Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Jessica Bell Rocks!

Ha! (I'm serious... literally AND figuratively. I win for double meaning)

So Jessica and I seem to have started the blog circuit at very similar times. She was among my earlyish friends and I've always thought she was wonderful. Perhaps the fact that I have been dubbed an honorary Aussie and HWMNBMOTI and I adopted Greek culture for our marriage table (both being American mutts from places with bad food) contributed, but honestly, my first visit to her blog and her alternative definitions for words had me hooked (arsenic=a cut on the bum).

Jessica is deeply genuine. She is passionate and her emotions run the gamut and always ring true and I love that about her: that there is never any doubt about exactly who she is. Sometimes she is laugh out loud funny, and sometimes she has be crying at my desk. But I never have any doubt that it is truly her spirit coming through her words.

I had the honor of getting an advanced copy of her debut novel Sting Bridge, and I believe that my review will be largely shown in my framing of my questions, though I will sum it up a bit at the end... (well not a bit... a good Aussie knows a BIT is a bit naughty... we won't be doing any rooting either--if you are confused, find an Aussie dictionary, Sheila.)...

So here is how it goes. I am in purple with questions (which are often multi-part) and Jessica is in blue with answers...


1.I found Melody extremely identifiable, in spite of having no musical ability whatsoever (me, I mean). I think the spot she won me was when she spotted herself being quirky, but what she REALLY wanted to be was mysterious (I think you know this about me: I'm a deeply sexy, mysterious woman trapped in a quirky, humorous shell)--YOU, on the other hand, seem truly arty, sexy and sometimes angsty, so I'd love to hear where this concept arose—craving darkness...

Ha! Yes, I am quite angsty, and seem to become over-emotional on occasion, and love to use that as a tool to create, but I’m not always in a dark place. Seeing as you’ve asked, I’m going to let you in on a little secret … I’m a cartoon. :)  Ha! If you were to live with me for a long period of time, I would grow very comfortable around you and totally let loose. I love to misbehave, and that sometimes turns me into a clown. I do the most stupid and annoying things to my partner that he sometimes has to swat me away like a fly. Basically, I get quirky when I get comfortable.

I will never forget what the father of a very good friend of mine said when we were graduating from high school: “You’ll know you have matured when you can act like a child.” I was a very self-conscious girl in high school and tried to hide that by becoming a Goth. Yes, a Goth. I was one of the freaks. But that was okay, because I sort of felt like one inside. It seemed okay to feel abnormal if I looked abnormal. But when my friend’s father said that to us, something clicked, and I thought, “He’s right. Who gives a toss what anyone else thinks of me. Just be yourself.” From that day on I let my inner child loose.

2.I see a lot of you in Melody, but situationally, I also see a lot of your life in Tessa, who is only four. How much of the novel had autobiographical roots, and if you look at those two roles, how much each, for Melody and Tessa.

To be honest, it’s hard to say. I think every writer puts themselves into every character, but the similarities come through in waves which depend on various factors, such as mood, while writing. I could try and give you a percentage, but I think I would always change my mind. Overall, I’m not Melody. I want to primarily write, not have a career in music. I don’t have a daughter. I’m not married. I’m happy with what has become of me in life. I have no regrets. Yes, I live in an apartment in Athens and I work as a writer/editor for English Language Teaching materials, and my parents live on a Greek island, but I used those aspects of my life because I needed to really ‘know’ what I was writing about. Being my first novel, I didn’t want to get caught up in a mist of research, so I figured if the basic details, such as setting and occupation were the same as my own, I wouldn’t stumble into any mind-numbing obstacles along the way. I needed to write what I knew to get that first book out of me.

I think it’s amazing that you see me in Tessa, because there were a few times as I was writing when I thought about a home video my grandmother took of me singing in her garden when I was four or five. You have extraordinary instincts, Hart! *blushes*

On another note, I find it interesting that many readers think that because I live in Greece and it’s set in Greece, that the novel is autobiographical, because I can’t imagine the same reaction if I were living in America and the book was set in America. It becomes pretty far-fetched when you think about it like that, doesn’t it?

3.I think you hit on some very common feelings of disillusionment that occur in a marriage, and you hit them with such painful accuracy, yet, you haven't been married, or a mom (at least so far as I know)—was this all intuitive, or did you talk to friends? There was honestly a stretch in here I felt like I was reading my own journal, it was so freaky-accurate, and it just amazes me you could hit it so spot on without having survived it.

Yep, you’re right. I’m not married (though I am in a long-term relationship) and I’m not a mother. I don’t have any friends who are married with kids who feel disillusioned, so no, I didn’t talk to anyone either. It was all instinctual. There were times though, when I was writing, where I felt my instincts might be wrong. There were so many times I wondered whether what I was writing was too melodramatic. I didn’t want the book to become a soap opera. I really had to sit back during those moments and close my eyes and put myself in Melody’s shoes, and ask myself, “How would you react if your husband did this to you? How would it make you feel? Does this reaction suit Melody’s character?” Sometimes my possible reactions didn’t suit her character and I had to alter them accordingly, but trying to live it in my mind certainly helped. Personally, if I were in Melody’s situation, I wouldn’t have put up with as much as she did. And I’ll let you in on another secret, I think I may have sub-consciously picked a few fights with my partner while I was writing this book. Yikes!

4.I know you have also written a soundtrack to go with this book—this is so conceptually BRILLIANT—I love the combination of your skills you are using. So here is the chicken and egg question—did all the songs come AFTER writing the book? Or did some of the songs inspire the book? Or was this process more circular?

Most definitely circular. The songs that appear in the book started off as poems. Then it occurred to me that I could create and produce an album for Melody. That’s when the idea for my book trailer came about after listening to a few of my mothers songs on YouTube. The poems then turned into lyrics. When I finished the final revisions I sat down and wrote music to the four songs that appear in the book. Once those were done, I wrote six more songs to create Melody’s album.

5.And finally, I'd love to hear where you are in process on your next couple of projects—I know you are WRITING your third... has the second been sold? And can you tell us a little bit about each of them?

My second, Bitter Like Orange Peel, hasn’t yet been sold, but I’m in the process of doing that right now. I was going to look for an agent, but I’ve sort of given up on that. I think my writing is a little too different for the commercial market, so I’m quite happy to stick with Independent Presses for the time being.

Bitter Like Orange Peel, is about a twenty-five year old Australian archaeology undergraduate named Kit, who doesn’t like to get her hands dirty. She feels misplaced and comes to the conclusion that meeting her father, Roger, will make some sense of her life, despite him being worth the rotting orange rind in her backyard. Well, at least that’s what she’s been conditioned to think of him by the three women in her life: Ailish, her mother—an English literature professor who communicates in quotes and clichés, and who still hasn’t learned how to express emotion on her face; Ivy, her half-sister—a depressed professional archaeologist, with a slight case of nymphomania, who fled to America after a divorce to become a waitress; and Eleanor, Ivy’s mother—a pediatric surgeon who embellishes her feelings with medical jargon, and who named her daughter after intravenous. Against all three women’s wishes, Kit decides to find Roger, but in doing so, discovers he is not the only rotten fruit.

For my third, Muted, I’m applying for a writing fellowship in order to fund all the research I want to do for it. So fingers crossed for that!

Muted is set in Arles, France, in a totalitarian society where it is illegal to wear clothes. In some streets, it's also illegal to sing without accompanying instruments. Concetta, a famous Italian a cappella singer from before “the change,” breaks these laws. As punishment, her vocal chords are brutally slashed and her eardrums surgically perforated. Unable to cope with living a life without song, she resolves to drown herself in the river, clothed in a dress stained with performance memories from her hometown, Milan. But Concetta's suicide attempt is cut short as someone grabs her by the throat and pulls her to the surface. Is it the busking harpist, who encouraged her to feel music through vibration, acting as saviour? Or a street warden on the prowl for another offender to detain? From this moment, the reader will discover how Concetta came to be in this position, and what will happen to her after the suicide attempt.

Muted will explore a variety of themes such as overcoming loss, coping with mental illness and disability, dealing with discrimination, loss of freedom, inhibited self-expression, motivation to succeed, escaping oppression, expression through art and music, self-sacrifice, channelling the thoughts of the deceased, and challenging moral views and values.

Thank you so much for having me, Hart!

*bows * No, thank YOU!!! I'm very excited about your new stuff, though you know me... I have a very hard time thinking nudity would be repressive... still, it sounds fascinating!

I guess my final summary of the book is it was moving and real. I loved living a life in Greece that was unfamiliar in the head of a person who still felt so entirely real. She went through some very hard emotions and events, but her actions and reactions all were palpable--I felt for her and identified with her. I really enjoyed the read.

Here's a little more about Jessica: Jessica Bell is a literary women's fiction author, poet and singer/songwriter who grew up in Melbourne, Australia, to two gothic rock musicians who had successful independent careers during the '80s and early '90s.

She spent much of her childhood traveling to and from Australia to Europe, experiencing two entirely different worlds, yet feeling equally at home in both environments. She currently lives in Athens, Greece and works as a freelance writer/editor for English Language Teaching publishers worldwide, such as HarperCollins, Pearson Education and Macmillan Education.

In addition to String Bridge, Jessica has published a book of poetry called Twisted Velvet Chains. A full list of poems and short stories published in various anthologies and literary magazines can be found under Published Works & Awards, on her website.

From September 2012 Jessica will be hosting the Homeric Writers' Retreat & Workshop on the Greek island of Ithaca, home of Odysseus.

Now if you want to find Jessica's book, soundtrack, or Jessica herself, these are the places you ought to look:

Purchase links:
Amazon.com: http://www.amazon.com/String-Bridge-ebook/dp/B005Y48DF6/ref=sr_1_1_title_0_main?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1319369262&sr=1-1
Amazon UK: http://www.amazon.co.uk/String-Bridge-ebook/dp/B005Y48DF6/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1319370801&sr=8-1

Amazon.com: http://www.amazon.com/String-Bridge-Jessica-Bell/dp/0984631747/
Amazon UK: http://www.amazon.co.uk/String-Bridge-Jessica-Bell/dp/0984631747/
Barnes & Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/string-bridge-jessica-bell/1030101696

iTunes: http://phobos.apple.com/WebObjects/MZStore.woa/wa/viewAlbum?playlistId=465313522
Amazon.com: http://www.amazon.com/Melody-Hill-Other-Side/dp/B005P7ARNS/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1317118328&sr=8-1
Amazon UK: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Melody-Hill-Other-Side/dp/B005P7G02A/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1317118484&sr=8-1

My links: (Meaning Jessica's)
String Bridge Website: http://www.stringbridge.com/
Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/11502954-string-bridge
String Bridge Book Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rv-hRMA0kqQ
String Bridge Merchandise: http://www.cafepress.com/janicephelps/8155170
website: http://www.jessicacbell.com/
blog: http://thealliterativeallomorph.blogspot.com/
facebook: http://www.facebook.com/author.jessica.bell
Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/MsBessieBell
retreat & workshop site: http://hwrw.blogspot.com/

So what are you waiting for!?  Go take a peek, have a listen... you will be glad you did!


Jessica Bell said...

Thanks so much for your kind words, Hart! :o) Hmmm ... big SMOOCH!

Here's the paperback link for US: http://www.amazon.com/String-Bridge-Jessica-Bell/dp/0984631747/

Old Kitty said...

So interesting to read the future books to be from amazing Jessica Bell - two very different stories:

" archaeology undergraduate named Kit, who doesn’t like to get her hands dirty" - hopefully not literally!! LOL!!!!

And Muted - good grief - such violent things done to poor Concetta and the French making being starkers illegal!??! Blimey!

Take care

Matthew MacNish said...

Who gives a toss indeed. You are an inspiration, Jess. You're pretty cool too, Hart.

Now back to work (me, not you).

Oregon Gifts of Comfort and Joy said...

Hi Hart and Jessica! I really enjoyed this post; can't wait to read the new book and check out the links. You two are both awesome.

Kathy M.

Talli Roland said...

Great interview, ladies. I always love hearing how much of the author is actually in the novel, and how aware of it they are (or not!). I loved String Bridge and I can't wait to read more from Jess!

Len Lambert said...

Another great interview, Jessica! Excellent questions, Hart! I loved the 2nd question. It's nice to know more about Jessica. :)

Hart Johnson said...

Jessica-you're very welcome!

Jenny- *snort* on the hands dirty observation... I totally took it figuratively, so didn't think about it, but that's funny!

Matt-thank you! You rock, too!

Kathy-thank you so much!

Talli-it's so interesting, isn't it. I think that 'familiar setting' stuff is so true for me, too.

Len-thank you! I definitely like these interviews to probe a little.

Southpaw said...

I love the concepts for all your books, but this is the first I've read about your third and I love it!

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

So you winged it on the marriage and kids thing? If I ever wrote about kids, I'd have to wing it as well.
Someone needs to do a cartoon drawing of you Jessica.

Roland D. Yeomans said...

Hart & Jessica :
The two of you made such an interesting interview of this post. Great job.

If I moved to South Africa, then wrote of a part Lakota man dealing with inner and outer crises in South African culture, people would think it part or mostly even auto-biographical. It's the colorful nature of both Greece and Australia that make folks think your novel is a bit auto-biographical.

And aren't all of our characters different facets of our own nature?

Great job the both of you, Roland

Karen Jones Gowen said...

I really liked Melody. And not Alex, until later, which I attributed to Jessica's skill in writing to bring the reader around to have compassion for this man who started out as kind of a jerk.

Hart Johnson said...

Holly-it's great, isn't it?

Alex-you can just be childish for your research, hows that?

Roland, thank you! I need to get over and see your interview--I had it open all day but work was demanding!

Karen-I thought he seemed very typical in a lot of ways and thought Jessica was GREAT both in showing how he held some responsibility, but so did Melody for things unraveling for a while there.

LTM said...

Yay! Super fun stuff. Two of my favorite people chatting. Great interview. Touched on stuff I was also thinking about as I read. :o) <3