Saturday, November 23, 2013 - 12:45 p.m.
Kenneth Jay Jackson is an author and a presenter at the Barksdale Literature Conference. Detectives Armstrong and Murphy interviewed him at the Yoknapatawpha County Conference Center. The interview was recorded with the witness's knowledge and consent.
- Detective Armstrong
- Detective Murphy
- Kenneth Jay Jackson
Detective Armstrong: Thanks for taking the time to talk with us.
Kenneth Jay Jackson: Of course. I'm completely in shock about what's happened here. It's put a pall over the entire conference.
Detective Murphy: Would you start by stating your full name and address for the record?
Kenneth Jay Jackson: Sure. Kenneth Jay Jackson, I live at 2122 Louisiana Street, in Little Rock, Arkansas.
Detective Armstrong: You're in town especially for the conference?
Kenneth Jay Jackson: Yes.
Detective Murphy: How long have you been attending the Barksdale Literature Conference?
Kenneth Jay Jackson: I've been here as a speaker since 2009. I never knew about the conference when I was getting started, although I wish I had. It's a wonderful environment for learning about the craft.
Detective Murphy: So ever since you've been coming, you've been dealing with Ms. Coates?
Kenneth Jay Jackson: Yes, that's true.
Detective Murphy: What was her role from your point of view, in terms of setting up the arrangements?
Kenneth Jay Jackson: She obviously did an awful lot of work. We only met in person here at the conference, but she was on the telephone constantly in the months leading up to it, making room reservations and all that.
Detective Murphy: What about Ms. Moss?
Kenneth Jay Jackson: Sandra was the one for spotting the talent and putting together the mix of authors. It's thanks to her I was ever invited. Unfortunately, once she had a tentative roster of speakers put together, she turned it all over to Diane.
Detective Armstrong: Why unfortunately? You said she worked hard at it.
Kenneth Jay Jackson: Surely you've heard that Diane wasn't the easiest person to work with. She was extremely domineering and liked to remind everyone she was in charge. With me, she made all my arrangements and all that, but she never passed up the chance to remind me how hard she was working. As though I'm a big prima donna with all kinds of demands, when all I requested was a non-smoking room, and she was the under-appreciated servant. She would try to press her advantage, making me feel sorry for her and all that.
Detective Armstrong: Press her advantage? How?
Kenneth Jay Jackson: She might try to get me to call the hotel directly and make my own arrangements, set up delivery of my books to the conference, basically take over part of her job for her. She was extremely manipulative. And, well… have you spoken with any other authors here yet?
Detective Armstrong: A few.
Kenneth Jay Jackson: Well, this is going to come as a shock.
Detective Armstrong: Try us.
Kenneth Jay Jackson: Diane was very up front about her priorities, number one being herself and her bank account. She was in charge of arranging the specifics of the panels and the scheduling of the conference sessions, and – how can I say this? – she assigned everything a monetary value.
Detective Armstrong: In what way?
Kenneth Jay Jackson: OK, I'll put it plainly. We had to pay if we wanted to be on a prominent panel.
Detective Armstrong: How did that work?
Kenneth Jay Jackson: In essence, if I didn't pay, she would relegate me to the Sunday morning session when half the attendees have already left, or the Friday afternoon session before everyone arrived. And then there's the issue of book signings – the scheduled signings held between sessions. If you wanted a spot, there was a cost attached.
Detective Murphy: Did you pay?
Kenneth Jay Jackson: I'm ashamed to say I did. The first year I attended she didn't ask me to. Then, in 2010, I refused and I didn't get a signing, so for the past couple of years, yes.
Detective Murphy: How much?
Kenneth Jay Jackson: $3,000.
Detective Armstrong: That's a lot of dough.
Kenneth Jay Jackson: Yes.
Detective Murphy: And did you ever bring this up with Ms. Moss?
Kenneth Jay Jackson: No.
Detective Murphy: Why not?
Kenneth Jay Jackson: Diane insisted that the deal remain between herself and the authors. Whenever I complained, she threatened to work her connections with other conference organizers and make sure we never got out on the circuit again. I'm sure it's hard to understand, but marketing the book is at least as important as writing it. There are so many authors out there and there are only so many variations to the storyline. I have to keep my name out there to distinguish myself from the others. Cutting off my access to conferences like this one would have ruined me.
Detective Murphy: Do you think Ms. Coates really had that kind of clout?
Kenneth Jay Jackson: She's been in her position for a long time. And she's got that manipulative personality. She could be utterly charming, so you don't notice she's bending you to her will. I would say she could have caused some damage – maybe not as much as she claimed – but it wasn't worth the risk. $3,000 is a lot, but it's not going to kill me.
Detective Armstrong: And she was doing this to all the authors at the conference?
Kenneth Jay Jackson: I don't know about all of them. The first year, when I was on the New Authors panel, she didn't hit me up, so maybe that's the pattern. But yes, I'm pretty sure all of the authors who've published more than a couple of books were on Diane's list. Kate Sugarman and I talked about it outright, and the others, well, we all made comments about Diane's priorities, as we called them.
Detective Armstrong: So it sounds like you authors are all going to be better off now that she's out of the way?
Kenneth Jay Jackson: If what you're implying is that we or I had something to do with Diane's death, you're wrong.
Detective Murphy: When did you last see Ms. Coates?
Kenneth Jay Jackson: Like everyone else, at the cocktail reception where she collapsed. Before that, she met me at the check-in table to give me my registration packet and showed me to the reception desk for check-in. She was in her go-go conference mood, all business.
Detective Murphy: Is that when you paid her?
Kenneth Jay Jackson: No. Nothing like that happened actually at the conference. It was all done by direct wire transfer.
Detective Murphy: And before Friday, when was the last time you saw her?
Kenneth Jay Jackson: Last year's conference. We spoke on the phone several times in October and November, of course, but I didn't see her otherwise.
Detective Armstrong: Folks at the reception said Ms. Coates and Ms. Moss got pretty worked up over something.
Kenneth Jay Jackson: Yes, I did notice an argument going on. I can't imagine it was Sandra's fault. I'm sure Diane was trying to assert herself in some way. To be honest, though, I didn't listen. I was talking with Kate and a couple of fans and enjoying myself.
Detective Armstrong: Did Ms. Moss ever talk about her relationship with Ms. Coates?
Kenneth Jay Jackson: No. But can you imagine having someone like that as your assistant? It must have been a nightmare.
Detective Murphy: Is there anything else you can tell us about Ms. Coates that might help us? Any other enemies you knew of?
Kenneth Jay Jackson: I can't think of anything right now.
Detective Murphy: Well, keep in touch.
Kenneth Jay Jackson: Will do.
End interview - 1:10 p.m.