Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Meet Jessie Harrell

Today, I am conducting an interview with an aspiring author. *Drum roll please.* JESSE HARRELL! So please welcome her to my little blog by leaving comments below and say hi.

I met Jessie through YALITCHAT and, of course, I stalk her on twitter.

Always meeting such great people. Remember---networking!

I have had the opportunity to read just the first few pages of Jessie's novel DESTINED. And if those few pages are any indication, then the book is definitely going to delivered. You can see more here and here

I also blog with some fabulous ladies over at Oasis for YAhttp://oasisforya.blogspot.com

If you’d like to stalk me too, I can be found on twitter under the very stealth code name: @jessieharrell (shhh! Don’t tell.)

When DESTINED does make it to the place where all of us aspiring authors dream to be, I would love to read the ARC. Did anyone see the hint there??

You got it. In fact, if DESTINED gets that far, I might even vlog a little happy dance for you.

Okay, off to meet to Jessie....

Tell me a little about yourself.....

Such an open-ended question – you’d never get away with asking that in a trial. Hee, hee. See, that was my way of letting your know I’m a lawyer. I can be very clever like that. :)

In a nutshell, I’m a wife, a mother, a former litigator turned part-time appellate attorney, and an aspiring author – not necessarily in that order. Depends on the day. I like summer more than winter; coffee better than tea; and I’ll eat chocolate just-about-anything (I draw the line at crickets, grasshoppers, etc.).

When you were a child, what was your favorite series?

I LOVED Sweet Valley High – couldn’t get enough of those twins. Of course, I was much more like the studious Elizabeth than the crazy Jessica. Just sayin’

When did you realize you wanted to write?

Not until a few years ago. My daughters were probably 2 and 3 at the time and my husband said, “We should write children’s books. Anyone can do that.” *eye roll* He bought books on writing children’s books for dummies, I took the online writing class, and the rest is history. Poor guy now sits around watching TV at night while I click away on the keyboard. I don’t think he knew what he was suggesting…

Which author inspires you the most?

Hard question. Right now I’m fascinated with Shelena Shorts, who wrote THE PACE and THE BROKEN LAKE. She’s a high school teacher and went through a slump where she couldn’t find the type of book she wanted to read, so she wrote it. And the results are amazing. *YOU* should read her books.

Have you written any other novels before DESTINED?

No. DESTINED is my first baby, but it did take me two years and the beginning has changed more times than I can count. I’ve read so many author stories about how their first novel was crap and they’re glad no one will ever see it. I didn’t want to be like that – I wanted to keep reworking DESTINED until it wasn’t crap. You know?

Where did the idea for DESTINED come from?

I was a classics major in undergrad and read the myth of Cupid & Psyche then. I LOVED the story… sort of an ancient precursor to Beauty and the Beast (my fav Disney movie BTW). But I wanted to modernize it… make Psyche (now Sadie) self-sufficient, give her friends, really see her personality. (And it was so much fun going back and researching ancient Greek history & culture again for the book.)

What methods did you use to breathe life into your characters?

I really tried to put myself in Sadie’s position. I know everyone says not to make your characters a mini-me, but I found – for my first novel at least – that made it easier to give her flaws and irrational reactions and all those other fun personality quirks.

I also created a big bulletin board and tacked up pictures of real people who I thought looked like the characters. It was easier to write about the sister, Marilee’s, hateful pout when I could see her pretentious, snotty face sitting right in front of me.

Can you give us a teaser?

(Not sure which you want) Logline teaser:

When Sadie destroys the one relationship she can’t live without, she must journey alone through ancient Greece, and confront the goddess who wants her dead, if she wants to reclaim an immortal love.

Line from the book teaser (if you know this myth, you’ll be able to appreciate the romance here):

As if to answer my thoughts, he reached a satiny, smooth hand to my face and let his finger trail from my cheek down my jaw line. “Sadie, I’m not monster. I love you, and I will love you always.”

Quick but oh so satisfying:

Vanilla or Chocolate? Vanilla ice cream; chocolate everything else.

Cookies or Cupcakes? Cookies

Werewolves or Zombies? Werewolves

Sparkly vampires or traditional vampires? BOTH (I love me some vampires)

Orlando Bloom or Johnny Depp? Johnny Depp (but neither are as cute as RPatz or Pierce Brosnan – I love Brits who wear a suit well)

Coke or Pepsi? Coke

Since a lot of us are in the same boat as you...the query stage. We can all relate to this.

How many times did you revise your manuscript?

There’s no real way to measure this, since I revised as I wrote. Especially early on. Let’s face it, I needed a lot more work in the first half of the book as I was “learning” to write. As far as full, front to back edits though, I’d say I did at least five.

How many betas did you use?

Loads. I let everyone who wanted to read DESTINED have it in exchange for feedback. I think I had 5 junior betas (under 18) and 6 or so adult betas. More read it, but didn’t offer very critical feedback. I found making the junior beta’s fill out questionnaires got me far more substantive feedback (thanks to L.M. Preston for that tip).

I'm going to pipe in here and say that what an excellent idea it is to use beta readers from the market you are selling to.

What sources did you use to find readers?

SCBWI conferences, YALitChat, twitter, and friends’ kids. On twitter, I found a retired classics professor who gave me the most substantive feedback of anyone. She was particularly awesome. But I owe a huge debt of gratitude to everyone who read for me.

Was there ever a scene you just absolutely loved, but the majority of your betas said it wasn't necessary?

Originally, DESTINED had a lot more mythology woven into. Too much. I ended up pulling a couple of the info-dump scenes and turning them into (hopefully) amusing "news" articles on my website. http://web.me.com/jessieharrell/Site/%22News%22.html At least I got to use them somehow, right?

I did cut over 10,000 words in edits. It wasn’t a scene, but there were lots of places I needed to cut out narrative and telling. The manuscript got better as it got leaner.

Any recommendations for fellow writers?

Writing is thrilling and we all want to dive into a story head-first. But spend some time learning the skills (conferences, websites, blogs, etc.) and loving other authors’ work. The more I read, the better my own writing skills become.

What sources did you use to perfect your query letter?

MANY! It started with my online writing course, continued through an online class by CJ Redwine, read a TON online, and didn’t finally get it “right” until I sent it through the query kick around on YALitChat.

I'm not sure about most people, but I hate writing a synopsis. What's your feeling about them?

You mean the two-page document that exists only to torment me? Actually, I didn’t hate it that much. It took awhile, but condensing the story into 2 paragraphs for a query was harder for me than boiling it down to 2 pages. *Please don’t thrown stones*

Tell us a little about what you did to choose your favorite agents?

Originally, I found my top agent picks through twitter. Then I realized that not every amazing agent who reps YA will be a tweeting fool (although there are some WAY cool tweeting agents, for sure.) Again, I fell back to the internet (querytracker, etc.), agent insider on YALitChat and meeting agents at conferences.

How many queries have you sent out?

Can I plead the 5th? Let’s just say it’s been a “few.”

Have you gotten any requests?

I made the common rookie mistake of querying too early. My first round of queries (last fall) was a big waste. But thankfully, yes. At one point this spring, I think I had 5 fulls or partials out there. Sadly, while I have some lovely “refrigerator rejections,” I don’t yet have an agent. I took a query hiatus over the summer and expect to pick up again in the fall. Probably after another round of revisions. But right now I’m having too much fun writing another, completely unrelated, book!

Most of us can relate to that!!!!

Now I know this has happened to me. Did your dream agent reject your manuscript?

*sobs hysterically into a handkerchief* I actually had 2 dream agents and both passed. *wail* One said she’d like to read anything else I write though, so truly, I can’t complain.

Any other advice you'd like to share?

I just read it on someone else’s blog, and it’s so true: the only way to 100% guarantee that you WON’T get an agent or get published, is to give up. Look at Jay Asher (13 Reasons Why) -- it took him 10 years to write the novel that would eventually get his name in print. But he never gave up.

And there you have, right from an aspiring author just like me and maybe a few of you.

Thank you so very much for visiting my little blog, Jessie. I hope you'll let me interview you again when you snag an agent then again when your book hits the shelf.

Absolutely!! Thank you so much for being interested in me and my “pre-published” book (I love that Georgia McBride-ism). I hope to see your name on a book binding one day soon, too.


  1. awesome interview, guys! All the best to both of you--don't give up~ :o)

  2. What a great interview! I love how she talks about the revision, revision, revision. Oh man, how many times we write our first chapters.

    Very, very best of luck to you on your querying when you pick it back up!

  3. Thanks so much for the interview & to all of you who took the time to read it. I hope one day soon I'll have to make good on the happy dance blog! :)

  4. Yay, Jessie! I loved hearing what made you start! I never knew that. Glad to hear everything else, too.

  5. Well, I'll let you in on a secret...I beta read Destined...and Luv it!!! Can't wait to see it in print.

  6. Thanks all for visiting and leaving comments.

    And I'm just a wee bit jealous of you LM.

  7. sorry to be stopping back in so late, but I have to say that LM's beta comments helped me make a huge edit that improved the book a lot!