Jessica Jay [freethephoenix]
What did you first read? How did you begin to write? Who were the first to read what you wrote?
Aside from various readers in school, the first book I really remember sitting down to read was the Prydain Chronicles by Lloyd Alexander. My father owned a compilation of all five books and I read it night and day for a week.
I started writing, or rather dictating, before I started school. In lieu of a bedtime story read from a conventional book I would spend hours telling a story to my mother and then she would read my story to me at bedtime. After this, once I had learned to read and write, I participated in many writing contests at school and finally finished writing my first novel in grade six.
The first people to read what I wrote were people on fictionpress.com. I wasn't comfortable sharing it with people who knew me since I often wrote about things more mature than what my peers read about. While they were reading Babysitter's Club books I was reading Tolkien, Piers Anthony, Madeleine L'Engle, and even some Stephan King. The first people close to me to be exposed to something I wrote were my siblings because I wrote a book for them when I was in grade eight and read it aloud as I went.
What is your favorite genre? Can you provide a link to a site where we can read some of your work or learn something about it?
It would be easier to talk about genres I don't like, which are horror and mystery. I don't have patience for mystery books and I don't have the stomach for horror novels. When I was younger I couldn't even stand to read a Goosebumps book! I'm a sort of person who gets very annoyed with the unknown for being so, well, 'unknown'.
My favourite genres to write in are fantasy and slice-of-life type love stories. Many of them are posted on fictionpress.com: www.fictionpress.com/~freethephoenix
What is your creative process like? What happens before sitting down to write?
Most of my books start out as dreams that I quickly jot down when I wake up. Once the story has time to stew in my brain and once I decide that it needs to be written I usually sit down and decide how many chapters I'll need to tell the story by breaking it into parts. Sometimes, before this step, I'll have already written an introduction and the first couple chapters just to get started.
I plan out the chapters, one by one, until I have a complete outline of the book from start to finish. Then I get into the characters and decide on their personalities, families, traits, habits, etc.
People tell me I write books like they're math equations and I think that's hilarious since I was actually a lot better at math in school than English.
What type of reading inspires you to write?
I read the news from England. They are a lot of interesting stories and I like English syntax much more than American syntax. Also, since every archtype of story in existence occurs in the Bible I use that as a starting point for many of my stories. And finally, I am often inspired by Japanese novels translated into English because the culture is so different many of the conventions appear new and original to me and that's how I want my writing to be.
Not so unusual that it cannot be understood, but just enough so that the reader can feel a little surprised and delighted by what is happening.
What do you think are the basic ingredients of a story?
In my stories the basic ingredients are a hero, a struggle, a climax and a conclusion. But I think that someone could still write a book without one of those. That's what literary fiction is all about, isn't it? I don't like that kind of convoluted writing, though, so when I write I like to have clear heros, real struggles, an edge-of-your-seat climax and a wonderfully worded conclusion. There's another basic ingredient I leave out a lot and that is the antagonist, or bad guy, because it's hard for me to paint someone as 'bad'. Usually my antagonists are simply people with different values than the main characters. They're not 'bad' and usually my main characters come to respect their differences.
What voice do you find most to your liking: first person or third person?
First person is my favourite because then the character has a real 'voice' and you can show it to the reader. However, I use third person as much as first because first person really limits the way you can present events. When you have as many as eight main characters it's extremely difficult to write in first person.
I wrote a short story entirely in second person once, and I want to add that first person present tense stories are the WORST! Don't do them! Just don't! Why would anyone think that was the best way to tell their stories? No, no, no!
What well known writers do you admire most?
Dianna Wynne Jones. Period. She is an amazing author and has such a knack for tangling comedy and tragedy that it often leaves me dazzled. Her characters are so real and refreshing. I have read every book she has ever published and I would read them again. I also love a lot of Piers Anthony's books and Robin Hobb's trilogies.
What is required for a character to be believable? How do you create yours?
Characters need to have flaws. Many, many flaws, and not those sorts of flaws that are actually good like 'she always puts others first' or 'he's so smart that he's an outcast'. They need to have tempers, make mistakes, and get messy. Another writer who I very much respect taught me an easy way to understand a character and make him or her real. First think of an occurance that could happen to anyone, like winning an award, a traffic accident, eating a disgusting food, hitting your thumb with a hammer - and then think about how your character would react.
Would they brag about the award or be embarrassed? Would they panic about the accident or stay calm and call for help? Would they spit out the disgusting food or make a face and swallow it anyway? Would they curse or cry when they hit themselves? The more of these you do the more real your character will become and the easier it will be to present him or her to an audience.
Are you equally good at telling stories orally?
I can't wing them off the top of my head but I have been told that people prefer hearing me read my stories aloud rather than reading them off the paper.
Deep down inside, who do you write for?
I write for myself, mostly, but I have written many things for my friends and family as well. I want to be loved by everybody but I can't say if that means I am writing selfishly for myself or for others?
Is writing a form of personal therapy? Are internal conflicts a creative force?
It really is personal therapy. Whenever I need to cope with something I switch off something in my brain and start thinking about how all the feelings I am experiencing and all the terrible things felt by others are excellent research for a future novel. Internal conflicts, however, are not a creative force. If I'm actually upset I can't write. I have to stop being upset, take a step back, and calm down before any words will come out.
Does reader feed-back help you?
It only helps me with motivation. There's nothing like someone saying: "Wow! I love this story!" to make you want to write more of it. There have been three or four occasions when something was fundamentally wrong with a story and a reader pointed it out. That was very helpful, but it doesn't happen often.
Do you participate in competitions? Have you received any awards?
I don't usually participate in competitions since almost everything I write is 70 000+ words long and that's way more than most competitions are willing to accept. One of my novels was nominated in the SKOW online romance awards and I placed fourth.
That's about as close as I've ever come.
Do you share rough drafts of your writings with someone whose opinion you trust?
Yes. My brother is practically my partner in writing. I can't do anything without discussing it with him and his opinion matters most to me in the world. He solves my writer's block problems, helps with brainstorming, and always encourages everything I try my hand at. I don't know what I would do without him.
Do you believe you have already found "your voice" or is that something one is always searching for?
I'm more concerned with the characters' voices. 'My voice' changes dramatically from story to story or, rather, character to character. I do struggle with emulating the voice of whatever I've read recently, which is why I pay so much attention to British news stories since that's the vein of writing I want to put my voice in.
What discipline do you impose on yourself regarding schedules, goals, etc.?
One novel per year. That's all I ask of myself.
What do you surround yourself with in your work area in order to help your concentrate?
It has to be quiet where I'm working. No TV and no one talking, which usually means I have to be alone. Music is fine, for some reason it isn't as distracting as talking. I usually need a drink too but that isn't alway nessesary.
Do you write on a computer? Do you print frequently? Do you correct on paper? What is your process?
I always write on a computer. I use Google Documents so I can write from any computer with an internet connection. I do prefer my laptop to any other keyboard, just because me and this keyboard have grown used to each other.
I can't do rough work on a computer, though, that has to be done by hand on scraps of paper. And I don't print what I write ever since it's pretty much a waste of trees (my stories are often 200-300 pages long.)
What sites do you frequent on-line to share experiences or information?
I share my work on www.fictionpress.com and I also keep a blog about my adventures in writing at ftphoenix.blogspot.com
What has been your experience with publishers?
My experience with publishers has been: Rejection! My numerous attempts and proposals have only been met with rejection after rejection. Oh my. I sound quite depressed just now. Don't worry, I haven't given up yet!
What are you working on now?
I'm working on four different novels at the moment. One is a re-write of an earlier work, one is an installment of my fantasy/mythology series 'Method Six', one is a high-school romance and the fourth is a fairytale about a witch, a gargoyle and a small boy. I'm hoping to finish at least one of them by the end of the summer.
What do you recommend I do with all those things I wrote years ago but have never been able to bring myself to show anyone?
First of all make sure they're finished. There is nothing worse than I story that's only just begun. Finish all your stories and after that it doesn't matter what you do with them show them to others or keep them to yourself - so long as the story is finished you should feel satisfied with yourself.
How do you respond to telemarketing calls?
Usually I just don't pick up. Sometimes I answer without saying anything and other times I answer and hold the phone up to the speakers so they can listen to my music.
Of what are you an addict?
Manga and Anime.
What toy gave you the best moments of your childhood?
It wasn't a toy, but the Final Fantasy series of video games for sure. My childhood is made out of memories of playing them.
A bad habit you have overcome.
I stopped biting my fingernails in 2008 and I had been biting them since before I can remember.
A word or expression that you love.
"Do your best!"
A word or expression that you detest.
When someone says 'I can't' when they mean 'I won't'.
A YouTube video about something that was significant to your life.