“I don’t think I knew I was becoming a writer. I was doing a number of things that writers love to do…and suddenly, there I was.”
Jessica Ferguson is co-editor of Swamp Lily Review, A Journal of Louisiana Literature & Arts and writes for Southern Writers Magazine. She is the author of The Groom Wore Blue Suede Shoes, writing as Jessica Travis. Her short works have appeared in Daily Devotions for Writers and Chicken Soup for the Chocolate Lover’s Soul. She worked as an assistant editor/writer/photographer for The Times of Southwest Louisiana, and her work has appeared in magazines and newspapers in Louisiana and Texas. Jessica is also the founder of the East Texas Writers Association in her hometown of Longview, Texas, and a past president of Bayou Writers’ Group in Lake Charles, Louisiana, founder of their annual Gator Bites publication.
Her latest unpublished novel A Bad Guy Forever won the Mystery/Suspense category in the 2011-2012 Phoenix Rattler contest and ranked among the top ten finalists in the Killer Nashville 2011 Claymore contest. Jessica is a long time member of Romance Writers of America, Sisters in Crime and American Christian Fiction Writers as well as many online writing organizations. One of her short stories appears in the recently released holiday anthology Hearts, Hearths & Holidays: Seasons of Love. The anthology is available on Kindle, Nook, and in paperback from online retailers such as Barnes & Noble, Amazon and Books- A-Million. She blogs at http://jessyferguson.blogspot.com.
Why did you want to become a writer?
I don’t think I knew I was becoming a writer. I was doing a number of things that writers love to do…and suddenly, there I was. When I was younger, my most prized possession was a reel to reel tape recorder. I took phrases from records and created skits and interviews. I had no idea I was writing. I was playing and having fun. In my mind, a writer was to be revered. Normal, average people did not become writers. If I look back at my days of playing with paper dolls, giving each cardboard figure a life, to writing reports, poems, speeches for student body politicians I can follow my evolution to becoming a writer.
How did you go about becoming a writer?
I wrote, read and went to conferences.All three are so important. I’ve always loved to enter filler contests because they specify strict word count. An example might be, “Tell us in 35 words or less why Dial soap is the best.” I think doing this helps a writer learn to make every word count. I may write the blurb in 50 or 75 words then carefully cut, substitute, and tighten. I have no trouble cutting. Hanging out with other writers is a necessity too. In my hometown, I didn’t have a writer’s group, so I started my own. We began with three, including me. We grew larger and larger until we were able to host a conference for a number of years. We started out as The Longview Writers Club and evolved into East Texas Writers Association. They’re still going strong because writers never stop needing each other.
Who helped you along the way?
A voice I hear in my head belongs to a favorite professor in college. He took an interest in my writing. He read my work and gave me honest critiques. We’re still in touch today, but he’s retired so I don’t impose on his time any more. There were also writer friends that I connected with early on. We entered novel writing contests together, critiqued each other, challenged each other and offered encouragement. Critique groups are very important, but I don’t believe you can critique or be critiqued by just anyone. You need to have respect for each other’s writing and abilities. You need to like–really like–each other.
Can you tell me about a writer who inspired you?
All writers inspire me because I know what they go through to turn out a poem, an eighty-thousand word book or a 1500 word article. A good editor inspires me. I may not know his/her name, but I do see the results of their work. Two books that I read years ago have inspired me because their characters have stayed with me like dear friends. I think of them often and wish I could have known the authors: Seacoast of Bohemia by Arona McHugh and Five Smooth Stones by Ann Fairbairn. Both novelists were incredible storytellers. Their characters live forever in the hearts, minds and memories of their readers.
What advice would you give to an aspiring writer?
Write. Find a mentor, someone who will tell you the truth and point you in the right direction. You do this by networking, joining a writing group, going to conferences. Here I am telling you to find a mentor, but I truly believe a writer has to be aggressive and teach himself. You do that by taking advantage of resources. Start your own writers’ group, if there isn’t one within driving distance. Don’t be spoon-fed by other writers. You have a brain, you have talent, you have a dream–pursue it, make it happen. And I do mean, make it happen. If you’ve never published, then write letters to the editor of your local newspaper or a magazine. Seeing your name in print is a shot in the arm that will spur you toward your goal.
Remember, writing is a continuous learning adventure; we can never quit learning. The most important thing to remember is that your talent and your desire to write is God-given, and one day we’ll all stand before Him to answer for everything we’ve said and done…and written. He expects us to use our talents wisely, and for Him.
On a personal note, I’d like to thank Kelcey Parker for allowing me to use her “How to Become a Writer” template to conduct this interview with Jessica. Please visit her blog ph.d. in creative writing.