Interview with Jackie Kessler
I recently finished reading Hell's Belles by Jackie Kessler. It was a fun read and I shared my review over the weekend. I had the opportunity to ask Jackie a few questions and I wanted to share those answers!
1. When did you first start writing with the goal of being published?
I’ve been writing on and off since I was a freshman in college, but I didn’t get serious about writing to get published until 2003.
2. I believe your cover says you have 9,000 comics - that's a lot. Which comics make your top ten list?
Over the course of (many) years, my top ten comics changed. A lot. I don’t collect anymore (sigh), but here’s my all-time favorite list:
Sandman. This comic single-handedly brought me back as a comic reader after a hiatus of three years. Neil Gaiman is touched by God. Really. Also in this are the Death limited series.
Hellblazer. John Constantine. Sigh... (And NO, the cough, movie, cough DOES NOT COUNT. John Constantine is British, blond, and a die-hard smoker. Period.)
Mage. Both “The Hero Discovered” (ah, Mirth!) and “The Hero Defined” (lots of fun). Matt Wagner freaking ROCKS.
Grendel. I’m still crushing on Hunter Rose. Absolutely loved the first Grendel-Batman cross-over written by Matt Wagner. The “future” incarnations of Grendel were OK — yes, I liked Warchild. But nothing compares to Devil By the Deed.
Preacher. Garth Ennis is amazing. LOVED this series, even when parts of it were, er, over the deep end. The “Until the End of the World” story arc blew me away.
Kingdom Come. This limited series showing a future world with DC heroes as older and cynical was magnificent, from the story to the art.
Hush. Shivers! This Batman story arc pulled in the major villains and introduced a new bad guy.
The Books of Magic. Charge of the trench coat brigade! This limited series introduction to, cough, the original Harry Potter was amazing. (And yes, Neil Gaiman wrote it. Why do you ask?)
1602. FABULOUS. Another Neil Gaiman winner.
The New Teen Titans/Uncanny X-Men/Avengers/Magik... Throw in LOTS of titles here, both from DC and Marvel. Dark Phoenix? The Terminator and Terra? The New Mutants? Jarvis the butler? Great stuff.
What, you were maybe expecting Archies? ;-)
3. Was Hell's Belles your first novel?
Nope. My third. My first novel was a 16-year love affair that scored triple-digit agent rejections, no matter how many times I rewrote the damn thing. That was a contemporary fantasy — complete with portal to another world, faux-medieval towns, shoddy world building, and college-senior-aged characters who were too old for YA and too young for adult markets. Oh, and the writing sucked. The magic system was pretty awesome, though. (I recently threw everything out but the magic system, recast it as a YA urban fantasy...and now it’s on submission. Wish me luck!)
4. How long did it take you to write Hell's Belles?
Two months, then about a week to revise and a week to get the query letter/synopsis right. Figure less than three months, top to bottom. (I guess I was possessed.)
5. How did Jezebel come to you? Did she slowly materialize or did she just jump out at you one day fully formed and ready for some "action"?
Jezzie was always her own creature. I knew right away she was a succubus, and I had her voice almost immediately. So I’d have to go with the Athena answer: she sprung fully formed from my head. (Yuck.)
6. Your descriptions of hell, like the lava reflecting on the obsidian castle, are beautiful. How long did it take you to come up with how Hell looked in Jezebel's world?
Thanks! I don’t remember how long it took; I do remember that I’d laid out the groundwork for the geography of Hell before I started actually writing the story. I began by drawing a map of Hell (hey, I come from a fantasy background; there HAS to be a map. It looks a bit like Manhattan), and from there I divided the Abyss by Sin. The Lake of Fire surrounds Hell sort of like Brooklyn’s Belt Parkway. I’d also researched gemstones to a degree (for the Shield Against Evil), and I learned that obsidian is connected to volcanoes; it’s formed as lava from volcanic eruptions cools within the earth. I thought between its link to lava (the Lake of Fire) and its glassy sheen, it would be a beautiful (and rather evil) castle in Hell.
7. The role of the protagonist, a demon is a little edgy, there aren't many words that have a stronger negative conotation than demon. Did you have obstacles with that in getting Hell's Belles published?
Nope. Demons are the new black. :-) There are many demon stories out there now — MelJean Brook’s Demon Angel; Jaci Burton’s Surviving Demon Island; Jacki Frank’s Jacob; Richelle Mead’s upcoming Succubus Blues. I think the only obstacle I’m running into, distribution-wise, is the title—some places may not be too keen on having the word “hell” in the title.
8. Hell's Belles may be seen as a little controversial to some: there is colorful language, a focus on harming "humans", and religion (heaven, hell, God and the Devil). What do you think about that?
Martha O’Connor (The Bitch Posse) once gave me some terrific advice: “Write like no one’s watching.” Don’t self-censor. Write the story you want to write. I took that advice to heart when I wrote Hell’s Belles. I realize it’s not for everyone. I’m okay with that.
9. Have you received any criticism on those topics? If so, how have you responded to that?
On those topics? ((grin)) No.
10. Reading Hell's Belles was just.... well, it was FUN! Tell me, was it as much fun to write it?
Thank you! It was a blast. I think that’s why I was able to write it as quickly as I did: I had a lot of fun writing it. (And a lot of nights with very little sleep.)
11. So, how much "research" did you do to really showcase Jezebel as the fantastic succubus that she is?
For the succubus part, I researched demons the old-fashioned way: I read. A lot. I cherry-picked what I liked, and made up the parts I couldn’t confirm with my research. So far, no demon has cried “foul.”
And I did tons of research on strip clubs and club etiquette — I read many books about (and by) exotic dancers, I watched a number of (bad) movies set in strip clubs, I watched HBO’s G-String Divas, I searched the Internet for club layouts and articles by strippers, I talked to a number of people who’d frequented strip clubs, and I even went to a local club to check it out in person. My Loving Husband, brave soul that he is, accompanied me. All in the name of research, of course. Sadly, he refused to let me buy him a lap dance. I would have taken SUCH good notes...
12. What can we expect to see from Jezebel in The Road to Hell?
Jezebel, or Jesse, has a Hell of a past, one she can’t share with Paul, her true love. (If she did, he’d probably send her to a place with padded walls and white jackets. And white has never been Jesse’s best color.) So she keeps mum about her infernal history—until three of her former associates strong-arm her into returning to the Pit. Unless Jesse faces off against the King of Hell, she’ll lose Paul’s immortal soul. If she’d known love was this tough, she never would have turned her back on Lust.
In a nutshell: more Jesse, more Paul, more Daun, lots more Hell...and more sex. (Hey, Jesse may no longer be a succubus, but she’s not dead. Yet.)
13. What else can we see from Jackie Kessler in 2007?
My short story, “Red,” currently appears in the April issue of Realms of Fantasy, and another short story, “To the Core,” is part of the Freya’s Bower charity anthology Dreams & Desires — all net proceeds go to a battered women’s shelter. The Road to Hell will hit the shelves in November 2007.
Two more Hell titles will be out in 2008 — a prequel novella called Hell to Pay, as part of Kensington’s Eternal Love anthology (with Richelle Mead, Lynsay Sands and Hannah Howell), and the third Hell book, Hotter Than Hell.
14. What words of advice do you have for aspiring writers?
Never be daunted. If I would have given up after my first book went nowhere, or even after my second book likewise went nowhere, I never would have written Hell’s Belles. And don’t be afraid to try something new; I didn’t know I could write humor — or a nookie scene — until I tried my hand at a completely different genre than I was used to. And read like it’s going out of style. :-)
15. Do you think having a blog has aided you on your publishing journey?
((innocent smile)) Which blog?
If you mean my personal blog, Insert Witty Title Here , that’s been a combination journal/promotional outlet/slam book/thingie. While I don’t think it’s helped me get published, I do think it’s helped me meet other authors and readers.
If you mean Jezzie’s blog, the talk-radio show Cat and Muse on my website, my publisher enjoys it almost as much as I do and has mentioned that blog on some marketing collateral.
If you mean Magical Minxes, the blog Jezzie shares with Georgina (a.k.a Richelle Mead, Succubus Blues), Luna (Caitlin Kittredge, Night Life), Sarah (Michelle Rowen, Fanged & Fabulous), Gwen (Elaine Cunningham, Shadows in the Starlight), and Gina (Jaci Burton, Surviving Demon Island), that’s helped introduce Jezebel to numerous readers and has let me work with a bunch of terrific authors.
Er, were you not expecting some shameless plugs? :-)
We love shameless plugs! :) Thank you, Jackie, for sharing these little tidbits with us!