Today I have the pleasure of speaking with a friend from Black Opal Books, Jennifer Gibson, award winning photographer, illustrator, graphic designer, and let’s not forget author of three Teen novels that has had outstanding praise from reviewers and authors. Thank you, Jenn for taking time out of your busy schedule to talk to me.
Hi Ronnie! Thank you for having me here! It’s fun to meet so many people from around the world. Today’s technology has been a huge benefit for those of us that are Hard of Hearing and Deaf. It means a lot to us to be able to do this!
You wear so many hats, how do you manage to juggle your work schedule and keep your sanity? What is your schedule?
I sometimes find myself asking that same question…it can get overwhelming from time to time. I’ve learned to be diligent and aware of my hours especially since I work at home. I’ve found that fencing at two different clubs in two cities has taught me to shuffle my work around to get everything done in time. It gives me a chance to get out of my home office for awhile and just have fun. I’ve done jobs that required me to work 15 hours everyday for several weeks since I was the only one qualified to do the necessary work. It can be quite varied depending on the client – one week I’ll be doing Powerpoint presentations, brochures, posters, and conference banners for large corporations then the next week it would be book cover designs. It’s never boring that’s for sure. My skills definitely keep me on my toes!
Which career focus do you prefer: illustrator, cover designer, author?
I love them all and they often cross over from time to time. My books are a great example of that, I utilized all of my skills in creating the trilogy series and that makes it more special for me. The nice thing about having different talents is that it gives me a beautiful opportunity to change the creative process from doing sketches one day, then writing a story, or designing a book cover for a client. They all require me to use different components of my training as well as a variety of software. That’s what keeps it exciting.
I love your website design. What training did you have and what awards have you won in the arts? How did all of the awards you’ve won direct your career focus?
I’m so glad you like it! I graduated from Sheridan College in Illustration, which is one of the most prestigious art schools in Canada. I was very fortunate to be a student there. It was an incredible learning experience that taught me the value of hard work. I’m also a graduate of Loyalist College in Digital Production which is where I obtained my skills in website design and broadened my love for creative writing. It was just a few years after that I began to write my first book in the series. On top of doing illustration, graphic design and writing, I’m also a photographer. Over the years, I’ve won many first place awards in that field at various shows and that has helped me focus my creative skills by seeing things in a different perspective. It gave me that extra push to go out and find something new and interesting to photograph. I’ve been able to incorporate many of my images into my other jobs including book covers so it has been a very valuable asset.
Your three novels are getting rave reviews. What made you decide on writing in this genre? How did you choose your setting? The plot?
Growing up, I had always loved writing, especially short stories. When I was at Sheridan College, I was taking extra courses that included Creative Writing. One day, my professor pulled me aside and asked me if I would seriously consider becoming a writer instead of illustration. That surprised me. At the time, I was more focused on art. It wasn’t until a few years later when I met the Canadian jazz singer Michael Buble in Toronto, that I realized I should reconsider my career choice.
It was an absolute fluke that we crossed paths. I was standing outside of the Hummingbird Theatre and reading a map when he suddenly crossed the parking lot and approached me. I didn’t know who it was since he wore a baseball hat that cast a shadow across his face. It wasn’t until I heard his voice that I suddenly realized who this person was. I shyly asked him “Are you Michael Buble?” In a very husky voice, he said “Yes.” I told him that I made the pink silk jacket I was wearing for his concert (which was later that night), he gave me a hug then held onto my hand and said “You’re beautiful.” My knees started to buckle at that point. I tried so hard not to cry. I never had anyone say that to me. He treated me like an old friend and made me feel right at home. I was absolutely floored that someone who was a famous as him would be so kind to me. When I watched him on stage that night, it was then that something clicked in me.
It dawned on me that I should listen to my heart and follow my dreams. If he could do it, so could I. He was my inspiration. After that night, I went back to school again, this time in creative writing. I knew that I wanted to write a book especially for teens. But I wanted it to be unique, something that would stand out from the crowd. My mother suggested that I consider incorporating my life experiences. That idea grew into a series featuring a young adult with a disability, specifically hearing loss. It just made sense to include real experiences so that others could learn from it.
When I sat down and began to arc out the plot, I knew that I wanted the readers to grow along with the main character, literally walk a mile in her shoes. That’s why each book in the trilogy series takes place in a single year. As a reader, you discover that what she goes through on a daily basis, the good, bad and ugly, essentially form her personality. My experiences growing up with a severe hearing loss certainly changed me and that’s exactly what I wanted to show the readers. Being hearing impaired is an invisible disability and since we live in a very communicative and social world, it’s incredibly easy to be left out. I wanted the readers to feel the joy and anguish, the highs and lows that a young person with a hearing loss would go through every day.
Every author puts a lot of themselves into their characters. I certainly do. What part of Jessie, your protagonist in your series, is you? What experiences that she has had, did you? How close to home are your novels?
Jessie is a younger version of me and many of the experiences that she goes through in the trilogy series are actually mine. I would say that over 70% of the situations in the books are real. I’ve found that the more information I gleamed from my life, the more realistic that the scenes became. I have had readers come up to me and exclaim, “I cried during that chapter, it felt so real!” A rule of thumb when reading my books is that if it feels incredibly emotional, it’s probably an actual experience from my life.
I love this question that you asked me, so I’ll ask it of you, if you don’t mind. What scenes in any of your novels were emotionally difficult to write?
Many of the scenes in all three books were emotionally draining to write but it was also very therapeutic – ironically. I would have to say that Destiny was by far, the most demanding one to produce since it featured a deeply personal revelation. It was a very emotional story to write about. One of my favourite chapters in Destiny was also the most difficult to come to terms with since it’s based on a real story. I believe it’s Chapter 16, entitled Hope where we see a little girl in school which is actually Jessie at a young age and also features her spirit guide. It turned into a beautiful and magical story that holds a truly special place in my heart. I now wear a Swarovski crescent moon because of that particular chapter.
What is next for you in your career as an author?
Now that I have experience as an author, I’ve been writing short stories which are a lot of fun to do and a nice break from doing full length novels. I do have plans on producing more books, most likely in the Sci Fi genre.
What signing events do you have coming up so our readers will have an opportunity to meet you and chat?
There doesn’t seem to be very many of those in our area and at the moment, I can’t afford it. Maybe sometime in the near future that may become a possibility. However, I do a lot of public speaking at schools and conferences about hearing loss and will often bring my books with me. They tend to sell out at those events.
I always ask the authors I interview this question to help budding authors. What advice would give writers, that they can’t find on a Google search, re becoming a successful author? What advice re the publishing industry would you like to share?
I highly recommend reading the book by Janet Evanovich called “How I Write”, it has a lot of valuable about being a full time writer. I contacted her when I was doing my own queries and she was a lifesaver! (Janet’s website: http://www.evanovich.com/books/how-i-write/) Based on my own personal experiences, it takes a long time to find the right publisher. It doesn’t happen overnight. You need to be patient. After nearly two years of sending queries across Canada, I decided to try the US market. Within months, my first novel Sway was picked up by Black Opal Books. Don’t give up. Keep going after your dreams.
Her books: http://www.jennifergibson.ca/jennifers-bookstore.php
Latest news on her Facebook Author page: www.facebook.com/AuthorJenniferGibson
She’s on Twitter: @charmedchickJG
Jennifer’s Amazon Author Page: http://www.amazon.com/Jennifer-Gibson/e/B00CAWK4TS/ref=cm_sw_r_tw_nu_X7.ArbA48F9A4
Black Opal Books: http://www.blackopalbooks.com/author-bios/bio-jennifer-gibson
The trilogy series was based on a true story featuring snapshots of the author’s life growing up with a severe hearing loss. Many real life scenarios have been incorporated into the story to provide a rich and sometimes, gritty setting that can be shocking at times to read. Aside from the moral lesson of dealing with a disability, it offers an amazing sense of appreciation of how much it takes to persevere through a difficult time in life. From the very beginning we watch Jessie as she tries to find her place in the community. She does a lot of soul searching, trying to find ways to fit into a society that has trouble accepting her. In Sway, we begin to see her change and make interesting decisions based on what happens to her. Gradually, her path in life begins to shift and goes towards a new direction in Compass. She becomes more aware of who she is as a young person. In the third book Destiny, it becomes a pivotal turning point that sets her on the right path where she becomes empowered and emerges a stronger person. Throughout the turmoil in her life, Jessie discovers that she has friends in the most unexpected places. Together they guide her through some of the darkest moments she has to endure and they help her rise up and believe in herself once again. Synopsis for Destiny: Jessie’s journey began in Sway and Compass. As we continue to follow her in Destiny, she stumbles across a revelation that could change everything and finds herself standing on the precipice of life. Jessie is determined not to let her hearing loss hold her back. She aims her sights even higher as she ventures in a new direction. With a Black Belt on the horizon, and so close to achieving it, she is unaware of the danger closing in on her. Will she be strong enough to hold on or will she succumb to the darkness that surrounds her?
Please feel free to leave comments and ask Jenn questions.
The Sign behind The Crime,