Jessica spoke with fellow author, Katie Nelson about her debut novel, WANDERING WILD, a contemporary/magical realism YA novel, published by Sky Pony Press on May 3, 2016.
About the Book:
Sixteen-year-old Tal is a Wanderer—a grifter whose life is built around the sound of wheels on the road, the customs of her camp, and the artful scams that keep her fed. With her brother, Wen, by her side, it’s the only life she’s ever known. It’s the only one she’s ever needed.
Then in a sleepy Southern town, the queen of cons picks the wrong mark when she meets Spencer Sway—the clean-cut Socially Secured boy who ends up hustling her instead of the other way around. For the first time, she sees a reason to stay. As her obligations to the camp begin to feel like a prison sentence, the pull to leave custom behind has never been so strong.
But the Wanderers live by signs, and the signs all say that Tal and Spencer will end only in heartache and disaster. Is a chance at freedom worth almost certain destruction?
Wandering Wild is an achingly romantic journey of tradition and self-discovery—a magical debut.
About the Author:
Jessica Taylor adores sleepy southern settings, unrequited love, and characters who sneak out late at night. After graduating from law school, she realized she’d rather write her own stories than read dusty law books. She lives in Northern California with a sweet-yet-spoiled dog and several teetering towers of books.
Katie: One of my favorite things about WANDERING WILD was its unique world building. It’s a term that’s usually saved for fantasy or SF, but it was central to this story. How did you go about imagining the Wanderers’ lifestyle and mythology, as well as the beautiful southern setting?
Jessica: Thank you, Katie! That means so much to hear! As a contemporary-leaning writer, I was concerned that I wouldn’t be able to do the world building justice, so I spent a lot of time thinking that through before I started writing. When I was a kid, my great-aunt told the most amazing stories of traveling through the South when she was a child in the ‘60s and stealing and gambling to get by. That was the basis of my world, and from there, I knew I had to give the Wanderers values and a belief system. Once I had imagined my world, it was easy for my plot to evolve from it.
Katie: Tal is such a great, complex character. She is brave and devoted to her brother, but also flawed in many ways. What was the process of writing her story like? Did you ever worry that she’d be branded “unlikable?” Any suggestions for writers who worry about that?
Jessica: A breakthrough moment for me was early in the drafting stages when Tal said something and her interiority that followed stated the exact opposite. That showed me how much Tal’s toughness was only a façade, and that’s when I felt I finally knew how to write her. I worried a lot about Tal’s likability. Honestly, I still do to an extent. But I try to remind myself that I never set out to write a book for everyone—if just a few readers connect with Tal, then that’s okay with me. As far as advice for other writers in a similar predicament, I would suggest that you make sure you show a softer side to your character, a weakness, or a fear—that’s what I hope makes Tal relatable, and therefore, likable in spite of her many, many flaws.
Katie: WANDERING WILD has a hint of magical realism. Was this something that you intended for the novel from the beginning? Or did it come in the revision process?
Jessica: I always saw this story as magical realism. I first fell in love with magical realism when I was in college and reading Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Later, that love was rekindled by reading Sarah Addison Allen. When I started writing Wandering Wild, I thought the genre was a great fit for my setting and my character arc.
Katie: What was the process of working with your editor like? What did you learn from that experience? What advice would you give debut writers about the author/editor relationship?
Jessica: Working with my editor, Alison Weiss, has really been a dream come true. I’m so happy to share her with you, Katie! Wandering Wild originally sold to Egmont, and when Egmont closed, Alison reacquired the book after she moved to Sky Pony. The book was basically done when Egmont closed. A lot of time passed before we took another look at the book at Sky Pony, and at that point, we were both excited to do even more—which made for an interesting editorial experience. More than anything, I would say I learned that books are never truly done, but there’s a point where you’ve given your story everything meaningful you have to give.
Our relationship worked so well because I was always honest about edits and not afraid to ask questions, so I would recommend that other authors do the same with their editors.
Katie: What’s up next for you?
Jessica: My next two books will be published by Dial/Penguin in 2018 and 2019. The first is a contemporary story called A Map for Lost Girls. It’s a non-linear story about two sisters and the way they destroy themselves and their relationship—and how they put it all back together after they’re stranded on a deserted island.
And now for the Lightning Round:
Early bird or night owl?
An extreme night owl! I usually go to bed when the rest of the world is waking up.
Favorite place that you have “wandered?”
Paris. I love everything about Paris—the food, the shopping, the wine, the culture . . .
Favorite writing snack?
Kale chips and a Coke Zero.
Describe your 17 year old self in three words.
Ambitious. Bored. Cynical.
“Wildest” thing you have done (That you care to admit).
Pursuing publication. I started writing toward publication in May of 2010, when I was halfway through law school. When law school ended, I decided to take two years to focus solely on writing and see where it took me. It’s always a little awkward to talk about how I made the transition from law to writing because I wouldn’t encourage anyone else to leave a career behind to write. It was a huge gamble!
If you could “wander” anywhere in the world, where would it be?
Spain. I’ve always wanted to go!
About the Interviewer:
Katie Nelson has always loved words and stories. Formerly a high school English and Debate teacher, she now lives in Northern California with her husband, four children, and hyperactive dog.
Her debut novel, THE DUKE OF BANNERMAN PREP will be published Spring 2017 from Sky Pony Press.