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 the System Divine trilogy?
It’s a tie between Roche and Cerise. Both are comic relief characters and I do love writing comedy, so they both felt like fun escapes from all the heavy drama and seriousness happening around them. Cerise is so unlike me (I definitely don’t have her closet or flair for the dramatic) which is what made her so fun to write. And because Roche is based on the character Gavroche from Les Mis, one of my favorite characters in the book and musical, my co-author and I had a blast bringing him to life in our own world.
You write a lot of different genres. Is it difficult to switch around so much?
I think I have to switch around so much or I’d get bored! I love writing fun, contemporary YA comedies like A Week of Mondays or In Some Other Life but by the end of the writing and revising process, I’m ready for something new. Maybe something darker. Then, when I’m finished with one of my weightier sci-fi novels, like Sky Without Stars, or one of my more emotional YA dramas like The Chaos of Standing Still, I’m ready for something light again!. I’ve also really enjoyed writing for younger audiences as well. My middle grade novels like I Speak Boy and Better You Than Me have allowed me to explore different characters and concepts that might not have worked in young adult (in fact, many of my middle grade novels started out as young adult ideas that I later adapted.) I’m looking forward to trying even more genres in the future. Maybe a mystery/thriller???
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.
In terms of my process, I do have a very strict routine that I stick to every day. I wake up, take my dogs for a walk, meditate, write in a gratitude journal, make coffee, and then get straight to writing. I don’t allow myself to even look at my phone or my inbox until my daily word count is done (usually 1000-1500 words). If you’re a writer looking to set up a productive writing routine, I have a step-by-step guide here.
Is there any talk about turning any of your books into a movie or TV show?
Actually, several of my books have been “optioned” for film and TV, which means that producers are working on getting all the right pieces together to make it happen (like screenwriters, directors, actors, etc.) Any time there’s movie or TV news, my newsletter subscribers are always the first to know. You can subscribe here!
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 administrator from your school or local library contact me to schedule a visit.
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 “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 spreadsheets 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 spreadsheets overseas as well.
Soon after college, I landed a position as a financial analyst at MGM Studios, where I ran numbers (more spreadsheets!) to help decide what films should be acquired by the studio and released on DVD (back when people actually bought and watched DVDs!). 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 financial 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. 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. 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 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 with over 20 novels under my belt.
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.
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!