For a manuscript to be published after being plucked from an editor’s slush pile is the Hollywood equivalent of an actor being discovered in a laundromat. Everyone dreams that it might happen, but it’s an occurrence as rare as winning the lottery. Except that is if you’re Texas author Jessica Lee Anderson. Not only was her first novel, Trudy, chosen from the slush pile, it also won the Milkweed Prize for Children’s Literature. Multiple books and articles later, Jessica is now a full-time author and one of the founding members of the Texas Sweethearts. Recently Jessica took some time to visit about moving to Texas, her favorite writers and advice to those of us starting out on our creative journey.
What brought you to Texas?
I was born in Phoenix, Arizona, although my family didn’t stay there long. My father served in the Air Force and we soon moved to Texas. Honolulu, Hawaii was our most exotic station. I’ll never forget the excitement of winning a hula competition. Those who know me now would never guess I had that kind of coordination.
Why are you a writer?
I’m obsessed with words and stories!
When we moved to San Antonio, Texas, I missed the Aloha State, but books served as a great distraction. Around that same time, I wrote my first book, Fuzzy the Fox. I tried to write my first novel in high school. The story had a strong beginning and a promising ending, but the middle of the book ruined it all. Even though the book was not a success, the experience taught me much about the writing process, especially about revision. In college, I took a children’s literature course that inspired me to write books for children and teens. I eventually went on to graduate from Hollins Universitywith an M.A. in children’s literature.
Describe your road to publication.
I desperately wanted to get published, so I feverishly researched books (like Children’s Writer’s and Illustrator’s Market), magazines, and message boards (including Verla Kay’s). I’d read somewhere that craft articles are in high demand and a great way to break into print. I followed this advice—my first sales were craft articles to children’s magazines. Meanwhile, I continued working on my first novel, attended SCBWI conferences, and studied children’s literature at Hollins University. Trudy was pulled from the slush pile at Milkweed Editions (which went on to win the Milkweed Prize for Children’s Literature). I continue to read blogs, boards, and books to stay current.
Who are your favorite authors and why?
There are so many authors I respect and adore—I could go on and on! Judy Blume is one of my favorite authors because she’s a daring writer, and she’s such an intellectual freedom advocate. My fellow Texas Sweethearts, Jo Whittemore and P.J. Hoover, are also favorite authors because they create unique and unforgettable tales. They’re both talented and incredibly kind and generous.
What advice would you give aspiring authors?
The goal of getting published often feels elusive and overwhelming, so I would encourage aspiring authors to set small, achievable goals (like signing up for a writing course, finding a critique group, researching markets, reading new books, etc.). Since it may be years before a manuscript is published, accomplishing small goals feels rewarding.
Jessica’s next novel, Calli, will be published by Milkweed Editions in 2011. To learn more about Jessica please visit her website at www.jessicaleeanderson.com. You can find her books online or at your favorite local bookstore.
This interview was also published in the print version of THE HOUSTON BANNER, June 2010.