Author Interview (February 2012)
Jessica (Jess) Ferguson is co-owner/co-editor of Swamp Lily Review, A Journal of Louisiana Literature & Arts and writes forSouthern Writers Magazine. She is the author of The Groom Wore Blue Suede Shoes, writing as Jessica Travis. She is the founder of the East Texas Writers Association in her hometown of Longview, Texas, and a past president of Bayou Writers’ Group in Lake Charles, Louisiana. Jess has been published in a variety of newspapers and magazines.
1) Please tell me a little about your blog. I started blogging secretly in January 2007 when my husband was in Scotland for a year. I used blogging as a journal, to help me write and to help me fast. In March, I mentioned a couple of my favorite blog sites and was stunned when three comments showed up on my blog from the authors of those sites. Obviously, they had set Google alerts for their names. That was my first lesson in staying nice and complimentary when blogging. I’m always surprised at some of the things I read on blogs. The writing and publishing world is small. We should always be careful what we write on Facebook, Twitter and our blogs. I named my blog Praise, Prayers and Observations because I believe it covers all I want to do and say: praise other writers, pray for other writers and observe the writing and publishing life around me.
2) What authors do you admire? Actually, I admire any writer who finishes a book again, again and again. And by that I mean one who finishes a book and actually rewrites and revises it. Elizabeth Berg and Stephen King are favorite authors because of their quirky, beautiful, wonderful insight into the human condition, but I have four very favorite books: Banner with a Strange Device (594 pages) andSea Coast of Bohemia (665 pages) by Arona McHugh, Celebrity (561 pages) by Tommy Thompson, and Five Smooth Stones by Ann Fairbairn (756 pages). I give the number of pages because I also greatly admire anyone who can write a book that has more than 60,000 words.
3) What music, places, people inspire you? Boston inspires me. The books by Arona McHugh are set there so it’s easy for me to visualize myself walking across Harvard Yard with her characters, soaking up the university atmosphere. We spent time in Boston one summer; I looked for McHugh and her characters on every street corner and in every bookstore. Unfortunately, she’s passed away now so I’ll never have the opportunity to meet or email her. As for music … guffaw if you like, but country music inspires me because it tells a story and sometimes while driving, I find myself plotting stories from the songs I’m listening to. People? My husband and daughter. They’re always my inspiration. I get ideas from them. They encourage me. They make me laugh and think.
4) What do you do when you have writer’s block? Soak it up and let it destroy me. Look for the reason behind it. Usually, writer’s block is caused from a lack of interest in what I’m working on, or being horribly wounded by someone.
5) When working on your current MS did you complete an outline first or did you just start writing?
I usually write the first two or three chapters before I start outlining. I don’t know that I’m very successful in doing it that way. I made several attempts at writing my Silhouette Romance before I sat down and outlined it. First it was a mystery and after outlining, it became a romantic comedy and sold. This was over the course of several years. There’s a lot to be said for careful planning.
6) What is your writing process like? I’m not as structured as I used to be. When I wrote The Groom Wore Blue Suede Shoes, I got up at 5:00 a.m. every morning with my hard-working husband and wrote until time to get my daughter ready for school. These days, with kids grown, I’ve lost my focus. I can sit down and write any time of the day if I know where I’m going with the story. The most I’ve written in one day is 20 pages. I’d love to be able to turn out 20 pages a day every day, but that takes a lot out of a writer. The last two novels I wrote and completed were SOTP (seat of the pants) novels that had a tremendous amount of revision because I did no planning.
7) Do you have an editor or agent? I’ve had several agents over the years. I’ve been extremely disappointed in all of them–for a number of reasons. Writing and publishing is a rough business. Fair, unfair, screwy, exciting, fun, confusing … and it can wring you inside out several times a week. An agent may or may not make a difference in your writing career. The thing to remember is they’re just people doing a job. They don’t know everything. Don’t be intimidated by them. Don’t hesitate to ask for copies of your rejections. Don’t be scared to ask them questions and get the answers you want.
Since I’m a staff writer for Southern Writers Magazine, I have a magazine editor who gives me assignments and wonderful encouragement.
8) Book you’ve planted on a coffee table to impress someone? I have two books on my coffee table right now: Marilyn, August 1953 – the lost LOOK photos by John Vachon and fragments –poems, intimate notes, letters by Marilyn Monroe. Impressed?
Okay, I also have the 2012 copy of Novel & Short Story Writer’s Market.