Kirsti Call: I first heard of Jessica Verdi on Netgalley when I requested her upcoming book, What You Left Behind. I found it intriguing and thought provoking and I’m thrilled to interview her on Writers’ Rumpus!
KC: You have written 3 YA novels. What is your process and how long does it usually take to complete a book?
Jessica Verdi: Thanks for having me on Writers’ Rumpus, Kirsti. I usually start writing with only a few plot points in mind, and see where the story takes me. Then, when I’m about halfway through (or so), I’ll stop to make an index card outline and try to structure the rest of the book in a more organized way. The length of time it takes me to finish a book varies greatly. The shortest it’s taken me to complete a solid first draft was about two and a half months. The longest was probably about a year.
KC: Do you have a writing schedule?
JV: Yes. Because I have a day job, I typically write on Saturday and Sundays. I start in the morning and try to get as much done as possible before my brain is fried, which usually happens in late afternoon.
KC: Each of your books addresses edgy topics. How do you choose what to write about?
JV: I sort of wait for the ideas to come to me, rather than the other way around. Ideas can come from anywhere! What You Left Behind was inspired by a newspaper article my husband sent me about a teen girl with cancer who was pregnant and whose parents didn’t allow her to abort her pregnancy in order to continue her cancer treatments. She died shortly after giving birth, and her boyfriend raised the baby.
KC: You started out on the stage. What was the impetus for your change of career?
JV: I started writing one day, sort of out of the blue, and I found it so creatively rewarding, much more so than the constant cycle of auditions in New York City. So I decided to apply to grad school for creative writing to learn more about the craft and the industry, and never looked back!
KC: I just read your newest book, What you Left Behind. I think you do a wonderful job of creating a likable, yet very flawed main character. How did you research for this book?
JV: Thank you! The parts of the book that required research were the technical aspects, having to do with cancer treatment and what happens when you’re pregnant and have cancer. I did a lot of reading about that stuff. But the rest of the story—Ryden’s character and journey—is pure fiction!
KC: I haven’t read all of your books yet, but What you Left Behind powerfully portrays the ins and outs of teen parenthood. You do a good job of introducing a tough topics and creating a way for kids to discuss it. How have teens reacted to What you Left Behind, The Summer I Wasn’t Me, and My Life After Now?
JV: I’ve gotten so many amazingly kind and thoughtful and enthusiastic letters from readers of My Life After Now and The Summer I Wasn’t Me. The most touching ones have been from teens who have experienced similar things as the characters in those books. I’m glad to have played even a tiny part in helping those teens know they’re not alone.
KC: What is your favorite that you’ve written, and why?
JV: All three books are special to me in different ways, so I can’t really pick a favorite. But I will say that writing What You Left Behind was a cool experience because it was my first book from the point of view of a boy main character.
KC: What was your favorite book when you were a teen?
JV: I read a lot as a kid and a teen, so I’m not sure if I had an absolute favorite, but one of my favorites was Wicked by Gregory Maguire.
JV: Keep going! If you have a story you want to tell, you should absolutely tell it. Writing is hard and takes a lot of work, and the industry can be difficult, but no one can tell your story like you can. So just keep writing and working hard, and the rest will come!
KC: Thanks for sharing your insights with us, Jessica!
Jessica Verdi lives in Brooklyn, NY, and received her MFA in Writing for Children from The New School. She loves seltzer, Tabasco sauce, TV, vegetarian soup, flip-flops, and her dog. Visit her at www.jessicaverdi.com and follow her on Twitter @jessverdi.