Shells Chats with author Jessica Bell

What's your background with writing?

Well, I don't have much. My parents were musicians so I spent most of my life swimming in music—at least until late high school and university where I began to take a greater interest in writing. At university I studied Modern English literature, fiction writing, nonfiction writing, screenplay writing, editing and publishing, children's literature, myth and ideology, and 18th-century romanticism. But I suppose it all really started when I was about 11 or 12. I wrote a lot of (crap) poetry and song lyrics then.





Who are your inspirations/influences?

Marilynne Robinson for her mouth-watering prose. Her writing is a true example of how to make words sing.

Margaret Atwood for her gripping story lines and concise yet elaborate descriptions all without stepping into 'pop culture' territory of literature.

Gwen Harwood, an Australian Poet, whose poem 'The Sea Anemones', sparked my initial interest in writing at about 15.

Raymond Carver and his flair for minimalistic brilliance.

And …

PJ Harvey (musician)





You have written short stories, what is your favorite and where can we find some of these?

Hmm, well, it's very hard to choose a favorite. They're all precious to me. But if I had to chose, I guess it would be HOW LONG DO THE LIGHTS STAY ON?, which is about loneliness, and is written like a poetic essay, I guess — my sister likes to call it 'thinky thoughts'.

You'll be able to find this piece in an anthology called Literary Foray, edited by Chris Bartholomew from Static Movement. I've actually incorporated this piece into my novel String Bridge, although it's highly altered. It's been on a very long journey. It started off as a poem, which I expanded into one paragraph and put into my novel, but it eventually got cut, because it didn't fit in with my revisions. I then expanded the idea and turned it into a short fiction piece, which is how you'll see it in the anthology. Now it's altered even more and I've put back into my novel because it does fit in with my (now revised five times) protagonist's view. Phew!

You can find titles and links to other pieces of work at www.jessicacbell.com





How has music influenced your writing?

Apart from the fact that my interest in writing stems from writing lyrics, I'd say, how does it not? To me writing is how we create melody in literature. Writing is just another form of music to me. My words have to sing before I'm satisfied. I often play around with my sentences, trying to find the perfect words that 'sound' right - that create a specific cadence.





You have written poetry and non-fiction, how does that compare to writing fiction stories?

I write a lot of prose poetry, so it's not too different to how I write fiction. I always have the same thing in mind: Clarity of meaning - Beauty of prose - Embellish with simile and metaphor.

Re non-fiction, well that's a whole other kettle of fish, and to be honest, sometimes boring. I've written and edited a lot of English Language Teaching materials. Once you get your head around what you need to know, it gets very monotonous. There are only so many ways you can write about grammar! I'd much rather write fiction.

Regarding my memoir, well, that’s sort of a mix between fact and fiction because some things have to be embellished to keep the flow. It’s impossible to remember every little detail of a conversation, for example, so you have to get creative.





How has moving to Greece impacted your writing?

Okay, here's a list of all the new things I have experienced living in Greece that change the way I think:

* Lifestyle more laid back - especially on islands.
* Traditional dance festivals, Massive Easter celebration rather than Christmas
* Different body language when having conversation
* Almost over-the-top family oriented
* Feminism doesn't seem to have had any impact on Greece. Men still think women should be in the kitchen - especially on the islands, and the women don't seem to care about it.
* Cars do not stop at traffic lights until they are threatening to run over pedestrians.
* Police pick and choose who to target depending on their mood.
* There are so many people living in Athens that they have traffic restrictions in the centre – on odd and even dates, odd and even number plates are only allowed to drive. Makes no difference because people just buy two cars with odd and even numbers.
* You don’t wait in line – you push in whenever possible, even if it means knocking over old ladies.
* Many tradesmen and civil servants have no idea what they’re doing. Before you seek out someone’s service, it’s advised to learn their trade for yourself first.
* Even just smiling at someone of the opposite sex is considered flirting
* Good looking Greek men wear their jeans way too tight - Ha!

I'm sure there are plenty more ...





You're also an editor who offers services, can you tell us what services and where people can contact you for that?

I copyedit fiction manuscripts. This includes checking:

* Grammar
* Spelling
* Capitalization
* Punctuation
* Usage
* Flagging repeated words and/or phrases
* Some formatting
* Wordiness, awkwardness
* Redundancy
* Transitions
* Paragraphing
* Word, phrase, and sentence flow
* Consistency of names, setting, character traits, plot points

You can see more details what I offer here: www.jessicacbell.com/contact.htm

People can contact me via email: jessica.carmen.bell@gmail.com





How do you feel editing has helped your writing?

Well, I'm more aware of how I write and the common mistakes I make, so I suppose I do a lot of editing as I go. For some this might not seem like the correct tactic. A lot of people like to bash out their first drafts before even thinking about editing. But I just can't do it — it's ingrained! But I do think that means my first drafts are more like second drafts. And that's less work for me in the long run!





Can you tell us about "String Bridge"?

The genre is literary women's fiction. Here's a quick summary:

Greek cuisine, smog and domestic drudgery was not the life Australian musician, Melody, was expecting when she married a Greek music promoter and settled in Athens, Greece. Keen to play in her new shoes, though, Melody trades her guitar for a 'proper' career and her music for motherhood. That is, until she can bear it no longer and plots a return to the stage -- and the person she used to be. However, the obstacles she faces along the way are nothing compared to the tragedy that awaits, and she realizes she's been seeking fulfilment in the wrong place.

Main characters of String Bridge:

Melody: A thirty year old wife and mother who lost sight of her dream to become a professional musician amidst a mountain of domesticity, motherhood and corporate ladder-climbing. A life she never asked for but somehow let herself fall into. She’s tries to find herself again, but becomes neglectful of her family. By the time she realizes they are more important to her than music, it might be too late.

Alex: Melody’s husband. A music events manager who convinced Melody to give up playing gigs after their daughter was born. Melody resents him for it – for obvious reasons. He resents Melody for putting up a wall. She used to tell him everything. Now she hides everything and their love is disintegrating. But instead of telling her how he feels, he goes and does something to make it worse. Which in turn causes a chain of events that could have been avoided had they communicated properly in the first place.

Tessa: The daughter. Four years old. The only person in Melody’s world she would do anything for. She likes to cut off her Barbies’ hair, and lick her dog’s face. Melody/Tessa encounters in the novel show a totally different side of Melody.

Betty: Melody’s mother. Suffers from bipolar disorder. Affects Melody’s existence in ways I can’t describe in a few sentences.

James: Melody’s father. Timid. Afraid to speak his thoughts. Does everything Betty tells him to. Kind-hearted. Gentle. But very passive, and easily walked all over.





Where did the idea for "String Bridge" come about?

My life sparked the idea, however, the situation eventually turned into something completely different from my life. Yes, it’s located in Athens and I am a musician, but these are the differences:

One: I may have a passion for music, but I don’t dream to be a rock star – I dream to be a full-time author.

Two: I’m not married with a four year old daughter. – I have a fiancé and a dog.

Three: I’ve never had to choose between a corporate career and following a dream, because I’ve always been certain that following my dream will come first (after loved-ones of course).





Where can we find "String Bridge" and when will it be available?

My novel won't be released until November 1st, 2011, but when it is it will be available at all major online and brick-and-mortar booksellers and through Borders in Australia. In the U.S. and Australia, it will be available to the trade through Ingram and also in the U.S. from Baker & Taylor.





How is it to work with Lucky Press?

My experience so far with Lucky Press has been phenomenal. I never thought I would ever be treated with such genuine care, respect and interest by a publisher in my life. When I began seeking agents and publishers for my novel almost a year ago, I expected that they would just do what they 'have' to with their acquisitions, whether big or small. And that opinion has generally stuck with me. Until now. Because Lucky Press turned my view around full circle.

When I submitted my query to them, I got a response thanking me for it and saying that she received it within the week. A week later, I got an extremely friendly request for a partial. The publisher read my blog and my website before contacting me and then made the utmost effort to get to know 'me' a little as well as my book, because I had sparked her interest.

After she'd read my partial submission, about one or two weeks later, she sent me another email, explaining to me where her head was at. It was a letter balanced with positivity about my book, concerns about my book and concerns about working with an author long distance. But she didn't let her concerns define her general view of the project. She asked me concise questions for me to respond to in order to get a better picture of where my head was at, and how I perceived my writing career to evolve.

To cut a long story short, the publisher basically showed interest in me, not just my book. She took the time to get every inkling of information out of me before making a decision. And before too long, we started developing a 'friendship', which made me think, "Wow. Even if she doesn't publish my book. I have made an excellent friend, who I would definitely like to stay in touch with no matter what."





What are you doing in terms of marketing/publicity?

At the moment I’m just trying to maintain my online platform: Blog, Goodreads, Facebook, etc. But as the release date gets closer, Lucky Press and I a few goodies planned. You can stay updated by visiting me online.





Do you have any stories from book signings/radio interviews/etc.?

Not just yet. I’m very new to this!





What projects do you have planned for the future?

At the moment, a novel called BITTER LIKE ORANGE PEEL, about a woman in search for a father she has never met. Her search reveals secrets which threaten the solid family relationships she already has.

I have to point out that I love to explore relationships. My stories are more about emotions, and dealing with the mundane of the everyday than exciting plot lines. That might sound boring on the surface, but I’ve really tried to write ‘the everyday’ in a way that readers can experience it on a deeper, more psychoanalytical level.





Where can people find more about you?

website: http://www.jessicacbell.com/
blog: http://thealliterativeallomorph.blogspot.com/

facebook: http://www.facebook.com/author.jessica.bell

Lucky Press, LLC: http://www.luckypress.com/jessicabell.html

Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/jessica_bell

3 comments :

  1. Thanks for conducting this interview, Shells!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Great interview! I love that you're a musician Jessica.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Great interview! I love getting to know Jessica even more. Thanks for this! :)

    ReplyDelete