Jess Elliott is one of Gainesville’s great mystery writers. She also writes horror/thriller stories or maybe it should classify it supernatural or even fantasy story writer.
My childhood dream was to inherit my grandparents’ farmhouse in upstate New York, set up a typewriter on the second floor and be a writer. Alas, my parents sold the farmhouse when I was a teen, so that part of the dream was buried with a ‘sold’ sign and a benediction.
I graduated with a portly liberal arts education and B.A. in English Literature from the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee in 1987. (Not familiar? Please look it up: Sewanee has a firm standing in lists of the top 15 colleges in the U.S. and the campus is stunning– designed after Oxford.)
Moved to New York City with dreams of getting into publishing, which I did. Worked for W.W. Norton Inc. for three years as assistant to the publicity director. I dreamed of becoming the slush pile reader. No luck, the job was taken.
Then I was offered an amazing gig–my best friend invited me to move to Japan to teach English. Knowing absolutely zen-zen (means ‘nothing’) about Japanese culture but eager for adventure, I went. Lived in Kyoto for three years, had a blast lesson-planning private classes for ages three to seventy. Heeding signs of an economic slump, it was time to come home. I had high hopes of using the teaching experience but it made no impact in the school board system. Employment over the next two decades was in various corporate and non-corporate secretary/personal assistant jobs. As my fiftieth birthday rolled around, it was time to reinvent myself again. But wait a sec. Did I set out to be a secretary? No, I did not. What did I really want to do? What were my childhood dreams?
Oh yeah, I remember! I always wanted to be a writer.
J. Elliott is an artist and writer living in Gainesville, Florida. She is the current Vice-President of the Writer’s Alliance of Gainesville. She has been published in Women’s World, Grey Matter, and Crooked Shift (an online magazine).
Contact the Writer
Main Website: https://hedonistichoundpress.com/
Book Series Website: https://haintsretreat.com
Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/Hedonistic-Hound-Press-276333629516361/
Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/J-Elliott/e/B07NBQQWYL
Ghost Light – Oct 2016
Haint Blue Adventures Series
Monkey Mind: Haint Blue Adventures Along the Way – Book 1 – Oct 2018
Monkey Heart: Haint Blue Adventures Along the Path – Book 2 – Aug 2020
Miss Elliott Created Her own Promo Video! Click to run
Author Interview Questions
Do you try more to be original or to deliver to readers what they want?
I gave up pleasing people when I was fourteen. I write for me. I write what interests me and hope that it will appeal to others. I don’t expect to be universally liked. I just hope people won’t be ugly if they don’t like my writing. Pass or play, up to you, not me. Happy to have you onboard or there’s the exit, have a nice day. No need to cause a fuss. It concerns and saddens me that people can be so volatile and reactive these days. It seems to be popular to “slam” someone. I cringe whenever I see a headline with that word in it. When did this become acceptable behavior?
If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?
Be a willow. Listen to critiques and pay attention but don’t let a bully knock you down.
Did you ever consider writing under a pseudonym?
Yes. I’ve always loved the idea of aliases and secret identities. When I was around twelve, my best friend’s mom, one of my mentors and role models, gave us all crazy nicknames. Mine was Yolanda Claptrap. But as a young girl, I dreamed of being a writer. Even then the sound of J. Elliott appealed to me. I was never keen on my maiden name. When I got married, I took my husband’s last name. When we got divorced, it seemed odd to keep that, but so did going back to my maiden name. I got teased with that name. Got mediocre math and science grades with that name. Side note: I lived in Japan for three years and became a huge sumo fan. In sumo, a wrestler’s name is made up when he joins a stable. He can take elements from his hometown, his stable name, part of a name of a famous wrestler he likes or an aspect of nature. And as his rank improves, his name can change. When I got divorced, the judge asked me what name I wanted. “Can I pick anything?” “Sure.” I took my middle name as my legal last name. I like the way J. Elliott sounds and I wanted myself a bit distanced from my writing. I think of J. Elliott as a different persona from Jessica and Jess. J. Elliott writes. Jessica signs important documents. Jess will drink a beer or have coffee with you.
As a writer, what would you choose as your mascot/avatar/spirit animal?
I love this question as I do believe in spirit animals, totem animals. My answer may change over time, but lately, I’ve become fascinated with snails. There is a terrific book The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating by Elizabeth Bailey about a woman with a debilitating illness who takes comfort in watching a snail in a terrarium. It is fascinating. Snails are sensitive, contemplative, independent, curious and capable of covering far more ground than you’d think. A terrific reminder for patience and persistence.
What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book/story?
The writing and research took place simultaneously. I was getting the plot down while hunting up details. Three stories, in particular, took up a fair amount of research time. In Ghost Lite, “Find A Relic, Pick It Up” is set in New York City in 1905. I looked at maps to find a likely location for my curio shop. It had to have a street entrance and a loading entrance, so I found a street with a back alley. I researched the history of New Year’s Eve celebrations to determine what my character would have seen and done on New Year’s Eve. Turns out, there was one year where there were no fireworks, so that determined what year my story could take place. The timeline had to work around that. That same story has Aztec artifacts. While I knew early on what the story arc was going to be, I spent at least five months getting my facts straight as I was writing the story. Tales from Kensington features a story called “Bless Me Father”, about a Catholic priest who is tormented by the rules of the sacrament of confession. Not being a Catholic, I had to be sure I was being accurate and respectful in portraying Father Benedict. A Catholic friend helped me with the research. Lastly, Uncanny Stout features a story set in the Chesapeake Bay. This required some map checking to determine where my fictional island of Unsonsy would be. The story needed a massive storm in the late 1800s, so I poked around in weather archives of the region.
What does literary success look like to you?
I don’t want to be crazy famous. In fact, even as a teen, I looked to J. D. Salinger as a role model. How did he do it? Catcher in the Rye is one of the most recognized titles, a high school must-read. Yet he didn’t do interviews, avoided all the radio and talk show hoopla. Successful would be where my books are in libraries. Available and read. Proceeds from sales pay bills. I’ll readily do the radio. I’ll do interviews. But be famous enough to be shredded by the media for some snippet of a comment? No thank you.
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