Welcome Jessica to my Creekside Café. I am excited to get to know you better! From your bio I learned you were a tattoo artist in New York and then backpacked your way around Europe, now that sounds like a few interesting stories right there.
Jessica: Hello Sherri! Thanks for having me on.
I tattooed for three years, working my way from an apprenticeship to becoming a full-fledged tattoo artist. Ultimately the industry was a bit rough for me, but it was a good learning experience. As for stories, I do have a silly anecdote. One coworker’s young daughter named their dogs Chaos and Discord. They got out occasionally, so passersby would see this big biker guy running down the street shouting, “Chaos! Discord!” which was probably alarming for those not in the know.
As for backpacking through Europe, that was a lot of fun. I saved for two years to afford the travel expenses and time off work, but it was worth every penny. If you ever want to backpack on a budget, I highly suggest finding opportunities to work for room and board. The WorkAway app connects volunteers with hosts. For half of the trip, my homebase was a hostel in Budapest, where I ran the front desk part time. From there, I could travel to other countries whenever I had a couple of days off.
Sherri: Your debut novel, Stem & Stone was released in September, and you have another book coming out in January but it’s not a sequel, is that correct? Will you have a sequel to Stem & Stone?
Jessica: You’re right that Light Step, the January 16, 2024 release, is not a sequel to Stem & Stone. They do take place in the same universe though, and I have another novel I’m working on that ties them together. I also have a sequel for Stem & Stoneoutlined but it’s not a project I’m working on at the moment. There are some other manuscripts I’d like to finish revising first.
Sherri: What inspired this unique story? Tell our audience how this idea came about and why you chose to write young adult fantasy versus adult fiction. Your upcoming novel is adult fiction, we’ll talk about it in a few minutes, but tell us about Stem & Stone.
Jessica: I was reading about J.R.R. Tolkien when I first began conceptualizing the plot of Stem & Stone. He’d set out to write a fable, and that sounded like an interesting project. Stem & Stoneis more my contemporary fairy tale, than a fable though.
The first draft was for me, and while I researched a great deal to flesh out the characters and setting, I didn’t give any thought to how the story would be marketed, once published. It was several drafts later when I began seriously thinking about getting the story out to a wider audience. While learning about the querying process, and what defines the age brackets novels are marketed to, I realized my story didn’t cleanly fit into any age category. Petra, the protagonist, is eleven, which would indicate this as a middle grade story. However, there were some scenes that parents might deem inappropriate for today’s children.
I altered the story to better fit the middle grade market, but those changes understated the themes. Finally, I ran in the other direction, leaning heavily into the darkness. Due to the inclusion of violence and gore, Stem & Stone is for young adults or older readers. I prefer writing fiction for adults because nothing needs to be softened.
Sherri: Now, your upcoming novel, Light Step is a bit different, an adult fabulism, (I had to think about the meaning of that for a minute.) Why the change in genres? What are you hoping readers get from Light Step and how does this differ from Stem & Stone other than the reader’s age?
Jessica: I’ve found I don’t have strong preferences regarding the genres I write. I keep a running list of potential plots and delve into whichever seems most promising, until that draft is complete. I have many manuscripts on the backburner, awaiting revisions, and they include paranormal fiction, epistolary horror, an attempt at a family saga, etc.
Fabulism and magical realism are my favorite genres to read though, and I’ve found that my adult protagonists often have a more contemporary, grounded, setting than my younger protagonists. I read a lot of fantasy when I was growing up so that’s probably a factor.
Haruki Murakami’s novels have a dreamlike quality and that’s what I hoped to achieve with Light Step, whereas Stem & Stoneshould be unsettling.
Sherri: You are a graphics artist and I see that you and Victoria Moxley worked together to design the cover of Stem & Stone. How was it working with a partner to create your cover? What does the cover convey? How does it help a reader find your book in a sea of other YA dark fantasy books?
Jessica: I went to college for graphic design, and while I enjoy the more illustrative aspects of the industry, I found that the majority of graphic design jobs provide less creative freedom than I desire from a workplace. So I’m more of a commercial artist, and sometimes a fine artist, than a graphics artist nowadays.
When Victoria and I first discussed the book cover for Stem & Stone, I explained how, because digitally illustrated covers have flooded the marketplace, I have a preference for tangible illustrations. I love paper craft, and provided an inspiration Pinterest folder showcasing book covers using this medium, but stated that I was open to other mediums. I sent her a picture of a paper craft illustration I’d made of the St’Avgull, a magical flower that serves as a portal in Stem & Stone. She found the craft to be of quality and suggested we use it in the cover design.
Sherri: Have you been to Iceland? What was your experience like? Or why did you choose Iceland for the setting of the beginning of your story?
Jessica: I haven’t been to Iceland yet but it is absolutely a goal! Culturally, they allow for the possibility that elves exist, so it seemed like the perfect setting for a fairy tale. Their government protects sites of supernatural significance so when I eventually visit, I plan to tour some of those.
Sherri: You published your book with Tea With Coffee Media, what was your experience like? If another writer came up to you and asked about publishing with Tea With Coffee, what would you say to them?
Jessica: I’ve had a very positive experience publishing with Tea With Coffee Media. Aside from how (very) professionally they conduct all official business, they also host monthly marketing lessons for authors, which I’ve greatly benefited from. Whenever a writer mentions they’re looking to publish, I suggest they check out Tea With Coffee Media.
Sherri: You are a fantastic artist. Do you design covers for other authors? Does your art factor into your writing? Is there a connecting theme between your writing and your visual art?
Jessica: Thank you! I haven’t designed book covers for other authors but I would be open to the idea, if an author contacted me proposing a project. My art background has factored into some of my writing. One of the back-burnered manuscripts has an artist as the protagonist, but I’ve also found that I tend to be precise when describing colors and textures. And, of course, I enjoy making illustrations to accompany my writing.
Sherri: How long have you been writing and when did you know you wanted to be a published author?
Jessica: I always wanted to be part of the literary world, but growing up, I didn’t think I had the stamina to finish writing a book. With a passion for art, I went into graphic design planning to become a book cover designer after graduating—which didn’t exactlypan out. I was living in Albany NY, which isn’t quite a publishing hotspot, and as a non-driver, I was very limited in where I could work.
I wrote my first novel in the summer of 2012, when I was working at a resort, right before entering my senior year at the College of Saint Rose. The story was a mess but it proved to me I could at least meet the word count. From then on, I had the idea that I might one day publish but I wasn’t actively looking into how to go about doing that. I wrote Stem & Stone in 2018, as my NaNoWriMo project, and I began seriously querying it in 2020. It was the third novel I’d written.
Sherri: What are you working on now? Do you have anything else planned?
Jessica: Right now I’m about to jump back into revising Soul Walker, my paranormal fiction. It’s the story that ties Stem & Stone to Light Step and it’s been in the works since 2016. I’d like to see it completed and out in the world.
Sherri: If you enjoyed my chat with Jessica then you can follow her on social media, the links are below and check out her debut novel, Stem & Stone. If you are looking to publish, promote or for book editors or formatters, check out Tea With Coffee Media. https://teawithcoffee.media/
Thanks Jessica for stopping by my virtual café.
Social Media Links:
Instagram (art): https://www.instagram.com/jesslynnstudio/
Instagram (general / author): https://www.instagram.com/jesslynnthriving/