Thursday, January 13, 2011

Introducing Jessica McCann: Debut Novelist

What's Missing from My Writing
by Jessica McCann

The first book I wrote was a murder mystery. The Missing Clock features murder, suspense, a smooth-talking private eye and a surprise plot-twist at the end, Scooby Doo-style. I was eight when I wrote it.  The book was neatly bound with two staples. It also included a color illustration of the clock in question, a priceless heirloom encased in gold and sparkling gems.

My mom, a voracious reader, was my first fan and my first critic.

"I like it," she said. "But you should describe the clock instead of just drawing a picture."

It was my first lesson in the importance of revision, though I didn't know it at the time. My second lesson came years later from my high school English teacher, Mr. Churbuck, senior year. Revision, he said, was vital because it gives you a chance to add what's missing.  And there's always something missing. The only way to earn an A in his class was to turn in a minimum of three drafts with every assignment -- one handwritten, complete with scratch marks, scribbles and arrows; one typed and littered with red-inked edits; and a typed final draft, which he would inevitably litter with red-inked edits of his own. By the end of the year, I was turning in four or five drafts, stacks of edits so thick they were barely harnessed by my second-hand stapler, and reveling in the fact that the only red mark on the final draft from Mr. C was an A+.

My mom's fierce love of books fueled my early desire to write; and Mr. Churbuck's fierce devotion to the art and craft of revision is what made me a writer.

Fortunately, those influences led to the creation of my second book, a historical novel. All Different Kinds of Free reveals one woman's courageous fight for freedom during the dark period of slavery in America. I was 38 when I finished writing it. The book went through countless drafts and revisions. It received a couple semi-finalist nods as a work-in-progress and a major literary award as a completed manuscript. I had landed an agent and was on submission to publishers when I gave my mom a printout to read.

"I like it," she said, handing it back to me roughly two weeks later. "I want to read a sequel."

Jessica McCann, a professional freelance writer and novelist, lives with her family in Phoenix, Arizona. Her nonfiction work has been published in Business Week, The Writer and Phoenix magazines, among others. All Different Kinds of Free (Bell Bridge Books, April 2011) is her debut novel. She welcomes interaction with readers and writers at her website ( and on Twitter (@JMcCannWriter).


Karen said...

Jessica, I've pre ordered your book it sounds fabulous!
revision. Sigh. Candy, my inner critic would have me revise in the grave. Your thoughts were a great reminder there is balance :-).
I'm on twitter too: KarenKMMonroy--I'll try to find you.


Rebecca Rasmussen said...

Hi K, I am trying to do the exact same thing -- where did you pre-order the book form...I'll include a link here if you tell me :) xoxoxox

Doreen McGettigan said...

I look forward to reading your book Jessica!
Oh revisions..I am learning to love them!

Anonymous said...

Thanks Karen and Doreen for the kind words about my book. And thanks Rebecca for inviting me to contribute my thoughts. I've been wanting to pay homage to my former English teacher for some time, and this seemed the perfect venue.

Anonymous said...

Love that you have two specific points of reference when you look at your writing life! What a great foundation to build from, a supportive mom and a great teacher.

I am also looking forward to the book and can't wait to to talk it up in the Twittershere! So excited for you. Remember this time well; you are only a debut novelist once. :)

Beth Hoffman said...

Congrats on your forthcoming book. It sounds terrific!

Anonymous said...

Hallie and Beth, thanks so much for the kind words. Your well wishes and support mean a lot!


Mara said...

Jessica, great post --- I personally think more novels should include sparkly illustrations! Bring on the glitter. Congratulations on the debut! And congratulations to your Mom as well on knowing a winner when she reads it!

Anonymous said...

Great post, Jessica. Revisions ARE so important, and yet, sometimes so hard to tackle. Best wishes to you in the coming year~

Anonymous said...

Mara, we could all use a little more sparkle in our lives, couldn't we? :)

Amanda, I definitely have a love/hate relationship with revisions. So necessary, yet so challenging.

Thank you both for reading and posting comments!

Anonymous said...

I love reading how you grew in your writing craft. That's an amazing response to your historical novel - can't wait to read it!

Melissa Crytzer Fry said...

Congrats, Jessica. I feel privileged to have already read ALL DIFFERENT KINDS OF FREE. Your readers will not be disappointed with the captivating tale you've spun! Thanks for sharing a personal vignette from your life; always fun to learn where a writer finds her roots!

"These are the days when Birds come back/a very few/a Bird or two/to take a backward look."

"These are the days when Birds come back/a very few/a Bird or two/to take a backward look."