Recently I had the pleasure of interviewing the amazing Jessica Hawkins, author of the Cityscape series. I have read every book in the series and I was thrilled with the chance to ask her some questions! Out of all the wonderful books I have read since I joined TBRG, hers are the ones that stand out the most for me. I hope you all enjoy this interview with her, and if you haven’t read any of her books yet, I encourage you to pick up a copy. Come Undone – the first in the series – is now only .99 cents!
TBRG: Some readers are not aware that you quit your job, took on the roles of editor, formatter, cover designer, marketer, and publisher for your own books, and engaged in an all-or-nothing campaign – in effect, risking everything to publish this series of novels. Does every positive review you receive feel like a vindication?
Jessica: Pretty much! Really, there’s no feeling in the world like hearing that somebody connected with my story. So, yes, I can say that it’s all worth it to read a positive review or receive a message from a reader telling me how the books affected them. And there’s something sweet about saying I’ve done almost everything on my own. As you can imagine though, that kind of high also has an inverse.
TBRG: What made you feel so strongly about these books? Where and when did the idea of this series emerge for you?
Jessica: Between living in Costa Rica and New York in 2009, I worked part time and lived with my parents. I had the time and inclination to put this idea down on paper, especially after having met so many interesting people while abroad. I’m not sure what actually spurred writing a book – I always wanted to do it, but it was sort of a lofty goal. I put the story on the backburner until last May. Once I reopened the idea of writing the story, it just flowed. Why do I feel so strongly about this story? I love that it has so many facets. At its core, it’s a love story, but not an easy one. There’s strife, passion, loss, renewal. You’re dealing with complex characters in a complicated situation. Love’s not easy, and I wanted to portray that while keeping the story real. I think the other reason I feel so strongly is because these 3 books are what I, as a reader, have been craving. I hope to put something touching and romantic out there, but also smart. Just because it’s a romance novel doesn’t mean it has to be cheesy or fluff. I think this series is for readers like me, who are looking for something with substance. At least, that’s what I strive for.
TBRG: How do you handle the criticisms you receive?
Jessica: Better than I thought, though I guessed I would handle them horribly. The books aren’t mainstream, so I’ve been fairly lucky. Most of the criticism I’ve received is fair and thoughtful, and that’s helpful to me. The ones that I take the hardest are the ones where the reader doesn’t connect and the story falls flat for them. I understand not everybody will like the book, but I can’t help but feel like it’s my own shortcoming when that happens.
TBRG: One thing that really stood out to me in the books is the fact that you didn’t feel the need to villainize Olivia’s husband, Bill. I thought this added believability to the book itself. Can you explain to our readers why you chose to go that route with his character?
Jessica: Yes, thanks for pointing that out. It was really difficult not to make Bill the bad husband. I had to refer to the following Tolstoy quote repeatedly with each book as a reminder of the type of story I wanted to write. I think it is so simple but so profound: “The best stories don’t come from good vs. bad, but good vs. good.” I’ve never been one for predictability, and I think it would’ve been too easy to have Bill be abusive or adulterous. I remember reading somewhere that you should never let your characters off easy. I went back and reworked a few scenes after that. Readers want to hate Bill, and some do. But it’s sort of open to interpretation, which I like. Bill definitely has his flaws, but they are born of being emotionally stunted rather than being a bad person. He doesn’t deal well with his emotions because he isn’t self aware like, for instance, David. So when he reacts, it’s to the situation rather than the problem, if that makes sense. He’s a husband who was blind-sided by something that was heading right for him, and who’s at his worst in that type of situation.
TBRG: What is the single most important piece of advice you would give to anyone looking to break into the business?
Jessica: Write every day. Even if you know it’s no good. Sometimes you have to write through certain scenes to get them where they need to be. A little bit before publishing Come Together, I began to question if the ending was right. Finally, I wrote an alternate ending. Once I had it out of my system, I saw that the ending I already had was how it was meant to be.
TBRG: Do you feel that your own personality bleeds over into the characters that you write? Which one can you most relate to and why?
Jessica: I think it would be difficult not to bleed into them. I relate best to Olivia. I understand her fears and her indecision. In a way, I’ve learned some things about myself through her. I’m not in the least like Lucy; Gretchen maybe a little. This is weird to say, but I also relate to David. I believe in trusting your gut and leading a life in pursuit of what feels right rather than what is supposed to be right. I often feel pulled in two different directions, which makes sense that I relate to both David and Olivia.
TBRG: What other male characters, either from books or movies, entered your thoughts when it came to the formation of David’s character traits and/or physical description?
Jessica: David is my idea of male perfection, and is almost entirely a product of my imagination. I wanted to create a man who is hard but knows when to be soft. Who is also strong and can make tough decisions, but has one major weakness; his girl. I can throw a lot of pictures at you because there’s nothing I love more than researching good-looking men, but none would be exactly David. I like Mad Men’s Don Draper character, so there’s a little of his no-bullshit approach in David. I love a man in a suit, so David as a businessman was a given. Rhett Butler makes me swoon. Christian Troy from Nip/Tuck is a brash, unapologetic character that I used as inspiration in the very beginning until David came into his own mold. When I was in college, I met the best-looking man I’d seen up until that moment – towering, dark-haired and flirtatious. His name was David.
TBRG: What other authors do you feel have been the biggest influence on your writing?
Jessica: I don’t really have a good answer for you. I don’t tend to stick to one author, and the authors I’ve read lately that I truly loved and connected with only have one book or series out. Even then, I wouldn’t say they influenced The Cityscape Series, but future work – it’s very possible. Individual books actually affect me differently. I have a collection of influences, I guess. Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina is one. Here’s what mostly influences my writing: music, film and quotes/passage. You know when you read a quote so good that you have to sit and think about it? Those are the things that have me scrambling to spew random words and broken thoughts all over my Excel spreadsheet of ideas.
TBRG: What is the one thing your readers would be the most surprised to learn about you?
Jessica: I guess it might be fairly shocking, given my profession, that I’ve never been in a long-term relationship!
Jessica: Sadly, I don’t think Bill will get his HEA from me. I imagine the best kind of girl for him is someone who is happy, wholesome and comes from a strong background. Someone who doesn’t need a lot of reassurance or fireworks in her partner, but whose values align with his. Someone like – well, now you’ve given me an idea. Maybe I’ll keep it to myself just in case. Works in progress, not yet. Ideas, yes. I hope to get back to writing at the first chance, as I’m feeling pretty antsy from all the promotion of The Cityscape Series that’s been occupying me. So, basically, if you guys want me to write more, buy my books so I don’t have to work so hard to sell them anymore!
**I just want to thank Jessica for the time she took to answer all of these questions that I peppered her with! I hope all of you have enjoyed reading her books and hearing her responses to some of the questions here as much as I have. **
If you haven’t already joined us on Facebook and entered the giveaway we have going on, please take this chance to do so now! You could win a $50 Amazon gift card or a signed set of her Cityscape series! Jessica Hawkins Giveaway