Friday, November 3, 2023

Q&A with Ann Marie Jackson




Ann Marie Jackson is the author of the new novel The Broken Hummingbird. She is the co-founder of the microlending organization Mano Amiga. Originally from Seattle, she lives in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.


Q: What inspired you to write The Broken Hummingbird?


A: The spark for this book grew out of watching my own friends and other women handle with an impressive amount of grace the challenges that the mid-life years tend to throw at us.


At this age, we often have to deal with problems with our partners, children, and aging parents, career pressures, financial stress, the indignities of our own aging, self-doubts, or all of the above.


However, I have seen many women manage to go through all of this and even major mid-life trauma such as divorce with a lot of strength, in a transformative way, and I wanted to explore and celebrate that.


Also, in an era when Mexican and Central American immigration and now South American immigration to the U.S. is constantly in the news and often portrayed in an ugly light, I found it interesting to look at the motivations and impact of Americans who have chosen to move in the other direction.


Despite these difficult themes, much of the book is joyful. Jane, her children, and her new friends have a lot of fun along the way. Part of the enjoyment for me in writing this story was indulging in a chance to glory in the vibrant beauty of San Miguel, the city’s incredibly rich culture, and the pleasures of everyday life here.


Q: How did you create your characters Jane and Kevin, and how would you describe the dynamic between them?


A: Well, the premise of the book is that an American couple whose marriage is on the rocks get it in their heads that they’re going to save the marriage by moving to their favorite city abroad, San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. They’ll take a sabbatical for a year or two, get away from the rat race, and focus on their family.


Jane has been working crazy hours as a lawyer, and she almost had an affair with a colleague, and Kevin is furious. If they don’t do something, it’s clear the marriage is toast.


But wherever you go, there you are, right? They bring their problems with them. Kevin only seems to grow more resentful. Jane drags him to marriage counseling, but it doesn’t work, and there seems to be more going on with him. She keeps hoping that he just needs time to heal.


In the meantime, she might as well make the most of her year in San Miguel, and she has to ensure that their kids thrive in this new adventure.


So, out of a desire for distraction from her own problems, as well as a sincere urge to help, Jane joins an NGO that helps families living in poverty. She gets overly wrapped up in a particular family’s life—and comes to suspect that her bumbling efforts may be doing more harm than good.


So this book is also about looking in a clear-eyed way at our efforts to help others and acknowledging that some of our well-meaning actions can backfire if we don’t really know what we’re doing.


I believe we absolutely should be out there in the world helping, trying to make a difference, but sometimes, like Jane, we need to learn to help better.

Q: The writer Deanna Singh said of the book, “This story beautifully illustrates the power of connection. The author's deep love and respect for the culture of her adopted country shine through in her writing.” What do you think of that description?


A: I love that description. Thank you, Deanna! It is extremely important to me that my love and respect for this community that has welcomed me as an immigrant comes through clearly in my work.


Moreover, I am sensitive to all the conversations going on today about who has the right to tell whose stories. I certainly want to avoid cultural appropriation, and I understand the negative reactions to certain recent books written by white Americans about cultures not our own.


I stay firmly in my lane by writing from the perspective of a privileged American protagonist who is aware, sometimes painfully so, of just how much she needs to learn about her beloved adopted country, Mexico.


However, I believe it would be a shame if writers began to limit themselves to portraying little beyond that which they “own,” their own lived experience. Writing about The Other cannot be disallowed—it is at the heart of many great works of literature—but it must be done with great respect and humility.


Q: What do you hope readers take away from the book?


A: That we can face our demons and thrive.


The Broken Hummingbird appeals to readers enthralled by the fate of innocents and not-so-innocents abroad in Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible and includes a propelling dose of the energy, edgy sisterhood, and dark domestic secrets of Liane Moriarty’s Big Little Lies.


This story balances the raw undoing of a marriage with the joys of discovery that lie in building a new life.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I am excited about a variety of upcoming projects. I am in talks to ghostwrite a friend’s juicy memoir, and I will continue to write columns, essays, and short stories for Mexico News Daily, San Miguel Life, and other publications, as well as continue to work with two nonprofit organizations close to my heart, Mano Amiga and Casita Linda.


I also intend to spend as much time with my teenagers as I can because they will soon go off to college and out into the world. I hope to begin my next novel within a year or so. 


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: A percentage of the proceeds from book sales, now and always, will go to organizations such as Casita Linda and Mano Amiga that serve women and families in central Mexico.


Casita Linda is similar to Habitat for Humanity. We build approximately 10 houses per year for families living in extreme poverty. By providing a dignified and safe environment, we empower families and change lives. We are about to complete our 150th house, an exciting milestone.


I also co-founded Mano Amiga. Our mission is to empower women through microlending. We provide financial training, mentoring, and interest-free loans, giving women the means to build successful small businesses.


We focus on women because women face the most limited access to affordable credit, and in microlending programs around the world, they have proven to be excellent investments: they have high repayment rates and use their profits to reinvest in their businesses and improve their families’ living standards.


If you want to reduce poverty and change the world, invest in women! 


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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