Friday, September 12, 2008

Author Interview: Jessica James

I think one of the most interesting periods of American history is the Civil War, so it's a great pleasure for me to have today's guest with us. She is Jessica James, whose Civil War-era novel, Shades of Gray, was published earlier this year. Jessica lives in the eastern United States.

Welcome, Jessica! How long have you been writing? What made you start?
I’ve been writing for more than 20 years now because I started my career in Journalism as a newspaper reporter. That type of writing is very different from fiction, but it helped from the standpoint of teaching me how to make every word count. Still, it was hard re-training my brain to write in a more emotional, passionate way after writing straight news for so many years.

When did you sell your first book?
My first book, Shades of Gray, was just published in January of this year by Patriot Press.

What type of writer are you? Do you plan ahead/plot or do you simply fly by the seat of your pants?
I absolutely fly by the seat of my pants. I enjoy letting the characters take me on a journey rather than the other way around.

How do you choose your characters' names?
Great question! Sometimes my characters' names come easily, and sometimes not so much. I have an entire notebook full of names that I've found on tombstones, in obituaries, or just came across from reading the newspaper. I’m a big fan of old-fashioned, obscure names.

What is your daily schedule like?
Some day I hope to have one of those. If I had a perfect writing day, it would be to sit down at my computer by 6:30 a.m. and not have any interruptions (that’s a pretty big fantasy, isn’t it?) I’m the type of writer that will not get out of my chair once I’m in it—but that's not to say I'm writing all the time. When I lift my eyes, I have the view of a strategically placed butterfly bush and bird feeder—both of which can be mesmerizing. (Right now there are five yellow swallowtails on the butterfly bush and a red fox just trotted across the yard—see what I mean?)

How do you handle life interruptions?
I think I'm starting to get better at this. I used to stress out over every little thing, but now I sit back and compare my situation to someone who has lost a job or everything they own in a flood. I’ve pretty much discovered that I don’t have anything to complain about.

Do you write with music playing? If so, is the music likely to be songs with lyrics or only instrumentals?
No music at all for me--just the birds outside.

What food or snack keeps the words flowing?
I'm not a big snacker. In the winter I will often make a cup of tea in the afternoon to warm me up and keep me going.

What one thing do you like most about writing? Least?
Besides the fact that a writer is creating something brand new from nothing, I like the solitary aspect of writing. Some people may find that strange, but after so many years in a newsroom, I enjoy the peace and quiet.

As for what I like the least… in general, I find writing to be intensely demanding, unbelievably difficult, and excruciatingly hard work.

Tell us about your book, Shades of Gray.
Shades of Gray is an epic love story about a Confederate cavalry officer and a Union spy. The title was chosen to represent not only the color of the uniforms of the Southern soldiers, but more specifically, to make clear that the issues that led to the War Between the States were not black and white, right or wrong issues. It’s not a historical novel full of battle scenes and tactics, but rather a story about everyday people thrust into circumstances beyond their control, and the choices they make to defend their beliefs, their country and their honor.
“Shades” was written with a female audience in mind, since it is a love story, but I've been pleasantly surprised by the number of men who have read it and enjoyed it. I've been surprised as well by the historians and Civil War buffs who have written positive reviews. (They are a very tough crowd).

I’m proud to say the book has won a Gold Medal in the 2008 Indie contest for Best Regional Fiction, and was a finalist in the Historical Fiction category. It also won a Silver Medal in the IPPY Awards contest for Best Regional Fiction.

What is your next project?
I'm working on another Civil War novel, called Above and Beyond, and have also been asked to review a script for a Civil War movie.

What is your advice for other writers?
Just write. I think that was the best advice I ever received. Instead of thinking about it or saying you don’t have time… just write.

Jessica, thank you for the interview.
Thank you so much, Marsha for having me. I hope everyone out there follows their dream of writing and perseveres through the many obstacles that may stand in their way. Writing really is a skill that is developed, so just keep plugging away. Whatever you do, don’t let anyone else decide your destiny. That journey is entirely up to you.

I love hearing from other writers and can be contacted through my Web site at

Shades of Gray is available from the publisher, Patriot Press; from Amazon in both trade paperback and Kindle editions; and from Barnes & Noble online.


  1. Great interview. The book sounds very interesting. Can't wait to read it.

  2. Anonymous2:08 PM

    Enjoyed the interview. The Civil War is such a thought-provoking subject for novels. This one sounds like a good read. Thanks, Marsha for the interview and thanks also to Jessica for taking the time.


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