This month local author and Austin SCBWI member Jessica Lee Anderson joins our interview series. She is proof that hard work and perseverance pay off, whether it's in a flourishing career or as a wife and mother who finds great joy in those roles. We welcome her story into our midst.
Where did you grow up, and did that place (or those places) shape your work? If so, how?
My family moved around a bit in my younger years (hello, Hickam AFB in Hawaii!), though we ended up taking permanent residence in the San Antonio, Texas area. While I’m not a native Texan, Texas feels so much like home that it often becomes the setting in my various novels. I’ve created fictional Texas towns like I did in my young adult novel, BORDER CROSSING, and I have researched real Texas treasures like Uncertain, Texas when I was drafting UNCERTAIN SUMMER.
Did you always want to be a writer, or did that come later?
I’ve always loved to read, and I wanted to be an author like Jo March after my mother read LITTLE WOMEN by Louisa May Alcott aloud to me. As much as I enjoyed reading and writing, I struggled and lost quite a bit of confidence over the years. It wasn’t until I took a children’s literature class in college that I pursued the idea of becoming an author again.
If someone were to follow you around for 24 hours, what would they see?
A mess, most likely! I write from home and take care of my three year old daughter (minus two mornings a week when she goes to a pre-k program). My daughter and I spend our mornings exploring places, and then I jump on my computer as soon as she naps. Afternoons involve activities like playing with our two terriers, splashing in the water, or fun with friends. (I probably should dedicate more time to cleaning.) I try to get more writing in after my daughter goes to sleep in the evening though I attempt to balance this by spending quality time with my hubby. I’m grateful he’s so supportive and helps out when I’m on a tight deadline. My schedule can be a bit erratic at times, but it is rewarding to see how the hours here and there add up, and how I’ve been able to stay ahead of deadlines.
How does your everyday life feed your work?
My daughter and I spend quite a bit of time reading together, and we also frequently visit libraries and book stores which positively influences my own writing. I’ve had several story ideas come to me while completing mundane tasks. Hmm…this should serve as more cleaning motivation.
Tell us about some of your accomplishments that make you proud.
If you can’t tell by now, I’m crazy proud of my little girl! She keeps me laughing every day from her antics, and her fighting spirit is an inspiration to me. I’m also super proud that I celebrated my 15th anniversary of writing professionally this year. This is a career full of many ups and downs, and I feel fortunate that I’ve been able to not only break into print, but stay in print. I feel such gratitude for our Austin SCBWI community! Speaking of anniversaries, my hubby and I are soon to celebrate our 17th, and I appreciate how supportive he has been over the years.
What surprises you about the creative life?
I love the enjoyment of creating and having flexibility. It surprises me how often I’m “working” even when my journal is put away or my computer is turned off (or how I sometimes feel guilty when I haven’t been working…). Writing is a part of who I am which holds true even when I went through a difficult time period that left me feeling uncertain what the future held for me.
Your work is like a gift for your readers. When they open it, what do you hope they find?
How delightful to think of our work as a gift to readers! My hope is that readers find entertainment or make a connection to the story and characters. In my newest book, UNCERTAIN SUMMER, I look forward to how some young readers might get a different impression of Bigfoot.
Author Bio: Jessica Lee Anderson is the author of Trudy (winner of the 2005 Milkweed Prize for Children’s Literature), Border Crossing, Calli, and Uncertain Summer. She’s published multiple chapter books for Rourke Educational Media to include such titles as Brownies with Benjamin Franklin, Case of Foul Play on a School Day, and Runaway Robot. She's published fiction and nonfiction with Heinemann, Pearson, Seedling Publications, Six Red Marbles, and a variety of magazines including Highlights for Children. Jessica graduated from Hollins University with a Master of Arts in Children's Literature, and previously instructed at the Institute of Children's Literature and St. Edward's University. She is a member of The Texas Sweethearts & Scoundrels and hopes to be more sweetheart than scoundrel. She lives near Austin, Texas with her husband, daughter, and two crazy dogs.