When I look back over my career(s), it’s painfully evident that I had trouble figuring out what I wanted to be when I grew up.
Thanks to my love of animals (especially all things equine), I started out as a veterinary technician at a state-of-the-art horse hospital. But guess what? Being around sick and injured horses every day is a pretty depressing occupation for an avid horse lover. I just couldn’t do it. So back to college I went for a degree in Journalism.
I lasted 18 years in a newspaper newsroom before deciding I needed another change. Pulling out the pages of notes I’d been writing and collecting over the years, I began trying to piece them together into something coherent. After a few years I ended up publishing my first book…a Civil War novel called Shades of Gray (now called the Shades of Gray Trilogy).
Anyone who has read Shades knows that it includes a horse who is a character in his own right. In fact, I am amazed that readers still remember that horse’s name even though the book was first released more than a dozen years ago! (It’s Justus).
The writing of Shades of Gray—and all of the novels since—have taught me the necessity of good research. Even though it was my first novel, Shades ended up receiving accolades from a diverse audience that included history professors, avid romance readers and hardcore Civil War buffs. It also received a number of awards.
You’re probably thinking my “research” involved sitting around reading dusty old history books. Well, you’re partly right, because I did do some of that. But I also slept on the ground at a Civil War reenactment surrounded by more than 10,000 other “soldiers.” How else would I know what it’s like to be awakened at 2 a.m. by the jingling bits and stomping hooves of a mounted patrol just feet from my head?
And without that experience, I wouldn’t be able to describe what a military encampment in the 1860s actually smells like—or feels like—when smoke from hundreds of campfires burns your eyes and assaults your nose.
Research is now a part of my routine and one of my favorite parts of being an author. And since I now write both historical fiction and suspense/thrillers, my research has taken me on some exciting and heart-stopping adventures.
Want to know some of the other things I’ve done?
- Fired a real cannon.
- Took part in a high-speed car chase with a professional driver. (I was a passenger, hanging on for dear life).
- Slept aboard a paddlewheel steamboat in the Tennessee River.
- Participated in a press briefing at the White House for my novel Presidential Advantage.
- Rode on horseback across the field at Pickett’s Charge (no one was shooting at me, but still).
- Flew in a Vietnam-era Huey, zipping over tree tops and diving down across the fields with the door open.
- Went target shooting out of a helicopter (With a real combat pilot who dove and turned as if we were under fire for added effect).
I’ve also attended a machine gun shoot, toured the USS Midway, sat in the pew where Robert E. Lee and George Washington worshipped, and worked as a stagehand on everything from musicals and operas to country shows and comedians.
What’s next in the research realm? Well I have plans to ride in a WWII tank and I’ll be swimming with manatees for an upcoming freelance environmental/travel article.
The best part is, I think I’ve finally found what I love doing—creating worlds where readers can escape from real life for a few hours. I enjoy crafting characters that resonate, and I’m passionate about writing storylines that make people laugh, cry, feel, understand—and care—about what the characters are going through.
Some authors can do that through their own active imaginations. I have to experience it through sight, sound, touch and smell so I can write it about it as authentically as possible.
A few years after Shades of Gray was published, I was honored to find out that a teacher used the Civil War novel in her classroom for students who weren’t avid readers. She said the scenes were so vivid that they were able to visualize it and become engrossed in the story.
I may not have taken a straight path on my journey to becoming an author, but I’m happy about where I ended up!
If you’re interested, here’s a blurb for Shades. (According to readers, you don’t have to like historical fiction to enjoy this love story). You can take a look at the trailer for Shades of Gray at www.jessicajamesbooks.com.
They started as worn enemies. Can they open their hearts to love?
A moving Civil War tale of dueling convictions, impossible choices, and enduring love.
History is brought to life in this epic Trilogy when a renowned Confederate cavalry officer discovers that the woman he promised his dying brother he would protect, is the Union spy he vowed to his men he would destroy. This timeless love story illuminates the fine line between friends and enemies at a time when traditions and principles were worth defending at all costs.
Some of my favorite emails about Shades of Gray:
“My house is a mess, my sink is piled high with dishes and my husband ate watermelon for dinner because I could not put down Shades of Gray. Could. Not. Put. Down. Honestly, this book completely captivated me and left me emotionally drained. I loved it!!!”
“I’ve not been much of a reader and was given Shades of Gray. I’ve read it five times and fall in love every time I read it. Because of you I have developed a love for reading.”
“It is now 1 a.m. cause I couldn’t put down my I-pad with your delicious novel. Thank you for the pleasure you afforded this 81 year old.”
“This has got to be the greatest love story ever told.”
“Wonderful, fabulous book! I seldom reflect back on a book, but this one has haunted me since I finished it at 2 a.m.”
Jessica James is an award-winning author of historical fiction, suspense/thrillers and heartwarming Southern small town fiction, who has a special place in her heart for old trees, old houses and old books. She writes inspirational novels with emotional plots, fascinating characters, unforeseen twists, and touches of heart-warming romance.
In addition to almost two dozen literary awards, Jessica recently received a 2021 RONE Award for her Christmas novel Sleigh Bells Ring, which is a heartwarming cowboy romance filled with second chances, hometown traditions, and the magical promise of the holiday season.
Connect with Jessica everywhere by clicking HERE and don’t forget to check out her blog Past Lane Travels, where she writes about interesting off-the-beaten-path historical sites she visits. You can click this link to sign up for her newsletter and receive a free book: https://www.subscribepage.com/jessicajamesnews.
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