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Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Novel Rocket's own ~ Jessica Dotta

We at Novel Rocket  are excited to feature Jessica Dotta's interview! Her debut British Historical novel, Born of Persuasion, hits bookstores this month! Downton Abbey fans are already embracing this Bronte-styled tale. Jessica has been behind the scenes for many years, working as a book publicist, running a successful critique group and has served as a senior editor on Novel Rocket. We've waited a long time for this one!

Born in the wrong century–except for the fact that she really likes epidurals and washing machines–Jessica Dotta writes British Historicals with the humor like an Austen, yet the drama of a Bronte.
She resides lives in the greater Nashville area—where she imagines her small Southern town into the foggy streets of 19th century London. She oversees her daughter to school, which they pretend is an English boarding school, and then she goes home to write and work on PR. Jessica has tried to cast her dachshund as their butler–but the dog insists it’s a Time Lord and their home a Tardis. Miss Marple, her cat, says its no mystery to her as to why the dog won’t cooperate. When asked about it, Jessica sighs and says that you can’t win them all, and at least her dog has picked something British to emulate.

Jessica, we're excited to feature you! Tell us a little about your latest release:

The Price of Privilege trilogy is set in Victorian, England and is narrated by the protagonist, who after a lifetime of silence has decided to set the record straight about her great scandal that shocked England during her teens.

Born of Persuasion begins the account with Julia in her seventeenth year. She's recently orphaned and living on the charity of an anonymous guardian who intends to establish her as a servant in far-off Scotland.

With two months to devise a better plan, Julia's first choice to marry her childhood sweetheart is denied. But when a titled dowager offers to introduce Julia into society, a realm of possibilities opens. However, treachery and deception are as much a part of Victorian society as titles and decorum, and Julia quickly discovers her present is deeply entangled with her mother’s mysterious past. With no laws to protect her, she must unravel the secrets on her own.

Book Reviewers have agreed with bio that Austen and Bronte have influenced your writing. Tell us a bit about how you discovered these authors, where your love for them came from.

The first time I held a Jane Austen novel in my hands was in ninth grade during study hall. I’d asked the girl next to me if I could see what her class was reading (she was in Honor's English). She wasn’t interested in the book, so she happily passed over Pride and Prejudice—mine until the end of class.

I immediately was absorbed and couldn't think of anything self the remainder of the day. I wanted to learn what had happened to Elizabeth Bennett!

That night, I walked two miles to the nearest bookstore and was so happy to find they actually carried the book. Not only did they have that novel, they had several more by the same author. I purchased each one and wore them out.

The Bronte sisters I discovered after I graduated high school. I had a dog-eared copy of Jane Eyre that I purchased in a second hand bookstore. But no matter how many times I started the novel, I couldn't get past the beginning. Finally in my late teens, I forced myself to read through it. Jane Eyre is the best reading experience I've ever had. I still get thrilled reading it. Well, once you have a taste for Bronte-styled fiction, it's not easy to fill—but I read all the Bronte sister books. I think each one is singular.

Who else has influenced your writing?

My personal library shelves are filled with the likes of Daphne du Maurier, Victoria Holt, Lucy Maud Montgomery, Francine Rivers, Margaret George, Geraldine Brooks, Liz Curtis Higgs. I really love classics with a gothic air and then a mix of modern day writers, including many British writers.   

We've been hearing that your publication journey was ten years in the making. If you could go back in time and tell yourself how long it was going to take and offer advice, what would you say?  

I had to ponder that one a bit. I don't think I'd go back and offer counsel. For one thing, the belief that I was on the verge of breaking through the publishing wall kept me motivated. 

Furthermore, every time I hit a brick wall during that period, it forced me to stop and question if I needed to adjust the way I told stories. It forced me to define why I was writing it, who I wrote for, and what my role was. It forced me to explore and shape my beliefs—which I wouldn't now trade.

Tell us a bit about your protagonist Julia.

Recently, I found a book forum discussing Born of Persuasion online. One reader expressed interest in this novel, but then stated she wasn't sure she'd read it. She feared that since Julia was a Christian Fiction protagonist, she might be too "saint-like."

I had to laugh. Not only do I doubt Julia will ever be described as saint-like again, but I think its entirely possible if that person did purchase the book, she'd wish Julia were saint-like: it might make her less frustrating.

Julia's mindset Victorian, she begins the trilogy broken, and because of her choices life, isn't getting any easier for her. She expects little kindness from others, and therefore the idea of extending kindness is almost nonexistent to her. Some reviewers have stated her isolation is heartbreaking to them, while others want to smack her.

I like both statements. Some say that a fiction writer's job is to convey emotion and to make someone else live the experience. I agree. My least favorite sort of book is the kind that I could give or take—finish reading or not bother to.  I know that even if a reader is annoyed with Julia, it means they're not indifferent. They've felt the story and actually care. 

You've worked as a book publicist and have critiqued and edited other writers, so you're not quite a full novice. What surprised you once you stepped into the role of author?

The biggest surprise is that it seems there is less time to write, not more. (Another reason, I'm thankful for the longer road to publication. I had more time to develop my "first draft" voice, which often helps reduce editing.)

I used to daydream about the day I could say, "I under deadline." I assumed it would translate into, 'Ha! I'm a real writer and I'm NOT wasting my time. So everybody has to leave me alone to write. It's due!'

Somehow instead it has translated into, 'Even though I couldn't possibility fit one more thing into my schedule, I have to take this interview. I have to fill out that form. My website will not update itself. So why do you crazy people think I have time to watch a movie? I haven't even had time to write yet."

How did you utilize those skills as you helped launch your debut. What surprised you there?

Good question! During the years I've PR for novels, I've noticed how much easier it is to promote a book when everybody is having lots of fun. I wanted to find a way to make the book launch unique. Since I knew my readership, (I operate under the theory the author often is the demographic of their readership) it was a lot of fun to take my favorite things (tea, British culture and historical costumes) and turn it into a virtual tea party book launch.  

As for what surprised me, I am amazed at how much work I used to pile on my authors. I almost feel repentant. I had no idea how long it takes to gather all the necessary information for an interview (photo, bios, editing the questions, etc.) much less an appearance. I used to hang up the phone and think, I'm glad he has to travel overnight for this TV appearance and not me. . . but oh my goodness, I now understand why writers sometimes refuse to pursue a major media possibilities—which in turn, exasperates their publicist to no end.

Having walked both roles, I still side with the publicist on this one. Those major media hits have potential to launch a career. To not go, is akin to running a marathon and quitting on the last mile.

Best writing advice?

At once writer's conference, a fellow critique group member told me something to the effect, "Don't try to hide the fact that your book is gothic because you're worried about how it will be perceived. It is what it is."

It was very freeing. 

Worst writing advice? 

I'm not of a stickler for the rules. If you're not very careful as you grow in the craft, you'll start to think there is a 'wrong' and a 'right' way to write. Writers within a critique groups can often start to sound interchangeable. I think that strict following of the "rules" can diminish voice. 

Any advice or encouragement for the aspiring writer?

Having been on Novel Rocket, this question usually gets answered with: Keep Writing and Never Give Up or Attend Writer Conferences. It's next to impossible to top that advice, so I'll offer encouragement.

When you feel isolated and wonder if you're wasting your time, read For The Young Who Want To, by Marge Peircy. It will help.

I had it taped on the outside of my writing folder for years. 

Thank you so much for featuring me!


  1. Love the interview and hearing about the journey you took getting published. =) And you made Julia's story even more compelling and I can't wait to find time to read it!


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