Author Chats: Interview with Jackie Lea Sommers

Jackie Lea Sommers‘ debut novel, Truest, is available for preorder! Find it at your local independent bookstore, Barnes and Noble, or Amazon.

About TRUEST:

A breathtaking debut brings us the unforgettable story of a small-town love, big dreams, and family drama.

Silas Hart has seriously shaken up Westlin Beck’s small-town life. Brand-new to town, Silas is different from the guys in Green Lake. He’s curious, poetic, philosophical, maddening—and really, really cute. But Silas has a sister—and she has a secret. And West has a boyfriend. And life in Green Lake is about to change forever.

Truest is a stunning, addictive debut. Romantic, fun, tender, and satisfying, it asks as many questions as it answers. Perfect for fans of The Fault in Our Stars and Ten Things We Did (and Probably Shouldn’t Have).

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Hi Jackie, thanks for agreeing to do this interview! 

Your debut novel, Truest, is coming out in just a few DAYS(!!) Do you care to talk about your publishing journey?

2013 was a whirlwind! I queried literary agents and signed with one, won the Katherine Paterson Prize for Young Adult Writing, and was offered my book deal with HarperCollins all within a period of a few months. It was exciting and rewarding and terrifying. I celebrated by having my first panic attack and getting a prescription for Ativan. (But really.)

Querying was an emotional rollercoaster. I spent months perfecting my query letter and researching literary agents who seemed like a good fit with Truest. All told, I had about a dozen agents request full or partials, and in the end, I signed with Steven Chudney, who really resonated with my characters and my writing style.

Truest is your debut novel, but it isn’t the first novel you’ve written. How did you know when to shelve your first book, and how did you know Truest was “the one”?

Back in 2012, I queried about forty literary agents and only heard back from one. It was pretty clear to me that it was time to shelve the novel I was working on and tackle something else. That first novel was written for adults; this time, I wanted to try my hand at writing for teens. The entire process felt so different. I had learned so much in the previous four years of writing that first novel, and all of it was put to use in writing Truest. I spent about six months writing a first draft, then handed the manuscript out to a couple beta readers. They and I both knew that this novel was different, that this one was going to be my debut novel.
How long did it take you to write Truest? Any idea how many revisions you went through? Any darlings you had to murder?

All told, there were over twenty drafts. I spent six months on a first draft, another year on revisions, one round of revisions with my agent, and another year on revisions with my editor at Harper. I murdered darlings like it was my job—even right up to the very last draft!

Are you a plotter or a “pantser”?

That’s a good question—and the answer differs depending on what stage I’m in. In general—and especially at the beginning of a project—I’m a pantser. I don’t know the ending when I start writing the novel. In fact, I might not even know the ending until several drafts in. But once I’m in the middle of the project, there is a lot of planning and organizing that has to be done.

See: after pantsing all the freewriting, I had to get them all in the right order. This project looks more like a plotter’s work, doesn’t it?

sommers-plotting sommers-plot-cal
But, if I had to choose only one, I’d say I’m a pantser. If I plot prior to the first draft, the project dies a sad death and I can’t find any energy in the project anymore.

I’d plotted out an entire other novel (for my next book), and once I did, I didn’t want to write it. I returned to my pantsing ways and wrote a different story.

sommers-plot-chart

And then I wrote yet another one. That story will be my second novel.
How long have you been writing? 

I’ve been a storyteller my entire life. I’ve wanted to write books since second grade.

I love the sixty-nine test—where you gauge whether you’ll really like a book by flipping to its 69th page and reading it. (It is an easy number to remember.) Would you care to share yours?

“Yup,” he said. “Afraid so. You know my secret … well, one of them.”

“One of them?” I raised an eyebrow. “You don’t have any other siblings, do you?”

“I’m for real, West.” He shoved my shoulder with his own. “Let’s be good to each other.”

“Friendship doesn’t work like that, Silas. You don’t just decide to be friends.”

“I just did.”

“Well, I didn’t.”

He looked me in the eye. “My girlfriend is in Alaska, and my sister is messed up. Your boyfriend lives on a tractor, and your best friend ditched you for summer camp.”

“Hey!” His choice of words stung. “She—”

“Let’s be good to each other,” he repeated, and his eyes were so sad and serious and intense.

“Starting when?” I said, trying to mask the panic in my voice.

“Starting now.”

truest

What’s the best / worst writing advice you’ve ever gotten? 

Best: Write “shitty first drafts” and give yourself short assignments. Thank you, Anne Lamott.

Worst: Wait to write till you’re inspired. As Stephen King wrote, “Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work.”
I’m sure all of your characters are your brain children, but if you had to pick a favorite, who might it be?

I adore Silas Hart, one of the characters in Truest. But I’m also enchanted by Asa Bertrand, the main character of my next novel. Rowen Lucas, Asa’s best friend and the girl he’s in love with, is a strong, artistic badass. I want to be her.

Your gorgeous blog has posts about faith and OCD. How do either of these affect your writing? Will we see these themes in Truest? In your next book?

My faith affects everything in my life, and especially my writing. God and I wrote Truest together, and God had all the best ideas.

My OCD doesn’t affect my writing in the same way, but having a nearly life-long battle with clinical anxiety has affected my writing life.

The main character in Truest—Westlin Beck—is a pastor’s daughter, and faith is a big theme throughout the novel. I think (and hope) it’s addressed in such a way that anyone can enter into the conversation though.

OCD/anxiety is something I’m tackling in my next novel, Mill City Heroes.

When my blog readers finish Truest and are anxiously awaiting your second book (working title: “Mill City Heroes”), what should they read?

Everything by Melina Marchetta.

If you could have any superhero power, what would it be?

Flying!!! Or running so fast that it’s nearly flying. I can do these things in my dreams.
Which Hogwarts house would you be sorted into?

I’m a proud Ravenclaw.

Last question. Favorite Billy Joel song. Go.

“She’s Got a Way”

Sommers-chat-sprite

Are you an author that has been (or will soon be) traditionally published? I’d love to interview you and turn you into your own adorable 8-bit sprite! Contact me on Twitter or e-mail me: query lara at gmail dot com.

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