“Clear writing awakens a sense of recognition for me and brings a richer understanding of the lives going on around me.“
Introduce yourself and your books.
I’m RJ Jacobs, a psychologist and author in Nashville, Tennessee. I’ve published two novels: And Then You Were Gone (2019) and Somewhere in the Dark, which came out in August. I’ve lived in Nashville since 2003 and see patients as part of a multi-speciality medical practice.
What came first in your life: writing or psychology?
I actually started out as an English major as an undergraduate at University of Florida, then switched to Psychology in my Sophomore year. Still, I really enjoyed writing and kept on when I had time, usually on breaks. Of course I had no idea how to construct a story when I was starting out but, the early experience in finding a rhythm to my writing and creating a habit of putting words down became really helpful later on.
How does your role as a psychologist influence your role as a writer?
Clinical work is always interesting. One thing I can say that’s a real advantage of being a psychologist: the day-to-day is never dull. Stories I hear sometimes stimulate my imagination. I don’t want patients to think I’m transcribing what they say into my novels, because obviously I wouldn’t, but I have to admit some of what I’ve heard has started me thinking, “what if . . .”
How does your role as a writer influence your role as a psychologist?
There’s a psychotherapeutic technique called narrative therapy that essentially helps patients transform difficult experiences by re-imagining them, by seeing contexts differently, and by encouraging greater sense of imagination and creativity in developing outcomes. I’d like to think that being a writer has helped my therapy work by giving me a clearer sense of how to guide a process like that.
How do you find the time to write novels AND maintain a private practice? What is your writing/ creative process?
Finding time is one of the biggest challenges. There’s always so much to do! I live with my family which helps balance my perspective but also is a tremendous time commitment. Sometimes, I have to write what I can, or whenever there’s a free moment. There was an evening last year when I wrote in the hallway of my daughter’s middle school while she was cheerleading by using the notes function of my iPhone. You just have to do your best and try to get something accomplished even if it’s minimal progress. Usually the best times for my writing are early in the morning or in the evenings, when my kids do their homework. Sometimes it seems like we each find a quiet space to do our own “homework.”
Besides psychology, what else influences and drives your writing? Who or what inspires you?
I’m inspired constantly, particularly by contemporary writers who capture American culture in ways that I’ve observed before but had never named in my own mind. Clear writing awakens a sense of recognition for me and brings a richer understanding of the lives going on around me. I had that sense when I read Angie Kim’s novel, Miracle Creek, last year. There were paragraphs in her book I read repeatedly to make sure I was fully taking them in. I’m reading Leave the World Behind, right now, and have a similar feeling. I like reading the work of writers who are simply better than I am.
Most self-published authors would love to know how you got your books published by a traditional publisher. Please share your secret!
I lucked out by connecting with an incredible agent, Rachel Ekstrom Courage, who is with Folio Literary Agency. When I was starting out, I didn’t understand the difference between writing and publishing, and she’s helped guide me along the way.
As a traditionally published novelist, how does your marketing work? Does your publisher handle it? Do you? Or is it a mix of both?
It’s a mix of both. Working with Crooked Lane has been fantastic. At the same time, I’m always trying to find new ways of marketing the books. There are a lot of books in the world and people have limited time to read, so discoverability is the challenge for most writers. This year has been especially tricky because in-person events have either been cancelled of reimagined in virtual formats. Still, people are continuing to read, which is an advantage writers have over say, filmmakers or musicians. I’m in Nashville, and I know a number of musicians who are having a tough time not being able to play shows. It’s hard, but there’s a light at the end of the tunnel, and hopefully we’ll all use this time to get better at what we do.
What is your best advice to struggling writers who want to throw in the towel after receiving yet another rejection letter for their work.
I think the secret is to find a writing process that’s enjoyable and repeat it over and over again. Rejection is part of it, for sure. It’s not personal. Writers do well when they’re able to hear feedback non-defensively and try to incorporate it into their storytelling.
What do you most want readers to take from your books? Do you recommend your books to clients or leave them on a table in your office?
I’ve given away a few copies to patients who are interested, but my writing rarely comes up, to be honest. The focus in my office is on the patient and most of the time there’s no reason to get into my ambitions as a writer.
I hope readers find the stories moving and fun to read at the same time. Enjoyment, I’ve learned this year, is a need.
What upcoming projects do you have in the works? Where can readers find you?
Right now I’m writing a book set in the evacuated Florida Keys following a hurricane. The main character is a former horror movie actress searching for her family. As the story unfolds, she starts to suspect the circumstances resemble the film she starred in. A lot of people are intrigued by horror as a genre, but the book is written as a psychological suspense/thriller novel. In the same way that The Woman in Cabin 10 isn’t about the cruise ship industry, horror films and their conventions provide more of a backdrop for the story. It should be a lot of fun.
I’m easy to find on my website: RJJacobsauthor.com or on Instagram @rjjacobs75 or on Facebook.