I've been pining for this book ever since I first heard it announced, and I was lucky enough to win an advance copy. It definitely lived up to all the hype! A Shadow Bright and Burning is like a Lovecraftian Harry Potter, with some shades of a not-as-graphic version of Penny Dreadful (it is YA, after all). It's dark and beautiful, with characters who will haunt your thoughts long after you set the book down.
Jessica Cluess was a year ahead of me in the Clarion Workshop; she attended in 2013 and I attended in 2014. Clarion has a history of turning out amazing and successful writers, and it's always exciting to see writers from recent classes making a name for themselves.
Jessica was nice enough to talk with me today about her novel, her influences, and her favorite Clarion experiences.
Sarena Ulibarri: In a nutshell, what was the path from manuscript to publication for A SHADOW BRIGHT AND BURNING?
Jessica Cluess: After I finished editing, I queried the book for five months. One week after sending my query to him, the man who became my agent offered me representation. After that, we polished the manuscript for several months before finally putting it on submission. That was nerve-wracking, but I’m glad we worked on it for so long, because it hugely paid off. We had an offer after less than two weeks on sub, and went to auction after that. All told, it was nearly two years from the first day I sat down to write the book to the day we got the offer to publish. It seemed long at the time, but now it feels like a whirlwind.
SU: What advice do you have for young writers who are struggling through the first draft of a fantasy novel?
JC: Beyond anything else, especially when it’s fantasy, I say this: it’s better to write a galumphing, messy, weird draft that has something passionate and exciting on every page than it is to write a clean, perfectly constructed draft that you don’t feel anything for. It’s actually easier to edit the weird one, because at least you know the feelings you want to evoke. Bottom line: just get it done. You can’t edit until you’ve written.
SU: What books, authors, or films most influenced you when writing A SHADOW BRIGHT AND BURNING?
JC: My biggest influence was Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell. I describe it as Jane Austen’s Lord of the Rings, and it really is that. If you love a comedy of manners mixed with an outrageously interesting magical system, you’ll dig it.
SU: What’s your favorite memory from the Clarion Workshop?
JC: The water gun fight we had with Robert Crais and Kim Stanley Robinson. There is a picture of me shooting Stan in the back while he runs away that is among my top five favorite pictures of anything.
SU: How many stories did you write at Clarion, and what became of them?
JC: I wrote five stories, because during week one we reviewed one of my submission stories. The truth is, nothing much has yet come from those stories, largely because I’m not really a natural short fiction writer. A lot of the people in the program were already masters of the short story, so I had a lot of catching up to do. One of them has already won a Nebula for her short fiction! I may see if I can get a novel out of some of them; my stories always ran on the long side.
SU: Do you have any readings or signings coming up? Where can readers find you?
JC: Yes! I’ll be on tour the last week of October, in San Francisco, Denver, Salt Lake City and Austin. It’s going to be a whirlwind week!
About the Author
Jessica Cluess is a writer, a graduate of Northwestern University, and an unapologetic nerd. After college, she moved to Los Angeles, where she served coffee to the rich and famous while working on her first novel. When she’s not writing books, she’s an instructor at Writopia Lab, helping kids and teens tell their own stories.
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