Wednesday 4 May 2011

Jessica Zellman - Interview

Today I am happy to welcome, Jessica Zellman, author of Odonata: City of Night, which I recently reviewed.

1) Perhaps you would like to start by telling us something about yourself and your work in general?

I live in southern New Jersey with my husband, two fluffy cats and a loudmouthed parrot. I’ve always loved dragonflies and am thrilled every year when they visit the koi pond in our backyard.
My first published novel, Odonata: City of Night came about largely thanks to NaNoWriMo. (National Novel Writing Month) It was supposed to be a standalone book, but the characters wouldn’t allow that. There’s more to tell about my protagonist, Katrina and her circle of friends, not to mention all the vampires who want her dead. So Odonata the book became Odonata the series. I hope my readers enjoy the ride as much as I have.

2) When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

I don’t remember ever not wanting to be a writer. As a kid, I always loved books and playing “pretend.” I had plots worked out to Beatles songs before I even knew how to make words appear on paper. “Paperback Writer” probably gave me the first clue that people actually did this for a living.
My kindergarten teacher asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up and I very promptly answered “a writer.” She said women couldn’t make livings as writers. I argued that of course they could. She told me to name three who had. Precocious little monster that I was, I named five.

3) Have you always been drawn to the paranormal/urban fantasy genres? What other works/authors would you say influence you the most?

Short answer: yes. I loved monster movies when I was a kid. My brother and I watched all the old black and white Dracula, Wolfman and Frankenstein movies after school.
I used to terrorize my friends with scary stories at “sleep overs” though I was more careful about what I wrote down. The religious school I attended didn’t approve of horror. Sci-Fi was more acceptable, so I wrote some of that, though it usually involved the heroes running from some space monster or another.
As for paranormal fiction, I discovered Alfred Hitchcock pretty early. When I was twelve, my sister gave me a collected works of Edgar Allen Poe. Two years later, she handed me The Gunslinger by Stephen King. I read the author’s note at the end first. He described things the way I would. I remember thinking “Hey! I’m not weird!” and then remembered I was comparing myself to Stephen King, the master of horror. King continues to be a major influence. And yes, I will always be grateful to him for helping me realize I wasn’t as odd as I felt at fourteen.
Other works that influenced my writing:  Shadowbridge by Gregory Frost, the early Anita Blake novels by Laurell K. Hamilton, Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Avalon series and Sunshine by Robin McKinley to name a few.  (Nicki: I love Sunshine too!)

4) Where did you get the inspiration for the Odonata?

I was on a vampire fiction kick. I’d just devoured the first ten Anita Blake books and was moving on to Charlain Harris’s Southern Vampire (True Blood) series.  But in between those two examples of excellent vampire fiction, I’d picked up another vampire series, just to see what all the hype was about. It was awful. The female lead was passive, weak and constantly needing rescue by the oh so old, wise and powerful male vampire. The feminist in me went on a rampage.
I was sitting outside next to our pond, watching the dragonflies zip around and thinking that I’d like to write a different kind of vampire story. The vampire hunter had been done already. Anita Blake and Buffy were both excellent characters and I didn’t see how to go any further with that kind of protagonist. I wanted a power reversal, but couldn’t decide how to get it. A female vampire interested in a human male? Nah.
Then a mosquito bit me. Rotten little bloodsucker, I hate mosquitoes. It occurred to me that they are like little vampires, flying around drinking blood. I resumed watching the dragonflies, and then it hit me. Dragonflies eat mosquitoes. What if there was a supernatural creature like that, something that preyed on vampires? I did some research on dragonflies, their life cycles, hunting habits, etc. The Latin group name for them is Odonata. Oh-done-ah-tah. That just sounded cool. I thought about making them short lived like real dragonflies, kind of tragic heroes, but my heroine, Katrina wouldn’t stand for that. She came to me in complete detail, blazing in the sun, fists clenched. She wasn’t tragic, she was angry. Vampires had ruined her life and she wanted revenge. This character wouldn’t wait for someone to come and rescue her. She’d do the rescuing herself or die trying. Vampires beware.

5) What is the best experience you've had so far working as a writer?

The day I got my contract, I texted my nephew (who is also a writer) with the news, posted it on Facebook, and then went outside to work in the garden. I was a bit stunned by finally getting an offer. Soon, my phone rang. It was Writer Nephew, very excited, more excited than I was, really. Frequently during that conversation, he shouted the news to his college buddies. Every time, it was met with cheers. That’s when I finally realized, “This is real.” I was finally, officially a writer. After years of trying and lots of rejection letters, I was finally going to be published. Not much can compare to that.

6) Tell us a little known fact about yourself.

I’m addicted to wintergreen breath mints. Seriously, I eat them like candy all day at work.

7) What are you working on at present? What new releases can we expect from you in the near future?

I’m writing Odonata book two right now. City of Night ended with plenty of loose strings, so Katrina is going to try to wrap a few of them up. Of course that makes lots of other things change and fall apart. The stakes are higher in this book. Katrina’s world is shaken and turned upside down yet again and she needs to find a way to survive. The working title is Odonata: Dance on Fire. It will probably be a year or so before it’s released.
Simmering on the back burner is a story that will take place in my hometown of Mountaintop, PA. There’s an old coal mine fire there. I think that fire is going to burn down far enough to let something dark and evil loose. And then we’ll see what happens.


8) Where can readers go to find out more about you and your books?

My website:  I’m on Facebook and Twitter as well.

Thanks again, Nicola, this was a lot of fun.

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