Interview with Jessica Bayliss

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Jessica Bayliss is a clinical psychologist by day and a writer all the time. Author of Ten After Closing (YA thriller, Sky Pony Press) and Broken Chords (YA horror, Leap Books), she has been a lover of thrillers and ghost tales since her days scanning VHS rental shelves—admittedly with eyes half-averted from the gory covers. She also loves to eat, cook, and exercise—in that order—and is a firm believer that coffee makes the world a better place.

Jessica is represented by Dr. Uwe Stender with Triada US Literary Agency. She is a member of SCBWI, ITW, HWA, and RWA; and her short fiction has been published in several anthologies and lit mags; and she is a Senior Editor for Allegory Magazine. She puts her psychology training to good use in PsychWRITE, a series of courses and workshops for writers. For more about Jessica, visit her website: www.jessicabaylisswrites.com.

Katelyn Wildman: Ten After Closing is your first YA novel; what pushed you to try out this new genre?

Jessica Bayliss: It was pure accident! Technically, TAC didn’t start out as a YA. (Don’t you just love stories that start out like that?) Originally, it incorporated about ten chapters from the adult characters’ POVs, but I participated in a pitch competition, got to work with a mentor, and through that process, I edited out those chapters and kept the book fully YA. (I now offer those supplemental chapters, which have been all edited up and formatted to match the book, to any interested reader.) Though those supplemental chapters were great, it worked so much better after that revision. Clearly it was a YA in a general thriller’s body, just busting to break out. After that, I just stuck with (mostly) YA. In the interim, I drafted a second MG (my first was MG) and a couple adult books too.

KW: What was your inspiration for this chilling story? What was your process for writing?

JB: My main motivation was to write a deliciously tense hostage story, and I really wanted teen-aged protagonists. The reason for that was, I loved the movie TOY SOLDIERS when I was younger. It was a hostage story too, but it took place at a boys’ school. Teenaged boys, lots of tension, bad guys, lots of scheming where everything could go wrong … but no girls. Hence, no romance. I wanted a take a stab at it and rectify the no girls bit. LOL!

JB: As for my process, I started with a detailed plot, for sure. This book was the fifth book I drafted and the third that I plotted. Plotting changes EVERYTHING, and for me, that’s a good change (I know some writers can’t do it that way; I’m a big proponent of plotting, but I’m also a big proponent of doing what works for you). This book took me the longest to plot, actually, out of all my books simply because of the alternating timelines. And it was even more complicated when I had all those other POVs in there. I had to make sure that both timelines were cohesive in and of themselves AND that the backward chapters provided insights into the forward chapters. I had to make sure that each chapter counterpointed the one that came before it or the one that came after it (or both). It took a LOT of time, about two months of active work, before I had each scene set.

KW: In this book, you switch from “before” to “after”, and you also switch point of view. Why did you decide to write the “before” sections from a third person perspective?

JB: Yes, though it was complicated, I LOVED playing around with the diverging timeline, how you learned more and more about the characters—AND about the things that got them to Café Flores at ten minutes after closing when the place was taken hostage. Literally, something that happens in Scott’s earliest scene from the very start of the day kicks off everything for both Scott and Winny. I also love how Winny’s mom was an inadvertent part of that.

JB: I chose to vary the tense and POV to make the backwards chapters feel distinct. I used first person present for the forward action so that I could really go deep inside the characters, keep it as psychologically intimate as possible. Then, I chose third person past for the backward chapters to show that bit of distance. I used a close third person POV, so they’re still very tightly tied to the individual characters’ psychological and inner experiences, but the feel is different. My hope was that the two formats would also help the reader feel more easily grounded when I made a switch.

KW: Ten After Closing includes many thrills, but you also write about very sensitive topics. Why did you decide to include the theme of domestic violence?

JB: As a clinical psychologist, I’ve worked with so many people struggling with addiction and people unable to find jobs. Starting around 2010 through 2014 or so, I worked with client after client who was in Scott’s dad’s situation: a successful person who lost his job and couldn’t’ find another. I don’t know if it was like that all over America, but in Connecticut, the job market was hit HARD, especially for anyone over 60. I guess Scott’s dad was my way of processing all that. That kind of stress is so hard, and domestic violence—in particular, violence directed one child—is one way that a scenario can play out. Not a good way, but one that happens all too often, I’m afraid.

JB: This kind of family situation can arise gradually. One little event here, and another there, and before you know it, you have something like Scott found himself in, one that has gotten really, really bad. Not only was Scott the de facto victim in the family, he was taking on all the responsibility to try to keep everything as normal as possible. I wanted to show Scott’s process of realization that he wasn’t responsible, that he’d been taking on too much; and it took a hostage crisis for him to realize how he’d been hurt and to help him feel okay with doing, what to him feels like, abandoning his family. I also wanted to show how the emotions around this situation can be not-so-clear-cut as well—for example, the way he both loves and hates his father. Scott wrestles with all of that, particularly at the end.

KW: You have a Ph.D. in clinical psychology. Do you think this impacts your writing process or story ideas?

JB: LOL! As you can see, it does. I never write about specific clients, but you hear so much as a psychologist that you can’t help but be touched by things people are living through in their lives. I also feel that my training in the Cognitive Behavioral Model, and in Motivational Interviewing, give me a really strong grounding in human emotion, thoughts, and behavior. And what are books, after all? They’re just people in situations having thoughts and emotions and doing stuff in response to that.

KW: One thing I really enjoyed while reading this book was that even the minor characters, such as Shelly Olvarez, had an important storyline. Was it difficult to give all of these characters a voice? What character do you relate to the most?

JB: No, it was so much fun. I loved portraying both “bad” and “good” guys who weren’t really all bad or all good. They, hopefully, reflect the shades of gray that define us. Even the bad guys did things for good reasons (sometimes). Ryan was technically a victim, just like Scott; Sylvie technically was a villain as seen from Ryan’s eyes as a child. And the “good guys” made mistakes. TONS of mistakes. They deceived themselves and got themselves deeper into their own difficulties—for example, Sylvie and her lying to herself about her brother; or Winny not seeing that as much as her parents wanted to dictate her life, she was also failing to speak up for what she wanted.

JB: I have a hard time naming any one character that I identify with, actually.

KW: What authors inspire your writing?

JB: This is the hardest question EVER. LOL! I love so many writers. Lately, I’ve been digging into adult thriller books, particularly those with unreliable narrators from authors such as Gillian Flynn and Wendy Walker. I love Christopher Moore and Molly Harper for their incredibly fun, snarky voice; and I love Christopher Moore’s zaniness (I love a book that melds ridiculousness and thrills). Michael Crichton, Holly Black, Margaret Mahy, R.L. Stine, and (of course) Stephen King are huge influences too.

KW: What can we expect from you in the future?

JB: AHH! Who knows! LOL. I’ve got a bunch more YA thrillers I really want to share with readers. A current favorite is a technothriller I recently revised. Yesterday, I was looking at my 2016 Nano book, which is a zany YA horror; it’s written, but I haven’t gotten back around to revise it, and it’s so much fun. But first, I have to finish drafting my current Nano book—I’m working on an adult thriller this time. It’s interesting making that switch.

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