Sunday, July 18, 2021

Jennifer Nissley

Jennifer Nissley is the author of The Mythic Koda Rose. Although her first love is writing, she is powerfully attracted to video games, horses, and pretty much any piece of clothing or interior design with an animal on it.

Nissley received her MFA in Fiction from Stony Brook Southampton and lives in Queens with her wife and doggo, but sadly no horses.

My Q&A with the author:

How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

What I love about my title, The Mythic Koda Rose (and it took us a long time for my team to settle on one), is how that one word "mythic" conveys so many of the novel's most salient themes. For example, fame, and legacies, and how the heroine, Koda Rose, will step free from her famous father's shadow to make her own mark on the world. Before landing on this title, my top choice was When I Die, Pack My Summer Clothes, a line from the book that I personally find darkly funny... but in the early stages of trying to sell the manuscript, my agent received feedback from editors that the title was too morbid and confusing. At first I was bummed, but the title we finally landed on is just perfect -- so I've officially emerged from mourning on that front.

What's in a name?

Easy! Koda is my dog's name. When starting a new story, I often assign my characters placeholder names borrowed from friends, acquaintances, pets, etc. that usually don't end up sticking, but Koda was different -- there's a double entendre there. "Coda" can refer to an ending generally, but also to the concluding section of a piece of music. Since the novel is suffused with music (after all, her dad was a famous musician) and Koda herself is a bit of an ending, one of her dad's final "creations," it just worked. I simply added "Rose" to familiarize it more and kept the "k" spelling because it seemed like something a self-indulgent celebrity parent would do.

How surprised would your teenage reader self be by your new novel?

I'm fairly confident that teenage me would be appalled by this book. Unfortunately, I was That Kid who loved reading Dickens and Hawthorne for AP Lit, and never touched Young Adult novels, having deemed them too lowbrow for my refined tastes. For the longest time, I wanted to write Serious Adult Literary Fiction. Or historical fiction. It took me a long time -- like, most of my 20s -- to work out what sort of stories I actually wanted to tell, versus the ones I saw the Important Respected Authors around me telling, if that makes sense.

Do you find it harder to write beginnings or endings? Which do you change more?

While they're both challenging, I honestly don't find one any more so than the other. In fact, once I've found my opener and my exit, they tend not to change that much from one draft to another because they're both so intensely dictated by the characters I've created and themes I want to explore. It's the middle that gives me the most trouble. For Koda, I always knew that the story would open at a point of tremendous vulnerability and uncertainty, and that the ending would see her coming to embrace that uncertainty with confidence, accepting that she still had more about herself to explore. For the final line, I got lucky. It literally popped into my head one day as I was stepping off the subway!

Do you see much of yourself in your characters? Do they have any connection to your personality, or are they a world apart?

I think it's impossible not to insert yourself into your characters, even if you're not doing so consciously. For example, Koda is the timid, insecure part of me who dreads putting herself out there, but Sadie, Koda's father's ex-girlfriend, is the snarling chaotic part of me who cares not enough about some things and too intensely about others. That sort of "seepage" from my subconscious can get really interesting... and terrifying, especially when the characters start doing things I don't like or agree with. Conversely, that's also when things really start getting fun. I'm not the sort of writer or reader who demands moral certitude from characters. The messier, the better.

What non-literary inspirations have influenced your writing?

Video games! I don't get to play them as much as I used to as a kid (thanks, real life) but there's just something about visual, interactive storytelling that enthralls me -- especially in The Legend of Zelda series, or any of the From Software titles. (Yes, for the like two people reading this who know what I'm talking about, I am 100% the kind of gamer who loves Dark Souls. And I platinumed Sekiro on PS4.) I'm especially inspired by how video games utilize changes in music, lighting, and other environmental cues to create atmosphere. Of course, movies and TV shows can do that too, but in video games it's different because I'm controlling the character, and forming a bond of sorts with them as these changes take place. I always end up imprinting on the character and identifying with them and their world in ways I don't when I'm passively watching a TV show or movie. Ultimately, that's what my writing process is like too.
Visit Jennifer Nissley's website.

--Marshal Zeringue