Jessica Taylor always writes compelling young adult stories with memorable characters, and I was lucky to feature her here and here. Her newest novel, WHO WE WERE IN THE DARK, came out on July 5, 2022:
Donner Lake is famous for its dazzling waters, dramatic mountains, and the travelers trapped there long ago who did unspeakable things to survive. But for lonely Nora Sharpe, Donner was where a girl named Grace glided into her life one night and exploded her world.
After that, every summer, winter, and spring break, Nora, her brother Wesley, the enigmatic Grace, and their friend Rand left behind their real lives and reunited at Donner Lake. There, they traded truth and lies. They fell in love. They pushed each other too far. They came to know each other better than anyone in some ways, and not at all in others.
But two years later, something has happened to blow their world apart. Grace is missing. And Nora must find her way through the unspoken hurts and betrayals of the last two years—and find her way back to Wesley and Rand—to figure out what exactly happened to Grace, the girl she thought she knew.
This year you not only have a new book coming out, you recently welcomed a son into the world! In what ways have you found balance between your writing and motherhood?
Finding balance between the two has been difficult. I had to really look inside myself and determine my goals for writing in the near future. Because I didn’t have a book under contract after WHO WE WERE IN THE DARK (which is a liberating thing after the last few years), I considered taking a break from writing for a while. Ultimately, I decided I still want to actively write, but I’m focusing on the enjoyment of writing and letting go of the goal-oriented approach I’ve always used in the past. It’s been much more fun, and it also helps me to not panic when a nap runs short or we have an appointment at the pediatrician and I don’t hit my daily word count goal. I also keep reminding myself of the best advice I’ve received about motherhood: “be kind to yourself.” With all the struggles you face as a new mother (losing sleep, breastfeeding, learning to care for a tiny human who is 100% dependent on you), you have to learn to give yourself some grace over the laundry piling up or the clean dishwasher sitting unloaded. Bringing a book into the world is, in many ways, just as labor intensive as becoming a mom, and I’ve found that this same advice applies well to writing. I wish I had learned to follow it earlier in my writing career. I used to write all my novels in 5,000 word bursts and beat myself up if I fell short of my target daily word count. I’d also read over my early drafts and be far too hard on myself. Now, I’m focusing on being kind to myself with respect to both motherhood and writing. Writing can’t have the same focus as before, but now I’m proud of myself for however much writing I do accomplish in a week, even if at the end of that week, I delete everything I’ve written and start over.
Definitely great advice. I’ve always loved how intricate your characters are, and the ones in WHO WE WERE IN THE DARK are no exception. Without giving away spoilers, in what ways did Nora surprise you when you wrote her?
Thank you so much! Nora surprised me in many different ways. She was one of the most difficult characters I’ve ever written, both in the execution of Nora as a character/narrator and in her stubbornness. My other two published novels were both drafted during Nanowrimo, while WHO WE WERE IN THE DARK took years to draft and had many different iterations along the way. I went into this novel expecting to not like Nora as a person, but after spending as many years as I did with the story, I developed a fondness for Nora and the other characters. It was unexpected, but in the end, I had a hard time letting them go.
Makes sense! If you could tell your younger author self one thing, what would it be and why?
I would tell myself to celebrate each and every accomplishment. Last week, I had the opportunity to do just that. My bookshelves at home had become really disorganized over the last year, and I finally had a chance to do some rearranging not only of the books I’ve bought from other authors but of the books I’ve written. I’ve published three books now, and if you weren’t an author, you would think that would mean I would have three separate titles on my shelf. However, all three of my books were released in hardcover and paperback, one had a foreign edition, all had ARCs (one even had two ARCs), and two were released on audio book. All of that amounts to a dizzying number of book spines with my name on them. As I was rearranging them, I let myself truly enjoy this beautiful thing before me, a bookcase stacked to the ceiling with books I’ve written.