Welcome back to Inside The Authors Studio. Today I’m talking to another writer and sharing our conversation with you! To find out who I’ve interviewed so far and what this series is all about, check out the original post by clicking here.
Hi there everyone! Welcome back to Inside The Authors Studio, my ongoing series of conversations with the writing community. Today it is my pleasure to introduce you to another great writer, Jessica Calla.
Jessica got her undergraduate degree from the University of Delaware. Then she went on to attend Seton Hall Law School from which she graduated with her degree in Criminal Justice. After school, she worked as a paralegal until that got boring for her. She then decided to go to law school where she would later meet her husband, Joe.
Born and raised in northern New Jersey, Jessica is still proud to call the Garden State home. Today she resides there with her husband, two sons, and one dog. She belongs to the Women’s Fiction Writers Association as well as the Young Adult, Contemporary Romance, and New Jersey Chapters of the Romance Writers of America, two industry associations that specialize in networking for the professional advancement of women’s fiction and romance writers across the country.
In my conversation with Jessica, we discuss how her roles as both an attorney and an intern with a publisher have impacted her unique writing style. We talk through her tribulations and accomplishments in the field of writing. We even take a peek into the future and talk about what is to come for this creative individual. It is my hope that you enjoy getting to know Jessica Calla a little bit better here today. Let’s go!
Jamie: Welcome Jessica! I’m thrilled to have you here on my blog today to celebrate the release of your new NA novel, She Laughs in Pink. I’m really looking forward to giving my readers a chance to get to know you better. For starters, let’s get the ball rolling with an introduction. How would you introduce yourself to someone who doesn’t know anything about you?
Jessica: Thank you for hosting me, Jamie! I’d introduce myself to someone who doesn’t know me as “the crazy lady in the corner.” Kidding. I’d tell someone that I’m the tallish brunette who’s tired but happy, always smiling, and always ready to work. I may or may not have a child clinging to a leg or be balancing a laptop in one hand and a cup of coffee in the other.
We’re going to jump in and start with a tough question right off the bat. What initially inspired you to write? What drew you into the world of fiction in the first place?
Honestly, as a lawyer I write all the time, but legal writing is way different than creative writing (although lawyers can get creative sometimes). Ever since I was a kid, I’ve loved soap operas. I was drawn to the emotional drama and crazy scenarios. I credit soaps with inspiring me to write romance. As for getting started writing that first manuscript, that I attribute to my friend Angela (to whom She Laughs in Pink is dedicated). When I told her my idea to write a book, explained my concept to her, and asked her what she thought, I figured she’d laugh her butt off at me and tell me I was nuts. She didn’t though. She said two words: “Write it.” And I did. All I needed was a go ahead from someone, and she gave me that little push with her simple sentence. Everyone has that one friend who isn’t afraid to think outside the box with you–Angela is that for me.
Were you an avid reader as a child? What books do you remember gravitating to? What do you reach for now? How have books and the experience of reading shaped your understanding of the world?
I was an avid reader as a child and loved Beverly Cleary, Judy Blume, and anything Choose-Your-Own-Adventure. I obsessed over the Sweet Valley High series! My mom would drive me to the bookstore every month and buy me the new installment, and I’d read it in the car on the way home. I read Gone with the Wind at a young age and still love it today. Now, I read a lot of YA and NA, and of course, anything romance. I love getting lost in the world of a book. Reading is like a portal into another world, and a good book makes me forget where and who I am in real life and have a little escape.
On the surface, this might seem like an unlikely pairing, lawyer and writer. But you say you’ve gained much of your writing and editing experience by working as an attorney-ghostwriter with the federal courts. How has this experience impacted your writing style and process as a prose fiction author? What have you gained from your experience working in law?
Legal writing has been both a detriment and a benefit to my creative writing! At first, my creative writing was very legal-ish–short, choppy sentences, subject-verb-period type of sentence structure. Sometimes I still revert back to choppy. Lucky for me, I have an awesome editor (shout out to BookFish Senior Editor Heather Powell) who reminds me to mix things up when I get a bit lawyerly. On the other hand, legal writing has taught me how to get a point across. I rarely have superfluous language in my creative writing, and I think I do a good job at clearly putting my thoughts into words. As a lawyer, you write for an audience (a judge, litigants, other attorneys), and everyone has to be able to understand your argument. Excelling at that type of writing has helped me learn to write for my new audience of fiction readers.
You are also currently working as the Marketing and Production Intern for BookFish Books. What has this experience been like? What have you taken away from your time as an intern with the publisher? How has it shaped you as a writer?
I love working at BookFish Books, and I’ve learned so much from the team, from how to read a submission, to how to market a book, to how to deal with authors and industry professionals. Helping get books out into the world is such a positive, fun thing, and I’m so happy to be a part of the process!
You are certainly a realistic inspiration for beginning writers like myself. One look at your website and we can see both fancy-pants author updates (like blurbs from your own books and links to buy them on Amazon) and the more familiar realm of cover reveals and blog tours. How do you balance being both a creator and a fan? How has being on both sides of the equation influenced the way you approach writing?
Well, thank you! Funny, when I started writing (my first book is an unpublished YA that lives on my laptop, waiting for my attention), I knew nothing about “the craft.” But because I am a reader, it didn’t really matter. When you read a lot of romance, you learn the trends, you instinctively pick up on the tone and flow of words, and you gain knowledge about writing without even realizing it. Once I started taking courses and learning about creative writing, I realized I already did a lot of the things I was supposed to be doing. So being a fan absolutely helps to create.
New Adult is still an emerging genre of fiction. I’ve often described it as Young Adult stories for the 18-25 year old audience. This means high stakes, high emotions, and high action all centered around characters that have gained some deeper understanding of the world after their high school years. Some mainstream readers are put off by the reputation NA has gained as being nothing but smutty, loosely narrative, erotic fiction. Is this an unfair stereotype in your eyes? How do you define the NA genre? Why are you drawn to it? How does it differ from YA for you?
Obviously, I love new adult, and I hope to write it for many years to come. I love the age group involved, the transitional period in life where you have to start dealing with things on your own and become an adult. I am also of the opinion that NA is actually written just as well by older authors as by younger. I think that being an older author helps me have a perspective on what was really going on during those years. Maybe someone actually living in that time wouldn’t have the same perspective. I do believe that relationships and sex are a big part of life during that time frame, and I enjoy creating a love story for that age group! I try not to be smutty though… 😉
For anyone out there who isn’t familiar with romance, tell us a little bit about the genre. What are its hallmarks? What does the genre mean to you? Why do you write romance novels? What do you think readers appreciate about them?
Romance, according to the Romance Writers of America, must have two components: the love story must be central to the book (not a subplot), and there must be a “happily ever after” or a “happy for now” ending. I’ve loved a good romance ever since my days watching soap operas! I love writing about both friendships and romantic relationships. I’m not sure where that comes from or why I’m drawn to love. Maybe because our relationships are the glue that hold our lives together? Maybe.
You’ve been a part of the blogger community since January of 2013. As of this past winter, you have contributed over one hundred and ninety posts to your website. Wow! What a milestone! What made you want to start blogging in the first place? How has posting about your life and writing shaped your work? Talk to me about the difference between your books, which have been meticulously edited and prepared by a team of individuals, and your blog posts, which, I’m assuming, are written and uploaded by just yourself. How do the different methods of publication affect your writing process?
I started the blog as an exercise in sharing. I knew I enjoyed writing–my biggest hurdle was putting my stuff out there for others to read. Waiting on a Word emerged as a test of my bravery. After I wrote the first post, it took me days to hit “publish,” even though I hadn’t yet invited anyone to follow my blog! Since then, I’ve learned that while sharing is scary, it’s necessary. Not everyone will like what I post or write, and that’s okay. Rejection is a huge part of becoming a writer that takes a bit of getting used to. The first step is sharing.
Early on in my WordPress days, I was “freshly pressed,” which gave me a total boost of confidence and kept me going. Although my blog needs some attention–it’s been difficult for me to get to it–I know that it’s there for me when I’m ready. I love that WOAW is my little corner of the internet where I don’t have to worry about editing and grammar too much, and I can be as casual or funny or morose as I like. I can do what I want over there!
I’m a huge fan of writing conferences. Not only do they offer pearls of wisdom for writers of all ages and experience levels, but they also open up doors for untold new opportunities. When I saw your blog post about the NJRW Put Your Heart In A Book Conference, which you attended in October of 2015, I was excited to read more. At one point in the post you share some advice from workshop leader Sarah MacLean. She said to consider writing your work by valuing your writing time and making it a priority. How do you, Jessica, do this in your own life today? Is it hard to make time for writing with everything else going on in your life? How do you turn it all off and focus on your craft?
First, Sarah MacLean. Yes, I loved her talk about how she makes writing time her priority, but another interesting thing she said was that we, as writers, shouldn’t be afraid to take chances and write our stories, no matter how crazy they may seem. I think of her talk often, and I’m grateful I got to see her at the PYHIAB Conference sponsored by the New Jersey Romance Writers, my local RWA chapter. In my own life, I don’t have much time to focus on writing, so I have to take advantage and really zone in when I can. I’ve been known to whip out my phone and draft a chapter in the notes app, and I’ve voice memoed myself ideas while driving. Most of my writing time happens after the family is asleep. I’m often up until the wee hours writing in the peace and quiet of the night.
What is the biggest hurdle you’ve faced as a writer? What has been your biggest challenge so far?
My biggest hurdle has always been time. I’d love more time to write, to focus, to study the craft.
How have you faced this challenge?
I make time and hardly ever sleep. I do this with the help of large amounts of caffeine. 🙂
What is your advice to other people out there facing up against the same or similar struggles?
I hear the “time” excuse so often. My advice is don’t let it be an excuse. If you really want to be a writer and don’t have time, make the time. Learn to stay up late. Instead of going out to lunch, write during lunch hour. Instead of binge-watching, get the laptop. Don’t go to every social function you’re invited to. It’s a sacrifice, but it’s worth it because it’s the only way. Don’t say you “can’t.” You can. It’s a matter of will.
What are you most proud of about your writing at this point?
Honestly, I’m most proud when I get a positive review from someone I don’t know! Of course, all positive reviews are great, but to have one from a stranger? I’m floored! Someday I may actually believe that I’m good at this writing stuff. For now, I’m surprised any time someone tells me that they like my words.
How would you like to set up the sample you’ve brought with you today? What do we need to know by way of context before we begin?
This sample is from the first time Chase meets Ben, his roommate and Juliet’s high school crush…
Here is an excerpt from Jessica’s work:
Within seconds of meeting Ben, I can tell he’s a nice guy. He shakes my hand, offers me his extra set of sheets, and says, “Hope you don’t mind I took this side of the room.” I could care less which side of the room I’m on. Still, it’s cool he thought to mention it.
Ben pulls off his sweaty jersey as he tells me about his Phys Ed major, football, and his weeks of practice. He’s built like a house—tall, like me, but heavier and more muscular. His legs look like tree trunks. He’d mentioned via text that he’s a quarterback. I’m more of a baseball guy and don’t know much about football, but to me he looks too bulky to be a quarterback. So this is the object of Juliet’s affection.
He pushes his hair off his face, and I glimpse an impressive scar over his eye.
“Cleat to the face,” he says, rubbing his forehead.
I grimace. “Ouch.”
As he rummages through his stuff and I prep for room two’s party, Ben tells me about his mother (who’d packed him food along with that extra set of sheets), his father (a lawyer), and his four older brothers (his best friends). He asks me about growing up in the city. When he starts with high school stories, I deflect the conversation. I don’t want him to think I’m a freak before he has a chance to know me.
Instead, I use the opportunity to ask about Juliet.
“Oh, dude, this super hot chick stopped by looking for you. Juliet? She’s in room one.”
“Down the hall? In Sheridan?”
“Yeah. I figured she was your girlfriend.”
Ben shakes his head. “No, just friends. But we did go to homecoming together.”
“Let me guess, king and queen?”
“You got it.” He points at me and grins.
I’m not surprised. Ben has popularity written all over him—good-looking, nice, friendly.
“D-did you guys ever hook up?” In an attempt to hide my interest, I stutter over the question.
“No. She’s something special though.”
Something special pretty much sums it up. “Cheerleader?” I ask, fishing for information.
“Ballet,” he says.
I knew it. I picture her twisting her hair into one of those bun things on the top of her head. God, I love ballerinas.
What inspired you to write She Laughs in Pink?
I don’t think I’ve told anyone this, but She Laughs was originally going to be a retelling of Gone with the Wind. There was (maybe still is) a trend in YA to take a classic and modernize it. That was my intent, with Juliet being the Scarlet character, Chase the Rhett, and Ben the Ashley. Of course, it morphed. I couldn’t quite figure out how to modernize the Civil War. But early in the book, there’s a scene that mimics GWTW, when Scarlet throws a vase and Rhett pops up from the sofa. In She Laughs, Juliet throws a coffee mug and Chase pops up from the sofa in the dorm lounge.
What does the story mean to you now? How has your relationship with it changed over time? How do you feel now, looking back over the experience of working on this project?
I love this book. It’s not my first published book, but it’s the first book I pitched around and thought was good enough to be published. I’m so grateful to BookFish for giving it life.
She Laughs in Pink is the first book in the Sheridan Hall Series. How long after the novel’s inception did you make the plunge to commit to a series? What about this particular story inspired you to extend it beyond just one novel?
Pretty early on, I knew it would be a series. First, because I loved Ben and couldn’t leave him hanging. Second, because I loved the idea of the floormates and their relationships with each other. I was hoping to introduce characters that people would want to read more about.
Aside from the upcoming books in the Sheridan Hall Series, what are your plans for the future? Do you have any other exciting projects in the works or on the horizon? Where do you hope to eventually see yourself as a writer?
As for Sheridan Hall, there are definitely two more books. She Runs Away is scheduled for release in November of this year, and Book 3, tentatively titled She Wants it All for May of next year. I have all kinds of ideas for this series and would love to take it out to five books in total, with maybe a novella thrown in on one of the older characters whom I love (Chase’s Uncle Rob). I’m also getting requests for books about Ben’s brothers, whom you’ll see more of in She Runs Away.
Do you have any final thoughts you’d like to share with my readers?
I’d like to invite writers in every stage of the process to contact me if they’d like a sympathetic ear or if they need someone to bounce ideas off. I learn so much from talking to people, so don’t be shy! Ask! I’d also like to thank the readers out there for giving Sheridan Hall and She Laughs in Pink a chance. I can only hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.
I’d like to say a big thank you to Jessica for stopping by and sharing a bit of her work with us all here today. But the fun’s not over yet!
To celebrate the release of She Laughs in Pink, Jessica and BookFish Books are giving away one $25 Amazon gift card to one lucky blog post reader in the United States. If you’re interested in entering for a chance to win this awesome prize, check out the link below.
Enter the giveaway here:
And finally, did you like what you heard here today? If you want to find out more about Jessica and her writing, hop on down and check out her links below!
Where you can find Jessica Calla: