Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Interview: Jess Sturman-Coombs

Now let's get to know a little more about Poker Face and what inspired this book. 

1. What was your inspiration for Poker Face? Before writing Poker Face I had written a sci-fi series and a romance that I was trying to secure them with an agent. The agent I particularly wanted at that time claimed to be looking for a good legal thriller. I had never written a thriller before so I guess Poker Face was a bit of an experiment and a personal challenge for me. It wasn’t long before the characters felt so
real and exciting that my experiment had soon turned into four instalments. I’d like to say the agent went on to request a full or even partial submission, but I’d be lying if I did. I’m still very glad I queried her though because I now have a series that I’m very proud of.

2. Can you tell us a little about Ruby? Ruby is sixteen years old when we first meet her. She’s had it pretty rough with the absence of her mother throughout her childhood and living with an abusive, alcoholic father who
regularly raises his hands to her. She has had to grow up fast and work out all by herself how to tackle the obstacles that life throws her way. She is smart mouthed when she feels threatened, stubborn when she’s pushed, the most loyal of friends and very much in need of love and attention. On the outside Ruby is a hard nut to crack but on the inside she’s very insecure and lacking in confidence, with a gritty determination to change her depressing circumstances.

3. How does Ruby's home life affect her personal relationships with the men in this story? Mr Alessi, her boss, knows exactly how Ruby’s dad treats her. He’s heard the drunken
rants and aggressive outburst for himself, as well as seeing the physical signs that Ruby
tries to hide. He is strict with her because he wants her to do better, but he also shows her
compassion because he truly cares. Danny, her fellow work colleague, is difficult to start
with but later becomes a breath of fresh air in a stuffy life and office. He makes her laugh, he
stands up for her and he also puts her back together when she runs into trouble. The isolation
that stems from Ruby’s dad’s behaviour pushes her closer to the men in the story, as they
seek to provide where her father has failed.

4. Where does Ruby's motivation to seek out employment at a law firm come from? Ruby is a blagger and that’s how she’s learnt to survive. At school she spins stories to
hide the abuse and at home she spins stories to cover up her declining school grades.
Consequently, when a boy suggests she has nothing better to do than entertain him for the
summer, she does what she does best and spins. The lie is out of her mouth before she knows
it - apparently she will be too busy over the summer because she has a job in a law firm. Her
motivation to seek such employment is out of a mix of desperation for a better life and a
stubborn refusal to lose face in front of her peers.

5. As you were developing this book, how did you decide what type of career Ruby would end up in? I knew I wanted to write an urban novel and that I wanted it to be gritty and as true to a difficult life as I could possibly get. I knew what it looked and felt like but, as for the story, I was stumped. I kept coming back to the same advice ‘write about what you know’ and I
couldn’t seem to shake it. I graduated in law at the age of twenty-six and I had worked in law
firms from the age of eighteen. I left school with no qualifications at the age of sixteen and
I grew up without my parents from the age of ten. As a child I had to move from our cosy
little family home to a council estate where things were very different. There I had to learn to
stand my ground, harden up a bit and, when the odds were heavily stacked against me, run -
really fast! My experiences taught me a lot about people, friendships, family, danger and the
emotional and physical impact of major life changes. Suddenly I had my feisty young female
character, Ruby Palmer. She was going to go from street life to lawyer’s office, and she was
going to take all of her cocky little ways with her.

6. There is a romantic element in this book, but there are complications to share. Can you tell us a little about this? There is a budding romance between two of the characters that initially seems very unlikely. Ruby is like a car with no brakes, whereas her love interest is quite the opposite. He recognises that the three year age gap between them will prove less of an issue once she’s turned eighteen, but Ruby doesn’t like being made to wait. Having the control taken out of her hands makes her pretty mad and that results in fireworks. Mr Alessi is also a bit of a sticking point because, as far as he’s concerned, Ruby should be concentrating on a career. As a consequence, he keeps her super busy to keep her out of mischief.

7. Behind Ruby's personal story is the mystery of the case her boss in involved with. How does this mystery effect Ruby's story? The mystery of the case her boss is involved with leads Ruby into some very difficult and dangerous situations. Her life was a painful and sorry state before, but the work she becomes involved in is positively deadly. She finds herself trying to protect an appeal file with incriminating evidence on it, and goes as far as to risk her own life to save the new relationships she’s formed. Her life isn’t necessarily safer but it’s finally been filled with love, respect and loyalty, and she wouldn’t trade it for the world.

8. Who are your favorite authors? There are so many authors whose work I have absolutely loved and been truly inspired by. In the last few years I have really started discovering the big wide world of indie authors and there’s some really awesome work out there. Self publishing has shown me, if you try hard enough, you can get it spot on. I aim to keep trying, hard! My reading is really quite varied, from the hilarious Louise Rennison, the laugh out loud Helen Fielding, the exciting L. J. Smith, the inspirational David Nicholls and the very moving Esther Hautzig and Antonia White. I will read pretty much anything and the only thing I won’t read is gruesome horror, whether fact or fiction, because my dreams are disturbing enough.

9. Do you have any interesting rituals or habits when you write? Not really but I do have some annoying ones, like eating too many biscuits, drinking too much tea, not eating proper food, getting distracted by Twitter and Facebook and questioning my abilities ALL the time! If you asked me if I had any for a trip to the supermarket, I could give you a mega long list of really weird and wonderful rituals and habits that make the whole process so much more complicated than it really needs to be. For these reasons I do my weekly shop online!

10. Can you tell us about any future projects? I am currently editing my romance and aim to have that uploaded as an e-book in the next few months. I also want to start uploading my sci-fi/fantasy series. Although the Poker Face series will be available in paperback, as well as e-book, my other books will start as e-books and, if they attract some good reviews and feedback, may well move to paperback next year. I am also working on the third instalment of Poker Face for release in November.

Thank you very much for having me, DelSheree. I feel most honoured to be featured on your
fab Edible Bookshelf and very best wishes from the UK. It’s been a pleasure. Jess.

Stay up to date on Jess's books on her blog and website

Poker Face is available now from Amazon US and Amazon UK