Meet the Author: Jessica Stilling
It’s time for another indie author interview! Brief note, this one will most likely be the last one for the year with the holidays coming up.
Today I’m stopping by with a brief chat with Jessica Stilling (aka JM Stephen), fantasy and speculative fiction author.
She is currently celebrating the second release of The Pan Chronicles.
Welcome Jessica, and congratulations on your achievement! Let’s get this interview started, people!
Jessica Stilling or JM Stephen is the author of five novels. As JM Stephen she is the author of The Chronicles of Pan Series, a four book series, the first two books of which have already come out. Into the Fairy Forest and the newest book in the series The Rise of the Hidden Prince are available. She is also the author of the Fantasy novel Nod. She has published two works of literary fiction including The Beekeeper’s Daughter and Betwixt and Between under the pen name Jessica Stilling. JM Stephen teaches creative writing at The Gotham Writers Workshop. She’s done freelance writing for Ms. Magazine, Bust Magazine, The Writer Magazine and many others. She recently moved to Southern Vermont with her family but for the last many years she lived in New York City.
Hi Jessica, thanks so much for stopping by. To keep things interesting, I like to ask my interviewees a random question to get the blood flowing. Here’s yours!
A distant relative wills you a magical clock that will allow you to visit your favorite era for just one night. What time do you go to?
Jessica: I like the past. I find it really compelling that so much history has come before us. Part of me wants to say that I would go somewhere quasi familiar, like 1920s England because I have a thing for Downtown Abby and I’d really love to meet Virginia Woolf. But I think it might be far more interesting to visit and time and place that we don’t know much about. I’m thinking maybe the ancient Silla or the Bell Breaker Culture. These are cultures that definitely existed and left their marks, but we don’t know much about them and I’d love to see how they lived. Also, I’m sure that these ancient places and times had their own ways of living, their everydayness like we have today. What was their surfing the ‘net? What was their binge watching something? We know what people in the 1920s did for fun, but what did these people do and how different really were they?
Jonny: Wow, I love this answer! I think we all have our favorite recent decades (for me it’s the 80’s), but the mystery of more aged cultures is fascinating. I would love to visit old school Transylvania (I have an ancestor or two from there) or explore the Romani culture in its beginnings just to see where their folklore comes from and how they lived.
Jessica and the Writing Process
How do you find inspiration to write?
Jessica: Inspiration comes from many places and what I think is so interesting about writing is that at the end of the day, you, the author, don’t find the book, the book finds you. You, the author, don’t tell the characters who they are, they tell you who they are. It is the most amazing thing when I’m walking along, living my life and then someone says something or I see something on the subway and a novel, an whole novel, falls into my head. I remember the inspiration for my first published novel, Betwixt and Between, the premise of which is that Neverland is the place children go when they die and Peter Pan takes care of them, came from a conversation with my son. He was two or three at the time and he had just seen his shadow and was playing with it. I was playing with him and after a while I said, “You know, I know a story about a little boy who lost his shadow.” And as I said those words the entire idea for this novel just came to me and I knew the novel so well and I knew I’d write it. And yes, then it took research and outlining and more effort, but honestly, the book just fell in my lap. And those books, the books you are meant to write, are the best books.
Jonny: Oh, for sure! It’s funny how inspiration works. You can be doing the most mundane thing you’ve done a million times before, but something about it that day sparks an intense surge of creativity. I’ve gotten inspiration from the gym before or just totally at random. My current WIP that is wrapping up came a week after I published Reaper. I thought I was done and the second book just popped into my head. I was glued to the computer that day just trying to type as fast as I could and keep up with my mind. Inspiration can be extremely ironic!
What first inspired you to start writing?
Jessica: I feel like I was born this way. I have always been a storyteller. When I was a little kid I lived in a neighborhood that did not have many children (I also lived in a house that backed up right into a cemetery) and so I was alone a lot. I would go outside when it was nice and wander around our very big yard and just tell myself stories. I’d play with my toys and it was all storytelling. When I was with my friends I’d tell stories. That’s just who I was. Then, when I was in third grade, we had this program called The Young Author’s Competition, where all the kids in a grade would write a story and submit it to a larger competition. In third grade I wrote a story about a horse. It was very detailed and long and all the kids at school loved it. It got a lot of attention but more than that, it was this thing I did that was good, that was better than the other kids. It was that, and really loving writing, that truly got me started. After that I was “a writer.” All my teachers and some students would say, “Yeah, Jessica is a writer.” It was like they all saw it in me. It became a lot of who I was as a kid, even on into high school. It was only natural that I studied writing in college.
Jonny: What great beginnings! I agree with you in that I feel like I was just born with the ability to write. I was also in a writing competition in elementary school and when I played with my action figures with friends there was always a story I felt compelled to tell. I’m glad writing has been a big part of your life. It’s very rewarding in its own way. 🙂
If you could give advice to a new writer, what would you say?
Jessica: I would tell them that writing is wonderful. That it will make you so happy if you love doing it, that you will love your projects, your characters, in such a unique and real way. But it is hard as well. It takes work to write a good first draft and then you have to dig in there and write a second, a third, a fourth draft. And not everyone will love your work. Sometimes someone you admire like a teacher or fellow writer, will not love your work and that will hurt. You will be rejected, a lot. It will take over 100 query letters to get an agent. You might have a book rejected by many publishing houses and you just have to keep trying. It’s like the world of publishing is a brick wall and you have to smash a hammer through it in order to succeed. Having said that, if you want to write, learn about editing, learn about your craft, learn about publishing and the industry. If you want to sell books, you can’t just say, “I’m just going to write and that’s it I don’t have to listen to anyone.” That’s fine if you don’t ever want to publish but if you want your work out there, understand that publishers have certain ideas about the world they live in as well and you need to at least know where they are coming from.
Jonny: Lots of great advice here and I completely agree. Writing can be wonderful, but it’s not for the faint of heart. I would tell new writers to ask themselves why they want to write. Do they want to share entertaining stories with the world or tell tales of their haunted past? Great! Looking for fame and fortune? Ehhh, maybe choose another profession. Completing a writing project can be insanely difficult and you have to be willing to compromise and make changes to appease a large audience.
How long do you research before beginning a book?
Jessica: That depends on the topic. I usually do a little research before diving in. One time I set a book in Greece and I had visited the island where the book took place once, but I needed to get a better sense of it before setting a book there. But then, as the book went on, I realized I didn’t know quite enough and I had to go back and do more research. That’s okay. I find that researching, like writing, is a process. Yes, you should know your stuff going in, but you are also going to learn that there are more things to learn and understand as you write. Having said that, never get bogged down in your research. A lot of people use research as a way NOT to write. It’s important to know the difference.
Jonny: Very true. When brainstorming a new idea it is wise to consider what you don’t know about the topic you’re writing on and gauging just how much research you should be doing. I’m currently plotting out a short story and the setting revolves around a character and the plantlife they take care of throughout the day. I know pretty much nothing about flowers (I have a black thumb of death haha) , so it’s been a journey figuring out how much research I should do to get my point across without making the entire story about just those details. Great advice, Jessica.
Do you read your book reviews? How do you deal with good/bad ones?
Jessica: I used to read all of my reviews but I have since stopped doing that. I want to know what the public thinks of my work, of course, but I have also come to understand that not everyone feels the same way I do about my work. Having said that, when I get a bad review, I try to think about all the people who have given the book a good review. I try to really focus on the positive. Virginia Woolf once said, “If you wish to be a writer, it is first a good idea to develop a thick skin.” She was very right about that. As I publish more and more I’ve developed a thicker and thicker skin.
Jonny: I’m glad you’re doing what works for you. I do like to at least see the reviews as they come in, but I don’t necessarily but a lot of weight behind them. If there is something constructive I might glean from a review, I’ll take it into consideration, but you can’t please everyone. Some people will love your work, others not so much. It’s the name of the game. Stephen King has some glaring reviews, and so will everyone else. You just gotta roll with the punches and move on.
Well, it looks like our time here is up. Before we go, can you tell us about any projects you are working on at the moment?
Jessica: I have a few projects I’m working on. The second book in my young adult fantasy series The Chronicles of Pan, The Rise of the Hidden Prince, just came out and so a lot of my time has been spent promoting that work. I am also working on Book II of the series. It’s due to the publisher in May and will be published next November. I’m also working on a literary novel about a single mother who moves to Vermont after something tragic happens in her life. I am also editing a novel that I’ve been working on for many years. It’s a literary novel called Between Before and After and it follows an Indie director as he tries to make a movie based on his mother’s novel, except the novel is based on his own little sister’s death. As he makes the movie, he learns some strange and shocking things about his sister’s death and the cover up that his mother and her friend orchestrated many years ago. The novel takes place in Paris and I’m right now editing another draft of it.
Jonny: Wow, lots of things moving for you! I’m glad you’re staying busy and taking proper time to market your recent release. It’s terribly important to make sure as many people see your work as possible. Personally, my mantra is ‘you’re only as good as your next publication’, which is just a way to tell myself to keep moving, and you seem to have the same mindset as well. The second I started my Reaper sequel alpha reads I started working on plotting my next work, and I know what I’m going to work on after that. Busy, busy, busy!
Thanks again for stopping by with us Jessica, and best of luck on your new release!
That’s a Wrap!
All righty book worms, that wraps up my brief interview with Jessica Stilling. I had a good time chatting it up with her, and I hope you enjoyed the experience too!
If you’d like to learn more about Jessica and her work, she can be reached at the social media links provided below.
Thank you for stopping by, and have a great day!
Social Media Links
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A lovely interview. I enjoyed Jessica’s description of the way she’s inspired. I totally agree that there is a sense of the story finding us and the characters revealing themselves. The example of her son finding his shadow is delightful. 😀 Happy Writing.
Oh for sure. Sometimes a story idea just smacks us in the face, and I really enjoyed hearing the Peter Pan inspiration behind her story.
Good interview! Between Before and After sounds really interesting. Best of luck to Ms. Stilling on that and all her many projects!
Thanks, I had a lot of fun getting to know her better. 🙂
Thanks for tuning in, Priscilla!