dark, intelligent, suspenseful “game” and, because of the number of genres that are included (mystery/romance/drama), it appeals to a ton of readers.