I have always loved to escape. Curling into a ball under my covers and following the adventures of Misty of Chincoteague. Packing a backpack with books and snacks, putting on an extra sweater and climbing the one tree in the yard I could (almost) climb by myself. Escaping to the town library after school, wandering the shelves, reverently turning the papery, thin pages of the biggest dictionary I’d ever seen. Shy and uncomfortable in my first year of university, reading to escape a social scene I didn’t quite know how to navigate. I still carry books with me, stealing moments of both joy and escape.
One of my favourite birthday presents was from my wife, before we were married. It was a cardboard box, unwrapped (in the tradition of my family) and it was simply a box of books. Twelve books, I believe. I remember the feeling of happiness at being loved so much by someone who understood me so well. I also remember the intense feeling of relief. Worrying about what I would read next has always been a constant, low-lying anxiety of mine.
Reading changed for me a few years ago when I went through a difficult time in my life. It was the red flag I had trouble ignoring. I’ve always loved to reread books but this was different. I had three books I’d read. And reread. And start again. I was stuck, entrenched, my view so narrow it was impossible to see anything else. Somehow, as I wrestled with the downward direction of my thoughts, my obsessive reading switched to writing. One day I had a glimpse in my head of my main characters, Kate and Andy. I saw Kate, an ER doctor, looking across her unconscious patient at Andy, an RCMP officer. I knew there was tension between the two women. I understood that Andy had just told Kate she wasn’t allowed to touch her patient. And I asked my first question – why? I could not stop thinking about Kate, about Andy, about the answer to that question and so many others. I was entrenched, yes, but lost and fantastically found. If I was lost, it was in Kate’s head as she searched for a way to help her patient, as she refused to back away from danger, as she wrestled with her own thoughts of how she’d failed the people in her life and how she felt about loving Andy. I escaped into writing, sank into Kate’s thoughts, and discovered inside of me a whole world of words.
Reading while writing became nearly impossible. I spent so much time writing and thinking inside Kate’s head that it was hard to escape into someone else’s. I’d begin to read a book, I’d begin to sink into that world and I’d feel a sort of slip, a break, and I’d be reading through Kate’s eyes and that didn’t make sense and I’d pull myself out of the story. It was frustrating. But at the same time it was difficult to be upset. I had a world I could escape to anytime I wanted. And I didn’t need a book to do it. I just needed my thoughts, my questions about Kate and Andy and what was happening to them right now.
After completing Trigger (due out April 20th, 2016 from Bold Strokes Books), I thought that was it. I couldn’t possibly do that again. But I did. I wrote another book following Kate and Andy. And then a third. And as I tentatively stepped into the publishing world as a querying author, I discovered something fantastic: the world of lesbian fiction. I’ve spent the last three years reading lesbian fiction almost exclusively. This was escape, this was fantastic, this was nearly more than my brain (and bank account) could handle.
I’m branching out again in my reading. I’m rediscovering the joy of wandering through a library and choosing a new world at random. My escape is sometimes still necessary, a security blanket as much as a strategy when I need to retreat. But it’s also a joy. I find I can keep the spaces separate, I can sink quite safely and quite happily into a world of my own or a world someone else has created. I will always be thankful for other people’s words and how they have fed my love of escaping. And I am thankful they led me to words of my own.
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Jessica’s debut novel, Trigger, and the sequel Pathogen, both follow Dr. Kate Morrison and Sgt. Andy Wyles as they untangle police investigations and medical crises while discovering and navigating their new relationship.
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