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"Add your spirits of choice and stir": Jessica Bell, Independent Author

Posted in: Perfecting your Craft on December 10, 2014 Leave your thoughts 💬

Jessica Bell

Jessica Bell has written her way across a variety of genres: in fiction, a variety of thriller and drama novels; in non-fiction, writing guides including the ’…in a Nutsell’; poetry; and the vignette, a form she’s resurrected with the Vine Leaves Literary Journal. So where to start? With our interview below!

We talked to Jessica about being an indie author, how she works creatively, her style, and the benefits of being part of great indie associations like the ALLi! Enjoy!

Jessica Bell is Australian novelist, poet, and singer/songwriter/guitarist who lives in Athens, Greece. In addition to her novels, her poetry collections (including Fabric, which was nominated for the Goodreads Choice Awards in 2012), and her bestselling pocket writing guides (Writing in a Nutshell Series), she has published a variety of works in online and print literary journals and anthologies, including Australia’s Cordite Review. Additionally, she is the Publishing Editor of Vine Leaves Literary Journal, and the Coordinator of the Writing Day Workshops which take place throughout the United States on a rolling basis. 

 

REEDSY

When did you found Vine Leaves?

JESSICA BELL

In late 2011, with Co-Founder Dawn Ius.

REEDSY

Why vignettes? What’s attractive about them?

JESSICA BELL

Less rules, more freedom! “Vignette” is a word that originally meant “something that may be written on a vine leaf.” It’s a snapshot in words. It differs from flash fiction or a short story in that its aim doesn’t lie within the traditional realms of structure or plot. Instead, the vignette focuses on one element, mood, character, setting or object. It’s descriptive, excellent for character or theme exploration and wordplay. Through a vignette, you create an atmosphere.

REEDSY

Through Vine Leaves Press, it seems like you’re able to use your skills as an indie to help others release their work. What motivated you to start doing this?

JESSICA BELL

Actually, I don’t really help others release their work, though I am open to answering questions if people want to reach out. As well as using it as a publishing platform for my own work, Vine Leaves Literary Journal run an annual vignette collection award. Through that we choose single-author vignette collections to publish. At the moment, that’s the extent of what the press offers. So if you want to be published by us, you need to write a vignette collection, and you need to submit it to the award. What motivated this? I want the vignette to be more recognized as a “form” rather than what some people like to call “stream of consciousness.” A vignette is so much more than a stream of consciousness and deserves some of the limelight.

image

REEDSY

What’s been the best thing about being independent?

JESSICA BELL

Um … everything?

REEDSY

What’s the worst thing about being independent?

JESSICA BELL

Er … nothing! Okay, seriously now, the only thing I can think of is that there is still a slight discrimination against independent authors, which creates certain limitations, such as not being able to enter our work into prestigious awards. But I think in time this will change. I’m patient.

REEDSY

How do you take ideas and develop them into projects—whether that’s short stories, poetry, music, books, or any of the other things you do?

JESSICA BELL

It all starts with the writing/creating. It doesn’t become a “project” until I’ve finished creating it. Mainly because I can never truly know what marketing angle I’m going to take until I know every single aspect about the product. Sure, some may start out as ideas to make money. Some may start out as ideas to flex my creative skills, others are just exciting to do. I love every aspect of what I do, be it writing, making music, publishing, etc. Actually, this is quite a difficult question because I don’t think I ever really consider something a “project”. All my creative endeavors are just another limb attached to my body. If they make me money, so be it. If they don’t, I certainly do not plan to amputate.

REEDSY

How does writing a vignette start? Do you think of the feeling you want to create, the setting, the story, the (I can’t think of a better term for this) ‘turning point’ of the vignette?

JESSICA BELL

It doesn’t start. It already is. It’s just a matter of transcribing it to the page.

REEDSY

A lot of your writing feels like it must have come down fully formed and perfect, but does it really work like that for you? How long do short pieces take? Do you work on them differently to long pieces?

JESSICA BELL

Funny you say that. Many of my short pieces do actually come out pretty near perfect. (But this is definitely not the case for my novels!) I think that’s because short pieces simmer in my mind for a lot longer. My short works are mainly a result of a feeling, and they pretty much express themselves when the time is right.

REEDSY

The robustness of the indie community is one of the most distinctive things about being involved in self-publishing. Have you found it helpful being involved in groups like the ALLi? If so, how?

JESSICA BELL

I can’t recommend ALLi enough. Not only have I met, and gotten to know, so many like-minded individuals, and had many fabulous opportunities presented to me because of them, but the emotional support is something I cherish dearly. It’s so comforting have a group of people whose goals mimic your own to seek advice from. I suppose you could say the main benefit is not feeling alone? Something us writers are prone to, I believe.

REEDSY

What defines your work? Does anything? Do you write for readers, for yourself, for both?

JESSICA BELL

I definitely write for myself, and THEN try to figure out how to market it to readers. I’m a strong believer in the notion that if you do not write for yourself, your work will not be your best. Any creative endeavor has to come from an honest place in order for people to be able to relate to it. That’s my opinion anyway. As for what defines me. That is a hard question. It’s taken me almost five years to come up with a tag line that describes my work.

REEDSY

Do you have influences? How are they coming into your work?

JESSICA BELL

I have many influences. I don’t believe they come into my work directly though. But they do encourage and inspire me to hone my own style and voice so that I can continue to be referred to as “Jessica Bell”, rather than “Jessica Bell writes like blah.” A few of my favourite authors are Marilynne Robinson, Margaret Atwood, Truman Capote, Milan Kundera, Raymond Carver, Rebecca Miller, Jeanette Winterson. Music-wise, I’m a huge fan of PJ Harvey. My latest obsession is Sóley.

REEDSY

You’ve written some great articles giving advice for writers and helping them with structure, but a lot of the work of yours that I’ve seen published is really impressively unconventional and kind of boundary-exploding. How do you personally relate to structure / formal writing advice?

JESSICA BELL

Interesting that you’ve noticed this. I think you may be the first to have voiced it! The great thing about rules is, they are meant to be broken. But I truly believe that, as a creator, you cannot intelligently break rules unless you know them first. Which is why I advise writers learn the rules. Practice them. Then manipulate your skills to create what you want.

REEDSY

Do you find it hard to follow that advice yourself?

JESSICA BELL

Not at all. As I said, all my rule-breaking is a result of knowing them first. But I must admit, sometimes I can get a little spiteful and break them when I don’t need to. Nobody is perfect.

REEDSY

Do you have any tips for taking structural concepts about writing and using it to express something emotional? How do you go about applying those concepts to do something creative?

JESSICA BELL

To be completely honest, I just write, and then figure out the “how, what, where, and when” afterwards. Or sometimes I do that in the middle. Or the end. Or sometimes before I even begin writing. Sorry, this isn’t an answer, and that’s because I don’t have one that is standard. There is no wrong or right way to write. I do what feels right at the time I’m doing it. For example, I have not used the same process to write any of my books. Each one has been produced in a different way. I’ve plotted one from beginning to end before writing a single word. I’ve written one from beginning to end without a single plot idea, or character chart. I didn’t even know what it was about until I wrote the final chapter. I’ve written books in pieces, and then slotted them together and filled in the gaps. I’ve written half a book without a plot, and then plotted the second half after having an idea of how it should end. Tips? In light of what I just said, I’d say, “Add your spirits of choice and stir.” For serious tips, you may like to check out my Writing in a Nutshell series.

REEDSY

What’s been the best response to your work you’ve had from a reader?

JESSICA BELL

imageOh gosh … how do I answer this without sounding completely up myself? Ha! I’ve had many fabulous comments that I cherish and keep in a file on my computer for those horrible days that I doubt myself. One that was especially exciting was in a recent review of muted by the current Poet Laureate of Florida nominee! He said: “This utterly brilliant short work is not merely dystopian; that is too easy a label. It is a wholly organic, poetic warning of a future where a master may ‘dress his staff in false expression’ and other, more dire, imaginings. There are too many gifted turns of phrase and images for this to not be regarded as an extraordinary outpouring of poetic narrative.”

 

REEDSY

Thank you for your time Jessica.

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