Interview: Jackie Kessler

First off, I have to apologize to Jackie Kessler. I so misread an email and didn’t realize I had this in my inbox as soon as I did. I am so sorry Jackie!!

Now, on to the matter at hand. During RT, I had the chance to sit down with Jackie and we had a great chat about Jezzie from the Hell on Earth series. Strangely enough, we ended up talking more about the Hell on Earth and Riders series than Shades of Gray (coauthored with Caitlin Kittredge), which comes out on Tuesday (July 1st in the UK as Shades of Night). In either case, all of Jackie’s novel are fabulous, so there was plenty to talk about.


Jet and Iridium—best friends turned bitter enemies—teamed up to foil the evil plans of the rogue superhero known as Night, but in defeating him they inadvertently destroyed the secret Corp-Co transmitter whose frequency kept the metapowered heroes of the Squadron in line. Now these heroes have turned against New Chicago, ransacking the city they once protected.

Even worse, the powerful antisuperhero group known as Everyman has taken advantage of the chaos to fan the flames of prejudice against all superpowered men and women. Just when New Chicago needs them most, Jet and the small band of heroes who have remained on the right side of the law find themselves the targets of suspicion and outright hatred.

Things aren’t going much better for Iridium. When she springs her father, a notorious supervillain, from prison to help her fight the marauding ex-superheroes, she finds that Corp-Co still has some nasty tricks up its sleeve.

But when the most dangerous man alive, the sociopath known as Doctor Hypnotic, suddenly surfaces, Jet and Iridium will once again be called upon to set aside their differences. Yet in the process, deeply buried secrets will come to light that will change everything the former best friends think they know about each other and themselves.

Make sure you stick around to the end. We’ll be giving away a copy of the first novel in the Icarus Project, Black and White, to a lucky individual.

Literary Escapism: Why Jezzie and Jet? What was it about them that drew you to them and want to tell their stories?

Jackie Kessler: With Jezebel, I knew I wanted to write about a demon. For me at the time, that automatically meant a succubus. If it’s going to be a female demon, then it’s going to be a succubus. I just wrote her. I used to joke that if I was a demon and Jezzie were Jewish, we would be the same person—except you would never catch me taking off my clothes on stage for money. A lot of her humor is my sense of humor. I just had so much fun writing Hell’s Belles. It was very holistic, and boom, it just happened.

With Jet, I very purposefully set out to write a character that was almost the polar opposite of Jezebel. If you’ve ever liked Dungeon and Dragons, Jezzie is Chaotic Good and Jet is Lawful Good. I wanted a character who was very much “hero by the book,” very repressed and very insecure but has to fight that to do the right thing. When she is in public and has her superhero suit on, she’s all “Yes, citizen.” But when you get to see her private thoughts, she’s not quite that way. She’s still very much by the book, but then you also find out that she has a lot of darkness inside of her—that’s the Shadow voices. I guess the closest thing to thing of would be schizophrenia. So Jet needs to grab onto rules and structure to help keep her faith.

Literary Escapism: Where did the inspiration come from for your version of Hell and its connection with Heaven? Did you have a specific goal or feel in mind?

Jackie Kessler: I pulled from a lot of different influences and sources, a lot of different authors, and a little bit of the Bible. As for geography, I drew a map. I thought it would be so cool to have Hell divided by the seven deadly sins, so I ran with that. Its connection with Heaven happened while I was in the middle of writing Hell’s Belles.

At first, it was supposed to be a different book. The working title was Demons Don’t Dance, and after a management change in Hell Jezebel got outsourced, and so she decided to quit. In this version, she chose to become mortal. What is a mortal going to do after basically sleeping with people for 4,000 years? She was going to be a call girl. She was going to fall in love with a cop who had lost his faith, and there was going to be this love triangle between them and a dance instructor. (I have no idea where that came from.) I was in the middle of writing what ended up being a later chapter; at that time, it was chapter one. It was a Hell scene, and I was writing and writing and it just hit me that walking away from Hell is not as much fun as running away from Hell. If she’s running, she’s going to need a reason. So why did she run away? Well, she ran away from Hell because of the Announcement. Great, so what’s the Announcement? I had to backtrack and figure out what was big enough that would shake up a demon’s worldview so much that she would just run away from everything she had ever known. This was when I came up with the connection to Heaven.

Neil Gaiman is one of my all-time favorite authors, and my Hell series is very heavily influenced by his Sandman series—but I would like to think that I applied my own twists to it and made this vision of Hell my own.

Literary Escapism: The Hell on Earth series focuses mainly on the Lust section—what about the other sections? Could we see future stories focusing on different parts of Hell?

Jackie Kessler: I used to joke that of course there are sizzling sex scenes in the books: Jezebel is a demon of Lust; if she was a demon of Gluttony, it would be all about the food. I haven’t really thought past this particular portion of Hell in terms of upcoming stories, so we’ll see what happens. That being said, there will be a bunch of Hell short stories appearing in 2011, focusing on other characters—including Caitlin the witch, Paul’s dead fiancée Tracy, Megaera the Fury, and Jezebel herself, pre-Hell’s Belles.

Literary Escapism: Jezebel is obviously a very dominant character and she is often seen on your site in interviews.

Jackie Kessler: She would be cracking up if she heard you call her “dominant.” Maybe “dominatrix.”

Literary Escapism: What have your feelings been for her? How much of yourself is reflected in her? Has she been an exasperating character or is she pretty easy to write?

Jackie Kessler: Her sense of humor is definitely a reflection of me. There’s a semblance of me in every character that I write because I created them. Jezzie has transformed over the series. She’s done things that I hadn’t anticipated. That was all Jezebel.

And then there’s Daun. He was supposed to be a minor character. In Hell’s Belles, if you know what Roman does at the end of the book, that was supposed to be Daun. He was supposed to come and go, but he refused to be a minor character. When I was writing The Road to Hell, again he was supposed to be very minor, and the god Pan was supposed to be relatively major. But it just didn’t work out that way. Instead, Daun had an important role in Road, and we ended up meeting Pan in Hotter than Hell. Daun simply refused to be minor. That’s why I had to write Hotter than Hell: he just wouldn’t shut up.

Here’s where it starts sounding like “Jackie Kessler, up your meds.” There was one scene in Hotter than Hell, where Daun has to go to Jezzie’s club because he needs to talk to her to get her take on how to seducing a human who is bound for Heaven. According to the outline I wrote, the chapter was supposed to open with Jezzie and Daun in the private room, having their conversation. Except Daun said to me, “I want to watch Jezzie dance.” I said, “No. We’ve had two books of Jezebel dancing. Enough with Jezebel dancing. No one cares about Jezebel dancing.” He said, “I care. I want to see her dance.” I said, “Shut up, you dumb demon. No dancing.” He said, “Then I’m not working.” And I ended up with writer block for a couple of weeks because I could not write the scene.

So I finally said, “Fine, you prima donna demon,” and I wrote the scene that started with Daun in the club, watching Jezebel dance. I think it ended up being a really good scene, and it hints at something important about Jezebel that comes up in Hell to Pay.

So if I don’t write the story true to the characters, the characters get loud.

Literary Escapism: At the end of Hotter than Hell, it very much gives the idea that Jezzie doesn’t have the full story.

Jackie Kessler: No, Jezebel doesn’t have the full story. It’s always fun when the characters don’t know as much as you do. By the end of Hell to Pay, she’ll know the deal.

Literary Escapism: Is she going to be mad?

Jackie Kessler: Oh God, yeah. Hell to Pay is very revealing.

Literary Escapism: Are you planning on bringing Jezebel back to the series in a more prime role than what she had in Hotter than Hell?

Jackie Kessler: The POV goes back to Jezebel. And we’ll get to see a lot more of Paul.

Literary Escapism: Really? Paul doesn’t really make that big of a splash in any of the novels.

Jackie Kessler: Well, I think he had a bit more of a role in The Road to Hell than he did in Hell Belles. And he did play a big part in the novella A Hell of a Time (in the Eternal Lover anthology). In Hell to Pay, we also get to see Daun, Alecto, Lucifer, Angel, some new characters, and Caitlin the witch.

Literary Escapism: Is Hell to Pay after Hell’s Angel?

Jackie Kessler: Absolutely. Please do real Hell’s Angel before you read Hell to Pay. Is it mandatory? No. Do you have to read Hell’s Angel to read Hell to Pay? No. However, it tells you something very important about Angel. (Poor Angel.)

Literary Escapism: Speaking of demons, are your Riders going to be demons?

Jackie Kessler: Nope. Hunger is about an anorexic teenage girl who becomes the new Famine of the Horseman of the Apocalypse; she is not a demon. If anything, I guess you can say that the Horseman are the eternal spirits of what they represent. So the essence of Famine is now housed inside a seventeen-year-old girl. That doesn’t go over very well.

Literary Escapism: So kind of like a dual-personality possession?

Jackie Kessler: Not exactly. Famine is distinct from Lisa, the main character, but Famine is also Lisa. They actually come to a balance much better in Hunger than what happens in the second book, Rage. That second book is about a sixteen-year-old girl, Missy, who self-injures…and becomes the new avatar of War. Rage was the most difficult book I have ever written. I guess it’s appropriate that War and Missy don’t come to a very easy balance.

Literary Escapism: Aside from the YA factor, how does this world differ from either the Hell on Earth or Icarus Project worlds?

Jackie Kessler: The tone of the book is completely different. If anything, it’s magical realism. It’s also an issue novel: it’s a book about anorexia, and I get to talk about it using the Horseman of the Apocalypse. It’s very much a book about eating disorders, as opposed to being a book about the Horseman of the Apocalypse and the main character happens to be anorexic. It’s not a romance at all. Yes, Lisa does have a boyfriend, James, but it is not a romance. It is not a love story. If it’s anything, it’s a story of coming of age. It’s a story about how Lisa finds her balance.

Literary Escapism: Is there going to be a connecting thread between Hunger and Rage, or are they going to be stand alones?

Jackie Kessler: They are stand alones, but the connecting thread between them is the character Death. He is the same in both. He’s the original, and he happens to look like Kurt Cobain. I love Death—he’s great. I’ve been playing way too much Nirvana on my iPod. I actually had a dream about Kurt Cobain when I was finishing Rage. In the dream, I was at a party and Kurt Cobain was there, and he was very sad. He got off the phone and was about to tell me something…and of course that’s when I woke up.

Literary Escapism: Really?

Jackie Kessler: Really. I don’t know why Death looks like Kurt Cobain. It just happened because that’s who he is in this book. (I sound crazy!)

After I finished Hunger, Heather Brewer, my crit partner, read it and loved it. I went to DragonCon last year and we were roommates. She had gone to New Orleans before DragonCon, and she found the perfect thing there for me. She gave it to me at DragonCon. It’s a little statue of Kurt Cobain with a skull for a face. I was like, “It’s perfect!”

Literary Escapism: What is the Hunger world going to be like?

Jackie Kessler: It’s our world. It’s supernatural, and it’s about high school kids and everything they have to go through and the issues that they have to deal with. Plus the larger issues in each book: in Hunger’s case, eating disorders; in Rage’s case, it’s self-injury.

Literary Escapism: What do you think your reaction is going to be from your current readers? It sounds like it’s going to be a lot different than what we’ve seen from you.

Jackie Kessler: Part of what I’ve done is differentiate between the two bylines. On the site, I have a section that says “the Riders,” and that links over to my young adult site, where I really get into it. I think that my adult readers know that Hunger is young adult, and they’ve been hearing what’s its about. So I think I’ve set up the expectation that this is going to be something different. That’s why I use a slightly different name—it’s just enough to separate the two.

As for the young adult readers, I don’t know if they’ve read my adult series. I don’t link my young adult site to my adult site. I have nothing to hide, but when I was twelve, I loved Judy Blume—she was my goddess, I loved her—and I read Wifey because that was by Judy Blume. I should have known by reading the back cover copy when it said “Wifey was tired of chicken on Wednesdays and sex on Saturdays” that this was not going to be the same type of book as Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret. But I read it, and I ended up asking my father, “Daddy, what’s gonorrhea?”

I know a lot of authors who write adult with sizzling sex scenes, who also write young adult under the same name. Like they’ve said, in the bookstore, the two audiences are separated into sections. They’re right, and they’ve made a great decision. But it just wasn’t the right decision for me personally. If a twelve year old were to read Hunger and was to say, “Wow, I want to read something else by Jackie Kessler” and then were to accidentally to read Hell’s Belles thinking it was going to be in the same tone and spirit as Hunger, I would break out in hives. If a twelve year old were to decide that he or she wanted to read Hell’s Belles, knowing that it wasn’t aimed at teens and it has sex in it and they still want to read it, hey, rock on, that’s great.

That’s why I have a distinction between the two.

Literary Escapism: Is there any particular legend or folktale involving the Riders that you drew inspiration from or have a strong pull towards?

Jackie Kessler: I picked a little bit from the passages in Revelations, and I played a little online to see if there was anything that called out to me. Other than that, not really. I knew that Lisa was going to be Famine. I knew that Death was going to be the one who offers her the parcel, and that she opens it up and there is a pair of scales in it. That’s her symbol of office.

Wait, I take it back! Like I mentioned, I love Neil Gaiman. He and Terry Pratchett wrote Good Omens, which is a phenomenal, hysterically funny book about the end of the world. The Riders of the Apocalypse feature very heavily in it, as well as a group of four kids. That had to be an influence on Hunger, but I wasn’t thinking about that consciously when I started writing it.

Literary Escapism: What was it about the fantasy genre that drew you to write in it? Was there a certain book that captured your imagination and led you to think you could do it, or did it come to you naturally?

Jackie Kessler: I’ve always been about the battle of Good versus Evil. When I wrote Hell’s Belles, I had no idea it was a romance, or what an HEA [happy ever after] was. To me, yes, there was a love story in there, but it was more about Good versus Evil. That’s always been compelling to me. By writing about the stuff that goes bump in the night, by writing monsters, we get to talk about our own humanity. I love it. Whenever I try to write something without the supernatural, it just doesn’t seem to work.

Literary Escapism: Do you have a process of how you start to write one of your novels? Is there a ritual?

Jackie Kessler: A ritual, no, but I need to have that first sentence. I have to have that first sentence before I can start writing a book. When I was trying to write Rage, I had an elusive grip on who the main character was, and I didn’t know how to kick it off. I had no idea how to start it. Then we had to put one of my cats to sleep—she had been very sick. It was very upsetting. After, I was putting away her cat carrier for the last time when the opening line came to me. Actually, the opening two lines came to me: The day Melissa Miller killed her cat, she saw the angel of death. But he was no angel—and he wasn’t there for the cat. Then, boom! It all just started happening. So yeah, I need that first sentence.

Literary Escapism: So does this mean that Lisa and Missy are dead when they become the Riders, or do they just acquire the essence of the Riders?

Jackie Kessler: You think I’m going to tell you that, don’t you?

Literary Escapism: No, but it doesn’t hurt to ask.

Jackie Kessler: Sorry, you’ll have to read the books to get the answer!


Thank you Jackie for sitting down with me at RT!

Contest Time! Jackie has graciously offered to give away a copy of Black and White, the first novel in the Icarus Project, to a lucky winner. All you have to do is answer her question: Shades of Gray will be out this week, have you read Black and White?  What did you think? If you haven’t, what do you want to know about it?

As always, there’s more ways of getting your name in the hat (remember, these aren’t mandatory to enter, just extra entries):

  • +1 for each place you post about today’s contest on your blog, social network, or anywhere you can. Digg it, stumble it, twit it, share it with the world. Wherever you share it, make sure you add a link to it along with your answer.
  • +1 to any review you comment on, however, comments must be meaningful. Just give me the title of the review and I’ll be able to figure it out from there.
  • +1 If you are a follower of Literary Escapism on Facebook and/or Twitter
  • +10 Purchase any of Jackie’s novels or any novel through LE’s Amazon store or through the Book Depository sometime during this contest and send a copy of the receipt VIA email for your purchase to: jackie AT literaryescapism DOT com. Each purchase is worth ten entries.

There is one thing I am adding to my contests now…the winner must post a review of the novel someplace. Whether it is on their own blog, Amazon, GoodReads, LibraryThing or wherever, it doesn’t matter. Just help get the word out.

The contest will stay open until June 24th, at which time I’ll determine the winner with help from the Research Randomizer and the List Randomizer.

I have not been contacting winners, so you will need to check back to see if you’ve won.

About Jackie 3282 Articles
I am a 30-something SAHM with two adorable boys and a supportive husband who is very tolerant of my reading addiction. I love to read and easily go through about a dozen books a month – well I did before I had kids. Now, not so much. After my first son was born, I began to take my hobby of reviewing a little more serious and started Literary Escapism to help with my sanity. I love to discuss the fabulous novels I’ve read and meeting all the wonderful people in the book blogging community has been amazing.


  1. I think historical characters add by bringing the story to life and adding realism.
    six_one_nine_girlie86 (at) yahoo (dot) com

  2. I don’t think they’re a distraction at all. If the writer incorporates them well (and hopefully did a little research) they can only add to the story, just as any other character. And they just might inspire the reader to want to find out more about them.

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    and twitter-

    I also follow on fb and twitter (bcardoo79)

  3. Historical Characters usually add depth and scope to a story. However, I find that if they are not done well they become tedious and cumbersome. Most authors who take on this challenge know how to research and bring out the characters personality as accurately as possible though. So, I say +1 for having a HC. And, though I am a guy, I have read one or two novels my wife referred to me.!/Thomas.Bowman73
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    Yes, I want this book! LOL

  4. Never post an interview near midnight – I always miss something it seems like. The contest question has been changed to something that is more relevant to Jackie’s books. All previous answers are still good, but that’s the reason why they won’t answer the question.

  5. Hi, SandyG: I got to see the sketches for the character of Jet on the cover, which was neat. Didn’t see anything about Iridium on the cover of SHADES, so that was a nice surprise.

  6. I haven’t read Black and White (yet!) I’ve always wondered on co-author projects, what exactly each author brings to the table. Do they sit down and discuss and write completely together, alternate chapters, or have one write one main character’s POV while the other writes the other POV.

  7. I haven’t read Black and White yet, but I hope to read it soon! I like to be surprised when I read a new book. Less I know about it the better. :)

    +1 If you are a follower of Literary Escapism on Facebook and/or Twitter (Giada Mariani – @hatshepsut0011 )

    Thank you for this chance!

    Giada M.

  8. Carrie, collaboration is different for different authors. Caitlin and I decided to each write a POV character and move the story forward that way; other author pairs may have a “senior” and “junior” partnership where one outlines/edits and the other writes. And those are just two examples. :)

    Spav, that was the thing that fascinated both of us from the beginning: telling a story in both the hero’s and villain’s POVs. Of course, those descriptions aren’t as, ha ha, black and white as they seem. :)

    Thanks for all the comments, everyone!

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