On Night and Sun, with Jessika Fleck

By Melissa Warner Published February 24, 2020

YA book, Beware the Night, was originally written in 2011, but not published until 2019.  Author Jessika Fleck completed the sequel, Defy the Sun, in six weeks in the summer of 2019.  Originally planned as a trilogy, Beware the Night “ended up completely different” through the editing process.  Also, by the time it came to publication, readers seemed to be preferring duologies to trilogies. “Anything I had thought might happen in books two and three would have been thrown out the window anyway so it ended up working out…I was still learning to write and come up with characters and plot and all of that so there was a lot that needed to be taken care of.  In the long run it ended up a much much better book…I just wrote the second one fresh with a blank page.” By then, Ms. Fleck had also discovered “how much easier” outlining a book makes the writing process, at least for her. In those years, she also went through three agents, had another book, Castaways, published without an agent, and started writing middle grade books, “which I adore and love.” 

At the time of this writing, her agent is attempting to sell her “middle grade debut” which is a magical realism/fantasy book. Ms. Fleck feels “like you can be more adventurous with your imagination” and that there’s an “innocence” in middle grade writing.  By contrast, in YA there can be a sense of danger, but one is “writing for an older audience so the language is usually more sophisticated. There are more serious relationships.” Also, one “deals with more adult situations.” She pointed out the “huge gap” between middle grade and YA literature by comparing a main character who is 17 and a main character who is 11. 

When she started writing, her children were very young, and she was “just looking for a creative outlet,” rather than intentionally trying to write a YA book.  “The story that I came up with, it just worked better in that [YA] age range…It’s such a fun, confusing, angsty time and that makes for a really great character, and really great relationships and conflicts.”  Ms. Fleck believes that “teens especially…[need] books that are empowering – that can have them seeing characters facing things they are facing…In a fantasy context it’s nice because they are somewhat removed. I enjoy exploring some of the issues but in more a fantasy context.” Also, “I like the idea of being able to escape into another place that is different but still somewhat familiar to what we are used to – getting to explore it.  Or throwing a character into something totally not expected from what they’re used to is really fun, and having them figure out how to get out of it.”  

While she enjoys “steering clear of romance in middle grade” books, Ms. Fleck enjoys reading and writing romance and plans to continue including it in her books.  However, the fantasy aspect comes first. She enjoys “the complexities of relationships in general, whether romantic or family or friends.” In Defy the Sun, she “explored some same sex relationships and I would like to maybe explore some different represenation in that area which would be fun and important to me.” 

Although she now outlines while writing, “I [can] think I know where I’m going, but the characters often then take me in another direction that I hadn’t planned on.  They definitely influence where I go in the story, and plots and subplots have changed out of the blue without me really planning it.” Interestingly, the main characters in Ms. Fleck’s YA books are all female, while the main characters in her YA books are male.  She has no difficulty writing from one perspective or the other. “It’s another way I feel that characters speak to me. When I come up with the story, the first image or idea is an opening scene or line. It depends on what that is and what gender they happen to be.  I don’t make a conscious decision.” 

When asked about the publishing process, Ms. Fleck stated that “I never knew how many people were writing books and trying to get published until I started writing books and trying to get published…I have hundreds of rejections from agents who didn’t want one or another of my books for whatever reason.”  When asked how she handles rejection, she stated “I’ve gotten pretty good at it because I’ve experienced a lot of it…It’s just a part of this profession and part of getting published is getting rejected. At first it was hard…so you just take it with a grain of salt and take what you can from it…Persistence is big in this business.” 

According to Ms. Fleck, a common misconception about being a writer is “that you can just write your book and then mail it to a publisher they will look at it and publish it. In movies that’s how it happens.”  Another misconception is “that we make a lot of money and that’s not true. The majority of authors that I’ve ever known have had day jobs.” Ms. Fleck herself works part time in the floral department of a high end grocery store, “designing flowers and bouquets.”  

What keeps her writing is that it has become a “passion.”  She compared her need for writing to “any creative person has that one thing that they just need in their life,” “I just have to.”  She went on to explain, “I’ve come to this place where these stories come to me and I feel like they need to be told…Stories come to me in weird ways and it’s interesting how they take on a life of their own.  If they’re not finished, it feels like someone’s life is hanging in the background.”

As a child, she was outside a lot and loved exploring.  She was a “big Cyndi Lauper fan,” wanted to be a “Goonie” (go watch The Goonies movie), and “my head was in the clouds which hasn’t changed much.”  As a teen, she wanted to be an architect although she is unsure why; she believes that desire did not last long.  Activities in high school included art (lettering in art, in fact), track, and cheerleading (also in college). “It feels like another lifetime ago.”  

Ms. Fleck knows several things now, as an adult, that she wishes she had known in high school.  “It’s OK to make mistakes. You don’t have to be perfect. It’s important to love yourself regardless of what you look like on the outside. I’ve always had anxiety and you can learn to cope with it and it does get easier…It’s always okay to talk to someone, and go to therapy, and to reach out – maybe even more than one [of these things].”