I met Jessica Spotswood during her Breathless Reads Tour in February of 2012.
Authors Marie Lu, Jessica Spotswood, myself, and Authors Beth Revis and Andrea Creamer
She along with fellow YA authors Marie Lu, Beth Revis, and Andrea Cremer answered questions about their stories, themselves and their writing styles.
All the writers I met that evening were sweet and gracious, and Jessica was one of the sweetest ones. I took a lot of pictures during the event and sent the links to the authors so they could download it. Jessica was so grateful, and even remembered me when I emailed her a year after to ask for an interview.
And here it is, an interview with one of the nicest writers around, Jessica Spotswood.
The wonderful Jessica Spotswood
Author’s Bio (from her website):
The Long Version
I’ve wanted to be a writer since I wrote a story about my grandparents’ cabin in Mrs. Eisenhart’s class in fourth grade. In fifth grade, I got in trouble for reading under my desk while the teacher was talking. Then in sixth grade I read Gone with the Wind. It changed my life. The characters of Scarlett and Rhett leapt off the page; they were flawed and clever and fascinating. In high school, I wrote three sprawling historical romance novels full of kissing and banter. In retrospect, they were dreadful (I had not been kissed myself at this point), but it didn’t matter; I fell in love with creating characters and writing into the wee hours of the morning. I also played clarinet in the marching and concert bands and tenor sax in the jazz band; edited the newspaper; was copy editor for the yearbook; and acted in a bunch of school plays. My favorite role was Beth in Little Women. I died splendidly.
I left my tiny one-stoplight hometown (Biglerville, PA) to attend Washington College. Within my first week there, I had auditioned for two plays. Writing mostly fell by the wayside because I was spending thirteen hours a day in rehearsal. The drama department at Washington College was amazing; it taught me to value creative collaboration, ask questions, and give tactful feedback (all skills that have been crazy-useful in my writing career). I directed a production of Elie Wiesel’s The Trial of God for my drama thesis and wrote a play for my English thesis. It was at WAC that I met my husband, Stephen Spotswood, and a fabulous group of friends who are still my besties.
After graduation, I moved to Washington, DC. I got my M.A. in Theatre History & Criticism at Catholic University while I interned in literary management at a few different DC theatres. Eventually I realized that I loved theatre, but not enough to make a career out of it. It was a scary thing to admit. I coped by rereading all of my favorite books from childhood. L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables and Emily of New Moon books led me to reading some of the brilliant YA that’s being published now. In 2007, I started writing my own YA fantasy, Inheriting Garolass, about a portrait-painting girl who discovers her family’s link to a world where artists are considered enemies of the state. This manuscript helped me snag my awesome agent, Jim McCarthy at DGLM. Unfortunately, Garolass didn’t sell—but the next book did, in a pre-empt from Penguin for the whole trilogy.
Now I live in a hipster neighborhood in Washington, DC with my brilliant playwright husband and a very cuddly cat named Monkey, and I am a full-time author.
1. Tell us three random, unique, or weird facts about yourself.
- I am scared of vines. The thought of them getting caught in my hair really freaks me out.
- I’m a pescetarian – so, vegetarian plus fish – but loathe mushrooms. This proves inconvenient.
- I have a cat named Monkey.
2. What’s the most unusual job you had before you became a full time writer?
I worked as a switchboard operator at Mott’s (applesauce, apple juice, etc) the summer I was twenty. I tried to avoid paging people over the intercom because it amplified my super high voice and people teased me about sounding like Minnie Mouse.
3. What books and movies inspired your love for Fantasy? Would you ever consider writing in another genre?
When I started writing seriously in 2007, I read lots of YA that was popular at the time, and two of my favorite series were Richelle Mead’s Vampire Academy and Melissa Marr’s Wicked Lovely. More recent favorites run the gamut from high fantasy (all of Kristin Cashore’s books) to paranormal (Franny Billingsley’s Chime and April Genevieve Tucholke’s Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea).
I would absolutely consider writing in another genre within YA. I’d love to try my hand at higher fantasy set in a world different from ours sometime. And right now I’m working on a sort of Southern Gothic ghost story that’s really fun!
4. When did you know you were going to be a writer? What prompted you to take your writing seriously?
I’ve loved writing since I was a wee Jess. In fourth grade I started writing stories about the horses at the barn where I took riding lessons, and in seventh grade I started writing historical romance novels that were all basically Gone with the Wind knockoffs. In high school, I had no doubt that I was going to be a writer. But then in college my love for writing got a bit squished, and I studied theatre instead. It wasn’t until after grad school (where I got an MA in theatre history & criticism with a focus on new play dramaturgy) that I realized I was sort of miserable and really missed that creative outlet. In 2007 I started writing a YA fantasy. It wasn’t really about getting published; it was about telling the stories of the characters who showed up in my head. But then I started reading author and agent blogs, and in 2009, after lots of rewriting of that first manuscript, I decided to query. Honestly, I don’t think it was until I got my agent that I started identifying myself as A Writer.
5. What inspired you to write BORN WICKED? Did you always know it would a series?
Born Wicked was inspired by a dream I had in which my sisters and I were fighting over a magical locket from our mom. The idea of writing about that mix of love and rivalry between sisters – and sisters with a complicated magical inheritance – stuck. I always hoped that it would be a trilogy.
6. In THE CAHILL WITCH CHRONICLES, three sisters are prophesied to be the power that changes the fate of the world. If you could spend one day with any of the sisters in your novel, who would it be?
I’d want to spend the day with Tess, I think. Even though I am the oldest of three sisters like Cate, I think that otherwise Tess and I have the most in common. She loves to read and write; she’s a quiet observer. We could talk about books!
7. The world you paint in THE CAHILL WITCH CHRONICLES is a deeply patriarchal one that seems to be based on some historical events. Did you have to do a lot of research to come up with this world/setting?
I did some research into the real-life witch trials in Salem and elsewhere. But most of the research I did was into the fashion, home décor, technology, and food of the late-Victorian era. Since the Cahill Witch Chronicles are an alternate history, I was able to give everything a bit of a twist, but one of my earliest notes from my editor was to “ruffle my corsets more,” by which she meant to really instill that sumptuous, romantic sense of candlelight and corsets and carriages. My early drafts are pretty spare. It was fun to plump them up with those kind of sensuous details.
8. Which book was the most fun to write? How about the most difficult?
Born Wicked was probably the most fun to write, because it was still just for me, and there’s a certain magic in that. I also love that discovery phase of exploring new characters. Star Cursed was the most difficult, absolutely. It was my first book under contract and under deadline, and I only had four months to write it, and I tried to outline it with rather disastrous results. I ended up throwing out 75% of the first draft and rewriting it. I’m super proud of it now, but oh, it was a painful process! Then Sisters’ Fate fell somewhere in the middle – my editor didn’t make me outline, and I had six months instead of four, and I knew pretty exactly where it was headed. But itwas tricky because I was such a perfectionist about it; I wanted to give the characters the exact right ending. Hopefully I managed it. I’m really eager to hear what readers think!
9. Tell us about your path to publication. What is the coolest thing about being a published author?
In question 4 I’d just started querying that first manuscript, right? That was after about two years of writing and rewriting it, from third-past to first-present. I was very lucky in that I got four form rejections and one full request, which turned into an offer from my agent, Jim McCarthy at DGLM. He’s fantastic. And that first manuscript didn’t end up selling, which was difficult at the time – but while it was on submission, I wrote Born Wicked! Which had a very quick path to publication. It sold in a week in February 2011 and was on shelves in February 2012.
The coolest thing about being a published author is hearing from readers! It is so super happy-making to get emails or tweets or Facebook messages from someone who’s loved reading about Cate and her sisters and Finn.
10. What’s your typical day as a writer like? Do you have any writing-related rituals or quirks?
I don’t have much of a typical day right now. I’m actually trying to work on that, to find a better routine and be more consistent. I tend to write in spurts rather than a steady 1k a day. Some days I don’t write at all; some days I write 3000 words. I am very much a night owl. I rarely get up before 10am, and then I spend my late mornings and early afternoons doing email and reading and watching TV. I really wake up around 4pm and tend to do most of my writing after that. It’s a bit of a pain because if I’m on deadline, I have to say no to going out with friends or seeing plays because I’m on such an opposite work schedule from the rest of the world. Really, I work best from about midnight until 4am, so when I’m on a tight deadline I become entirely nocturnal.
11. Are you a plotter or a pantser?
Somewhere in-between. I don’t like doing detailed outlines because then I feel too constricted, but I do tend to outline the next few scenes or chapters. My favorite part of drafting is the when the characters surprise me; I like to leave room for that. And I edit a lot as I go, so I’m a fairly slow drafter. My ideal pace would be about six months for a first draft.
12. What do you like to do when you’re not writing? Any hobbies, sports, or crafts you like to spend time on?
I see lots of theatre with my husband, who’s a playwright. Lately I’ve discovered I kind of like watching football with him. We play board games and have game nights with friends. Most of my hobbies are writing-related, though. I read lots; I teach writing workshops to teens and tweens through an organization called Writopia; and I just started a critique service with three other YA authors!
13. Are you currently working on any other projects?
I’m waiting for copyedits on Sisters’ Fate, Cahill book 3. But mostly I’ve turned my attention to creating a proposal for a new project – the Southern Gothic ghost story I mentioned above. I’m really excited about it! We’ll see whether it ends up being my next official book or not; there are a few other projects also marinating right now.
14. What advice would you like to give to writers on the road to publication?
Don’t be in a hurry. Take your time to make your book the absolute best it can be. Get feedback from people you trust – friends who are voracious readers, or other writers. Ask them what they like about the manuscript and want to see more of, as well as what they don’t think works or what confuses them. Try to listen with an open heart. If several people give you the same advice, there’s probably something to it.
15. What would you like to say to your young readers? Is there any advice that you would like to give them?
Ok, this might sound super cliché, but – follow your heart. I grew up in a tiny, one-stoplight town in rural Pennsylvania. We didn’t have authors come visit our school. I’d never met an actual author. This was in the late 90s, before the prevalence of YA, before authors were so accessible on twitter and Facebook and via their blogs. I loved to write more than anything, but no one suggested I could be an author as my actual career; I didn’t even have the temerity to dream of such a thing. I thought maybe I could be an English teacher. But now I am an author, full-time. So – don’t be afraid to dream big!
Come back this Friday for the final part of the Spotlight Week, where I give away a signed copy of BORN WICKED.
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