Meeting Jessica Wallace (Author Interview)

It’s a day of firsts on the blog today. My first author interview and Jessica Wallace’s first book release (and also interview). Author interviews are a bit strange for me. Asking someone to put down in a few short questions why we should spend our time on something that has taken a large part of their soul to create. But the ability to tap into the strength and passion that led to the book you’re about to read is part of what makes authors so appealing to talk to. (I’m going to be reviewing the book in the next couple weeks.)

Let’s take a quick looksee at the book blurb for Meet You There before we dive into our chat with Jessica.

Wallace

“Robin Kent doesn’t understand how everyone around her, including her husband, is so certain of everything. The only explanation is that they’re all following the same Guidebook–a copy of which Robin has yet to receive. When a co-worker at her call centre reveals his secret, Robin is sure he’s offering more than just a way out of a depressing job, marking the beginning of a drift from one life to another. An original, inspiring story, Meet You There explores the ties that bind us.”

Your first novel comes out this fall. Can you talk a little about your publishing experience to date? How does publishing a short piece differ from a full length novel?

Well, I remember going to the library and checking out a book of publishers when I was about 10. I’d written a story and it was really long, so I figured someone would probably publish it. And then I’d probably get super famous because I was such a young novelist. My parents had the delicate task of giving me a reality check.

As an adult, I started having my poetry accepted by literary magazines in 2007; short fiction a few years later. There were a lot of excel spreadsheets and rejection letters. The process isn’t that different between novels and shorter work. Send it out. Get rejected. Send it out again.

I also remember borrowing books of publishers from the library when I was a kid. We didn’t have all this internet access we have now. Has the publication journey differed from your expectations with the new social media/self-promotion requirements placed on authors?

Yes, definitely. Things have changed so much since I started sending out my writing. It’s been great, in that more literary magazines can exist now because there are lower costs to online publications. So there’s more opportunity for new writers to get their work published. Plus, there are meet-ups and online groups … It’s much easier to connect with other writers than it used to be.

What’s one of the most surprising reality checks you’ve encountered while working towards publication?

The Saskatchewan Writers’ Guild has a manuscript evaluation program, where a local author reads your manuscript and gives you feedback. I submitted an earlier version of Meet You There and the evaluator didn’t pull any punches. It was one of those moments where I had to decide if I was willing to take in the feedback and make my book better, or just sort of fall into a puddle. After a couple days, despite my bruised ego, I realized that this feedback was probably the best gift I could have received.

Writing is such a personal endeavor that feedback can sometimes feel like a physical force. Writers often pull aspects of people or events in their lives to inspire the fiction that is eventually created. Can you talk briefly about what inspired the characters in Meet You There?

Character development is my absolute favourite part of writing. I love creating people and figuring out what makes them tick. Internal conflicts are so interesting.

I heard Judith Halberstam speak about Queer Temporality at the University of Alberta about 10 years ago and the idea really intrigued me. She talked about how queer people experience time differently, and that there’s a kind of freedom to not having to follow a traditional timeline of marriage, babies, pension plans, etc.

So, for this book, I wanted to write about characters who wrestled with that idea of freedom in various ways.

Can you give us a general overview of your main character and how you think readers might relate to her?

Robin is coming to a place where she realizes she hasn’t really been an active participant in her own life. She feels like things have just kind of happened and she doesn’t like where she is. It doesn’t fit. When we meet her, Robin is finally figuring out that she can change things. She doesn’t do it all that well but, you know, she’s just starting out.

I think you’ll be able to relate to Robin if you’ve ever felt stuck, or like life is just sort of happening to you. In Robin’s case, it’s tied to coming from a small town. I think it’s a pretty common scenario: growing up in a small town, you don’t really know what your options are.

Your novel is set in a few different Canadian locations. Did you do any travelling while writing the novel? If so, how did that influence the progression/revisions of the novel?

Yeah, this novel has followed me around in a backpack for several years. The ideas started to come when I was living in Edmonton. Then I spent a year in Korea – that’s when I finished my first draft. Which was awful, as an aside. Then I went and did a master’s degree in creative writing. So, that helped my writing in general, but I also rewrote a good portion of the book for my thesis. That was in England. I was able to do some traveling while I was over there and, since I was alone, I always had my notebook. I think it helped the writing tremendously that I always seemed to be somewhere I didn’t quite belong. It helped me get into Robin’s shoes and write from an unsettled place.

As you approach your publication date, can you wrap up your feelings in a couple sentences?

The whole experience has been so exciting. For years, whenever I was in bookstores, I’d find the place on the shelf where my book would be if it was every published. And in a month and a half, it’s really going to be there!

The process has been a lot of work (and rework) and I’m so grateful my book is going to be out in the world.

Wallace is a Canadian author with strong roots in western Canada. Currently living in the Greater Vancouver area with her husband, her first novel, Meet You There, is scheduled for release through Now or Never Publishing on October 15, 2015.

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