We’ve got another fantastic addition to the #inklinginterviews this week, and we’re continuing the #blackgirlmagic. I connected with this wonderful writer via the #writerscommunity on a random whim after I read an interview about her success in #PitchWars 2018. Since reaching out to her, she has been a kind and extremely understanding source of support and encouragement that I’m grateful to know. Without further ado, ladies and gentlemen…the enigmatic and delightful Jessica Lewis.
Okay, first question: where are you at in your writing journey, and how did you get there?
I am currently un-agented, but I was accepted into #PitchWars in October 2018! My lovely mentor is Brittney Morris, and she’s helped me get my book into shape for the past few months. The mentorship program is drawing to a close, and I just got my last edits from Brittney yesterday (eek!). I’ll be querying again February 11th. I am VERY nervous, but I know #PitchWars has helped me make my book ten times better!
***Update: Jessica is now represented by Holly Root of Root Literary!
Congratulations on being a #PitchWars mentee! (For those of you unfamiliar with this amazing event for aspiring writers, I really encourage you to check out the link). But back to you, Jessica: can you pitch the project(s) you’re working on? Are there any aesthetics?
My #PitchWars book is WILDFIRE. A short pitch is a girl raises the dead to avoid homelessness, but of course everything goes wrong haha!
I’m also working on a few more projects, including a f/f second world fantasy (complete with giant lizards and a fire-breathing corgi), and a cute werewolf rom-com. My projects are vastly different from each other, but I love tackling new things and seeing what kind of books bring me the most joy.
(No aesthetics from me (I don’t have an artistic bone in my body), but @CM_Fickand @tespata_ made aesthetics for me! They’re geniuses and I’m so happy that they like my books enough to create art for them.)
I love the diversity of stories in the works. With so many projects going, I wonder what’s more important to you: a story’s world/setting or its characters?
Characters, always!! I love character-driven books much more than plot-driven, and I spend hours just on characters and developing them. To me, if you have good enough characters, we’ll watch them do anything.
I’m inclined to agree (though I’m a sucker for rich settings)! So, more about your writing craft—what are your favorite and least favorite parts of the process?
Favorite: The brainstorming stage, where everything is nebulous and new. You can do anything in that stage. Talking mountain lions? Why not! Electric sheep? Sure! I love taking long walks and getting lost in music to plan out story and characters. And choreograph fight scenes!
Least Favorite: Worldbuilding. I write contemporary fantasy mostly, so I struggle with “white room” syndrome. That’s part of the reason I’m working on a second-world fantasy next–I want to push myself to be better. The only way to improve it to keep at it, right?
“White Room” Syndrome is a constant struggle, for sure. But vivid descriptions can really immerse a reader. Speaking of reading, what’s yourfavorite book, the one with worn binding and torn pages that you’ve read a hundreds times but keep reading?
PEEPS by Scott Westerfeld. It’s not nearly his most famous book, but I’ve read it at least six times! It breaks all the rules–YA with 19+ age characters, an odd structure (every other chapter is a brief lesson on parasites?? How can you not love that?), a cliffhanger ending…but it’s so good. I’d love to write a similar book someday.
Adding it to my list! Shifting focus for a second to talk about the craft of writing again. How do you manage life and other responsibilities alongside your writing?
The real answer is “not well” haha! But I try to be disciplined. I have a schedule that allows me to read/write for an hour each morning and two hours at night. Then on Sundays, I have the whole day to myself to write. It’s difficult, but I try to always make time for it. Writing is hard, but it’s fun too. I try to focus on the fun when I can.
It sounds like you’ve established a pretty good system! I think many people misunderstand that writing a book doesn’t just “happen” in one sitting. On that note, what’s the biggest misconception you think non-writers make about writers?
That writing is easy. It’s 100% not! It truly is a labor of love and you have to be dedicated to improve. If they could see how many tears I’ve shed over my books…
Oh, the many, many tears. Okay, onto happier things now. Would you rather time travel a century into the past, or the future—and why?
I think I have an unusual take, but I would like to stay right here! I’m a cautious person and I do not want to mess up any space-time continuums. Time travel is one of those “sounds good on paper” things, but in practice it would be awful!
That’s one of the most original answers I’ve heard, and it’s a valid one I’ve thought about too. Now, in terms of advice, what would you say to aspiring writers, particularly those who struggle to feel confident in their work?
Write for fun before pursuing publication.
Publishing is so brutal and it can rob you of why you want to write in the first place. So I recommend spending a few years just writing whatever you want–fan-fiction, books about with talking mountain lions, music, plays, whatever you want. And then once you start to feel restless, turn to publishing. But it’s important to start with joy in your heart, because when times get bad and rejections get you down, you can always look to that time before publishing and find the strength to keep going.
Also, take care of your mental health!! It’s important. If you need a break, please take one. Writing will be there when you get back, I promise.
YES. Say it again for the folks in the back. Please, take care of yourself first. Now for me, taking care of myself sometimes means stepping away from my computer and zoning out with some good music. What’s your “anthem,” the song that would play if your life was a music video?
There’s this song on Youtube called “Call Me Planetetary.” It’s a music mash-up of songs by Carly Rae Jepsen and My Chemical Romance. That’s me in a nutshell–a little pop, a little rock, a lot weird, and something that shouldn’t work ,but somehow does.
Um, I adore mashups and I’m currently listening to it right now. How divine. Okay, bonus question! Undead Revenants (zombies) are coming your way in T-minus 1 hour. That’s how much time you’ve got to pack your bag and make your escape, but… what do you bring???
Definitely my laptop (because I may have some downtime to write?!), food, clothes, and my life savings. And my grandma, of course. With Revenants on the loose, I definitely don’t want them to catch her!
While leaving Grandma to fend off undead beings is not the polite thing to do, it does make for an interesting story concept… hm. Noted. Well Jessica, thanks so much for opening up about your writing journey. We as a writers’ community are so excited for you to query and for WILDFIRE to someday be on shelves with other stories of Black girls kicking butt and taking names.
Want to know more about Jessica Lewis and her writing? Follow her on Twitter!
Due to this blog’s amazing reception and demand, starting this week I will begin publishing two interviews per week.
My next interview is with Natalie Crown on Friday, February 1! Thanks for reading!