Catherine Stine's IDEA CITY

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Thursday, April 18, 2013

Interview with Author Jessica Bell

Today I'm interviewing the author, Jessica Bell on Idea City. She has a new book out on writing!

Tell us about your family. My parents are musicians, and live on a Greek island called Ithaca. Back in the day they had a band called Hard Candy.
What is your favorite quality about yourself? Non-judgmental.
What is your least favorite quality about yourself? Impatience.
Favorite quote? “It was the kind of loneliness that made clocks seem slow and loud and made voices sound like voices across water.”  From Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson
Can you hear the loud, slow clock ticking? Its echo crossing a flat lake trying to reach the disappearing voices of loved ones you wished existed? The still and stifling warm air at dusk? Your heartbeat in your ears? The emptiness in your chest? The melancholia you can’t seem to place? An amazing comparison to loneliness, don’t you think? The clocks, the voices, the loudness of heartache. *sigh* …
What are you most proud of accomplishing so far? The fact that, despite the full-time job, I still find time to write books. So many people get into a rut, thinking they can’t manage it, that there’s no time. It's not true. If you want something, you find the time.
How has your upbringing influenced your writing? Being the daughter of a semi-famous rock ‘n’ roll duo from Melbourne, Australia, I grew up surrounded by song. For a while it seemed logical to travel the musician’s path, especially when my first band, spAnk, hit it off in the Melbourne indie music scene back in the late 90s. Although I spent years writing and recording dozens of songs I decided I also had a love for the written word. So I guess music started everything off.
The author
When and why did you begin writing? I started writing poetry at about eleven, sitting on a rock by the sea in a place in Greece called Monemvasia. I was so inspired by my surroundings that I needed a way to express it. Not long after, I started writing songs. My mother had decided to sell her twelve-string acoustic guitar to get extra cash. I saw it sitting by the front door. I remember opening the case and thinking that it looked beautiful, and why would Mum want to get rid of it? I think she was in the music room at the time and I interrupted one of her recording sessions to ask about the guitar. When she told me she was selling it, I asked her if I could have it. She said that I could if I learned to play. From that day I had that guitar in my hands every day until I moved to Greece in 2002. I taught myself how to play. The first song I wrote was played on one string and sung in a high-pitched awful voice. I hope that cassette never gets dug up!
What genre do you write? Contemporary fiction; I'm not into fantasy or paranormal.
What made you want to be a writer? I just realized one day that I couldn’t live without it. And figured, if I’m going to be writing all the time, I might as well try to get published.
What do you consider the most challenging about writing? If I’m too influenced by other people’s ideas it will skew my own. So I only ever seek an opinion once I’m confident about the final result. And I will only ever change something, then, if the suggestion completely resonates with me. Of course, I keep an open mind. Nothing is ever set in stone. But I find this a challenge because it’s so hard to keep things to myself when I’m excited about them. I just want to share it with everybody.
Did writing this book teach you anything and what was it? That sometimes bite-sized ideas can also become bite-sized books!
Do you intend to make writing a career? Absolutely. But I try to be realistic about it. I do it because I can’t not do it. Not to make money.
Have you developed a specific writing style? Yes. My writing is quite literary in nature, but I also think it has a decent amount of commercial appeal; a balance of both.
What is your greatest strength as a writer? I have a knack for cinematic writing. I’d probably beat you in a “show-off”.
Have you ever had writer’s block? Absolutely. I usually take it as a sign that I’m burned out and give myself a break. It works.
Share a little of your current work with us? Sure. Here is the first example from the book:
 ~Scene 1~
amazing view
(feel) hot
(feel) tired
Sandy stood at the foot of the Egyptian Pyramids. Though she was hot, tired and sore, she was awestruck by the amazing view and felt a sense of relief. Finally, she’d made it.
Sweat ran between Sandy’s breasts and the soles of her feet burned from the two hour trek across the desert. Even though her shoulders ached from carrying her heavy rucksack, and her nose stung from the dry heat, it didn’t matter. She was standing right in front of something she’d been waiting to see her whole life. The Pyramids of Giza glistened through heat waves as if extracting all her pain. Sandy looked up, shielded her eyes from the sun, refused to break her stare. She stood, jaw agape, wondering how she’d kept away for so long.
How did you come up with the title? I wanted something that portrayed exactly what readers were going to get.
Who designed the cover? Moi.
How do you promote this book? Mainly through social media. Unfortunately I have the disadvantage of being an expat in Greece, so it’s very difficult for me to promote any other way.
Will you write others in this same genre? Of course. This book is just the first of the “Writing in a Nutshell Series”. The next pocket guide is Adverbs & Clichés in a Nutshell: Demonstrated Transitions from Perfectly Atrocious Adverbs, and Dull as Dishwater Clichés, into Gourmet Descriptions
What are your goals as a writer? To have my books linger in the minds of readers long after they’ve turned the last page. With regards to my non-fiction, to help aspiring writers realize that writing doesn’t have to be as overwhelming as it seems. Learn the craft in bite-sized pieces, and eventually everything will come together.
What books have most influenced your life? Housekeeping, by Marilynne Robinson
Cold Blood, by Truman Capote
The Robber Bride, by Margaret Atwood
The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood
The Boy in The Striped Pajamas, by John Boyne
The Private Lives of Pippa Lee, by Rebecca Miller
The Stone Gods, by Jeanette Winterson
Just Kids, by Patti Smith
Short Cuts, by Raymond Carver
Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamott
The Book of Laughter and Forgetting, by Milan Kundera
The following poets: Gwen Harwood, Sharon Olds, Anne Sexton, Sylvia Plath
Mentors? Oh gosh, if I could ever be mentored by Margaret Atwood, my life would be complete!
Can we expect any more books from you in the future? Absolutely. I will never stop writing, so I can’t see why I would stop releasing books.
Have you started another book? Yes, I’m working on my fourth novel, called White Lady. It’s set in Melbourne, Australia, and is about a young woman named Mia who is fighting fat with white ladies. (Yep, I’ll leave that to your own interpretation for now! Hint: don’t think literally.)
What are your current writing projects now? White Lady, my fourth novel, Adverbs & Clichés in a Nutshell: Demonstrated Transitions from Perfectly Atrocious Adverbs, and Dull as Dishwater Clichés, into Gourmet Descriptions, which is the second in the Writing in a Nutshell series.
Reading any interesting books? I’m reading Finding Fish, a memior by Antwone Quenton Fisher. This is his biography from his website: “Antwone Fisher is an award-winning film and literary writer. Born in an Ohio prison to a teenage mother, Antwone became a ward of the state and was placed in foster care. He spent two years in a loving foster home, but was subsequently moved and suffered twelve years of abuse at the hands of his new foster family.”
Best tools available today for writers, especially those just starting out? Definitely blogging, and all sorts of social media. Some excellent community websites to look into are:
What contributes to making a writer successful? Persistence and stamina all the way. Learn the rules and then break them intelligently.
Last thoughts for your readers? I’m often asked how my writing can be so brutally honest and not be real. As I said to a reviewer recently, there is  “… a difference between ‘honest’ and ‘factual.’” For example, in Twisted Velvet Chains, a poetry collection of mine, I’ve really amped up the ‘tragic’ quality of the poems and although the content stems from ‘real’ feelings I had at some point or another, they do not necessarily stem from the events in the poems. Notice I say ‘stem from’ real feelings. As writers we have the freedom to embellish. There’s that common saying, ‘Write what you know.’ Well, what I know is what it’s like to feel so depressed you don’t even want to lift a finger. I also know what it’s like growing up with rock musicians as parents. I also know firsthand what it’s like to be a musician and perform in front of an audience. I know that when someone is suffering from Valium withdrawal, the symptoms mimic the symptoms of bipolar disorder. I also know what it feels like to hate everyone in the entire world as a teen—teens tend to feel that way, and teens tend to exaggerate those feelings, too. I know what it feels like to love, to hate, to envy, to regret, to feel so passionate about something that you don’t care what is going on around you. Put all these ‘experiences’ together, and wham, you’ve got something that is ‘honest,’ but not necessarily ‘factual.’
How has living in Greece changed you as a person and as a writer? I would never have got my first job as an editor if I hadn’t moved here. I make a living as an editor/writer of English Language Teaching materials. There is no need for this sort of thing in an English speaking country. So I guess, I have Greece to thank for allowing me to pursue my love of the written word. I think if I had have remained in Australia, I would have stayed more focused on my music.
Do you consider yourself above all a singer/songwriter or a writer? A writer for sure. I was born into music, so it came naturally, but writing is something I gradually learned I wanted for myself and had a strong passion to pursue.
How would you describe your discography thus far? Grunge-pop, atmospheric? To be honest I have no idea. My style varies quite a lot from album to album. Bar the latest album, Melody Hill, which is the soundtrack to my novel, String Bridge, I think my music is in major need of reproduction. If only I had the money, then I could make my music sound how I hear it in my head, rather than what my wallet determines.
What messages do you want your readers to take away after reading your books? Take control. You are the only one who can make your life what you want it to be. Embrace the good and the bad. If you look at the bigger picture, there is no such thing as a bad experience. Believe in love and hope; if there’s a will, there’s a way.
Tell us about Vine Leaves Press … Is self-publishing the only solution? Vine Leaves Press is my self-publishing imprint. No, self-publishing is not the only solution, but nowadays, if you’re not writing about vampires, werewolves, or paranormal activity, it’s hard to get that big break because the Big 6 publishers are only looking for what is going to make them money. And what makes money nowadays is not the modern day F. Scott Fitzgerald. It’s logical. It’s business. But it’s not the be-all-and-end-all.
Publishing has changed so much over the past few years, and I think it’s time people learn to embrace it, just like they had to embrace the digital revolution of the music industry. Independent artists are everywhere now. What people have to understand is, authors don’t self publish because they’re lazy to go through the slog of submitting queries to agents, or editing their manuscripts properly, or simply out of impatience to see their work in print. Self-published authors are, in fact, some of the most motivated and tough-skinned authors I’ve ever known.
A lot of them, including me, have huge stories behind the reason they self publish. Stories that most people will never know about, because when someone releases a book, it’s not like you can say on the blurb, “This book is self-published, but I actually once had an agent and a book deal with a Big 6 publisher, but decided to go the indie route because I felt it was better for me, both professionally and emotionally.”
Or …
“This book is self-published because I spent years and years querying it, was told that the writing was great, but no agent believed they could sell it. So … here’s my book. I don’t need to sell a million copies, a few hundred is enough for me. Plus it’s been through so many edits after all the agent feedback, I doubt you’ll be able to find one thing wrong with it.”
Or …
“This book is self-published, but actually it was once traditionally published by a small press. Unfortunately they liquidated and I had to get it back on the market as quickly as possible before all my marketing efforts went to waste.”
So … I urge everyone who is skeptical about self-published works, to think about the story behind it, and the effort it’s taken to get it out there, and the heartache the writer has been through to finally come to the decision to do it on their own. Self-publishing is no longer for the impatient … it’s for authors who have done everything they can before finally deciding to take their fate into their own hands.
Is social media a big help to you when promoting your work? I could not live without it. It’s my international loudspeaker. I’m quite isolated being an English writer in a non-English speaking country, and I need to promote my work to the English-speaking world. Yes, it’s an excellent help. It only gets annoying when people make their websites a never-ending advert. The key to social networking is to engage in conversations, interact with your audience. Saying, “buy my book, it’s great” all the time, isn’t going to sell it. But saying “hey, what do you think about blah blah blah?” and actually eliciting opinions from others, means you are saying something that people are interested in. And if they’re interested in what you’re saying online, then it’s likely they are going to investigate you further. It’s a long process, and hard work. But it pays off.

Buy Now @ Amazon
Genre – Non-Fiction / Writing Skills Reference
Rating – PG
More details about the author & the book
Connect with Jessica Bell on Facebook &  Twitter, her blog


  1. And you are so talented at both writing and music!
    You're right about finding time if we really want something bad enough.

  2. great interview - I really enjoyed getting to know Jessica better (& I'm so jealous she lives in Greece!).

  3. I loved The Robber Bride. And Oryx and Crake. Margaret Atwood is one of my favorite authors. Congratulations on the book, Jessica :)

  4. Ditto to Jessie's sentiment about living in Greece! I taught a creative writing course on Seriphos last year and it was a spectacular location.

  5. Awesome interview. Can't wait to buy the book. Very similar to how I approach my blog on writing. What they could have written as opposed to how they wrote to "show."

  6. Great interview. I loved the show vs tell example too.

  7. What they said! There were a lot of gems in this interview. Especially like the answer to the message for readers to take away.

    I have the Show and Tell book on my Kindle. :)

  8. Great interview to you both.

  9. Great interview! I'm interested in the next book. I love Melbourne.

  10. What an interesting interview. Super questions and answers. I like what you said about self-publishing.

  11. What an in-depth interview! I especially loved the shout-out to the pyramids! :-)

  12. Great interview. I love when different art forms play well together.

  13. Thanks so much for having me, and thanks for reading everyone! Kim (YA Asylum), the next book will be out on May 1! :-)

  14. I can so relate to Jessica in much of what she said here, especially about having to scramble to re-pub her book after her publisher liquidated. That really resonated with me because I had the same issue, except mine took a long time to return my rights.

    Here's to networking and social media. She's right. It's the loud speaker to the world.

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  16. Thanks for this. I always feel lame talking about my first book, an African YA paranormal, which my agent and one editor loved, etc. but well, it wasn't vampirish, or whatever the prevailing flavor of the time was, etc, so it never saw the light of day. You said it all so well, Jessica. And now that the traditional field has shrunk even further, I'm going with SWP, with my memoir, Loveyoubye.

  17. THe comment about social media was really helpful. Thank you.