Today, I’m delighted to host The Boss, aka my publisher at Vine Leaves Press, Jessica Bell.
Jessica is an award-winning author/poet, writing/publishing coach, graphic designer, and singer-songwriter who was born in Melbourne, Australia.
In addition to having published a memoir, four novels, three poetry collections, and her bestselling Writing in a Nutshell series, she has been featured in a variety of publications and ABC Radio National shows such as Writer’s Digest, Publisher’s Weekly, The Guardian, Life Matters, and Poetica.
She is also the Publisher of Vine Leaves Press, and CEO of Independent Publishing Assistance.
For more information about Jessica’s other projects, visit, iamjessicabell.com.
Welcome to the Fountain Pen, Jessica. Tell us a little more about yourself.
I am Jessica Bell and I’m an author, designer, singer/songwriter and publisher and I work from a little corner in my loungeroom. I’m also a mother of a two-year-old boy named Madoc Maximus, whose first spoken phrase was ‘half a moon,’ and who once claimed the renovation banging next door, was ‘the heartbeat of building’.
He’s definitely a poet in the making, isn’t he!
How did your writing career begin?
I started writing poetry and songs at around 12 years old, inspired by the Myrtoan waves crashing against the castle wall at Monemvasia, Greece. I’ll never forget the day I first sat on those rocks, surrounded by water, thinking, this is going to be my special spot. It still is.
Why the sudden transition from literary and poetry to speculative fiction? Did you choose it, or did it choose you?
I have been a long-time fan of Margaret Atwood, and I’ve always admired her ability to write science fiction with a literary bent. I don’t think I chose it. Nor did it choose me. I was watching The Giver one day. And I wondered what would happen in these kinds of stories if the characters didn’t fight against these totalitarian societies, but instead learned to live happily within them, and of course, whether that would make an interesting story. Would these dystopias potentially become utopias, or a mix of the two? And how/why? Nothing could stop me then.
Margaret Atwood is one of my favourites too – I love the way she can take her readers into whichever genre she chooses.
What’s one of the key themes that you hope your readers will pick up on from your latest work?
I believe that happiness means something different to every person. What makes one person happy may not make another person happy. And I also don’t believe we really know what is going to make us happy until it happens. I think it all depends on one’s personality, too. For example, my partner seems the calmest and happiest when he is working in the garden, but he won’t admit it. He still believes that he will find true happiness when he can afford to buy a yacht. I find I’m at my happiest when I am having a nice quiet bonding moment with my son, either playing or teaching him something that triggers a look of pure joy on his face. Despite loving everything I do creatively—and my creative projects do make me happy—now that I’m a mother, this feeling of happiness has taken on another personality. Rather than being the loud, passionate, driving kind of happy that makes me ambitious and outspoken and eager to share it with the world, its feeling is simple and sweet and quiet. It’s that moment when the sun rises and the birds start to sing; it’s a feeling that I don’t want to build on, that I’m happy to let be and exist and keep to myself. It finds me time and time again, even though it’s not constant. But I don’t think it needs to be constant to be true.
Where do you see your writing career heading?
Nowhere. Ha! I’ve been writing and publishing my own books since 2011, and my sales are abysmal. I think they’re just a tad too different for people. Mind you, I was able to sell over 1000 copies of the vignette collection, The Walmart Book of the Dead by Lucy Biederman via Vine Leaves Press (where I am publisher). I think I may just be cursed.
How do you approach a new project? Are you a plotter or a pantser, or somewhere in between? Where do you get your ideas?
How Icasia Bloom Touch Happiness is actually the first book that has ever started with a clear outline and chapter summaries. I usually write by the seat of my pants, but this book needed clear organization. When reading the final product, the world doesn’t actually seem very complicated, but in order for everything to make sense, and slot together, a lot of backstory needed to be written that actually didn’t need to end up in the book. It was very hard for me to cut it all out! I’m going to provide access to all that backstory to subscribers of my newsletter sometime soon.
Does social media help or hinder?
Help! As long as you can find a healthy balance. Don’t let yourself burn out, or you’ll start to passionately hate it. I’ve been there once, and had to spend a month detoxing from the digital noise.
Tell us about your most recent publication.
Imagine being put to death for the crime of your child’s unhappiness.
This is the tale of Icasia Bloom: how she is caught up in a story not initially her own, and how it changes her world.
In a Globe controlled by a trusted yet elusive leader who has granted immortality to those who live by The Book, misfit Icasia Bloom is doomed to die young for the crime of her child’s unhappiness.
Like all ‘tatters’ she gets food by bartering, and when she brings customers to the new local bakery, she meets another borderline outcast, Selma Beyett, whose plight touches her.
Selma’s husband Jerome must die in six months if his quest for perpetual happiness is not successful.
What starts as a desperate attempt to save Jerome takes the two women on a profoundly enlightening search for happiness. Icasia questions the Globe’s judgement on its people and on the nature of happiness itself.
Heart-warming, yet strangely unsettling, How Icasia Bloom Touched Happiness, questions everything we take for granted, and takes a long, hard look into our souls.
Let’s talk about Vine Leaves Press. How did it start and why? Did you set out to create your own publishing business? What was your original vision and has that changed over the years?
Vine Leaves started as a literary journal in 2011. It was a LOT of work to maintain, but we were lucky to have some fabulous volunteers working for us, and so we stayed on our feet until 2017. In 2014, we started the Vine Leaves Vignette Collection Award, and that’s how we published our first book, the winner of the competition, Amanya Maloba, author or Harvest. So becoming a book publisher felt like a natural progression from that point. To date we have around 100 books published and around 30 forthcoming. We publish at least 20 books a year now. Sometimes we might slip in one or two more.
Is there anything you need to have with you when you write? A tool of the trade, a mascot…?
I literally just unboxed my new Supernote. I’ve played with it for one day, and I believe this is now going to be my forever writing tool. I absolutely love it.
What’s next for you?
I have a few things in the works. Two of the most important being 1) the sequel to my memoir ‘GO: A Memoir About Binge-drinking, Self-hatred, and Finding Happiness’. The sequel is tentatively entitled, ‘STAY: A Memoir about Self-love, Changing Your Life, and Living Your Dream’. And 2) The Perfect Publishing Plan, which I am co-writing with Amie McCracken, my partner in crime at Vine Leaves Press.
Thank you so much for visiting today. I’m especially looking forward to your second memoir.