Featured Interview With Jason B. Sheffield
Tell us a little about yourself. Where were you raised? Where do you live now?
I was born in Marietta, Georgia, in 1973, which was mostly residential neighborhoods interspersed with farmland, Waffle House restaurants, and the biggest churches you’ve ever seen. I went to Wheeler High School, home of the AAAA Regional Champion Wildcats, and played football and ran track all four years. I also went to school and got average grades, which wasn’t important in the late 80s and early 90s.
For my religious studies, my mother drove me 30 miles into the City of Atlanta to attend The Temple where I had my bar mitzvah at 13-years-old and was confirmed at 15. I graduated high school in 1991 and attended Clemson University where I got a degree in Biology/Pre-Medicine Sciences.
I now live in Atlanta and am a criminal defense trial and appellate attorney. I practice all over the State of Georgia and in other state and Federal jurisdictions as well. I teach students at Emory University’s College of Law and have traveled all the way to the Republic of Georgia (formerly part of the Soviet Union) to teach Georgian lawyers how to try jury trial cases.
I have two dogs: Smokie Joe, a 2-year-old, 16 pound black and white Cocka-poo-poo (that means he 3/4 poodle, 1/4 cocker spaniel. It also means I am totally ashamed of myself every time someone asks me what type of dog I have); and Olive, a 6 month old, 5 pound Yorkie. I have been married for 18 years and have children, too.
At what age did you realize your fascination with books? When did you start writing?
I was not an avid reader as a kid. I was an avid “imaginer.” I loved playing Star Wars and G.I. Joe and tying up string so my aircraft looked like they were flying and my action figures could slide or swing across the room.
I didn’t feel the power of reading until I read Pat Conroy’s Prince of Tides. That book hit me like a Mike Tyson punch to the face. I couldn’t keep reading because the story was so painful but I had to keep reading to see what happened next. I immediately wanted more.
As for writing, I didn’t begin until after college when I abandoned my pursuit of medicine and traded it in for acting and screen writing in Atlanta. That’s right: not LA or NYC, Atlanta. Back then Atlanta was about as cold as it got for actors. Now it’s a mecca. Starting in 1996, I took as many classes for both acting and writing as I could and I read as much industry related books as I could. I did that for 7 years, somewhat successfully, before I went to law school. In law school, I wrote legal briefs but promised myself I would not give up on my dream of creative writing. That’s when I wrote the first draft of Son of a Bitch.
Who are your favorite authors to read? What is your favorite genre to read. Who Inspires you in your writings?
Pat Conroy; John Grisham; David Sedaris; Augusten Burroughs; Michael Crichton; Ayn Rand (to name a few). I love science, humor, legal, family saga (up to point), comedy, fantasy. I also love films and TV. Sadly, my favorite TV shows to watch are Seinfeld and Modern Family reruns.
I am most inspired by characters. I love to find new characters, mostly as mashups of people I already know or meet. In particular, I love sneaky people, liars, morally corrupt people, goofy people, people who need to be taught a lesson, fish out of water scenarios, losers that win, and a character with a wry sense of humor. It’s these type of people I imagine putting in various plots in various cities or places (in time or otherwise) to watch them mess it all up only to wait and see if they can survive it after all.
Tell us a little about your latest book?
Son of a Bitch is a book that was really the culmination of a promise to myself 31 years ago when I was 12-years-old growing up with my “say-anything, do-anything” mother, who is also one kick-ass criminal attorney, after experiencing yet another ridiculous, jaw-dropping moment with her. (The life of a criminal defense attorney is no joke, and back then in the late 70s and early 80s it was even wilder, especially for women.) I remember staring at myself in the mirror, thinking, One day I’m going to write a book about this shit. Well, that day came when I went to law school and began to get some perspective on her life as an attorney back in 1977 Atlanta.
As a man, white, and in law school, I had not experienced the same type of difficulties she had as a single mother trying to make her way in a male dominated profession. Law was difficult for me. Starting my career as a married man without children was difficult. I suddenly felt very judgmental about my mother and the times she may have lost it on me when I was kid. She had it tough.
Our relationship in real life was strong but it was also strained. She had tough days. Very tough. And she brought many of her trials and tribulations home, which I observed. At times, it made her rough around the edges, volatile, sad, angry. At times, she took it out on me. And it hurt, as I was just a kid. As I grew up, I began to cut myself off from my mother emotionally because I was angry with her. I was ready to get away. She was busy with her client and her career and becoming one of the most respected attorneys in the country. But a part of my always needed my mother. Wanted my mother. A part of me loved her. A part of me hated her.
Son of a Bitch was a way for me to work through all of that anger and anxiety I had over my relationship with my mother. Though the power of “what if” and story telling, I was able to pull from my experiences with her but also imagine the future. It was very healing.
In the book, the two characters are attorneys. They are mother and son. When the mother gets in trouble for having an illicit and unethical sexual relationship with her client, she is facing disbarment. Disbarment from the career that she loves. Disbarment from the career that drove a wedge between she and her son. So, she turns to her son for help, discovering that he is a newly licensed criminal defense attorney like her (something he kept secret from her aided by their estrangement).
When she turns to him for help, he wants nothing to do with her. But because he had been thinking about her, now that he has begun to share in her experiences as an attorney (you can see why the book is “inspired by true events”), he decides to help her because he wants to understand her. He wants to forgive her. To love her unconditionally, as he once did as a child.
Ultimately, the main character learns how to stand up to his mother about their past so he can stand up for her in their future. But can he save her?
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