We had the good fortune of connecting with Jody Ferguson and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Jody, why did you pursue a creative career?
I worked for twenty years in DC and overseas as a defense contractor. I have written history and I have written about politics. I have read more about both than I care to remember. So, I often read fiction as a welcome distraction from the reading I did professionally. As I have traveled the world and read about different places and people, I see similar human dramas played out across different continents in varying cultures. I love reading works of historical fiction that describe regular people trying to live their lives during periods of great upheaval and transformation.
We had always wanted to move back to Texas to be near family, but professionally, it just couldn’t work. Finally, a series of events caused us to sit up and say, “Hey, if we don’t move now, when will we?” So we moved back to Austin to be near family and I began a second career as a novelist. Historical fiction was the perfect fit for me, blending my love of history, knowledge of foreign cultures, and my creative bent. Reading great novels teaches us so much about humans, with all of the accompanying beauty and warts. History books do the same. But reading history is more about culture, mores, and societies within which people lived. This is why I was always drawn to historical fiction, because it is a lesson of human character, and of the context and framework within which that character developed.
Please tell us more about your work. We’d love to hear what sets you apart from others, what you are most proud of or excited about. How did you get to where you are today professionally. Was it easy? If not, how did you overcome the challenges? What are the lessons you’ve learned along the way. What do you want the world to know about you or your brand and story?
Early on I was told by an English teacher that I should look into writing as a career. I didn’t exactly brush off his advice, but I did choose a different path. But as I grew professionally, I realized how important written communication is in all professions. The only creative writing I was doing was with travel journals and letters (back when we wrote them on paper). Time and time again I was told I should publish the writing I did outside of my work. It was through interaction with mentors and friends that I finally decided to take a chance and begin writing fiction. Making the jump from a defense contractor to a writer has had its challenges. In academia or government work you know your target audience. Each piece you compose, you do so with specific people in mind. The templates are also well-defined. There are of course templates to writing fiction, but ultimately the author chooses the format, the narrative, the outcomes. Fiction is not a product in the traditional sense. Additionally, with fiction, you are forced to identify a much larger, more varied audience. This forces the writer to more closely consider word choices, language, topics, etc. Most importantly, it forces the writer to think out of the box. Although it is a great challenge, I have been enjoying the creative work I’m doing immensely.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
First of all, I tell them to enjoy the nature that the Central Texas area affords, especially the marvelous water resources, such as the Highland Lakes and the abundant spring fed swimming holes, like Barton Springs and the Blue Hole. As for Austin, I tell my friends to go to live music clubs like Antone’s and The Continental Club. Having grown up in Austin, I have been a huge fan of the Texas Longhorns all my life. So any chance to attend a sporting event on campus shouldn’t be missed, especially the men’s football team or the women’s volleyball team. Those are the two most electric atmospheres. As for food in Austin, I tell out of town friends to avoid the fancy high end joints that are so famous and to go to local places that have been serving Austinites for decades, such as The Texas Chili Parlor, Matt’s El Rancho, Quality Seafood, Dirty Martin’s, Top Notch Burgers, and several others like this. Places like this bring back the atmosphere of old Austin when it was much more laid back and less pretentious.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
I have had a number of professional mentors, but the one person who pushed me the hardest to take a try at creative writing was a former English teacher from high school named Steve Warren. He is now deceased. Otherwise, I owe everything to my family. The generations of past and the current family members who have given me so much support as I struck out on a different path, especially my wife and three children.
John Langford Photos Time/Life Photos National Geographic