June 9, 2011

Author Spotlight: Flat-Out Love author Jessica Park


Today, I was lucky enough to score an interview with the awesome Jessica Park, Author of Flat-Out Love. If you have visited my blog in the last few days you've noticed that I kind of Love this story. You can check out my review here.

Now on to the interview:

Since I love twitter, I think it would be fun to see how you would describe FLAT-OUT LOVE Twitter-style. How would you describe it in 140 characters or less?

Majorly deep romance, biting humor, witty banter, earth-shattering heartache, and moving, complex, dysfunctional characters. All for $2.99!

What was the hardest part of writing the book?

With any book, it’s the first twenty to thirty pages. It is dreadful for me. Every word hurts to write. I like to write cleanly, with the intention of keeping those pages and not just throwing words out as a placeholder. Which is stupid. I could go back later and just delete early chapters and rewrite them… But I don’t. The early chapters are when I get to know my characters and how they behave, and it’s really slow going for me at that stage. Yes, I have a general idea of who they are when I finish an outline, but the details don’t become clear until I actually start writing.

With FLAT-OUT LOVE in particular, though, the really hard part was balancing what to tell and show with what was best left unsaid. There is a chapter at the end of the book that takes place on Julie’s last day of school. I don’t want to say too much here for those who haven’t read the book yet… but the first half of that chapter is more about what isn’t said between her and other characters, and what the reader doesn’t see. I hate when I’m reading a great story and then every damn stupid thought and detail is spread out and beaten to death. Readers are not dumb. They can fill in the blanks. And missing information is often much more telling and meaningful. What’s fun is when you react to a story with your heart, your emotions… not when you feel something because the author has told you what to feel.

I have a number of those types of scenes in the book, when one thing might be happening action-wise, but another thing entirely is happening to the characters (and the reader) internally.

I loved all of the characters in your book. Which one did you find yourself relating to the most?

It’s really a three-way tie between the leads: Julie, Celeste, and Matt. In many ways, Julie is so much like me. We’re both moody, and silly, and romantic, and driven to connect with and “fix” those around us. We’re better at taking care of others than we are ourselves. But even though I might technically have more in common with her, I know Matt and Celeste almost eerily well. They were so easy for me to write.

Celeste is extremely unusual (I mean, as far as I know, not many 13-year-old girls cart around cardboard cutouts of their older brothers, right? Or speak like an Oxford professor?), but her totally distinct and bizarre personality made her one of my favorite characters. As much as she and I are different, I know her better than Julie, I think. Same for Matt. He’s highly academic, totally geeked out, and socially pretty difficult… and he’s very guarded and evasive, while still being appealingly sweet. So, nothing like me. But again with this character, I know everything about him.
I could tell you exactly what Matt and Celeste would say in any given situation. It’s a strange experience to understand your characters deeply that they almost feel like real people, separate from the fictional world in my head. So although I may not relate to Matt and Celeste in terms of commonality, that distance between us made me need to understand them even better.

I love the Facebook status updates! Can you tell us more about these? And when did you decide that this was something that should be added to the book?

This was one of the first things that I knew I wanted in the book, for a few reasons. It fits in well considering that Julie and Finn’s relationship is an online one, and it’s also a way to add humor while showing different sides of the characters. Sometimes FB status updates say more about a person than what he/she can tell you themselves, and sometimes they’re just for fun. And then sometimes we try to read between the lines and see what we can figure out about someone… wondering if we can read a mood or a feeling, if that person is talking to us specifically... There’s a certain cryptic and quirky quality to witnessing someone’s online personality.

So I thought that it would be fun to start a bunch of chapters with Matt, Finn, and Julie’s status updates. The hitch was that it was much easier in theory than it was in practice. Anyone who follows me on Facebook knows that most of my updates have to do with current celebrity scandals (ie: senators soliciting sexy by tapping their feet in bathrooms, Levi Johnston posing for Playgirl), weird things that my kid says, and any in-the-moment-hideously-un-thought-out thing that pops into my head.

For the book, though, I needed status updates that were not grounded in a certain event or year or person; they would have to stand the test of time and be funny ten years from now. And I suck at that. I knew exactly what type of updates I wanted; I just couldn’t come up with ones that were right, especially for Matt and Finn (because boys are, you know, weird). Julie’s were easier. So I went around Facebook and pilfered a whole bunch of good updates from people I hardly knew. No, I didn’t do anything of the sort. I asked permission.
My friend Dave was nice enough to give me about 90% of the updates for the book. He is both alarmingly smart and acerbically funny, and his status updates will still be brilliant years from now (whereas mine have the shelf life of an already over-ripe banana). So I spent hours scrolling through two years of his updates, gave myself a vicious case of eye strain, and yanked out my favorites. Half of them I had to toss because they were either too political for this book, or readers would be expected to look up half the obscure references. But the other half were perfect, and it killed me that I couldn’t use all of them.  The ones that made the final copy of FLAT-OUT LOVE all still make me laugh, which is a good thing.

Here are a few of ‘em:

In order for this status update to make any sense, I need you assume I'm covered in some sort of spray-based cheese product.
See? I TOLD you that was fun! Now let's go find your eye.
You may call it "plagiarizing from the classics," but I call it "collaborating with the dead."
I put my pants on one leg at a time, just like everyone else. It's the way I take them OFF that makes me better than you.

Dave is on Twitter if you want to follow (or try to follow) him @whatdoiknow.  Ask him to tell you how much he loves vampire romance stories. And then order him to write his own book and quit glomming on to my astronomical fame. 

I noticed that you love listening to music while you write; if I picked up your IPod, what music would I find on your playlist?

A nonsensical mix. I’m not someone who listens to only one genre of music, and I will freely admit that I thoroughly enjoy a good pile of cr*p songs. I’m just not all that cool. I like to mix up older songs that I never get sick of with newer stuff, and I usually have two playlists in heavy rotation at one time: a slower, more mellow one, and then a faster list that I listen to when I’m on the stupid, loathsome treadmill.

Here’s some stuff from my current playlists:

“King of Anything” by Sarah Bareilles
“The Edge of Glory” by Lady Gaga
“Stand Back” by Stevie Nicks
“Shock the Monkey” by Peter Gabriel
“Gone” by Matt Nathanson (my pretend boyfriend)
“Everything’ll Be Alright” by Joshua Radin
“You Send Me” by Aretha Franklin
“I Don’t Need A Man” by the Pussycat Dolls
“Nothing Ever Hurt Like You” by James Morrison
“Circus” by Britney Spears (I can’t help it. I love Brit. I loved her better when she was a total nutcase, but not all crazy lasts forever. Unfortunately.)
“If Anybody Had a Heart” by Matchbox Twenty
“All Eyes On Me” by The Goo Goo Dolls
“Running Up That Hill” by Kate Bush
“Fast Car” by Tracy Chapman
“Fighter” Christina Aguilera (no song in the world makes you refuse to get off the treadmill more than this one)
See? I don’t really make any sense.

Did your music choices evolve throughout the writing process?

Definitely. Music is a huge part of writing for me. (Although that hasn’t always been true. I used to want TOTAL silence.) When I was writing FLAT-OUT LOVE, I spent a lot of time sitting outside on a lounge chair, eyes shut, iPod in hand, listening to music while picturing scenes. I’d flip through song after song until one of them hit the right mood for me. And then it would be on repeat while I imagined who would say and do what.

The right song can totally pull a scene together for me. I ended up with about ten songs or so that I listened to nearly incessantly while writing. All of the “big” scenes were written with music blaring through my earphones. It’s kind of that extra boost, a way to get myself into the right kind of mood to write what needs to happen. It’s the same way that music strong affects a movie scene… it can make or break what’s happening on screen.

Are you currently working on your next book? If so, what is the story about?

I am the slowest writer ever, I think. I’ve been mulling over an idea for a paranormal romance type book for months now, but I can’t get a handle on it. I really want the story to be about the characters and their relationships and not primarily about some “hook” just for the sake of a “hook.” The actual story needs to be the focus. I think a lot of the vampire and other paranormal books that are selling these days are more about the details of fabricated worlds. Those elements are fun, but as a series progresses, the ante gets upped, and some authors keep adding more and more implausible plot lines and fantastical components to feed the monster. And that bores me and belittles the quality of a solid story.

For me, a slower building story with complex characters is what really drives good fiction, and the paranormal elements need to play into that well, not be the driving force behind a story. (But that being said, I’m not saying what my paranormal elements are. Because they’re secret! And good!)

So, I’m working on it. I’d like to turn my idea into a series, possibly three or more shorter novellas. If I can get myself in gear, that is… *cough, cough*

Quick Fun Facts

Favorite Flower? Blue delphiniums. My mom adores true-blue flowers, and so I’ve planted a few in my garden for her.

Favorite Dessert? Ciao Bella Cabernet Blackberry sorbet. It’s insanely good. Luscious… and kind of sexy. If sorbet can be sexy, which I’ve decided it can.

Pets? A three-year-old Elkhound-mix dog named Fritzy, and two obnoxious cats named Gato and Inga.

Favorite City? Dude, what are ya f*ckin’ kiddin’ me? Baaaah-ston.  (Although, if I say “Paris,” do I get to go there?)

Meet The Author:

Jessica Park is the author of the young adult novel Flat-Out Love, RELATIVELY FAMOUS, five Gourmet Girl mysteries (written as Jessica Conant-Park) and the e-shorts FACEBOOKING RICK SPRINGFIELD and WHAT THE KID SAYS (Parts 1 & 2). You can find Jessica on Facebook,TwitterBlog, or Goodreads. You can find her books at Amazon, Barnes & Nobles, & Smashwords.


  1. Great interview, Neri! I liked your choice of questions, and now I have "Fast Car" stuck in my head lol.

    New Follower!

    Ann @Semisweet

  2. I adore that Twitter description of the book. It does sounds like an interesting story. ;) Also who doesn't love Lady Gaga! She's so cool. ;)

  3. Thank you so much for having me here for an interview. Loved your questions!


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