A Mom, a Soldier in Iraq, and a Busy Writer: Meet Jessica Scott
Many military romance writers have service in their background, but Jessica Scott has the freshest view around. Both a mother and a career soldier in the United States Army, she’s currently deployed, along with her military husband, in Iraq .
But that hasn’t stopped her from writing. Jessica blogs about her experiences, tweets on Twitter, and recently placed her romantic suspense manuscript War’s Darkest Fear, in the capable hand of super agent Kim Whalen of Trident Media.
Fascinated with Jessica’s personal story, I asked her to come visit us at Boxing the Octopus to answer a few questions.
BtO: Welcome to the blog, Jessica, and thank you so much for being with us. Having written stories featuring characters returning from the war zone, I’m especially interested in hearing about your take on life as a woman in the military.
First of all, can you tell us a little about what you’re up to at the moment and where you’re located?
JS: Thanks so much for having me! I'm recently back from R&R and am in Mosul, Iraq. I'm a Signal officer, which means I work on the communications network for my brigade. As far as writing goes, I'm rewriting, from scratch, my very first novel, hoping to get back to the original idea that sparked it: a soldier/mom who's lost her spouse in the Iraq war but continues to serve, despite being a single mom.
BtO: Sounds like a great concept. And thank goodness for the Internet, and for men and women willing to serve our country at home and abroad. If it’s not too personal, how do you and you husband handle the family situation?
JS: I admit to becoming somewhat of an Internet addict during my deployment. Thank God for Skype, I get to call home to the kids (both girls, age 2 and 4) on a fairly regular basis. My husband is deployed over here in Mosul with me and even though we work opposite shifts, just getting to see him for a few minutes every day makes a huge difference in my morale. The girls are really doing great. My mom assures me that there are some rough days and my oldest doesn't quite know what to do with her emotions sometimes, but the relatively constant phone calls and web cam sessions seem to help. This is the first time I've deployed away from the kids but my husband's third deployment. We kept in touch via email and web cams when we could and it really helped when he finally did come home. Overall, the constant deployments have made us both realize the importance of time with each other and our children.
BtO: Thanks so much, and it's great that you have such strong family support.
Which came first for you, the military or an interest in writing novels? And what special challenges do those two competing career paths create in your life?
JS: I've been a soldier since I was eighteen. I joined the army right out of high school and never looked back but I've always written, too. When I went to Officer Candidate School in 2007, I had an idea for a story and it just kept coming, forming my first (now under the bed) book After the War. I decided after finishing it that hey, why not become a writer (but of course New York would love this book: it was crap and never should have gone out but what else to we unpublished writers have if not faith in our own work). And I've kept writing almost daily ever since. As far as special challenges, I'm sure one most folks can relate to is the need for time. While I'm still unpublished, it's hard to explain to my husband the need to get pages done when there's only the deadline in my head. And I chose a pen name to write under because I'm an army officer and therefore, I need to be more careful with things I say in a public forum. Even though I do write under a pen name, I still remain conscious of what I say in public because of my obligations as an officer.
BtO: On the flip side, what special advantages does your military career offer you as a writer?
JS: I've been told by other authors that my characters and writing is very real. I spend a lot of time around men, so I have a perspective from the guys I hang out with that differs from someone who hasn't walked in my boots. I'm by no means an expert on all things army but the thing I've learned the most is that our men and women in uniform are just people like every one else. I've got an inside glimpse into the army life and a life impacted by Iraq and Afghanistan. I think that gives me the ability to put a little more reality into my characters because most of their traits are inspired by the men and women around me. I also have a different perspective regarding the roles of women in combat arms versus women in combat than some folks who haven't worn the uniform. My military experiences have shaped how I see the world. I didn't realize how differently I saw things from civilians until I joined the Austin RWA and met the most fantastic group of writers out there. They've taken me under their collective wing and helped me out as I've grown as a writer and I wouldn't be nearly as sane if not for their support while I've been over here.
BtO: I agree that RWA chapters can make an incredible difference for aspiring and published authors!
How did you manage to not only write but attract the attention of an agent while bouncing around between the US and the sandbox?
JS: Stubbornness, pure and simple. And the desire NOT to tell my husband that you know, that writer, thing? I'm giving up (especially not after he bought me a Macbook so I could have Scrivener). Seriously, though, I had finally accepted the advice of my critique partner and STOPPED shopping my book with agents. I'd gotten a great rejection letter from an editor and I sat on it for a while. Then I sat down with a member of the Austin RWA who helped me get the book that is now War's Darkest Fear into shape. Contrary to what people might think, there's a whole lot of hurry up and wait in the army, so the time I had, I either read or wrote.
I won't lie and tell you there have been periods of time where I was simply too busy to write but for the most part, I tried to write every day after my first month in theater and kept that trend going until I went on R&R. I just kept at it. You can't succeed if you give up and I knew landing an agent would happen, it just took time: first to get my book into the right shape, then to find the right one.
BtO: With so much hurry up & wait in publishing, maybe the army's a good training ground!
Care to tell us a little about War’s Darkest Fear, the manuscript your agent is currently shopping?
JS: She's not shopping it yet. We're waiting until after the summer break in publishing but I'm excited at the prospect. Fear is a wounded GI story but I tackled it from the fear that I heard a lot around the army. The fear of losing a limb is more than just flesh. It's losing the ability to be in the army. The normalcy that life in the army brings. So my main character has nothing in his life but the army and must confront the reality of life without the army that defines him. And the woman that cares for him has her own challenges to over come in allowing herself to care for a man who's first love is the army.
BtO: Sounds like a wonderful story; I'll be in line to read that one for sure.
Do you have any concerns about the reaction of your fellow soldiers and commanding officers once the book makes it into print? (Thinking positively here!)
JS: I'm sure there will be people who troubleshoot my writing as inaccurate or wrong or dismiss it as 'trashy romance'. I have changed some aspects to add to the drama, but for the most part, I try to stick with reality as it's been defined for me in the units I've been a part of. One of the reasons I chose a pen name is because I don't want to advertise that hey, this is me and I don't want it to distract from my mission but I also haven't hidden my writing from my unit and I'm not going to lie about it. Mostly, I simply hope they read it before they form an opinion on it. But there will alway be negativity and those who seek to pull people down. I just hope the people who like my book outweigh those who don't. Plus, I'm pretty pro soldier in my books and I hope that giving people insight into the motivations of the soldiers who make up the army will only be a good thing for the army.
BtO: You have a terrific attitude!
Thanks so much for joining us, Jessica. We’ve been delighted to get to know you a little and wish you the very best, both in your writing career and current deployment. Stay safe and keep us posted on your progress! And BtO readers, if you have questions or comments for Jessica, she'll pop back to respond as she's able.
JS: Thanks so much for having me! I'm so grateful for the chance to tell your readers a little about my work, both as a writer and as a soldier. I'm looking forward to reading your latest, Beneath Bone Lake!