It’s my pleasure to welcome Jessica Dall to my blog.
Please tell us a little bit about yourself.
I am a history nerd turned writer who, I think, has finally worked out how to properly join the two. I’ve written a little bit of everything at this point, but most recently have been focusing on my historical fantasy and just plain historical fiction works for the last year or so. It takes a good deal of work when you’re writing things in historical settings (especially since I’m a stickler for accuracy. I spent much longer than I should have looking up the moon phases in 1755 to make sure I had the right moon on a particular date in the work I’m shopping at the moment…) but I find it incredibly enjoyable being able to marry my two passions so completely.
How long have you been writing for?
My mom will tell you that I’ve been writing since before I actually knew how to write. As a four-year-old I would take pieces of paper and do a bunch of loops on them pretending it was cursive (before leaving the scribbled papers around and driving my mother crazy, of course). I didn’t seriously get into writing until much later, though. I dabbled in fan fiction early on in high school because my friend was very much into it, which then led me back into writing original works (though I entirely admit my first novel is pretty much Harry Potter with the characters’ names changed…) By college, I was fully immersed in writing once again, and it’s been my life since!
What is your writing process like?
Since I have recently been focused on settings that take a fair bit of research these days, I start out with my trusty friend Scrivener (a writing software) and begin researching. Most of the time that ends up getting a relevant book on my Kindle and then taking notes from it so I have a good background in the time period I’m using. From there I work out who my main characters are and how they fit into the events playing out around them. Since I’ve never been able to fully stick to an outline, I try not to over plan, though. If I have my beginning worked out, I’ll start that and then stop and plan again when I hit a snag. This often means that there are times when I’ll have to stop and do some more research along the way, but as I said I’m a history nerd, so I like the researching almost as much as the writing some days.
Do you have a writing routine? If so, what’s a typical day like for you?
I admit I’ve never been good at sticking to a routine. I work from home most of the time, so I tend to have whatever I’m writing open in one tab with whatever editing work I have open in another and then bounce back and forth throughout the day whenever I need a change of pace. Some days that means I get thousands of words written, some days nothing (especially if I’m up against an editing deadline and my focus is entirely on that other work), but everything always seems to get done in the end, and so the system works for me!
What motivates you to write?
I always joke and say I have self-diagnosed hypergraphia (the compulsive need to write). Whether or not I actually do, I do get rather tetchy if I go too long without being able to write something, so it’s often not what motivates me to write but what keeps me from writing the times that I’m not. If you run into me sitting alone somewhere, you’re very likely to find me scribbling away wherever I am.
What was the first thing you did when you found out your book was being published?
The first time I got an acceptance, I’m pretty sure I jumped up and down then felt the need to tell everyone I know. Sadly I’m a little jaded at this point down the line, and so there hasn’t been jumping recently, but it’s still always an amazing feeling to hear that it isn’t just you who thinks your book is good and it really is going to get out there for the world to see.
Are you currently working on anything new?
There are a bunch of pans in the fire at the moment. I’m in edits for the third book in my historical fantasy series (currently titled Shattered Tempests) which will be out sometime this year if all goes as planned. I’m also shopping my straight historical fiction novel, set in Age of Enlightenment Portugal, which is a really interesting time period I knew absolutely nothing about before writing the book. As for writing, I’m in the early stages of working on a book set a little closer to home—namely colonial Maryland.
If you weren’t a writer, what would your career be?
I actually have a political science degree, since in high school I was planning on going to Law School after college. It was an internship junior year that turned me on to being a writer/editor full-time (with some teaching on the side). I love what I do so much that it’s difficult to imagine being as happy in another profession, but I have to imagine I would now be somewhere in the legal profession, had I not had that switch in college (lawyer, paralegal, wherever life would have had me end up).
What is the easiest part of writing for you? What is the hardest part?
The easiest part of writing for me has always been dialogue. Once I develop my characters, they seem to take on a life of their own and writing dialogue becomes me trying to keep up with what they’re doing. Coincidentally, the hardest part is keeping everyone on track. I have a tendency to end up with conversations that don’t move the plot forward/add much that I know need to be cut but really like. I’ve started another document full of conversations that don’t add anything to the stories they were a part of but are too enjoyable to delete entirely.
What’s one thing you learned through writing that you wish you knew before you started?
While your first novel is always going to be your baby, it likely isn’t going to be very good. There are certainly people who are the literary equivalent of Mozart and the first thing they put down on paper will be brilliant, but for the rest of the world, you will finish your first novel, think it’s amazing, and then look at it five years later and go “What was I thinking?” Writing is a skill. One that gets better the more you practice, and that means while your first novel will always have a special place in your heart, it likely isn’t the first thing you’ll want readers to see—not unless you edit it several years down the line once you have gone from “beginner” to “professional.”
What is your favorite book or genre? Is there a special book that made you realize you wanted to write?
Unsurprisingly, my favorite genres are what I’ve ended up writing—namely historical fiction and fantasy. When it comes to a favorite book, I have plenty, but the one that I tend to come back to is The China Garden by Liz Berry. I first read it in high school, and the historical and fantastical combination really spoke to me, I suppose. I still have the beat up copy in my bookshelf now and I pull it out from time to time since it has a brilliant sense of nostalgia mixed into the storyline now.
What advice do you have for aspiring writers?
Write. No matter how good or bad you feel you are doing, you need to keep going and put words on the page. As said above, writing is a skill, and you can only get better if you practice. And remember, there’s always editing. You can’t compare your rough draft to a completely edited, published book. Editing fixes many sins; it just can’t fix an empty page.
Jessica Dall finished her first novel at the age of fifteen and has been hooked on writing ever since. In the past few years, she has published novels such as, Raining Embers and The Paper Masque, along with a number of short stories that have appeared in both magazines and anthologies.
In college, Jessica interned at a publishing house, where her “writing hobby” slowly turned into a variety of writing careers. She currently works as both as an editor and creative writing teacher in Washington, DC.
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