New Author Spotlight: Jessi Cole Jackson
What drew you to writing stories that were moving across genres? Is this a new direction for your writing?
I’m just getting back to writing after a long time away, so I’m not sure I have a distinct style or direction yet. But if we write the sort of tales we love to read then I think it will quickly become commonplace for my stories to move back and forth between genre “boundaries.”
The theme for this issue is “Young Adult.” How is writing from that perspective easier or harder than writing from an adult perspective?
Teenage protagonists have the unique advantage of always being in flux (a very handy quality in a main character, since it’s rather boring to read about someone who is perfectly content in their role in life). They’re dealing with new hormones, new relationships, new ideas about the world and their role in it. It’s great stuff to dig deep into. Plus, I think youth has a sort of fearlessness attached to it that’s awesome to have in a protagonist. Nesi at 14 is much more reckless than Nesi would be at 28, and therefore, more entertaining.
Your narrator is smart, thoughtful and forward-thinking, even in the midst of stressful circumstances. Do you think that young people are better at dealing with life than most people give them credit for?
Yes, definitely! But I also think all people are better at dealing with life than we give ourselves credit for, from childhood through old age. Life is hard. Often tragic. Only sometimes beautiful. But here we all are, trudging along, and going beyond just mere survival – we thrive. We grow businesses, create family, make art. We’re a tough, resourceful bunch and I think we should all give ourselves (and each other) a little more credit.
I love the interactions between the narrator and her family. Being part of the “family business” is something that doesn’t seem to happen much today. Did anything surprise you about that topic as you were writing the story?
I can’t say I gave it much conscious thought! Growing up in rural Michigan, small family-run businesses were just a way of life. A lot of my family ran their own, and many of my friends’ families as well.
Currently my Mom is in the beginning stages of opening a cakery and the family helps – whether it’s my 4-year-old nephew who picks up the apples that go into her spice cake, my brother who helps her bake or my Grandma who works with her on the books – Mom can’t do it all, so the family pitches in. Even when we’re just home for a quick visit, my husband and I are put to work baking cupcakes or molding fondant flowers.
I’m not an integral part to any family business, but I think I have a good sense of what it means. There’s a certain joy and a particular pain to working hard alongside your closest family that I hope I got across in the De Luca family. It’s not idyllic, but it’s also not drudgery.
Your descriptions are so clear and strong. You can almost smell the sugar coming off of Nesi. What’s your secret to layering such wonderful sensory details into your story?
A deep, abiding love of sweets.
What are your favorite young adult stories or novels currently, and why?
Right now I’m loving Kristin Cashore’s “Bitterblue” and Catherine Fisher’s “The Oracle Betrayed,” which I just recently reread and read, respectively. They do best what YA fantasies should: tackle massive questions that young people are dealing with today, while being really fun! One deals a lot with family issues and abuse, the other with faith. Both explore trust and boundaries and the nature of truth. Besides having themes that I enjoy, they’re both so, so beautifully written.
Where is your favorite writing place? Can you draw us a visual picture of the kind of space you create for yourself when you write?
I tend to get easily overwhelmed and distracted by sound, so while I have lots of places I write, they all have to either be completely silent or have a steady volume of white noise.
One of my favorite places is in a giant yellow velour armchair in the corner of our living room. It has a broad back where our cats love to lounge and armrests that are wide and fairly flat, so you can stick a computer or a couple of books or (in an emergency) a cup of coffee on them and nothing will topple. It’s super old (my Grandparents bought it in the ’70s), so when you sit in it your butt is lower than your knees. It has a window behind it that I open whenever the weather in New Jersey isn’t being ridiculous, a light on one side and a bookshelf with a half empty shelf for more secure coffee storage on the other. It even has a broken back leg, which as long as no one tries to move the entire chair, works just fine! Nothing about it should be appealing, and yet, it’s perfect. And I’m not the only one who thinks so– everyone who visits sits there first if it’s open.
What’s the question that you wish someone would ask, but no one ever has?
I’m a professional theatrical costumer by trade and so far no one at work has asked: why write? Likewise, none of my writing friends have asked: why costume?
What’s the answer to the question in number 8?
I have a deep need to create. (Almost as deep as my desire to consume sweets!)
I costume because I love the real, tactile problem-solving of constructing something you’ve never, ever tackled before. I love holding a (nearly) perfect garment and saying, “I made this with my own hands!” But it’s often on such a small scale – only a teeny, tiny part of a massive production – that it’s not always satisfying to that create-need.
So I write. I create worlds. I people those worlds and house and clothe and feed those people. I create economies and religions and sometimes some physics. And I do it all with ideas and words. But at the end of the day, even if I print it out, a manuscript is only a conglomeration of my thoughts. There’s nothing really there to grasp ahold of. It also doesn’t completely fulfill my need to create.
So I costume. And the cycle continues.
Is there anything I didn’t ask that you think is important or that readers might want to know, either about you or about the story?
I think readers may be interested in the strange way I sometimes outline.
For some strange reason that I don’t understand (and often don’t appreciate), when I’m first wrestling with a story idea I’ll write it as a poem. Once I have the poem down, I can deviate from its details and structure (often quite far), but until the poem is done I can’t quite get ahold of the story enough to write it. It can be quite a nuisance, since I have to be in a distinct mood to write poetry – something about the rhythms demand a particular mindset, but once the poem’s done I’m good to go. Prose can be written anytime!
The Rum Cake Runner started as a poem I called “Illicit Confections.” It’s currently out on submission, but as long as I can get it back free and clear, I’ll post it on the blog (jessicolejackson.com) sometime in December so people can see where it all began. Hint: it wasn’t with Nesi, although I think she is the heart of the short story. The main character of the poem is a boy.