Thursday, November 3, 2011

STRING BRIDGE - the Interview

Welcome back for Part 2 of my STRING BRIDGE treats! On Monday, I posted my review of the book (link), and today we're chatting with Jessica Bell herself (link) about writing it, her path to publication, and how she gets inspired.

Let's get to it!

LTM: STRING BRIDGE deals with such difficult emotions and heavy situations. Yet it has lightness and hope at the same time. What gave you the idea for this story? And how long did you spend writing it?

Jessica Bell: I spent about five years writing it. It went through about seven different revisions. I don’t think there is one thing from the first draft that is in the final version, so regarding "getting the idea," it wasn’t like an idea just hit me and I started writing about it. It was gradual, and developed more and more with each revision.

The thing with this book is that I never really focused on plot. It was more about the characters and their emotions and their interactions with each other. This book is very much centered on the effect rather than the cause, so I think that’s why the emotions are so full on. Also, I’m a very emotional person, so I couldn’t really help but put them on the page.

LTM: Melody's a musician, like you, and STRING BRIDGE has such a nice rhythm and musical feel in the way it unfolds and in the descriptions. Do you think being a musician helped you write it?

JB: Most definitely. I think sound is a very difficult thing to describe so it certainly helped me with that. I spent a long time trying to perfect those parts where music is illustrated. It was quite a challenge to be honest. But what helps, in general, is the fact that I thrive on making sentences with cadence. I love playing around with different words and sounds and seeing how differently they roll off my tongue. It’s just like singing without a melody. It’s writing to a tempo.

LTM: Tessa was one of my favorite characters. She's such a funny, cute little girl, and her reactions to her parents' behavior is so authentic. I know you have no kids, genius, so where did she come from?

JB: I think I created her to be the daughter I hope to have. Haha. I’ve worked with kids her age before in a few English schools here in Athens, so I drew a few observations from that experience. But mostly it was guess work. Thank you for the “genius” comment! Ha! You’ve made my day …

LTM: Serena was also a great character--the loyal best friend who comes right in and carries Melody through her hardest time. I have a Serena, so I was wondering if there's a Serena in your life? Who is it?

JB: I actually have three back home in Australia. Knock on wood they never have to help me like Serena helped Melody!

LTM: I really liked Alex despite his shortcomings. Your depiction of him trying to be modern and "equal rights" in spite of his upbringing and the paternalistic Greek society in which they live was perfect. (Confession: I did not think Alex was acting Greek; I felt he was acting Male.) How'd you approach that dynamic?

JB: Yes, I think I would have to agree with you on his attributes being primarily “male.” Hahaha. Sorry, guys …  But (and I’m totally generalizing here) I think Greek men are nurtured to the extreme when they’re young, and remain dependent on their mothers for quite a long time, which I suppose creates a quality in them in which they crave being ‘looked after,’ and/or maintaining traditional, even out-of-date, views and values primarily because it’s what they grew up with and trust to be ‘the way’ to behave. This is a total generalization and is by no means a definition of the Greek man. It’s just my surface interpretation, mixed in with having known a few men that were quite patriarchal. And I must add, not all of them were Greek. Sorry, I’m rambling here ...

In answer to your question, I wanted to make sure I didn’t create a clichéd Greek man, and so decided to make Alex a little more ‘new wave,’ so to speak, regarding his attitude to male/female egalitarianism. But at the same time, those patriarchal attributes still needed to be ingrained in him. Basically I needed him to want to be all pro equal rights, but when things got difficult, to not be able to control letting the traditions he grew up with override his desire to ignore them.

LTM: I told you reading STRING BRIDGE kept making me think of the Margaret Atwood book CAT'S EYE. The stories aren't similar, but your writing style is a lot like hers--gritty and authentic. Was there a particular book, song, or movie that influenced you into STRING BRIDGE?

JB: Margaret Atwood is one of my favorite authors, so I’m not surprised her style has rubbed off on me. I’ve pretty much read every single book of hers. But no, there isn’t a particular anything that influenced me into writing String Bridge. I really just wanted to write “art.” To be true to myself, to write the way I’m most comfortable with and flow with it. I love reading books that go beyond telling a story. So I guess that’s my primary influence: writing that delves deeper than plot.

Now for some business questions!

LTM: You published STRING BRIDGE through a small, independent publisher (Lucky Press). What led you to that decision? Are you happy about it? Can you tell us a little about that journey and what it was like?

JB: This is a whole other blog post. Luckily, for those who are interested, I’ve already written one about it! Here's the (link).

LTM: Finally, what's next for you? Any advice to other writers out there at any stage of the game?

JB: My next novel is called, Bitter Like Orange Peel. It’s about a twenty-five year old Australian archaeology undergraduate named Kit, who doesn’t like to get her hands dirty. She feels misplaced and comes to the conclusion that meeting her father, Roger, will make some sense of her life, despite him being worth the rotting orange rind in her backyard. Well, at least that’s what she’s been conditioned to think of him by the three women in her life: Ailish, her mother—an English literature professor who communicates in quotes and clichés, and who still hasn’t learned how to express emotion on her face; Ivy, her half-sister—a depressed professional archaeologist, with a slight case of nymphomania, who fled to America after a divorce to become a waitress; and Eleanor, Ivy’s mother—a pediatric surgeon who embellishes her feelings with medical jargon, and who named her daughter after intravenous. Against all three women’s wishes, Kit decides to find Roger, but in doing so, discovers he is not the only rotten fruit.

My advice for debut authors: Learn the rules until you can recite them by heart. Then learn how to break them without people noticing. And ultimately, trust your instincts. I learned that one the hard way. I spent five years trying to write like other people were telling me to write until Janice came along. She encouraged me to be true to myself. Being true to myself is what got me published.

Rock on! Thanks, Jessica! And now you're wondering how to get it? Glad you asked:

eBook (link)
Amazon UK (link)

Paperback (link)
Amazon UK (link)
Barnes & Noble (link)

Jessica also created a soundtrack for the book, Melody Hill: On the Other Side, which contains her own original songs and an original song written by Jessica's mother.

It's diverse and interesting, and worth checking out. Although I'd say do it after you read the book. It might spoil the story!

iTunes (link) (link)
Amazon UK (link)

Enjoy the book; enjoy Jessica's lovely singing voice; and have a super weekend, reader- and writer-friends! (Geaux, Tigers!) Til Monday~ <3


Jessica Bell said...

Thank you so much for having me, Leigh! :o)

Old Kitty said...

Thanks lovely LTM and amazing Jessica! Loved to learn more about you and your book and characters here! All the best with String Bridge and with your music too! Take care

Kelly Polark said...

Wow! Great interview! This story took five years and seven revisions; Jessica must be THRILLED it's out for others to read now. Congrats!!!

Unknown said...

Another great interview! I agree with Leigh, your characters are so real and I liked Alex too.

Bish Denham said...

Nice interview, Leigh. I suspect in the coming days I'm going to learn scads of new things about Jessica and her book.

Tracy Jo said...

Wonderful interview LTM and Jessica! Jessica - I think I relate to you so much because I am an emotional person too. :-) I loved what you said about writing "art" and being true to yourself. Fantastic questions LTM. Thanks gals!

Laurel Garver said...

Great interview, Leigh! It was especially encouraging to hear how Jessica learned to trust her own authorial voice and that not all break-in books were dashed off in a month! And I'm totally intrigued by what she said about men raised in patriarchal culture.

Dawn Ius said...

Great interview, Leigh and Jessica!

DL Hammons said...

Awesome interview! Blog tours are such a great way to not only promote a great book, but to get to know the author more in depth. You did a spectacular job here. Jessica is one of a kind! :)

Michelle Fayard said...

I enjoyed getting to learn more about your book, Jessica, and agree that great characters and emotions will make their own plot. Thank you for a great interview, Leigh.

Talli Roland said...

What a wonderful interview. I read and really enjoyed Jess's book, so it was good to know more behind it. And I loved Tessa, too!

(PS - love how you spelled 'geaux'!) :)

Janet Johnson said...

Great interview! Congratulations Jessica on the soon release. The whole greek patriarch thing is pretty interesting. Lots of fodder for thought. :)

Carolyn Abiad said...

Great stuff! Can't wait to read it.

Julie Musil said...

"I felt he was acting male." -- classic!

You're so right about String's definitely written in a musical style, and I can see how being a musician helps in this regard.

Nice interview, ladies!

Southpaw said...

Great interview. The bit about the Greek men and you Greek man in the book is really interesting.

DEZMOND said...

Oh,my, Jessica is all around the net today ;)

Sarah Ahiers said...

Ooh! I'm so excited to read this!

Lynda R Young as Elle Cardy said...

Ha, I like the advice to learn how to break the rules without people noticing.

Great interview!!

Lydia Kang said...

I can't wait to read this! It's on my Kindle already. :)

N. R. Williams said...

Hi Leigh and Jessica
I think one of the hardest lessons writers must learn is to be true to their own voice and write what speaks to them. Your book sounds amazing. I too have music throughout my fantasy. I'm not a musician, but I do love music and I always wanted to play.

Best wishes for many sales.

N. R. Williams said...

I was truly touched by your comment on my post. Thank you so much.

PK HREZO said...

Awesome questions, Leigh! I've been wondering on some of these after reading it, so this satisfied my need to know.
I love Jess's writing style. I've dubbed her the Queen of Metaphors. She has such a unique way of describing the emotion or image. Very poetic.
The new book sounds interesting too! :)

Anonymous said...

Wonderful interview and insightful questions. I'm so looking forward to reading this book. :)

Matthew MacNish said...

Did I miss the review? Really? Boo on WFC.

Anonymous said...

Great interview! Thanks for sharing your journey, Jesscia. Congrats!!!

M Pax said...

Love the 'be true to yourself' advice. I think we all go thru that cycle -- learning the rules which dilutes our voice, then learning how to break them to get our voice back.

Stina said...

*hugs* Jessica for saying it took you seven revisions of the book. I have hope. :D

Alex sounds great. And Kit sounds like me. I took Archeology in university, but quickly decided the digging in the dirt part wasn't all the appealing.

Awesome interview, Jessica. :D

Unknown said...

wonderful interview. Thanks ladies!

Nas said...

Great interview and awesome questions!

All the best with String Bridge, Jessica!

LTM said...

@Holly--I did enjoy learning a bit about the setting, but it was more of a character-driven book. Thanks, girl! :o)

@PK--Yay! Glad I could help. I always try to jot down my burning questions the minute I close the covers. Helps. And you're right, she is very lyrical, which I think works perfectly for this book. :o)

@Liz--Thank! It's an interesting book. I think you'll like it. :o)

@LBD--Thanks, girl! And yep, yay for Jessica! :o) <3

LisaAnn said...

Great interview, and what an amazingly unique idea to have a soundtrack. I will definitely have to check this out!

Theresa Milstein said...

LTM, good interview questions.

Jessica, I had no idea you spent so many years with this book before publishing it. That's impressive. I'm sure the care comes through in the writing.

Vicki Rocho said...

I'm late to the usual. Very nice interview!

So happy for Jess!