With our widespread dependence on technology, we tend to forget the comforting nostalgia of receiving a handwritten note in the mail. Whether it’s a simple thank you card or get well wish, the old adage speaks much truth. It’s the thought that counts. Certainly, a love letter is the most cherished of all, especially when distance separates loved ones. Even today, there’s nothing quite like the power of the written word.
This month’s Jen’s Jewels Jessica Brockmole touches upon this very issue in her debut novel, Letters from Skye. Set in the beautiful backdrop of Scotland, this poetic love story of Elspeth Dunn spans two world wars on two continents. Recounted through letters between Elspeth and her American admirer David, it’s an unforgettable tale of love and loss. Not surprisingly, this novel has already been sold in more than twenty countries worldwide.
As part of my interview, Ballantine Books, a division of Random House Books, has generously donated five copies for you to win. So, be on the lookout for the trivia question. Winners will be randomly drawn. Good luck! Be sure to keep up-to-date on all the latest news in the publishing business by stopping by www.jennifervido.com, follow me on Facebook jennifervido.com, or on Twitter and Pinterest @JenniferVido. And as always, thanks for making Jen’s Jewels a part of your summer reading.
Jen: As a debut author, your writing career is just beginning. So that my readers may catch a glimpse into the life of the woman behind the words, please briefly share with us your educational and professional background.
Jessica: Although I’d always hoped to end up as a writer one day, my educational background is not in writing. My background does, however, speak to my fascination with language. My degrees are in linguistics and, for a time, I taught reading and writing to second language learners. When my daughter was born, I made the decision to stay at home with her, and it was then that I returned to writing.
Jen: Please describe for us your “Aha!” moment when you decided to take the plunge and pursue a career as an author.
Jessica: This is a tricky question to answer! I’ve always been a writer (just ask my mom and the box of crayoned stories that she has tucked away). As I mentioned, I decided to try exploring writing more seriously after my daughter was born. I read books on the craft, I tried writing full-length adult novels, and I let myself make mistakes. But even then, I still saw my writing as a hobby rather than a career path. Honestly, it wasn’t until my agent sold Letters from Skye that I finally let my tongue try out the word “author”. Until that moment, despite years of learning and querying and revising, I refused to see writing as anything more than a pastime.
Jen: In terms of nuts and bolts, approximately how long did it take for you to craft this novel? And, what was the most challenging part of the writing process?
Jessica: The first draft of Letters from Skye was written in ten months, but tweaked here and there over years, as I wrote and queried other novels. Honestly, it’s hard to say what was the most challenging part of the writing process. This was the first novel that I completed, so it was written with the bliss of ignorance.
Jen: Letters from Skye is an emotional journey of a mother and daughter spanning two world wars on two continents. How did you arrive at the premise?
Jessica: In that very first draft, it was more a story about forbidden, complicated love and less a multigenerational journey. Margaret, and all of the family secrets that she uncovers, were added in subsequent drafts. It made sense to have Elspeth’s story discovered and told by someone also looking for love in wartime, and even more sense for that someone to share her story and history.
Jen: How much research was needed in order for this story to ring true with your readers? And, what was the most fascinating tidbit of information you discovered along the way?
Jessica: I try to get myself to a point where I have a confidence and a feel for the era, place, and events in my book. For me, in an epistolary novel, language is vital, and I spent much time researching words and how letter-writers then use them. I read many published collections of letters and amassed my own collection of letters, postcards, and other written material from the era. There was great variety in how people used language while writing, both in level of formality and in level of intimacy, and some did read the way I initially expected hundred-year-old letters to read. But I was surprised to learn that many wrote in a comfortable, modern-sounding style, that, had it not been on yellowed paper, could have been composed today. They were casual, they were frank, they weren’t afraid to joke or make blushing suggestions. This made my job easier, in that I could write in a format accessible to a modern audience without sacrificing accuracy.
Jen: When twenty-four-year-old Scottish poet Elspeth Dunn receives fan mail from David Graham, an American college student with a passion for poetry, how does it change her perception of the world in which she lives?
Jessica: I think it gives her a sense of just how big the world can be. Elspeth, who has not only a fear of water, but strong ties to the island she calls home, has never set foot off Skye. To know that her books of poetry have traveled further than she ever has or could hope to, is something of an awakening for her. Those letters from Illinois give her a kindred spirit, in David, but also a reason to wonder what else might be out there. They give the island-bound poet a taste of adventure.
Jen: At what point in the letter exchange do Elspeth and David realize their relationship is no longer purely innocent?
Jessica: Right around the time the war begins, they start to realize that those letters mean more than just friendship. Elspeth, lonely in her little cottage up on Skye, rereads David’s old letters and falls asleep covered in his words. David, across an ocean from the war, can’t help but worry about her. But it takes others to see and point out the clues peppering their letters before Elspeth and David are willing to admit what they are feeling.
Jen: What effect, if any, does their correspondence have on their respective personal relationships at home?
Jessica: Ah, their correspondence certainly does have an effect at home, as can be expected with a faithful exchange of confiding, searching, intimate letters. As with anything close to the heart, kept secret for so long, both the holding of the secret and the ultimate reveal have emotional repercussions on all involved, whether they knew they were involved or not.
Jen: Years later, Elspeth’s daughter Margaret falls in love with a pilot in the British Royal Air Force. How does Elspeth’s adamant disapproval of her daughter’s wartime love affair alter their mother/daughter relationship?
Jessica: Elspeth worries more than disapproves. When she sees Margaret waiting for the postman, the way she did all those years ago, when she sees Margaret tossing everything aside to rush and meet that pilot on a leave, she worries that her daughter will face the same heartache and regret that she did in that earlier war. That worry, more than anything, changes their relationship, because it puzzles Margaret. Being curious, she wants to seek out her mother’s past, the past that brought up that concern. Do Elspeth’s actions directly alter their mother/daughter relationship? Perhaps not. But they provide Margaret with the questions she needs to challenge the relationship.
Jen: When Elspeth suddenly disappears during the attack on London, how does Margaret muster up the courage to go in search of her?
Jessica: This is a great question, which really got me thinking. I’m not sure it’s courage that Margaret lacks before heading off to London at the start of the Blitz; rather I think it’s direction. Her mother has always been her bulwark, the only family member in her life. When Elspeth disappears from Edinburgh, Margaret is left with questions, questions that spark her curiosity, but also with an unacknowledged uncertainty. In searching for her mother, Margaret has a chance to discover not only her past, but also family and, through them, solidity.
Jen: Let’s switch gears now and talk about your promotional plans. Please take us on a brief tour of your website highlighting points of interest.
Jessica: I keep things simple on my website. A description of Letters from Skye, links to find it for sale, upcoming events, and contact information. I use social media for more up-to-the-minute news and for sharing things like links and pictures.
Jen: Are you present in social media? And, what is the best way for your readers to keep abreast of the latest news.
Jessica: Yes! I post updates on my Facebook page (www.facebook.com/jessicabrockmoleauthor) and on Twitter (@jabrockmole). I have a lot of fun on Twitter especially and love connecting with readers, writers, and history lovers there!
Jen: Are you currently at work on your next novel? If so, what may you share with us?
Jessica: My next novel is also set during World War One, in Scotland and in the France, as two artists in the midst of war try to recapture a lost summer of innocence that they shared years before.
Jen: Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to chat with my readers. I absolutely loved Letters from Skye. I recommend this touching love story to all of my Jen’s Jewels readers. Bravo! Best of luck in all of your future projects!
Jessica: Thank you so much for having me, Jen!
I hope you have enjoyed my interview with Jessica Brockmole. Please stop by your favorite bookstore, online retailer, or library branch and pick up a copy of Letters from Skye today. Better yet, how would you like to win one instead? Okay, send me the answer to the following trivia question to firstname.lastname@example.org and you’ll be entered to win!
Where is the Island of Skye located?
In September, I will be bringing to you my interview with Tracey Garvis Graves, author of Covet. You won’t want to miss it. Until next time…enjoy the last days of summer!