Jessica Lawson is not only the author of three terrific middle grade books, she’s also an all-around cool human being. When she discovered my daughter was a fan, she commenced a covert operation to make sure a swag bag, along with a handwritten note, was waiting under the tree for my daughter on Christmas morning. Today, she’s agreed to chat with the Winged Pen.
Jessica, welcome! Your first two novels, The Actual & Truthful Adventures of Becky Thatcher and Nooks & Crannies, are both historical (although with vastly different settings). They also feature strong female protagonists with interesting sidekicks; was this intentional?
First of all, thank you so much for having me on the blog! As for character choices, it was definitely a deliberate choice of mine to make Becky Thatcher a strong female—I always wished the original Twain-written character had more mischief about her, so it was fun to make that happen. And, as I was already playing around with character roles, I got a bit of satisfaction out of making Amy Lawrence—Tom Sawyer’s previous “love”— the best friend character. As for Tabitha Crum, lead character in Nooks & Crannies, she was raised to be very solitary and quiet. Giving her a mouse sidekick to chat with allowed her to express her other side—clever, introspective, funny, and vulnerable.
Your latest novel, Waiting for Augusta, includes an element of magical realism; tell us more!
It’s the story of Ben Putter, a boy who runs away and travels over 400 miles in an attempt to scatter his father’s ashes on the 18th green of a very famous golf course. The ashes speak to him along the way, helping both Ben and his dad come to terms with their broken relationship.
Was it hard making the switch from realistic/historical to magical realism? I’ve heard some agents/editors talk about the importance of being able to “shelve” books together; did you encounter any resistance when you pitched switching genres?
Strangely enough, I didn’t really see it as magical realism when I was writing it. To me, it was natural that a very creative young boy might stare at a cremation urn and imagine what his father might be saying, were he still alive. The conversations between the two of them came the same way they would have if the dad was still alive, though Ben feels a bit more free to speak his mind.
I think the shift into magical realism was tempered by the historical setting, so it didn’t seem like too much of a genre switch. I interviewed my agent about marketing books that seem different, and how she does that when trying to sell my stories- you can read that post here.
Simon & Schuster has published all three of your novels; how has your relationship with your editor evolved over time? Is he/she instrumental in developing new story ideas, or do you pitch a story once you’ve already fleshed it out?
I had the same fabulous editor for my first three books, and she and I became more and more comfortable in knowing what the other person needed to make the best book possible. I develop story ideas with my agent, then show my editor fleshed-out pages and a summary once it’s time to pitch a new idea.
My next book, UNDER THE BOTTLE BRIDGE, will be out next fall and is the first book with my new editor. It’s an autumn story set in a modern artisan village that has a heavy focus on traditional arts. The main character, Minna, comes from a long line of woodworkers. It’s full of covered bridges, looming deadlines, mysterious bottle messages, and family legacies!
With three books published and a fourth scheduled to hit shelves in September, you are an incredibly productive writer! What does your “typical” day look like?
Aw, thank you! As a mom to two young kids, I write in spurts, whenever the opportunity presents itself. There’s no typical day writing-wise, but I’ve found that writing plot notes and bits of dialogue on post-its or notebooks is something I consistently do that really helps me stay focused when I do get time to draft.
Finally, a speed round!
Coffee or tea? Coffee
Sweet or salty? Salty
Dog or cat? Dog (though I have a cat :))
Plotter or pantser? Pantser
E-book or physical book? Physical book
Jessica, thank you for dropping by!
Thank you so much for having me!
Jessica Lawson is the author of The Actual & Truthful Adventures of Becky Thatcher, a book that Publishers Weekly called “a delightfully clever debut” in a starred review, and Nooks & Crannies, a Junior Library Guild Selection and recipient of three starred reviews. Her latest middle grade novel, Waiting for Augusta, is also a Junior Library Guild Selection. You can learn more about Jessica on her website or at Simon & Schuster.
Posted by: Jessica Vitalis
A jack of all trades, JESSICA VITALIS worked for a private investigator, owned a modeling and talent agency, dabbled in television production and obtained her MBA at Columbia Business School before embracing her passion for middle grade literature. She now lives in Atlanta, Georgia, where she divides her time between chasing children and wrangling words. She also volunteers as a Pitch Wars mentor, with the We Need Diverse Books campaign, and eats copious amounts of chocolate. She’s represented by Saba Sulaiman at Talcott Notch and would love to connect on Twitter or at www.jessicavitalis.com.