Jessica Lee Anderson on the Writing Process and Creative Spellings of Awesome

Jessica Lee Anderson is the author of the new book Calli, about a teenage girl whose perfect family gets turned upside down with the addition of a new member. Though Calli’s initially excited about a foster sister joining the eclectic brood, her relationship with Cherish isn’t instantly what she hoped it would be. Calli’s frustration eventually spurs an act of revenge, which leaves Cherish in juvenile detention—and Calli reeling from the results of her brash actions.

Interested? Read the beginning of the novel for a limited time here on Figment, and check out Jessica’s answers to our questions about process, inspiration, and, of course, Comic-Con costumes.

Have you ever tried to exact revenge on your sister or brother for something?

Growing up, my brother and I were quite hateful towards each other at times. He’d attempt time-honored pranks like placing my hand in warm water (it didn’t work—I SWEAR!), but I was a bit more sneaky in my revenge tactics. I’d do things like soak my brother’s toothbrush in liquid soap before placing it back in the toothbrush holder or stealthily empty his soda can and replace the contents with liquid bubbles. There is also the goldfish story, but I should probably only share this one in person because I’m starting to fear judgment . . . 😉

How did you transition from writing books for children and middle graders (like Presidential Pets, What is a Living Thing?, and Trudy) to writing books for teens?

I avidly read young adult novels, so this transition happened pretty naturally. I tend to write for a variety of ages to stay productive and explore different ideas. For example, when I’m between novels, I’ll write short stories or magazine articles to vary things up. I usually pair the readership age with the subject matter.

Do you take snippets from everyday life when writing your stories? Do your own experiences ever make it into your books?

Definitely! One of my favorite scenes from my first novel, Trudy, is based on one of my favorite memories with my husband, in which we pelted each other with oatmeal following a failed breakfast attempt. Several things my characters say or do happen to be based on everyday events, like how Lemond [a kindergartener who has been removed from him family and brought into Calli’s] writes “osum” [awesome] just like my friend’s kindergartner writes. I took several trips to Lake Charles, Louisiana to create authentic fodder for Calli, and I keep a notebook handy so I can write down interesting or memorable snippets.

Calli covers some serious subject matter. How did you use humor to both drive the book’s point home and make it a bit lighter?

I wish I could be incredibly funny like my “osum” friend K.A. Holt or write hilarious scenes like Don Calame. I do the best I can, though, and try not to force the humor—this is wise advice I received at a conference from seasoned author Jerry Spinelli. I’m often not even aware of how I’m incorporating humor as I write, but I do try to balance intense scenes with lighter moments.

Who were you dressed as at Comic-Con this year?

This was my attempt at “Greek goddess” to support PJ Hoover’s release of Solstice, a fabulous book where mythology and dystopia meet. I’ll be attending Austin Comic Con in November and still haven’t decided what to dress up as. Any suggestions?

How did you keep things flowing in Calli? Did you plan out Calli’s journey, or did she just take on a life of her own?

I had a mental plan for Calli’s journey, but she definitely took on a life of her own. I actually enjoy the revision process more than first-drafting, and it was during this stage that things really started to develop and come together. Calli went through at least three major rewrites.

One thought on “Jessica Lee Anderson on the Writing Process and Creative Spellings of Awesome

  1. This is an amazing coming of age story, engaging and timely, with
    many of the problems faced universal among today’s youth,but with a
    twist. I think it will be a good YA book club read with lots of
    opening points for discussion.

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