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Author Interview img

The Author Interview

Jessica Dall
Latest Book Title
Grey Areas
Available at
Paperboxbooks.com and other outlets such as Amazon and Smashwords

Editor's note - Jessica was kind enough to answer a few questions on video for you- 'cause she's cool like that!
A link to a longer interview can be found at the bottom of the page

Tell us about your latest effort
Well, being me and always writing, my latest effort is a Historical Fiction series call The Broken Line. I’m about 20,000 words into book two at the moment. My latest published effort, however, is Grey Areas, an Urban Fantasy novel based around the concept of what we understanding to be “demons” coming from the Greek word “daimon”, a supernatural being that can be either good or bad.
What draws you to your genre(s)? Why is this type of story compelling to you?

For Grey Areas, I think I was more compelled towards the storyline than the genre overall. Honestly, I don’t have one genre that is my genre. Like I said, Grey Areas is Urban Fantasy, what I’m working on now is Historical Fiction. I don’t think the two have much of an overlap. What I do love about this type of story, though, is the fact that there don’t have to be “good guys” and “bad guys”. That’s where the title comes in afterwards. Yes there are bad “demons” but they aren’t just there to cackle manically and give the good diamons something to fight. Morals sort of waver across that line between good and bad, and it gives you the chance to have real characters, not just Hero and Generic-Villain #1.  

What is your writing process like? Do you map the whole thing out, or do you just let it unfold?

For the most part I’m what many in the writing community call a “pantser” as in “flying by the seat of your pants.” The bulk of my stories are character-driven. Yes, interesting plots are important, but I’d much prefer a story with real characters than even the fastest-moving plot. Since I spend so much time figuring out who my characters are, they seem to do the heavy lifting when it comes to the actual writing. For Grey Areas, one of the main characters, Willow, is logical to the point of not fully understanding why other people are emotional. My general idea for the plot might be Point A to Point B, but knowing how strongly Willow feels about being logical, she pulls the story along her way. Even if I did an outline, she’d have something to say about it if I put in they all randomly flew to Las Vegas in the middle of a work week.

Of course, for a series it’s a little more important to have certain ideas about where things are going, especially since I have the bad habit of writing about different people out of chronological order. It’s a little important to keep track of what supposedly happened before when going back to write earlier events, otherwise you end up just having to go back and rewrite one, or both, of the conflicting scenes to iron out all the plot holes there. For The Broken Line Series I do have a number of notebooks outlining things that have happened and the different characters. My very supportive boyfriend also got me a writing program called Scrivener for Christmas, so I have been slowly but surely putting all those notebooks into the computer since. It’s a big change from how I normally write, so I’m slowly figuring out how all this plotting is going to fit together and—more importantly—remain organized.
How much of YOU makes it into your characters?
Hmm, good question. I don’t think any author can fully take every single bit of themselves out of their characters, but as a whole I try not to have my personality overtake the characters. Since my stories so often depend on characters acting how they would based on their personalities, it would be very difficult to actually write if all of them were more or less me. Some talk like me, some have a personality quirk, but I think I spend enough time trying to work out exactly who my characters are they’re much more themselves than me.
How do you balance the need to have time to write with the needs of family, society, etc.?

Basically free time equals writing time. Talking to some other writers, I know that it can be truly a labor of love for some people to get writing out. They need time alone, some go on writing retreats, I just write. Waiting for twenty minutes on a train on my way downtown? Notebook in my bag comes out. Lunch break alone? Scribble some notes down for later. I truly love it, and that makes it easy to do. I don’t find it draining like some people can, it’s relaxation. And luckily I have a lot of supportive people in my life. My amazing, former history major boyfriend lets me rattle on about ideas, often helping with the finer historical points in The Broken Line Series. My mother is one of my biggest promoters, getting (or maybe forcing?) a good deal of her friends to read Grey Areas. With all the understanding people in my life, and how easy it generally is for me to write, I don’t have a problem balancing writing, some sort of social life, family, freelance work, a day job, and whatever else I find myself doing, since I apparently am attempting to abolish the concept of “free time.”

What breaks you out of a creative slump?
I don’t often have creative slumps. I always at least want to write. If I get stuck in a story—which can happen since I don’t really outline—I just write until I get back to a place where I can pick it back up again. I have plenty of completely random conversations in stories that find themselves on the chopping block once I start editing since it’s just the characters talking about what they want to do in life. Often stuff that has nothing to do with the story. If that doesn’t help, I just switch over to something else, do a short story or edit something, and by the time I’m done with that I’m able to get back to the original work.
Do you ever censor your writing to avoid offending or displeasing people?

I can’t think of a case off the top of my head. If my character is the type to swear like a sailor, he or she tends to. If they’re the type to go to a party and do something someone could find morally repugnant, that’s what they’re going to do. If I do censor something, it’s generally because it’s something I’m personally not comfortable writing. I don’t tend to write sex scenes, for example. Some characters have sex, but personally I’m not comfortable getting too in depth there, so at some point it will just “fade to black.” Torture is another thing. If necessary, I can write a little, but I don’t like horror stories, hate gore, I just couldn’t bring myself to do anything too graphic. But again, that’s my own preferences, not because I’m afraid of offending someone.

Is there a story you want to tell but avoid because it would be too controversial?
No. I recently wrote a rather personal story based around some experiences and people in my life that I suppose could be seen as controversial in a good few places. I’m not sure I will ever seek to publish it, simply because it might be too personal, but I wrote it and have let a couple people read it, or at least read part of it. Like I said, writing is relaxing for me. If I have a story to tell, I’ll write it, even if I don’t intend other people to see it.
How can you write an honest autobiography without offending people who recognize themselves?
Well, I suppose that ties right back into the previous question. The easiest way, in my opinion, would be to novelize your life. If it’s fiction/semi-autobiographic, you at least have plausible deniability. “True, we did have that exact conversation, but obviously that isn’t you. Look at all the stuff they do that you haven’t done…” Other than that, it comes down to censoring yourself, not caring if you offend someone, or waiting until the people you feel you’re going to insult are dead before publishing. You can be honest without telling everything I’m sure.
How do YOU build or create an effective platform to reach your audience?

Social media is a big one. I have a Facebook page for Grey Areas (you’re all highly encouraged to like it if you are inclined), and I have a Twitter account (@JessicaDall) that I use to keep people up to date on my writing, editing, reviewing, submitting, and just about anything else work related. My personal website (jessicadall.yolasite.com) is constantly being updated with clips from new books and reviews of old ones, and I am always happy to talk to people about having them write a review or setting up a book signing. It’s really all networking, and if you have things people like, they’ll tell other people.

What would be the top five, (or 3 or 1 or however many) things you would tell aspiring authors?
  1. Your first novel is never as good as you think it is. I know mine wasn’t at least. You’re going to think that it’s the best thing you’ve ever written because, well, it is, but often it’s something you’re going to set aside for new projects that will get better and better as you go along. Writing is a skill after all, you get better the more you do it.
  2. There is no “right” way to write. People have all sorts of ways of writing. Just because you your friend who has a PhD, or a professor in a creative writing class says you’re doing it wrong doesn’t mean you are. Writing is really about the end result. If that’s good, it doesn’t really matter how you got there.
  3. Friends and family are good cheerleaders, not great editors. This might change based on whom you know, but for the most part a friend lauding your novel doesn’t always mean it’s great. Going back to that first novel that wasn’t as good as I thought it was, all my friends who saw it loved it. I laugh when I read how bad it is now. The average person will not be able to help you get your novel up to standards that compete with the thousands of books out there going to publishers. Join a writer’s group, visit critique boards online, or hire a professional editor if you like. Other writers/editors will be able to point out problems casual readers will miss.
  4. The internet is forever. You might be able to take things down on a personal website, but there always seems to be ways for people to find things that were once there. If you’re intending to be a professional author, you need to conduct yourself as one. If the first thing that comes up after your name in a google search is a flame battle in text speak, that’s going to undermine your credibility. Furthermore, often times publishers only contract “first publications rights.” If you have made more than a certain percentage of your book available on a public site, they consider that first publication and can turn you down because they don’t print reprints.
  5. Trust People. People are not, I repeat not going to steal your masterpiece. At least in the US, your work is copyrighted as soon as you finish writing the words. You do not have to mail a chapter to yourself (“poor man’s copyright”), you do not have to register with anyone. If someone does steal it, they will be fined. But they won’t. Having worked on both sides of publishing, there are thousands and thousands more manuscripts out there than there are publishers and once a publisher contracts a novel they will spend many man-hours on editing before publication. It just isn’t worth it to steal a manuscript. And for stealing ideas? If you can’t find a story anything  like yours, you aren’t looking hard enough. Being original is next to impossible. Accept that your story is brilliant because you wrote it, not because no one ever thought of writing anything like it.


For more from Jessica, click here



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Interview with Jessica Dall

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