Today on the Debutante Ball, we’re chatting with Jessica Chiarella. Her debut novel, AND AGAIN, was one of the first books I read in 2016. It is a novel that still haunts me a year later, particularly in a world that seems increasingly fraught with difficult choices. The idea of starting over with a blank slate seems appealing, but as the characters in her novel discover, starting over may not always be so easy.
AND AGAIN is the story of four terminal-ill patients who are given the chance at a new life. As part of a pilot program called SUBlife, their memories are transferred into genetically-perfect cloned versions of their bodies. They wake up completely cured, and irreparably altered. What follows is the story of how their lives and personal relationships are impacted by this change, as each of them are faced with a question: How much of who you are rests not just in your mind but in your body?
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Now, on to the interview!
Talk about one book that made an impact on you.
White Oleander by Janet Fitch had a huge impact on me when I was younger. My mom got it for me when I was about fifteen, right at the age when I was looking for female characters who didn’t look like the characters I was used to reading. Astrid Magnussen was precisely that; she was young and misguided and an outsider, but so sharp, unapologetic, and willing to make terrible choices. She didn’t feel saddled by and adult sense of morality that is so often written into teenage girl characters. Add to that Fitch’s beautiful, evocative prose, and I was hooked. It was precisely the book I needed at 15, and then at 20, and at 25…
Where do you love to be?
Chicago. Keep in mind that, as I’m writing this, it’s about 6 degrees out and I’m trying to devise how I can be productive this weekend without leaving my apartment. But I’ve always felt at home here in a way that I never have anywhere else. When I was living in Southern California I spent most of my time writing about (and missing) Chicago, not only out of homesickness, but out of a lost sense of context. Very often I feel like I make more sense here — my quirks, my personality, my sensibilities — than anywhere else that I’ve been.
Which talent do you wish you had?
I wish I could read more quickly! I’ve always been a very slow reader, so I feel like I’m always so far behind in the “great new book” conversation. There are so many wonderful books coming out all the time that I absolutely cannot keep up.
If you were a drink (preferably alcoholic), what would you be and why?
I love an Old Fashioned, so I’lll go with that! They’re a bit sweet but not too fussy, pretty dependable, and generally no-nonsense. All things I try to be.
What is your advice for aspiring writers?
Take it seriously, and don’t take it seriously. Meaning, treat writing like it’s a job, and understand that it has to take priority over a lot of other things that seem like more fun in the moment. But don’t take the writing itself too seriously; it doesn’t have to be perfect the moment it hits the page. If you’re too obsessed with perfection, you’ll never get to the end (especially of a book). Keep going, and know that the vast majority of writers have to revise multiple times to get it right.
Jessica Chiarella grew up in the Chicago area. She has a masters in writing and publishing from DePaul University and an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of California, Riverside. AND AGAIN is her first novel.
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