Today on Author on the Couch,
I conduct a session with
Jessica will be giving away a Kindle copy of her novel LETTING GO to one random person who comments on this blog.
Me: Tell me about an experience that had a profound impact on your life.
Jessica: Hmm…for this question, I immediately thought about the birth of my children, and while those days certainly did have a profound impact on my life, I was already an adult by that point, and those two experiences didn’t necessarily shape who I am. Sure, my priorities definitely shifted, but I was ultimately still me.
I think the experiences that have the most profound impact in people’s lives happen when they’re younger and much more impressionable. When they’re still being molded, per se. I personally did a lot of growing up in college. It was such an exciting time, which is why I like to revisit this time period in my writing. I really came into my own in grad school. I taught freshman English classes, and my professors treated me like a peer. As co-president of the English Graduate Student Organization, I put together the department book fair and also co-chaired a conference. My then-boyfriend/now-husband and I were also maintaining a long distance relationship during that time. It was definitely hard, but it also forced me to spread my wings—this introvert had to come out of her comfort zone a little. It was really a cool time, probably some of my favorite years of my life so far, and they helped shape who I am today.
Me: What personality trait of yours helps you most as an author?
Jessica: I turned to my husband to help me answer this one! He said it’s my attention to detail. I agree. You know how you’ll wear a shirt that has a tiny stain and a well-meaning person will tell you “no one will notice”? Or when you had food in your teeth all through dinner and that same well-meaning person tells you “I’m sure no one noticed”? I’m that person—I notice. I think this has a lot to do with being an extreme introvert and very shy with people I don’t know. (Once I get to know you though, all bets are off. I never stop talking!) I’m not usually comfortable in large groups of people, so I watch. This helps me when I’m developing characters.
As I mentioned in the previous question, I have an M.A. in English, and I’ve taught writing for over a decade. This has turned me into one of those grammar people. I will notice if a comma is out of place. I will notice if you used the wrong form of a word. This helps me in my own writing. Little details rarely slip me by, whether it comes to plotting or grammar.
Another trait I’d like to mention is tenacity. All writers suffer from lows—this is a hard business full of rejection. It took me a little while to thicken my skin, and to tell you the truth, it’s still not really all that thick. But I have managed to adopt an attitude that gets me through. When the rejections roll in, I wallow in self-pity for a while as I suspect most writers do, but then I pick myself up and I think “So Editor X didn’t like my manuscript. Well guess what, Editor X? I’m just going to write another one that will knock your socks off. And if you still don’t like that one? I’ll write yet another one that will blow your mind. In other words, Editor X, brace yourself.”
Me: I love your conversation with Editor X! That’s the attitude we all need.
What personality trait of yours hinders you most as an author?
Jessica: Lack of confidence. Nothing I write is ever good enough. The bad stuff is just easier to believe, you know? This business is tough. I knew that going in, but ouch…that still doesn’t make the harsh reviews any easier to swallow. (For the record, I generally don’t read them.) As a writer, it’s often hard to judge my own writing. I’ll vacillate from “this is the best ever!” to “Oh my God, I should be bitch slapped for even allowing these sentences to exist.” A lot of the writing greats say you have to turn off your inner editor, and it’s so true. I like to write fast so that I don’t have time to stop and ponder too much.
Also, I’ve surrounded myself with fellow writers who boost me up when I’m down. Although writing is a solitary endeavor, it’s so important to have solid support in your corner. After I bitch slap myself for writing such horrendous crap, they usually bitch slap me right back for being too hard on myself. My writer friends are the best. I don’t know where I’d be without them.
Me: What was your high point as a writer?
Jessica: Finaling in the Golden Heart has been my highest point as a writer. I’ve had a lot of great things happen since then, like getting an agent and a book deal, but the Golden Heart was where it all started for me. The first RITA/Golden Heart awards ceremony I attended was in 2012, and I knew without a doubt that I wanted to final more than anything I’ve ever wanted before. So when I finaled in 2014, it was a dream come true, especially since my writer BFF also finaled. Finaling was the validation I desperately needed. The best part about finaling though, was the sisterhood that comes along with it. The Golden Heart finalists from all years form a network, kind of like a sorority, with each year being its own class. My Golden Heart sisters mean so much to me. They understand me in a way that no one else has before, because let’s face it—writers are horses of a different color, and I’ve always been a bit of an individual (cough*weirdo*cough).
The Golden Heart also opened many doors for me. It is because of this contest that I got offered a contract from Entangled Publishing and signed with the best agent I could ever ask for, Sarah Younger. If I hadn’t finaled, Letting Go would still be gathering dust on my hard drive.
Me: What was your low point as a writer?
Jessica: In 2013, before I finaled in the Golden Heart and the rejections were pouring in, I really questioned whether or not I had what it takes to make it as a writer. So I took some time off from writing. And I read. Then I read some more. And when I was done with that? You got it. More reading. I read fifty-one books that year, and that was on top of working full time as a high school teacher, teaching two or three online college classes at any given time, and having a three-year-old and a six-year-old. It was while reading these books that I realized I didn’t have it in me to me give up. I still didn’t know if I had what it takes, but I also knew that it was worth it to try. Specifically, Richelle Mead’s Vampire Academy series (among others) inspired me to want to write again. I don’t want to give away the plots twists in this series, but I remember sitting at my desk with a book open in front of me during my planning bell at school, and not being able to continue reading because I couldn’t see through my tears. Oh, that scene totally got to me. And that’s why I write—I want readers to be able to connect with my books the way I’ve connected with books over the years.
Me: Just another example of how powerful books can be!
What’s your writer’s mantra?
Jessica: This is from the late Randy Pausch:
“The brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something. Because the brick walls are there to stop the people who don’t want it badly enough. They’re there to stop the other people.”
I have this posted by my computer. It really spoke to me when I was first trying to gain a footing with my writing. It still speaks to me, because as I break down one wall to reach my goal, I simply create a new goal that has a brand new wall. I’m never satisfied. I continually push myself to reach bigger and better goals.
Jessica: I’m going to twist this question a little bit. I don’t usually talk about this, but depression is a topic that needs more awareness. I actually have experienced it firsthand. It first became a problem when I was a teenager, and I even sought help in college, but my concerns were brushed aside. A few years ago, I went to see my family doctor for exhaustion (I was tired all the time), and I ended up in tears, telling him about how hopeless I felt and that I couldn’t go on living like I had been. He prescribed me an anti-depressant, and I began feeling better within days. I don’t know how I lived like I did for so long. It wasn’t really living; I was merely existing. Years ago there was an anti-depressant commercial that went something like this:
Where does depression hurt?
Who does depression hurt?
I don’t think this commercial runs anymore, but it really hits home. Depression is a scary beast. Moreover, it’s a silent beast. Mental disorder/illness is so stigmatized in our country that many people don’t seek the help they need. I wouldn’t wish depression on anyone. That being said, I do wish that people could experience it for one day so they would understand it a little more. It feels like a black cloud is hanging over you, and you lack the ability to feel joy. Irrational anger and irritability are another alienating side effect. Looking back, I just felt so lost, like life had no meaning, and I never want to feel that way again. I can’t even accurately put it into words, and until a person experiences it for themselves, they’ll never truly understand.
Me: The thing about depression that a lot of people don’t understand–you don’t have to be sitting around bawling every moment of the day to be depressed. Depression is a sneaky booger, it unobtrusively sucks away your ability to feel joy, motivated, energized. So often people don’t even realize they have it. All they know is that they “don’t feel good.”
Let’s switch gears. Name a writing pet peeve of yours.
Jessica: Oooh…good question. I hate, loathe, abhor scenes where a couple kisses first thing in the morning after they’ve just woken up. Before brushing their teeth!!! (I am not a believer in excessive exclamation marks, but in this case, I made the exception. Because…ew!!!) How totally unrealistic is that?!? It pulls me right out of the story. I get that it’s fiction, but come on. Everyone knows that morning breath is not sexy. And I don’t care how sexy the hero is, he’s going to have morning breath. Unless he’s like Edward from Twilight and he just stays away all night watching the heroine, but that, of course, is a completely different issue.
Me: OMG! I’m so on board with you! Morning breath! Bleck!
Me: Tell me about your novel LETTING GO.
Cori Elliott likes order. Her schedule, her social life…even her GPA is perfect. Then she finds out her high school boyfriend’s death wasn’t an accident-it was suicide. The devastating revelation is enough to fracture her perfectly structured life, sending Cori in a downward spiral of self-doubt and impulsive decisions.
And right into the arms of Luke Evans.
But Cori’s life isn’t perfect anymore. In fact, it’s all coming apart. The only way she can save herself is to let go of everything-including the girl she used to be. Even if it means losing the one guy who might just be perfect for her in the process…
Me: Share with us a favorite paragraph or two from LETTING GO.
Jessica: This is so hard! Remember that part of the interview where I said I think everything I write is crap? LOL.
I couldn’t decide between two snippets, so here they both are.
I thought back to my conversation with the Blondies. They compared me to Juliet. Was everyone waiting for me to make one last tragic show of devotion?
If Juliet hadn’t killed herself, would she ever be forgiven for moving on with her life?
I was scared to know the answer.
I like this part because of the Shakespeare reference. Most of my graduate work focused on Shakespeare, and I just still love it. Romeo and Juliet is often hailed as a tragic love story, but it’s often misinterpreted. The real tragedy is that the prejudice the parents had against one another’s family caused the death of these two children—and they were just children. They didn’t live long enough to experience real true love. And….I’m going to turn off the Shakespeare scholar talk now.
He ran his hands up my sides, grazing my breasts. My breath caught, and I let out a small moan. His mouth left mine to grace my neck with kisses. I ran my fingertips along his back.
In one smooth motion, he lifted me. My legs were already wrapped around his waist, so I tightened them. He set me down on the end of the bed, and I scooted backward so that I was at the head of the bed. He crawled up to meet me.
And that, as they say, was that.
This is one of my favorite parts because it shows that NA can be still be sexy without being explicit. The new adult genre has gotten a bad rep for being “sexed up YA.” The late teens/early twenties are about so much more than sex, though, and I like to explore those other aspects in my new adult books.
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*Check out this week’s Manic Monday blog on The Power of Now.*