Here is a list of the questions that Jessica is most frequently asked:
What is your favorite part of being an author?
Fan mail and meeting readers! It’s so rewarding to know that people are out there reading and liking your book. And liking it enough to actually tell you about it! It really makes my day! As authors, we spend so much time by ourselves, locked in our little writing caves, we forget that there are people out there being affected by our books. It’s so nice to be reminded of that. It makes me feel like all my hard work that goes into bringing a book into the world is worth it in the end.
What piece of advice would you give to a budding author?
Don’t be afraid to write badly. All writers have awful first drafts. That’s why they’re called first drafts. Sometimes you have to just get through the story before you can make it pretty. I think a lot of new authors quit halfway through the book because they’re afraid that it’s not good. The first draft won’t be good. Just finish it and fix it later. The hardest part about writing a book is getting to that last page. Don’t be afraid to write crap. Crap makes great fertilizer. For more writing advice, click here to go directly to the “For Writers” section.
What would you say was your favorite character to write in Unremembered?
I have to say Cody, Seraphina’s 13-year-old foster brother.
This genre was brand new for me. My first time venturing into the world of sci-fi. And as all my contemporaries were comedies, it was oftentimes a challenge for me to write something darker and more serious. Cody, however, is the comic relief of the novel. So writing him was like a little link back to my comfort zone. I always felt like I was “home” when I wrote him. And it gave me the opportunity to make fun of myself a little. While Sera’s storyline is rather dark and mysterious and all these harrowing things are happening around her, Cody can always be counted on to lighten the mood with a comedic crack on her situation.
You’re known for your contemporary teen novels but UNREMEMBERED is very different (sci-fi/suspense/mystery) what inspired you to make the switch?
Well, I’ll start off by saying that I definitely didn’t abandon the contemporary genre. It’s still a genre I adore writing and I actually have another contemporary standalone book coming out in Summer of 2014 that I’m writing now. But the idea to try my hand at science fiction was really about flexing my creative muscles and seeing how far I could take a character outside of “normal teen life” and still create a compelling emotional journey. In the end, all my books (regardless of genre) tell stories about discovering who you are and dealing with what life brings you (because that’s universal.) In UNREMEMBERED, all I did was insert this struggle into a science-fiction setting where I could exaggerate the “who am I” question. As a writer it’s fun to be able to create an extraordinary world, drop a character in, and see what she does.
Describe a typical writing day.
Well, I’m not sure there is such a thing. It feels like every day is different depending on where I am in the story. For the first 100 pages, I feel like a Disney Princess, floating out of bed and prancing to my writing desk while the birds chirp merrily outside and little furry raccoons make my coffee. For the second 100 pages, I feel like I’m trapped in the “pit of despair” from the Princess Bride movie, strapped to a torture machine that’s been set to maximum pain, while I haven’t seen the light of day for weeks. Then for the last 100 pages, I’m suddenly Snow White again.
Are you anything like your book characters?
Of all my book characters, I think I’m the most like Maddy from The Karma Club. She and I are both very organized, studious, and like to be in control at all times. The fact that she concocts a plan to take Karma into her own hands because she doesn’t think it’s doing a good enough job on its own is something I totally would do! I’m a bit of a control freak. I never trust anyone to do anything for me. I always insist on doing it myself. So I suppose that would also apply to mystical forces of the universe! I’m probably the least similar to Brooklyn from My Life Undecided. We are very different. Which is why I think writing her was so much fun. It was like getting to live in someone else’s shoes for a while. I very loosely based Brooklyn on my younger sister and very loosely based Brooklyn’s older sister, Izzie, on myself. But I should note that the characters are extremely exaggerated. My sister never burnt down a model home and I was never quite as “pretentious” and “overzealous” as Izzie.
Where did you get the idea for the UNREMEMBERED trilogy?
A few years ago, I read a newspaper article about a teen girl who was the sole survivor of a plane crash. I was instantly fascinated by the story. Namely because they had no idea why she survived when no else did. I started brainstorming reasons as to why she was so lucky. One particular reason (a rather intricate, science-fiction-inspired one) stuck in my mind and refused to leave. It continued to grow and blossom until I had an idea for an entire trilogy. A trilogy that starts with a mysterious plane crash and a single survivor.
How did you get the idea for 52 Reasons to Hate My Father?
Actually it’s kind of a funny story. I was sitting in my car, watching a meter maid write someone a parking ticket and I thought, “Wouldn’t it be fun to be a meter maid? But only for like a week. Just to see what it was like.” Then I started to brainstorm all these other jobs I’d like to do for one week. And I decided, “Well, I’m too busy writing novels to actually do all these jobs, so I guess I’ll just have to write a book about someone else who does them.” And then I tried to think of the funniest character to put in that kind of situation and the answer was instant: a spoiled heiress who has never had to work a day in her life. And alas, Lexington Larrabee was born. But really the joke’s on me, because in researching the story, I actually did take on some of the jobs that are in the book! My favorite was working the drive-thru at a fast food restaurant. Those head-sets you have to wear are like something out of Star Trek!
How did you get the idea for My Life Undecided?
This book was definitely one of those “aha!” moments that I hear writers talk about. My husband and I were watching TV, an ad for a reality show came on and I said, “Wouldn’t it be cool if there was a reality show where you could vote on what the characters did. As in, “who they went out with?” or “Whether or not they forgave their backstabbing best friend.” Like American Idol meets The Hills. We both agreed although it would be cool, it wouldn’t be practical from a production standpoint since they shoot those reality shows months before they air. I was not deterred though. I said, “Fine, I’ll write it as a book,” and then marched up the stairs and in ten short minutes, wrote a page-long synopsis for what would become My Life Undecided and sent it to my editor. She wrote back right away saying that she loved it and the book was born!
How did you get the idea for The Karma Club?
A friend of mine had told me some horrendous story about how a boy dumped her (I don’t even remember the story, I just remember it was infuriating!) and the entire time she was talking, I kept thinking, “Someone needs to do that right back to him. He can’t just get away with that. He needs a taste of Karma!” And then boom, the idea came to me. A secret society of girls who help each other out, dosing out Karma to those who deserve it when the universe is slow to do it on its own. And thus The Karma Club was born. Of course, as soon as the idea came to me, I also knew that my characters would never be able to get away with it. Karma is a tricky thing. And you definitely don’t want to meddle with the universe!
Who is your favorite character in The Karma Club?
Although I’d love to say that Maddy is my favorite character in the book, I’m going to have to go with Angie on this one (Maddy’s best friend). Not that I don’t LOVE Maddy. After all, she’s my main character. But she’s also the most like me and I tend to gravitate toward characters that are least like me because I find them more interesting. After all, I’ve lived with me for more than thirty years! And Angie is nothing like me. She’s moody and sarcastic and kind of cynical while I’m an eternal optimist. Every time I wrote her dialogue, it was like living vicariously through someone else for a moment. It was really fun.
What is your favorite scene or chapter in My Life Undecided?
Some chapters are really hard to write. Like you have to “slog” through them and they feel totally uninspired but you know you have to get through them in order to move the story from point A to point B. And then there are other chapters that just flow out of you. As though it’s not even you writing them. You’re just taking dictation from some “other source.” I like to think that these are the times when my character really comes to life and instead of me creating her, she’s creating herself and speaking through me. The Truth or Dare chapter toward the end of the book was like that for me. I can’t say too much without giving away the story, but it’s a major turning point. I went into the chapter knowing what was going to happen but I had know idea how it would play out. Brooklyn kind of took the reins in this chapter. I just did the typing. And after I was done writing it, I read it back and went, “whoa, that was exciting!” It still makes me giddy when I go back and read it.
Deepak Chopra is in your book trailer for The Karma Club! How did you make that happen?
I guess you could say it happened to me! Although I don’t believe in accidents or coincidences. I believe the universe lines up exactly the way it’s supposed to and this is proof! When I wrote The Karma Club a few years back, I put a character in the novel named Rajiv that was inspired by one of my favorite spiritual teachers, Deepak Chopra. Two years later, as I was returning from New York on a trip to visit my publishers I was sitting on an Wi-Fi enabled flight, checking Twitter and Deepak’s latest tweet was on my screen. Well, the man sitting next to me noticed, tapped me on the shoulder and said, “That’s my dad.”
It turned out I was sitting next to Deepak Chopra’s son! Gotham Chopra (also a writer) and I started chatting, exchanged contact information and a few months later I asked if he thought his dad would be interested in making a cameo appearance in my newest book trailer, playing the character that he inspired. He said, “Possibly,” and the next thing I new, I got a call from Deepak himself saying that he’d love to participate! It was unbelievable.
So I, my lead actress and my crew traveled down to the Chopra Center in Carlsbad, CA to shoot our big cameo scene. Deepak was a pro. So generous with his time and just an overall joy to be around. We shot the scene and voila! A Deepak cameo!
Now if that isn’t a story of universal alignment, I don’t know what is!
How did you decide to make the switch to teen fiction (from women's fiction)?
I actually didn’t plan to at all! When I came up with the idea for THE KARMA CLUB (see question above!) at first I tried to plot it out as an adult novel and it felt all wrong to me. Then I started to think about it as a story about teens and suddenly it all started to fall into place. Of course, I had no idea how to write a teen novel. So I started reading a bunch of YA fiction to get a feel for the genre. The first book I read was KISS AND BLOG by Alyson Noël and I fell in LOVE with it. (She and I are now very good friends.) I then wrote out 50 pages of the story, showed my agent and asked, “Am I even close to the mark here?” She read it, liked it and told me to keep going with it. She said I had a “natural YA voice.” I think that’s code for “you’re still 17 at heart” (which I still feel!). Writing THE KARMA CLUB was so much fun I decided to stay in the genre. I have two more YA novels coming out in the next two years and a new YA series in the works too!
Is there any talk about turning any of your books into a movie or TV show?
As of right now, Unremembered and The Fidelity Files are being developed as films! You can find out all the latest news here!
Who does your book trailers?
Actually, I do my book trailers myself! They are my labor of love! I produce, direct, and edit them. However, I have TONS of great help! Each book trailer usually has a crew of about 10 people. I have so much fun producing my book trailers. It’s so cool to see scenes from the books come to life! Click here to read more about how the book trailers are made and view behind the scenes photos!
Where did you grow up?
I was born in Los Angeles but we moved when I was 12. We went to a small town in Colorado that no one has ever heard of. It’s called Franktown. See, I told you you’d never heard of it. Although I loved Colorado and its beautiful scenery, I missed the warm weather, the beaches and even the smog a little. So I moved back to L.A. after I graduated from College. Then I ended up missing Colorado so now I split my time between both places. 🙂
How do you write your novels? Are you a plotter?
I’m definitely a plotter. I use a book called SAVE THE CAT by Blake Synder to plot out all my manuscripts. It’s actually a screenwriting book but it works just as well for novels. Blake is a genius. He created 15 “beats” or story points that every story (film or book) can be broken down into. So I try to figure out what those beats are before I ever start writing. And as a testament to his method, those beats hardly ever change through the writing process. Although sometimes the scenes in between do.
How do you get over writer's block?
I get this question a lot from fellow writers. For starters, I never use the term “writer’s block”…well, except right there. I’m a firm believer in the law of attraction. What you resist persists. What you focus on only gets bigger. If I went around saying, “Crap, I have writer’s block,” then yes, I would have writer’s block. If I refuse to even acknowledge the concept, then it doesn’t exist. And guess what? I’ve never had it!
I also try not to think of obstacles in my story as “problems” but more as “opportunities.” As in, “Oh, well that’s not working the way I expected it to. Looks like an opportunity to do something new!”
Of course, I’m not usually this carefree and doe-eyed about it at the time. It usually takes some ranting followed by moaping around the house before I remember to remind myself of the above statement.
But if I do end up running into a wall, which obviously happens from time to time, I usually just step away, mediate and tell myself, “the solution already exists; I just have to remember what it is.” By the time I wake up the next morning, I almost always have a solution.
How long does it take you to write a book?
My teen fiction novels generally take me between 3 and 4 months to write the first draft. Then I spend about 2 weeks revising before sending to my editor. After getting her notes, I take another 2-3 weeks to revise.
Can you come speak at our school or library?
Absolutely! I love doing author visits (it’s one of the highlights of my job.) Click here for more information on school visits or have a librarian, teacher or adminstrator from your school or local library contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule a visit.
Can you come to our book club meeting?
If your book club is in the Los Angeles or Denver area, I would love to try. Schedule permitting, I’m also happy to call in to a book club outside of the LA area. Please contact me at: email@example.com to discuss further.
How did you become a full-time writer? Did you always know that's what you wanted to do?
In second grade, there was no doubt in my mind that I wanted to be a writer. That was when we first learned how to “self-publish” our own books. Our teachers brought out the cardboard, wall paper samples, electrical tape and rubber cement (at age 8, we were finally able to use rubber cement unsupervised!) and we would make book bindings and tape in our carefully type-writer printed masterpieces. From the minute I saw that first short story in “print”, I was hooked. I wanted more. I went home and wrote four more stories and brought them back the next day to get “published”. And when I had reached my second grade contracted publishing limit, I begged my mom to take me out to get some wall paper samples, cardboard and rubber cement so I could continue my publishing business at home. She obliged. I suppose she deemed it to be more productive than playing Super Mario Brothers all afternoon.
But then time took its toll, as did that common dose of rationality that comes with getting older: “Yes, art is all fine and good, but how will I make money?” The answer for me was a corporate job. One that comes with a degree in Economics and involves spread sheets and cost benefit analyses. So that’s what I majored in: Economics. With a double major in French so that I could broaden my horizons and build complicated spread sheets overseas as well.
Soon after college, I landed a strategic analyst position at MGM Studios, where I ran numbers (more spread sheets!) to help decide what films should be acquired by the studio and released on DVD. I liked this job a lot. My left-brained analytical side was extremely satisfied. But the other side wanted more.
I started writing my first novel on the side. Weekends, nights, lunch hours. It was hard to juggle both, but I made it work. Once I got back into writing, I knew that strategic analysis wasn’t the place for me. And on a trip back to my parents’ house for the holidays, I stumbled upon the box that housed my second grade collection. And I immediately wondered how I could have ignored such an obvious passion for so long.
In 2005, MGM laid off a vast majority of its employees after an acquisition by Sony. I interpreted it as a sign. I took my severance package and I vowed to make it last until I had a book deal. I took on several odd end jobs from Craigslist along the way—transcriber, receptionist, catering assistant, anything to keep me afloat. During that time,
I rewrote my first novel several times until I landed an agent. Then I re-wrote it again until I had a publishing contract. Shortly after that, I sold three more books and now I write full time.
The moral of my story is pretty obvious to me—everyone should have to choose their future occupation at age 7. It would save us all a whole lot of time and spreadsheets.