Tracking her down to her own "Circle of Hell" we chatted about stories, strippers, chocolate and death...
Falcata Times: Writing is said to be something that people are afflicted with rather than gifted and that it's something you have to do rather than want. What is your opinion of this statement and how true is it to you?
Jackie Kessler: Afflicted. Definitely. I have to write. Have to. It’s this burning need to tell stories, and have people read them. And, ideally, earn enough money to keep on writing stories so people can read them. Very, very Vicious Circle. There are times when I wish I was afflicted with something saner, like bungee jumping or ultimate fighting. But I wouldn’t trade it for the world. (Sorry, world.)
FT: When did you realise that you wanted to be a writer?
JK: When I was younger, I wanted to be a comic book artist. Which, if you think about it, is still about the storytelling, just in a different form. In college, I fell in love with writing. I’d always enjoyed it before, but starting freshman year, I discovered a passion for it, so I took tons of creative writing workshops. I started working on a book when I was 18, but I didn’t get serious about wanting to write and get published until 2003. And starting in 2004, I began the ongoing process of learning about the publishing industry. (It’s good to have a sense of humor.)
FT: It is often said that if you can write a short story you can write anything. How true do you think this is and what have you written that either proves or disproves this point of view?
JK: Frankly, I think that’s a pile of cowcrap. You can be a marvelous short story writer, but that skill set doesn’t translate nicely to longer forms of writing. It’s the same in reverse: you may be brilliant at writing a 90,000-word novel, but terrible at writing a 4,000-word short story. And writing short fiction is worlds different that writing a nonfiction essay of the same word count. Different formats of writing require different skills. Just because you excel at one doesn’t mean you naturally do at another. Sure, you can learn how to write in those different formats. That doesn’t mean you’re going to have a terrific final product. Just as important as knowing how to write in a particular format is knowing which format is best for a particular story.
I’ve written flash fiction (ack), poetry (ack/in verse/with line breaks), short stories (mostly great fun), novelettes (for the stories that didn’t know when to stop), novellas (difficult), novels (ranging from the words just coming to me banging my head against the keyboard), essays (shoot me now), and two short comic book stories (difficult, but so worth it).
FT: If someone were to enter a bookshop, how would you persuade them to try your novel over someone else's and how would you define it?
JK: I’d bribe them with chocolate. Or maybe slip them a $20.
FT: How would you "sell" your book in 20 words or less?
For the Hell series: Sex, strippers and demons—what’s not to like?
For the Icarus project: Dystopian superhero fiction—BLADERUNNER meets the Justice League.
For HUNGER: An anorexic teenage girl becomes the new Famine, one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.
For RAGE: A teenage self-injurer becomes the new avatar of War, one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.
For LOSS: A bullied teenage boy is tricked into becoming Pestilence. Ditto the Four Horsemen.
FT: Who is a must-have on your bookshelf and whose latest release will find you on the bookshops doorstep waiting for it to open?
JK: In no particular order: Neil Gaiman, Christopher Moore, Heather Brewer, Rachel Caine, Jim Butcher, Rob Thurman, A.S. King, Ty Drago...my God, so many more! Right now, it’s a tossup which book I’m dying to read more: Jim Butcher’s GHOST STORY, or Rob Thurman’s BLACKOUT. Or Rachel Caine’s BITE CLUB. Or...
FT: When you sit down and write do you know how the story will end or do you just let the pen take you? ie Do you develop character profiles and outlines for your novels before writing them or do you let your idea's develop as you write?
JK: It depends. (Don’t you hate those answers?) Some books just flow, like HELL’S BELLES and BLACK AND WHITE and HUNGER. Others, like HOTTER THAN HELL and SHADES OF GRAY and LOSS, are more heavily plotted before and during the actual writing.
FT: What do you do to relax and what have you read recently?
JK: Relax? Um. Tae kwon do. And, um, napping. I’m currently reading Karen Mahoney’s THE IRON WITCH. Great fun!!!
FT: What is your guiltiest pleasure that few know about?
JK: And you’re just going to have to use your imagination here. I promise, whatever you come up with will be far more interesting. ;)
FT: Lots of writers tend to have pets. What do you have and what are their key traits (and do they appear in your novel in certain character attributes?)
JK: Two years ago, one of my cats was dying, so we opted to put her to sleep. God, that sucked. That also sparked the first sentences of the book that would be RAGE: “The day Melissa Miller killed her cat, she met the Angel of Death. But he was no angel—and he wasn’t there for the cat.”
FT: Which character within your latest book was the most fun to write and why?
JK: In the Hell series, I adore Daun. He’s such an evil bastard. In a cuddly sort of way. For the Horseman series, Death is terrifying fun. In HUNGER, he was far more fun than terrifying. That will change as the series progresses—we see more of him in RAGE, and a different side (well, sides) of him in LOSS. And then, there will be his own book, BREATH. **rubs hands gleefully**
FT: How similar to your principle protagonist are you?
JK: I used to joke that if I were a demon and Jezebel were Jewish, we’d be the same person. But really? You’d never catch me stripping on stage.
FT: What hobbies do you have and how do they influence your work?
JK: My newest hobby is tae kwon do. I actually wrote a blog post about how TKD has helped me with writing fight scenes:
FT: Where do you get your ideas from?
JK: I put an ad on Craigslist. (Wouldn’t that be nice?) More seriously, ideas really come from all around. Sometimes, it’s from personal experience; other times, it’s from something you’ve read or seen. Sometimes, it’s something completely out of the blue. With HELL’S BELLES, I meshed the fantasy that I loved so much (Good versus Evil) with a sassy first-person protagonist.
FT: Do you ever encounter writer’s block and if so how do you overcome it?
JK: Ugh, the dreaded writer’s block. Yes, I’ve encountered it. For me, it occurs when I’ve taken the story down the wrong path. It’s like the back part of my brain knows the right story, even when the front part of my brain is still dithering around. So the back part hits the brakes until the front part figures it out. Very obnoxious, really. And don’t get me started about what happens when the characters argue with the writer. Flippin’ prima donna characters...
FT: Certain authors are renowned for writing at what many would call uncivilised times. When do you write and how do the others in your household feel about it?
JK: Hey, I’m quite civilized. I’m sipping tea as I’m answering this question. But yes, I do my writing usually late (late) at night, or during the weekends. It is what it is, you know? I have to write, so I write when I can.
FT: Sometimes pieces of music seem to influence certain scenes within novels, do you have a soundtrack for your tale or is it a case of writing in silence with perhaps the odd musical break in-between scenes?
JK: Oh, the Hell series has tons of music! See?
FT: What misconceptions, if any, did you have about the writing and publishing fields when you were first getting started?
JK: For writing, I had this crazy notion that I had to write something only once, and then it was done. For publishing, my biggest misconception was that all writers need to do is write.
FT: If music be the food of love, what do you think writing is and please explain your answer?
JK: If music is the chocolate, then writing is the...nah, writing is also the chocolate. Everything can be related to in terms of chocolate.
FT: What can you tell us about the next novel?
JK: For the Hell series, HELL TO PAY, the final novel, will be available as an ebook...er, shortly. For now, it’s still available in its entirety on my website for free. I’ll be writing the first book in a related series, Pit and Paradise, later this year. BEFORE THE FALL will be a digital book only. The tag line for the new series is: “Some days, it just doesn’t pay to stop the Apocalypse.” Stay tuned!
As for the Horseman series, I’m currently writing LOSS. That book is giving me hives. Which is appropriate, given that the Horseman in question is Pestilence...
FT: What are the last five internet sites that you've visited?
JK: Twitter, Daily Kos, AbsoluteWrite.com, Facebook, CNN.com.
FT: Did you ever take any writing classes or specific instructions to learn the craft? If so please let us know which ones.
JK: I took plenty of creative writing workshops in college—mostly, those were critique sessions. I later launched my own writing workshop for local authors, and I had that going for about three years. Again, that was all about the critiquing—the more you meaningfully critique other people’s work, the stronger your own work will become. I also attend plenty of panels and workshops when I go on conventions—RT, SDCC, NYCC, Albacon, DragonCon, RWA, whew, others too. And author C.E. Murphy gave me a fabulous crash course in scripting a comic book. (Thanks, Catie!)
FT: How did you get past the initial barriers of criticism and rejection? (if that was indeed necessary!)
JK: You’re assuming I don’t obsess over every bad review or rejection, aren’t you?
FT: In your opinion, what are the best and worst aspects of writing for a living?
JK: The best? Writing is the best job in the world. The other week, I spent a good chunk of the evening researching the Black Plague, the Crusades, and Robin Hood, and then I started coming up with a timeline for my WIP. And as I said to my Loving Husband: “I can say that I spent the evening imagining, and that counts as real work! I love my job!” But the worst part is transforming what I do as craft into an actual business. Stressing over the numbers, the promotion, the business-ends of writing can suck the joy out of the craft—to say nothing about murdering my sense of humor.