Tuesday, August 02, 2016

Writer Jess Lourey on Using Stress, Crossing Genres, Creating Art and Loving Life

Jessica Lourey is the critically acclaimed author of over twenty novels, articles and short stories.

Jess, we have known each other since 2006, and in the ten years since you have accomplished many amazing things. Of which are you the most proud?

Has it been ten years? You have not aged a bit. I still have the lucky purple writing elephant you bought for me at the Madison farmer’s market when we first met, by the way. The book I am proudest of is The Catalain Book of Secrets, a magical realism novel that became nearly everything I wanted it to be. Everything but a bestseller, that is. As to my career in general, I’m proudest that I haven’t given up. Writing as a career is a long game, and you have to keep following the story you want to tell, no matter what the agents or the publishers or the market say.

I remember the purple elephant! And thank you. I guess we don't see aging in others so much as we do in ourselves.

You have THREE books coming out in the next year. Clearly you have an amazing work ethic, but can you share one secret (for lazier writers like me) that helps you stay focused?

Wife, mother of two, full-time teacher, and author? Doesn’t sound to me like you’re a lazy person. I think, like me, you must be a good organizer of time. I have a two-part, surefire way to stay focused when writing a book: 1) Make writing important to you. We all make time for what is important to us, and 2) Don’t confuse the struggle of creating art for anything else—not writer’s block, not a life-or-death need to organize your spice rack, not the sudden and complete loss of anything to resemble talent. Those are all the games your ego will play with you when you create. I face them every day, even ten years and 14 books into my career, and I put my head down and write through them.

You recently gave a TEDx talk. How does one go about doing this? When will yours air?

Aiyiyi, yes I did. Outside of my writing career, and my teaching, and my children, and my marriage, that TEDx is what I’m most proud of. It required me to face two crippling fears: public speaking on a major stage, and sharing personal details with strangers. Here’s the thing. I have always dabbled in writing, but I immersed myself in it in 2001 after my husband committed suicide. Writing a novel saved me from going dark, and as a bonus, channeling my fears and secrets into a novel made for stronger writing. The more writing workshops I taught, and the more unhappy people I met, the more I realized that I couldn’t keep my experience to myself, as much as I wanted to. So, I shared it on the stage, and I also wrote a book so others can learn to turn their experiences into healing, compelling fiction. The book is called Rewrite Your Life, and it comes out April 2017.

You write in several genres—in what genre do you most like to read for pleasure? What book is on your bedside table right now?

Right now, I have four books on my nightstand, all of them mystery novels written by people I will be moderating on a panel at Bouchercon. I most like to read YA for pleasure, honestly. The pace and pathos sweep me away and recharge me. It’s close, though, because I’ll read any good book and devour fantasy, mystery, thrillers, horror, magical realism, and lit fiction with equal relish.

I won’t ask political questions, since that type of thing always seems to cause division and outright warfare, but I will ask this: what’s the most essential quality you want in a leader?

I read “what’s the most essential quality you want in a reader” when I first read that sentence. J My answer to that one is “$15.” Ha! 

In a leader, though, I would love to see three qualities: intelligence, compassion, and diplomacy. I hear people talk about how they want their elected officials to be like they are, but I want the person in charge to be better at life than me.

Good point. As we discussed above, you have written a book about writing. Can you share one of the tips from this book?

My favorite writing nugget came to me from Elizabeth Gilbert, who I heard speaking at a meditation and yoga retreat a little over a year ago. She said that you should write everything with a single person in mind, whether it is an article or a novel. Having that sort of focus makes for resonant writing, and also precludes every writer’s nagging concern about what to include and what to leave out. Tell your story to one person, and everything falls into place.

You recently got married! Are you enjoying your newlywed status?

I am. It continues to be funny to me (more “laugh so I don’t cry” than “haha”) how much of my life I spent dating men who were not a good fit and telling myself that they’d change, or that a certain amount of conflict is a necessary part of every relationship. The truth is, I was mistaking familiarity for chemistry. Any relationship is work, but when you find the right person, the work feels like you’re building rather than burying something.

I’m realizing, as I list your many accomplishments, that many of them are on the top ten list of “most stressful experiences.”  How do you deal with stress?

This is horrible, but I function the best under stress. It might be where I get my super powers from. I keep envisioning a life where there is no stress and I relax and everything is butterflies and red wine, but I think it’d drive me crazy not to have problems to solve and situations to fix.

Chocolate: yes or no?

HELL YES. Preferably dark chocolate with nuts.

In Jasper FForde’s wonderful THE EYRE AFFAIR, characters can jump inside books and interact with famous literary creations. If we really had the machine available to Fforde’s Thursday Next, into what book would you want to jump and why?

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory because you’ve got me thinking about chocolate now.

You must have realized many of your writing goals. Do you have new goals on the horizon?

I do. I want to write a coming of age book about a 12-year-old girl struggling to make sense of life in the 70s. It’ll be literary fiction and challenging to write because it’ll require me to recycle my own experiences. The result will be ultimately healing, and hopefully create great fiction, but it is never comfortable to mine your past like that. I also want to be a full-time writer. Some day soon, I hope.

 For the romance readers among us, how did you meet your husband?

OK Cupid. His handle was TallDorkandHandsome, and mine was MysteryLovesCompany. I didn’t come up in his search because I was too short, but he came up in mine, and so I contacted him because he’s 6’6” and his pictures were hot as hell. We emailed for a few weeks and finally agreed to meet for coffee. I was going out with my niece for coffee at 8:00 that same morning, and then driving an hour and a half to Minneapolis to meet Tony afterward. I texted my niece at 7:45 am and told her I was early, and did she want me to get her anything to drink? Except I had actually texted Tony, who thought I was FATAL ATTRACTION crazy and waiting at the coffee shop three hours early. We worked it out.

What’s your idea of a perfect day?

My perfect day is the first day of summer, when I am done with the school year and have all that time laid out before me like the most delicious buffet. It makes me delirious to think of all the writing and reading I can do, all the time I get to spend with my kids, mornings sleeping in with my husband, all the vegetables I get to grow and food I get to cook.

In Jess Lourey’s view, what’s the most beautiful place in the world?

I have visited so many magical places, and there’s so many left to see, but at the moment, the creek behind my new house is my favorite place. I’ve been riding down it in an inner tube a lot, a frosty hard cider in my tube’s cup holder. The water is cool and clear, and the sun filters through the oak trees lining the banks in such a way that it turns the air this beautiful sea green. It’s a lazy, perfect, fairy land.

That is just lovely. How can readers find out more about you, your books, and your upcoming projects?

My website just got an overhaul which includes fireflies! Please check it out at www.jessicalourey.com. I’m also on Facebook and Twitter. All are welcome! Thanks so much for having me, Julia.

Thanks for talking with me, Jess! Good luck in all of your literary endeavors!

Note to readers: Jess will send a copy of Salem's Cipher to one lucky commenter! 


The Write Now! Coach said...

What a great interview. You both inspire me! Thank you! Jess--what are some of your favorite YA titles?

Jessica Lourey said...

Thanks for stopping by, The Write Now! Coach. :) Right now, I'm reading Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo and really enjoying it.

Aimee Hix said...

When does the TEDx talk become available?

Also, that's a super cute monkey keeping the elephant company. ;)

Susie said...

funny stuff! How long did it take to convince your future husband you weren't REALLY a stalker? :-) And, I enjoyed the Catalain Book of Secrets too :-)

Shannon Baker said...

When can I join you on the tube floating down the river? And can I bring beer instead of cider? Also, you're my hero!

Jessica Lourey said...

Aimee! It is a super cute monkey. :) Thanks! So much love in this office, right? The TEDx should be available any day now. They haven't given me a specific date, though...

Jessica Lourey said...

Thank you, Susie! And good for me he's easy going. :)

Jessica Lourey said...

Shannon! Missed you on the river. And the blog stop. :) Thanks for diving in at least one of those two.

Nadine Nettmann said...

I loved reading this and I laughed out loud at the Fatal Attraction bit. And I'm a tad jealous you can go tubing in your backyard. :) Great advice about telling your story to one person -- I'll keep that in mind! Thanks!

Jessica Lourey said...

Thank you, Nadine!

Jessica Lourey said...

Susie, you won the free copy of Salem's Cipher! Yay! Just what you need--more books to read. ;) Can you email me your home address? I'm at jesslourey@yahoo.com. I'll get that book and an extra treat in the mail to you as soon as my author copies arrive, which should be any day now.

Jessica Lourey said...

Oooh, Salem's Cipher is a Goodreads giveaway for the next 13 days (a very witchy number, yes?). If you have the two minutes to enter, follow this link and scroll down. Hope your Saturday is wonderful!