An Interview with Jessica Brockmole
June 2015

Jessica Brockmole is an American author, who lives in Indiana with her husband and two children. Her debut novel “Letters from Sky” is an historical love story told through letters.

How did you get inspired to write “Letters from Skye”?

At the time that I wrote Letters from Skye, I was living in Scotland with my husband and children. I was across an ocean from friends and family, without either a webcam or the budget for (very) long distance phone calls. We all had to transition into communicating more often through the written word. As a writer, I found this fascinating, to see just how much we had to put into our correspondence, how much more was said beyond the words on the page. In the past, when families or lovers were separated, sometimes those letters were all that existed to hold them together. I wanted to explore this in a book.

I found my setting one autumn on a holiday to the Isle of Skye. It was such a wild place, just brimming with beauty, that I couldn’t stop myself from jotting down notes for a new novel. I really tried to capture not only the incredible colors of the island—all of these vivid greens and blues—but the way the wind tasted on my lips as it blew up over the cliffs from the ocean, the way the air smelled like peat smoke, the way the night sky felt full of magic. It’s such an effortlessly sensory setting and I hope I’ve passed that on.

Why did you choose to tell your story through letters?

As mentioned, it was partially to explore the theme of communication, of relationships held together with words. It was also an exercise in dialogue, something I was struggling with in my writing, but it became a fun and fascinating endeavor. I adore reading collections of letters; it only stood to reason that I’d adore writing my very own.

How much research did you do for “Letters from Skye”?

Writing this did involve a lot of research, not only historical but also linguistic and epistolary.

One area where I spent a lot of time was in reading real letters written and sent during that era. I read collections of letters between spouses, between lovers, between siblings, between best friends, between mothers and their sons, and between fathers and their children. I read letters written during the wars and during times of peace. I was able to find wonderful resources. Not only are there published collections of letters to and from soldiers, but also some great digital archives, as well as people sharing their own family correspondence through blogs or small published volumes. I was able to find some fantastic things written during the early twentieth century.

I found it fascinating to see what people from that era wrote about and the language they used to tell those things. Some of the letters I read sounded exactly like you’d expect 100-year-old letters to sound like—polite, formal, even somewhat distant. But others were casual, frank, open, full of slang and heartfelt confessions. One thing to keep in mind is that, during this time, not all letters were meant to be private. Soldiers would write to their wives, knowing that the letters might be read aloud at Sunday dinner or, in some instances, shared in local newspapers as “news from the front”. You can really read a difference between the letters meant for a wider audience and the letters meant for only one reader. The former feel like pieces of history; the latter, like pieces of a life.

How long did it take you to write the novel?

The first draft was written in about eleven months, late at night after everyone in the apartment had fallen asleep. I had a newborn and a very active three year old; it was the only time I had a bit of quiet! But, though it was written in a year, that initial draft was revised and polished over many more, in between writing other novels and learning more about the craft.

Did you work out the plot and your characters’ personality in detail before you started writing your novel, or did you mostly develop them while writing?

No, I didn’t. I wrote that very first letter from David to Elspeth—which remains nearly intact in the published version of the book—and, from his introduction, let their characters and their relationship unfold. I got to know them as they got to know each other.

Did you always want to be a writer?

When I was young, I used to go to my local library every day in the summer and return with my bike basket full of books. At that pace, I was worried that I’d run out of things to read. I decided I needed to write my own, to always keep a stock of books around. Back then I tended to write stories about time travel and ghosts and pioneers in the American West. I suppose my love of writing historical fiction started even then.

Please describe your journey to finding an agent and to the publication of your first novel, “Letters from Skye”.

I sent nearly two hundred queries to literary agents, over the course of three books. Three years later, I signed with my wonderful agent. Patience and persistence were difficult, but worth it in the end! My agent initially tried to sell a different book of mine, one set in the American Midwest during the 1920s, but we had no luck. When she asked if I had anything else written that we could try, I dusted off Letters from Skye, which I’d written years before. That proved to be more successful, and here I am now!

Which aspects do you enjoy most about being an author?

Creating worlds and fascinating characters, letting my imagination stretch, exploring all of those “what ifs” that life offers. Seeing my name for the first time on the spine of a book. Connecting with readers and hearing their stories. Being able to do what I love and call it a career.

Which least?

Waiting. Whether waiting to hear back from my agent or editor, waiting for the many steps in the publication process, or waiting to see how my book will be received by its audience, this job requires a lot of patience.

Do you enjoy the actual writing process?

I love the rush of writing that first draft, the thrill of discovering the story along with my characters. Revisions are not as much fun for me, though I absolutely appreciate the importance of a critical, fearless revision.

How is your actual writing process?

For me, writing is like a road trip without a map. I know where I’m headed, but not how I’ll get there or what I’ll see along the way.

Letters from Skye was written without anything more than “How about a book about a Scottish poet and an American fan? And the First World War? And lots and lots of letters?” I had my characters, I knew where they would end up (the final scene was in my head from the start), but I didn’t know the journey that would lead them there. I like to be surprised. I liked discovering Elspeth and David’s story along with them.

Was it difficult to combine being a mom of two children with your writing?

As difficult, I suppose, as it is for any parent also working full time. I’m just lucky that my work can be done from home! My husband and I are both supportive of each other’s careers and do what we can to give each other the time to work.

Who was the first reader of “Letters from Skye”?

My oldest friend. She’s not a writer, but is an insatiable reader. She was living in Japan at the time that I was living in Scotland and was planning a visit. I used her visit as a deadline to finish my first draft of Letters from Skye and had it printed and waiting for her when she arrived!

How did you celebrate your book publication?

I threw myself a party! Why not? I wore a new dress, I had Scottish foods, I made themed cocktails named after Elspeth and Davey. I did a reading for my friends and I gave away books. It was wonderful fun!

Do you have a favorite writing place?

Not any particular place. I like to move around between chairs and sofas and tables in my house as I write. Sometimes a change in view or a change in atmosphere is just what it takes to strike the right writing mood.

Which genres or types of novels do you enjoy reading most?

Historical fiction, particularly set in the 20th century. Lately I’ve also been reading and enthusiastically enjoying more young adult fiction. YA authors often tackle premises, characters, and settings that aren’t being published in the adult market, and I appreciate the fresh angles taken.

How do you deal with and feel about destructive criticism from readers?

A criticism or one-star review can catch even the most hardened author unawares. A sharp comment can sting. As a reader, I know that no book is perfect for everyone, and I try to remind myself of that when I encounter such a review. I try to remember times when I couldn’t connect with a book that trusted friends adored. That often helps me shrug off the criticism and move on to the more positive reviews.

Do you have any plans for future novels at the moment? Are you working on anything right now?

I have a new novel, called At the Edge of Summer, coming out next spring. It’s the story of a Scottish artist and French soldier who meet in Paris just after WWI and remember an idyllic summer they once shared years ago. I also have a novella in an upcoming WWI anthology, A Fall of Poppies. All of the stories center around the moment of armistice, November 11th at 11a.m. Mine is about an American pilot and a French factory worker who impulsively marry right at a moment when everything is changing for both. That anthology is due out in March 2016.

If you would not be a writer, what would you be?

A librarian. Then I’d still be surrounded by stories.

What are your favorite ways to spend your non-writing time? What are your hobbies and interests?

Reading, of course! I love cooking and baking, especially bread.  I’m also a passionate canner and can be found pickling all sorts of vegetables come summer.

How would you describe your personality?

Interesting question! I’m shy and introspective, as I suppose many writers are. I’ve always been one who could disappear into her own thoughts and imagination, and I’m often happier alone than in a crowd. For me, friendships aren’t made quickly, but they’re made fiercely. I value wit and intelligence, honesty and respect, and hope that I offer those same things in return.

Thank you very much for your time, and all the best for your future!

Thank you for inviting me to visit your blog!

I love to connect with readers and fellow history lovers on Twitter (@jabrockmole) and Facebook (! I have a lot of fun sharing historical facts, photos, and discoveries.

For more information, please visit Jessica Brockmole’s website.