Plenty of people had the idea to use the time spent at home during the pandemic to write that book they’d always wanted to. For Jenny Jackson, a vice president and executive editor at Alfred A. Knopf, writing a book of her own was a dream she had when she was younger, but it faded as her book editing career took off, when she fell more in love with that side of things and gave all her time to her writers.
Cut to spring 2020, though, and Jackson found herself doing her job from her home in Brooklyn Heights, New York, feeling “bored and lonely” and missing the chance to gossip with her friends.
“Brooklyn Heights just became my entire world,” she says over the phone last week. “We never got on the subway, we never got in a car, and so I was feeling both longing for a social life, but also just feeling really interested in my neighbors and interested in what was going on.”
Brooklyn Heights is the scene of her debut novel, “Pineapple Street,” out Tuesday, which follows the women of the Stockton family: sisters Darley and Georgina and their brother’s wife, Sasha. The parents of the family decide to let Sasha and Cord, their son, move into their Pineapple Street brownstone, an idea that came from a real-life situation one of Jackson’s friends found herself in.
“One of my close friends, her in-laws left Brooklyn Heights in the height of the pandemic and just decided they were never coming back. And so they said to her and her husband and their baby, ‘You guys can just move into the brownstone. It’s yours now. It’s your house,’” Jackson says. “And my friend was like, ‘Oh my gosh, this is incredible.’ But then she moved in and the house is still full of her husband’s family’s stuff, and so she would just tell me about these hilarious discoveries, like her sister-in-law’s baby teeth in a baggie.”
Jackson got to work in earnest at the end of 2020 and had a first draft done by April 2021. The next year of the process was for editing, and having spent 20 years working with authors, she assumed she’d be thick-skinned when it came to being the one to receive feedback.
“I thought that I was going to be such a professional. And I love my editor, and she gave me the best notes. But it is really funny how when someone kills a joke or when someone writes, ‘Oh, I don’t get it,’ it feels so deflating,” she says. “It’s hilarious what a baby I was when I got those notes. I was just startled by how, even though I would’ve thought I was more sophisticated, because I’ve seen it from the other side a million times — no, it feels the same exact way when you’re vulnerable.”
When she was younger, Jackson had wanted to be a writer, but once she got started in publishing as an editor, “I just felt like I really had found my dream job and my calling,” she says. She’s been at it ever since.
“My friends all laugh at me because I’ve basically had the same job for 20 years. Bonkers. Nobody does the same job for 20 years. But I just genuinely loved it. And I think that some of why I wrote this novel is because I was so lonely and I needed people to talk to, and I needed people to have fun with because I wasn’t getting what I needed from my life. But my job has given me what I needed in so many ways. It gives me these fascinating writers that I get to conspire with and daydream with and hash out plot with.”
Her writers include Kevin Kwan, who is behind the “Crazy Rich Asians” books, Jennifer Close of “Girls in White Dresses” and “The Smart One,” Chris Bohjalian who wrote “The Flight Attendant” among others and Courtney Sullivan of “The Engagements.” All of them will be traveling in to hear their editor read her own work at her launch event this week.
“It’s so sweet. All my writers are coming. It literally feels like my wedding or something,” Jackson says.
Now that she’s had a taste of writing, she’s not sure she can hang it up entirely.
“I probably have to figure out a way to do both, because I don’t want to give it up,” she says. “It was so fun.”