Currently, Jessica is the self-published author of the Study Abroad series, a fun New Adult Romance with hot European guys. She lives in Charlotte, North Carolina with her husband, Mr. Peterson, and her smelly Goldendoodle Martha Bean.
Hello Shealea! First, thank YOU for having me—this is so fun. If I weren’t a writer, I’m honestly not sure what I’d be. Writing has always kinda been my dream job, and I’m super lucky I get to do it. But if I had to choose, I think I’d like to be an interior designer or a clothing designer. I love all things design—I also love to shop!—and it’d be cool to do it professionally.
Other than Madrid, have you traveled elsewhere around the globe? What other countries and places would you just love to visit and learn from?
While Madrid has a special place in my heart, my husband and I have done a good bit of traveling in the five years we’ve been married. Our favorite city is probably London; neither of us had ever been before we went together a couple years ago, and now we try to go once a year because we love it so much! We’ve also fallen in love with Northern Italy, Chicago in the summertime, Napa Valley for the Bottlerock Music Festival, and Charleston, South Carolina, for the southern charm and amazing food!
How often do you read contemporary romances? Would you care to recommend some of your favorites?
Sure! I actually consider reading a big part of my job. Not only have I always loved to read, but it also makes me a better writer. Some recent favorites are The Hating Game by Sally Thorne, The Royal We by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan, the Game On series by Kristen Callihan, and Royally Screwed by Emma Chase. I also love reading historical, and Tessa Dare, Philippa Gregory, and Elizabeth Hoyt are my go-to authors in that genre.
What first inspired you to start writing?
I was a reader first, and a voracious one at that, but it wasn’t until I was an angsty, awkward teenager that I started writing. I figured if I couldn’t get a boyfriend in real life, I might as well make one up! I wrote some pretty terrible historical romance in those years. It was a lot of fun.
What are the three most significant lessons you learned about the whole writing, editing and self-publishing process?
This is a great question. First lesson: get your covers right! Do your research, and make sure the cover is genre appropriate, i.e., a reader will know just by looking at it what the book is about. I had some beautiful covers earlier, but they read way too young for the kind of books I write. It was an expensive lesson!
Second lesson: work your butt off on edits! This is where the real magic happens for me. My first drafts tend to me kind of a mess, and editing turns them into something much, much better. Find a great editor who’s tough and who you work well with, and listen to them. Put the work in. I had to rewrite basically all three of my Study Abroad books during the second-draft phase. It was tough, but it was worth it.
Third lesson: Network. Reach out to other authors, join Facebook groups like Marie Force’s Author Support Network, and take notes on what the big authors in your genre are doing. You can learn a lot if you know where to look!
Do you have other stories and/or writing projects you’re currently working on? Can you tell us something about them?
Sure! So I just finished up book #3 in the Study Abroad series, Lessons in Letting Go, which is about a hot footballer (the European kind!) and his sassy lady love. Now I’m working on a fun little footballer novella that should be out in the next couple months.
In your novel, which character was the easiest to write about? And which character did you have the most difficulty with?
You know, I have to say that both Rafa and Vivian gave me a good deal of trouble while I was writing! I really work to get my characters right—I want them to be three-dimensional, flawed, freaking fabulous people that readers can relate to. I like them to be complex, which means I spend a lot of time agonizing over what they’ll do next, who they are, and why they do what they do.
Are any of your characters based on yourself or people you know in real life?
Rafa is the guy I wish I’d met while I was studying abroad in Spain! The sweet, sensitive, sexy Spaniard of my dreams.
I’ve read that your personal study abroad adventures greatly influenced how you portrayed Madrid and its Spanish culture in the book. Is there any scene from the story that legitimately happened to you during your trip abroad?
Great question! I’m not sure if there’s any one scene that actually happened in real life, but I drew a lot of inspiration from my experiences while studying abroad. The group of girls Vivian befriends, The Madrileñas, is based on the group of girls I made friends with while in Spain. We spent a lot of time drinking sangria and dancing the night away at discotecas. We also agonized over our future paths, grades, and passions, just like Vivian.
Personally, one of the most remarkable things in Spanish Lessons is the sense of humor you skillfully integrated into the personalities of your characters. I cannot even count the number of scenes that succeeded in making me laugh heartily out loud. How similar is your sense of humor to the lighter, funnier parts in the book? What influenced the humorous elements in Vivian’s story?
I love hearing that my books make readers laugh! While I do love a good, serious romance, as a reader I also like to laugh. So when I started this series, I knew I wanted to make it funnier than my previous work. I think a sense of humor is relatable and endearing, don’t you?
Honestly, the book’s blurb sort of implied the presence of a possible love triangle. However, that clearly did not happen because right off the bat, Rafa only had his eyes set on Vivian (which was awesome, by the way). While you were writing the book, did you consider inserting a more evident love triangle?
You know, love triangles get a lot of hate these days, but I happen to love them. That being said, I wanted to do a fresh take on the trope—i.e., instead of two guys falling for the same girl, I liked the idea of two girls falling in love with the same guy. I think it happens often enough in real life—it’s certainly happened to me!—so I wanted to explore that a little bit in this story.
The romance in Spanish Lessons was very fast-paced and intense but still incredibly endearing all the same. What was your approach in developing the relationship between the love interests? What were your priorities when it came to building the romance?
Thank you for the high praise! One of the tropes I’m not crazy about is insta-love, so I try to work hard to develop the relationship between the hero and heroine, slowly and deliberately. A slow burn, if you will, while also indulging in some heated sexy times. It’s a tough line to walk, but when it’s done right, it’s a total thrill!
The wonderfully frustrating tension between Rafa and Vivian was palpable right from the first time they met. Can we expect the same sizzling connection with Maddie and her beau in the second book, Lessons in Gravity?
Absolutely! In fact, I’d go so far as to say Gravity is even hotter and more intense than Spanish Lessons. It’s a bit more adult, a big angstier, and a whole lot sexier. I loved writing their story, and I hope you’ll love reading it, too!
Can we expect to see more of Rafa and Vivian in the succeeding installments of the Study Abroad series?
Absolutely! I think it’s disappointing when previous characters don’t make a cameo in the following books in a series. I’ve written them in all the way through book #3 in the Study Abroad series, so you’ll see them plenty in the next books!
All right, last question. What is your favorite quote from Spanish Lessons?
This is a tough one. I’d have to go with this:
This is just a kiss, I tell myself.
It’s just one kiss that he won’t remember, that I will try to forget.
Still. There’s this rush between my skin and bones that whispers to me, telling me this is no ordinary kiss.
That nothing will be the same after this kiss.
If you’ve read my book review for Jessica’s Spanish Lessons, it’s pretty obvious that I fell quickly and deeply in love with Viv and Rafa’s relationship. After discovering that Jessica had her own trip abroad, I was very curious about how much her personal experience influenced and shaped the manner in which she wrote the novel. Having said that, I am extremely grateful and glad that she agreed to do this interview with me!
Anyway, here’s a little bit more about Spanish Lessons:
Vivian Bingley has big plans for her semester abroad in Spain.
Along with her BFF, Maddie, Vivian hopes to indulge her inner Art History nerd by visiting the best museums in the world. She also wants to tackle more practical concerns—like a less than stellar GPA in her major, Economics—with the help of a Spanish tutor.
But falling for her studly Spanish tutor definitely isn’t one of them.
Madrileño Rafa Montaya is the stuff study abroad dreams are made of: super studly and super smart. He also happens to be super into Vivian. With his wicked dancing skills and his passion for the arts, he tempts her to throw caution to the wind and live out her wildest dreams.
Only problem? Maddie wants Rafa, too, and Vivian promised herself she’d never settle for second best again… not after a hookup-gone-awry last semester left her heartbroken. Is it best for Vivian to protect her heart at all costs? Or is letting Rafa in worth the risk?
I recently read the second book, Lessons in Gravity, and true to the author’s word, the sequel is much more intense and more mature. I am very excited to write my review and to share my thoughts on it with all of you!
Also, you have an opportunity to win a Study Abroad prize pack which includes digital copies of the first two books — Spanish Lessons and Lessons in Gravity. Five (5) sets of the prize pack will be given! All you have to do is to enter my giveaway:
You have until 12:00 AM, 30 November 2016 – (GMT+08:00) Philippines to submit raffle entries! All winners will be contacted via email and will be given 2 days (48 hours) to respond in order to claim the prize pack. Should any of the winners fail to respond before the deadline, then new winners will be randomly drawn from the existing pool of entries. Best of luck to everyone participating!