On this quiet Sunday morning why don't you put the kettle on, make your favourite breakfast and settle down for Sunday Brunch with Jaffareadstoo
I'm delighted to welcome Jessica Stilling to Sunday Brunch
Welcome, Jessica. What favourite food are you bringing to Sunday brunch?
I love eggs Benedict, but that’s kind of messy to bring to a brunch, so let’s go with some French pastries, pain au chocolat, beignets or macaroons.
Would you like a pot of English breakfast tea, a strong Americano, or a glass of Bucks Fizz?
Definitely a strong Americano, though I’d feel bad about being such a bad stereotype of myself.
Where shall we eat brunch – around the kitchen table, in the formal dining room, or outside on the patio?
We’re outside on the patio, maybe overlooking a city… like Paris! Let’s gaze out at the Eiffel Tower and be incredibly uppity about literature and classical music.
Shall we have music playing in the background, and if so, do you have a favourite piece of music?
I love Sibelius, his seventh symphony is my favourite because you can hear the sleigh bells on the frozen Finnish tundra. Or there’s some Bob Dylan playing. You can’t go wrong with Bob Dylan. Sometimes I like to listen to something harsher, like Green Day or Nirvana, Audioslave or Rage Against the Machine, but those are not Brunch listens.
Which of your literary heroes (dead or alive) are joining us for Sunday Brunch today?
Virginia Woolf is there, most definitely, and I think I’d like to see her husband Leonard as well. That couple always fascinated me, and I’d like to see them in action. I don’t know if I’d be able to eat, with Virginia around, but that’s okay, I’d go hungry for her. Who else… I’d like to meet Hemmingway. I don’t know if I’d like him, but I think he’d be interesting company. Also, Virgil, I’d love to pick that brain of his. My love of Iceland would want Halldor Laxness there. I’d love to chat with Zadie Smith, Toni Morrison and Maya Angelou as well. I like woman with deep voices who speak slowly and calmly. They don’t rush, they know you’ll lean in and listen.
Which favourite book will you bring to Sunday Brunch?
The Waves by Virginia Woolf. Always the Waves. I could read The Waves cover to cover and go right back and read it again and love it just as much.
When are you writing do you still find time to read for pleasure? And is there a book you would like to read but haven’t had time for …yet!
I try to be reading something all the time. I used to read during my forty-five-minute subway commute to work when I lived in New York City, but now I try to get some reading done on my lunch break. I believe authors should always be reading and not just for work, for fun. How can we capture a reader’s eye if we are not readers ourselves?
I have always wanted to read Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past. I believe there are many circles where I have pretended to have read it. It’s just so long…I keep telling myself when I retire, I’ll read Proust.
Where do you find the inspiration for your novels?
There are a few different novels hiding in every aspect of life from one’s childhood to one’s job, to one’s absolute best or worst experiences. I change them, I turn characters and situations on their heads, I usually change the settings, but life is awesome, and writing gives me a chance to really explore it.
Have you a favourite place to settle down to write and do you find it easier to write in winter or summer?
I write at home, at my desk. Said desk used to overlook New York City but now it overlooks a bit of farmland in Vermont. I see my barn and the mountains in the distance, the chickens are usually wandering around outside (chickens are hilarious to watch). It’s lovely. I can write other places. I’ve been known to write on vacation or when I’m staying with family. I need quiet though, and peace. I cannot write with other people around, especially if they are making noise, so I don’t generally write in public.
Summer writing is nice because the days feel slower and they are longer, but the light is better in the winter. I have a couple of skylights and the way it slides across my floor is really quite lovely on a January morning.
When writing to a deadline are you easily distracted and if so, how do you bring back focus on your writing?
I am so easily distracted, and I have to watch out for that. Social media can be a real time suck. Whenever I get stuck, I’ll tell myself, ‘Just one Buzzfeed article and then back to writing,’ and sometimes it’s more like three or four Buzzfeed articles before I go back. Sometimes it’s a deadline that gets me focused. Sometimes I just have to tell myself that, ‘You are a writer, this is what you do, this is what you love, even if it’s hard, so get back to it.’ It’s funny because with most things, when I get stuck, it's really hard to get back to it, but not writing, never writing. I always go back to writing.
Give us four essential items that a writer needs?
A Room of One’s Own: Virginia Woolf was correct when she said that in order for a woman (or anyone) to write they need time, and they need a room of their own. Without the time carved out to write, without a space to do it in, writing does not get done. There are a lot of equity issues that stem from this, and I’ve had times in my life when I had to scratch and claw for that time and that space, but if writing is your passion, you make it happen.
A workshop: a good workshop, full of people the author connects with, people who are not afraid to criticize when it’s needed, but who will ultimately have the author’s back, is worth its weight in gold. My workshop has been invaluable to me. We’re six people, we’ve been workshopping once a month (give or take) for six years now, so we really know each other, and we really get each other’s work. I do not know what role they played for me in my past lives, but I feel like I knew these people and we were close, these people were important, because they’re so important to me now.
Travel: See the world. See more than the four walls of your home and your town. Venturing off the beaten path can be so rewarding and so inspiring. Don’t worry about comfort, go outside your comfort zone. If you want to be comfortable your whole life, you will miss out on so much. Truly seeing how others live is a great way to live a second or third lifetime within your own.
Publishing Industry Knowledge: This sounds silly, because it’s not about writing, but it’s about what happens after you write. I know so many writers who write something good, but don’t know how to query an agent or understand the ins and outs of the publishing industry and it can stall their development. Get to know people who work in publishing, read articles about the industry. Yes, writing is an art and a passion, but publishing is a business and it’s really hard to get your work out there without understanding the business. You can write one, maybe two good books without this know-how, but after a while, the constant rejections can get to be too much and that’s where getting to know this industry is so important.
What can you tell us about your latest novel or your current work in progress?
Between Before and After follows Indie film director Sebastian Foster, son of the famous author Regina Foster, as he embarks on a project to turn his mother’s award-winning novels into films. As he works on his third film in the project, a biographical novel that takes place in Paris and deals with the traumatic death of Sebastian’s five-year-old sister, the project and aspects of Sebastian’s personal and private life start to break down. Sebastian is confronted with a man from his past who holds the purse strings as far as funding for his films is concerned. He also learns that his mother has more secrets than he realized and as he dives deeper into this project, he learns that there was so much more to his sister’s tragic death than he realized. As the past starts to unravel before him, Sebastian must confront his issues with his mother and his desperate need to recreate a past that may not have been as idyllic as he remembered.
More about Jessica
Jessica Stilling grew up In McHenry, Illinois, a small town nestled between endless cornfields and sprawling Wal-Mart Mini-Malls. Jessica Stilling is a feminist. She is Not a Capitalist. And She really has a thing for Vikings. Jessica would move to Iceland in a heartbeat if they would have. She moved to New York City to attend The New School University and stayed in said city for fifteen years. Stilling is a graduate of the City University of New York’s MFA program. She has worked at The Francis Goldin Literary Agency and the Global City Press, a small press out of City College. Stilling has taught Creative Writing at The State University of New York, City College, Queens College, The Gotham Writer’s Workshop and The New School. Her work has appeared in many publications including Ms. Magazine, Bust Magazine, The Writer Magazine, Wasifiri and The Warwick Review. She is the author of ten novels, five literary novels under the pen name Jessica Stilling and five young adult fantasy novels under the pen name JM Stephen. Her novels include The Weary God of Ancient Travelers, Betwixt and Between and The Beekeeper’s Daughter. She currently lives in rural Vermont with her two children, a dog, a cat, and something like 20 chickens, 7 of which are roosters.
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