September 3, 2011

Psychtember Interview with Jackie Morse Kessler

I'm happy to welcome Jackie Morse Kessler, author of the Riders of the Apocalypse series, to the blog today! She is the author of Hunger, Rage and the upcoming Loss.

Here's the synopsis for her first book, Hunger:  

(from Goodreads): “Thou art the Black Rider. Go thee out unto the world.”

Lisabeth Lewis has a black steed, a set of scales, and a new job: she’s been appointed Famine. How will an anorexic seventeen-year-old girl from the suburbs fare as one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse?

Traveling the world on her steed gives Lisa freedom from her troubles at home: her constant battle with hunger, and her struggle to hide it from the people who care about her. But being Famine forces her to go places where hunger is a painful part of everyday life, and to face the horrifying effects of her phenomenal power. Can Lisa find a way to harness that power — and the courage to battle her own inner demons?

And a bit about Jackie herself (from her website):

Jackie Morse Kessler grew up in Brooklyn, NY, with a cranky cat and overflowing shelves filled with dolls and books. Now she’s in Upstate NY with another cranky cat, a loving husband, two sons, and overflowing shelves filled with dragons and books (except when her sons steal her dragons). She has a bachelor’s degree in English and American Literature, and yet she’s never read any Jane Austen (with or without zombies). She also has a master’s degree in media ecology. (The living study of technology and culture. Which is cool, but she still can’t figure out how to use Tweetdeck.)

Jackie spends a lot of time writing, reading, and getting distracted by bright and shiny new ideas. (She just came up with a new idea right now.) She has a weakness for chocolate and a tendency to let her cat take over her office chair.

You can read my review of Hunger here.

Now on to the questions!

1.) There are many YA novels that involve eating disorders, but yours stands out because of the creative premise of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Did you set out to write a book about eating disorders using Famine as the main character, and then later expand that to an entire series? Or was it always your intention to write about each of the four Riders, from the beginning?

JMK: It took me 10 years before I finally let myself write HUNGER. (A writing tip: Don’t wait 10 years to write a book!) When I was done, and my agent sold it to Harcourt, she then asked me, “So, which Horseman are you going to write about next?” And I was like, “NEXT???” I really hadn’t planned on a next book at that point; getting HUNGER written and sold was about as much of a goal as I had. But thanks to my agent, I started thinking about the other Horsemen. RAGE is War’s story, and it’s about self-injury. LOSS is Pestilence’s tale, which looks at bullying. And I’m gearing up to write BREATH, which will be Death’s story. **rubs hands gleefully**

2.) From what I understand, Hunger is partly based on your personal experience with bulimia. Was there a reason you centered the story around a girl struggling with anorexia, instead?

JMK: I liked the parallel of a girl who purposely withheld food to become Famine; that felt more poetic than a girl who binges and purges becoming Famine.

3.) How has writing the next books in the series, Rage and Loss, differed from writing Hunger? Have you had to do more research?

JMK: Once I figured out the main character, HUNGER came flooding out. Maybe that’s because it had been percolating for 10 years. :) That book took four weeks. (Granted, it’s a very short book!). But for RAGE, it took me a while to figure out the main character, and that didn’t happen until after I found the opening line. (I’m weird; I need a first line to start writing.) I found that line after my cat died, and from there I started to get to know the main character. Meanwhile, I did lots of research into self-injury. RAGE was a very emotional book, and at times it left me feeling horribly battered and raw. It was exhausting to write. And then came the day I finally heard the voice of War, and that was an epiphany. :)

As for LOSS...oy. Twenty-two drafts. No one should have to take 22 drafts to write a book! But after rereading the entire story (I just finished reviewing the copy edits), I can say that the final product was worth all the trial and error. LOSS fought me a lot — which is ironic, since the main character is so horribly bullied. There’s a subplot about Alzheimer’s disease, and for a while, I couldn’t decide what sort of book I wanted to write. At one point, the entire middle section was going to take an altogether different turn, and I had to set it aside and start it over when I realized it was completely wrong for this particular story. But yay, I figured it out, finally. My editor was extremely helpful, and thanks to her I was able to make LOSS much stronger. I’m looking forward to readers meeting Billy Ballard.

4.) Lisa and Tammy have a very interesting relationship, in which each of them enables the other. You mention in the Author’s Note that you had a close friend who was also bulimic. Did you take aspects of your friendship and use them to shape Lisa and Tammy’s relationship? If so, which ones?

JMK: The character Lisa is very, very loosely based on — inspired, really — my friend. She was the one who taught me about bulimia. We binged and purged together. We absolutely enabled each other in our disorders, and you can see that when Tammy texts Lisa at the diner and again when Tammy binges while Lisa watches. My friend and I were also very close, though; it wasn’t just about the eating disorders. I touched on that a little at the beginning of HUNGER, when Tammy comes over to Lisa’s house and they sit in the kitchen playing cards and chatting.

5.) You invite all four Riders of the Apocalypse over for a dinner party. What happens?

JMK: Famine sits in sullen silence while War tells offensive jokes and takes to the food and drink with a hearty appetite. Pestilence sneezes over the salad. And Death sits in the corner, strumming a guitar and humming a tune. :)

6.) If you could tweet one message to your character Lisa, what would you tell her?

JMK: If it’s before the events of HUNGER: Find your balance and plant your feet. If it’s after the events of HUNGER: You rock out loud.

7.) Death agrees to play a song of your choice on guitar for you. What song do you pick?

JMK: Hah! Well, he’s in a Nirvana phase at the moment, so I’d have to go with “Jesus Don’t Want Me For A Sunbeam.”

8.) A participating blogger, Laura from All of Everything, recently read Hunger and would like to know how you found your own balance in life, since it was such an important concept to Lisa in the book.

JMK: I wish I could say that there was one piece of advice I received, or one event that happened, that suddenly flipped a switch and let me see the light. It hasn’t been that easy. There’s been a lot of trial and error over the years. :) But lately, I’ve found something that works for me. It’s a combination of things, really.

First, you have to understand that I have a full-time day job, as well as the writing. I also have a husband whom I love dearly, two sons aged 10 and 8 who mean the world to me, and a cranky 18 year old cat who likes to get me up before dawn. I am responsible for my family, but I’m also responsible for myself; if I let myself get too wound up over things — OMG HOW ARE MY NUMBERS??? OMG HOW CAN I FIND TIME TO WRITE??? OMG I STILL HAVE TO DO LAUNDRY FOOD SHOP MAKE DINNER PICK UP THE KIDS CLEAN AHHHHH — then eventually I get sick. And if I really let those things eat at me, I get blue. Sometimes, I get depressed. And then nothing is good — not how I look, how I feel, what I do. Nothing is good enough when I’m like that. So I’ve made it my goal to find my bliss. :)

These are the things that I’ve found that are working for me:

1. Eat right. For some people, that may mean going vegan and eating whole grains; for others, it might mean lots of animal protein and watching the processed carbs. For still others, it’s everything in moderation and watching portion sizes. Finding the right eating style that works can help with everything from energy levels to mood to weight. And note: it’s **not** about being thin. It’s about being healthy. :) (And, in my case, it’s also about having that chocolate once in a while! Yum!!!)

2. Move. I’ve been doing tae kwon do for more than 19 months, and it’s been amazing. It’s built my confidence, increased my flexibility, and hey, I can break boards! With my hands! And not break bones in the process! My husband and sons do it too, so it’s terrific that we do this as a family. I’ve also met wonderful friends through TKD. And, to improve my performance in TKD, I also do moderate cardio 4 – 5 times a week and strength training 3 times a week. When I feel strong, I feel good.

3. Talk. When you’re a writer, it’s easy to just live in your head. That’s why it’s so important to have people to share your life with. I’m so thankful for my husband and my amazing friends. And I’m just as thankful for all my online friends! Sometimes, connecting with people in 140 characters is all it takes. :)

4. Me time. With all that I do for others — as a wife, as a mother, as an employee, as an author, as a daughter, as a friend — it’s become vital that I take some time for me. Maybe that’s just to catch a Doctor Who rerun, or read a book, or take a long walk outside with my iPod playing. But a little downtime, me time, is important — and I’ve stopped feeling guilty for taking it. :)

Thanks so much for taking the time for this interview, Jackie! I'm looking forward to checking out Rage and Loss.


  1. I love Jackie's books and can't wait to read Loss. Thanks for this fabulous interview!

  2. Aw that was a great interview! I love her answer to my question! Clearly her methods are working :) So looking forward to Loss and Breath.

  3. Jackie cracks me up, she has the most interesting answers!! :) Your books sound amazing for the YA audience. Thanks for the blog posting.

  4. The subplot about Alzheimer's has me really excited about Loss.

  5. Jackie, as you know, I adore your books. I am anxiously awaiting LOSS and (especially) BREATH!

    Danya, you asked some great questions.

    I enjoyed this interview!


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