I'm thrilled to feature Jessika Fleck on today's blog! Jessika is a writer of both young adult and middle grade fiction, and her work verges on fantastical and dark with a touch of realism. Jessika is also a regular contributor to the fantastic blog, Kidliterati. Her YA fantasy, BEWARE THE NIGHT (Swoon Reads/Macmillan) is out now. Check out the synopsis below!
When her world divides, pitting light against dark, Veda must join a dangerous revolution to save her grandfather and fight against injustice...even if it costs her the boy she loves.
On the island of Bellona, life is peaceful--as long as the citizens dutifully worship the Sun, which protects them from all harm. Seventeen-year-old Veda knows that keeping the Sun happy will protect her and her grandfather from the Night, the dangerous people who snatch innocent citizens from their beds under the cover of darkness, never to be seen again. As long as Veda follows the rules, she will be safe.
But when Veda's grandfather is offered up as the next sacrificial offering to keep the Sun's favor, she starts to see that the safety she's been promised comes at a dangerous price. Maybe there is more to fear above than there is below.
With a mysterious young man, Dorian, at her side, Veda has to figure out if the scary bedtime stories she grew up hearing are real--or dangerous lies.
And now, here's my chat with Jessika!
Hi, Jessika! Welcome and congrats on Beware the Night. Can you tell us a little about the story and what inspired it?
I’m so happy to be here, thanks for having me, Megan! Beware the Night is a story about light and dark, good versus evil, and a whole lot of gray shadows in between. It takes place in a timeless, Romanesque fantasy world where sixteen-year-old Veda is forced to question everything she’s ever known and face one of her greatest fears—the Night.
The inspiration for this book, like most of what I write, evolved in waves and over time. It began with the idea of a secluded island society who worshipped the sun. The setting was very much influenced by the canals, piazzas, and bridges of Venice along with the Coliseum and the games and spectacles of ancient Rome. At its heart, though, I wanted to write a story about family, love, finding inner strength, and truth and kindness challenging power and greed. Hopefully, I pulled that off.
In many ways, Veda’s story is a coming-of-age. What’s your favorite part of her emotional journey? Was there a scene you were itching to write from the get-go?
Definitely. One of my favorite parts of her journey (without giving away spoilers) would have to be Veda’s relationship with Poppy, her grandfather. Despite they spend their days in different worlds—their bond is unbreakable. Veda keeps Poppy fed (though he’d badly argue he’s a great cook), protected, and loves how he rolls his eyes when Nico insists on calling him ‘sir’. Poppy keeps Veda grounded, safe, and wouldn’t dare remind her that there’s no way her and Nico can ever be more than just friends. They’ve only had each other to depend on for as long as Veda can remember, and their love is such a treasure. Unconditional. But their bond is challenged when everything Veda thought she knew to be true is torn down. It was difficult but at the same time therapeutic to write.
One scene I couldn’t wait to write was actually cut during revisions. It was when Poppy sent Veda out on her first solo fishing expedition and when she originally met Nico around the age of eight. Poppy sends Veda out into the snow with his best piece of fishing advice, applicable to much more than fishing: Wait… Listen…
I love a good love triangle! From a craft standpoint, what’s your #1 tip for pulling off a successful love triangle in fiction?
Me too! (Obviously 😉). My #1 tip? Realistic emotional beats and building believable relationships. This can be difficult to achieve, especially in a fast-paced, twisty story where the main character’s world is basically crumbling down around them. I mean, who has time for romance much less TWO romances? But… I 100% believe it can be done and be executed in a relatable way. I think this has a lot to do with understanding your characters’ motives and personalities. Veda tends to jump into situations feet first. She’s kind, loving, a bit scrappy, and definitely impulsive. Her relationships with Nico and Dorian are so very different, take place under separate circumstances and locations, and each character is thoughtful of their actions and emotions (most of the time).
How did you approach your world-building and mythology for Beware the Night?
Like I mentioned, I started the story knowing I wanted it to be loosely inspired by Rome and Venice and that the society would worship the sun. From there it changed a lot over the course of several initial revisions and then even more during the major revisions with Swoon Reads. I tend to do my best exploring and idea building by stream-of-conscience writing and doodling in notebooks. I did a good amount of this type of brainstorming once we decided the main areas that needed revising. I also spent some time on Pinterest for visual inspiration. But, honestly, at the end of the day, with both the mythology and the world building, it was a slow evolution of tying together themes, expanding ideas, and adding a bit more of this… taking away some of that… until we had the right balance.
I'm a firm believer in the idea that every story teaches the writer something new, so what did writing Beware the Night teach you?
The revision process for Beware the Night was a bear. Definitely the hardest, most tedious, confidence busting experience I’ve ever gone through in my writing life. This book went through six full, big picture revisions. SIX. However… oh my gosh! I learned so much! Mostly that I’m able to come out on the other side of something so monumentally overwhelming and still be thrilled with the final product. Like, I did it. I lived to tell the tale. And hopefully every revision to follow will be cake in comparison. (A girl can dream…)
What are you reading, or otherwise currently infatuated with?
I’m currently reading SMALL TOWN HEARTS by Lillie Vale and am loving it! I don’t read a whole lot of contemporary, but this story is just so lovely and I’m completely infatuated with the setting (New England coastal town). I’m also busy reading for my mentee pick for round 6 of Author Mentor Match. I’m mentoring for middle grade and, while I can’t yet say who I’ll be working with, I am beyond excited to be a part of this awesome program!
And finally, what’s the most important lesson you’ve learned (so far) in your publishing career?
That persistence truly pays off and a good critique partner you can trust and support is EVERYTHING. I’ve experienced a lot of rejection since I started my writing journey years ago. There are several times I told my critique partner I was ready to quit because what was the point of all this hard work when nothing seemed to be working out? Thank the writing gods she pulled me up by my bootstraps and I kept going because I’d have never had a book published had I stopped writing or trying. Long story short, I’ve learned and grown so much and I wouldn’t change a thing, rejection and all.
Many thanks go out to Jessika for taking the time to tell us more about Beware the Night, as well as sharing her tips on crafting love triangles, and for talking about the power of persistence. Be to sure to add Jessika's immersive fantasy to your Goodreads list, or (better yet!) order your copy (WRITE) NOW from retail sites like Amazon, and Barnes & Noble, or request it at your library, or local independent bookstore!
For more information, follow Jessika on Twitter, and visit her author website at jessikafleck.com.
And, as always,