Jessilyn Stewart Peaslee graduated from Brigham Young University with a BA in English. She has always loved reading, but didn’t love writing until she was able to write without it being an assignment. She is a wife to a hard-working, sweet, supportive science teacher/civil engineer, and mother to five hilarious, fun, incredible boys. She loves being home with her family, unless she is on a date with her husband, which usually includes a movie on $5 Tuesdays.
Congratulations on the release of your latest book, Ella’s Will. When did you start writing and what got you into fairy tale retellings?
Thank you! I started writing Ella’s Will while I was waiting to hear back from Cedar Fort about publishing Ella. That was about January of 2015. I had been writing Ella for two years and once I submitted her story, I felt a little lonely. I wanted to go more in depth into the Cinderella story and wanted to tell it from an outside perspective.
What would it have been like for someone to watch Cinderella suffer? What if she had a life and friends before the ball that she would be giving up? What if someone already loved her? I wanted to examine the selflessness of Will, and give the reader a glimpse into what was going on inside his head. Some people have asked, “Why did Will let Ella stay in her house with her abusive stepmother? Why didn’t he save her?” I wanted to answer those questions. They were implied in Ella, but there was so much more to Will’s story that I couldn’t put into Ella’s. I had to keep her story limited to what she was aware of.
I have always loved fairy tales. I love the magic and timelessness of them. But, I also like taking those stories and making them real. What would Cinderella have been like? What kind of person was Will? What kind of person was the prince, the stepmother, Cinderella’s father? I take all those characters and make them real and give them their own stories. I just love it.
What was your inspiration for it?
I fell in love with Will Hawkins when I wrote my first book, Ella. I honestly didn’t even plan on having Will in Ella’s story, but once he was in it, everything changed. As soon as I finished Ella’s story, I knew I had to tell Will’s.
He’s a little bit Gilbert Blythe, a little bit Flynn Ryder, and a little bit Hamlet. He’s Gilbert in that is he sweet and selfless. He loves Ella with such a deep and overpowering love, he will do anything in his power to ensure her happiness, often at the expense of his own. He’s a little bit Flynn Ryder because he’s light-hearted and charming, but he has more depth to him than many people get to see. He’s even a little bit of Hamlet because he is sometimes at war with himself. He knows what he has to do, but that doesn’t mean he’s always happy about it.
He’s a genuinely good guy who’s genuinely trying to do the right thing. But, he’s real and he makes mistakes and has to learn from them.
Also, my husband’s middle name is William, so there ya go.
What type of challenges did you face while writing this book?
One of the biggest challenges I faced was, since this is a companion novel and some of the scenes and conversations are taken directly from Ella, I needed to make it fresh. I had to be careful that Will didn’t “guess” what Ella’s thoughts were, even if I (and readers who had read Ella) already knew. He could notice her facial expressions and mannerisms, but if he guessed everything perfectly, it would take the realness away. He even makes incorrect assumptions sometimes, as we all do. He needed to figure things out on his own and stumble along the way.
I also had to remember that this was Will’s journey, not Ella’s. She had her own struggles and noticed certain things, while Will has his own struggles and noticed other things.
I had to make sure that every gesture, every look matched the other book. Consistency was my goal, and it was haaaard! There were a few lines and words from Ella that I wanted to change to fit better in this retelling. After agonizing for weeks, I decided to err on the side of having Will’s book being consistent with itself over being perfectly consistent with Ella’s story. The changes are very minor, though. Don’t worry.
What do you hope readers will get from your book?
I hope that they smile. I hope they laugh. I also hope they cry . . . but just a little. I want them to feel something — a connection to the characters, to the story, even though it’s a fairy tale we’ve heard a million times. I want it to come alive for the reader and help them see something that is so familiar to us from a new perspective.
Personally, I love books that, when I read that last line, I want to go back and re-read my favorite parts. And then, after I’ve done that, I go out into the world just a little more aware, a little more tender, and, hopefully, a little better than I was before I read it. I would absolutely love it if my book did that for someone.
Many writers experience a vague anxiety before they sit down to right. Can you relate to this?
Absolutely! I think it’s even worse now that I have a little more experience, which might seem ironic. I would think that it would be the opposite, that once you have experience, you are more confident and would be less anxious. Maybe that’s how it is with some people, but not with me. When I first started writing, I didn’t know how scary it was to put myself out there, and now I do. I also felt no other expectations, other than the ones I placed on myself.
There are different pressures and expectations now. What prevents me from writing is the thought that I have to write a “perfect book.” I wonder, “What will they think of this? What will they think of me? Will they like this?” Those thoughts are paralyzing and silly.
I have learned not to take myself too seriously. I don’t have to write the “perfect book.” I have to do the very best I can and be happy with that.
Do you have a website or blog where readers can find out more about your work?
Yes. My author website is Jots By Jess I write about writing, what’s going on in the publication process, my worries and hopes, but mostly, I write about life. I like to see the humor in certain situations. I have written about taking a career placement test at college and being told I should be a ventriloquist.
I’ve written about how horrendous I look in skinny jeans. I told a story about how I went to a high school dance fundraiser when I was 30 years old and was asked to dance by a high school kid, which resulted in embarrassment for us both. I love to laugh, and hopefully make others laugh and find the humor that is all around us.
George Orwell once wrote: “Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.”
George Orwell is very deep, intelligent, and a much better writer than I am. I completely agree that writing can be exhausting, and at times pretty horrible. For me, the horribleness comes from my own insecurities. I do agree that when there is a story in my head, or even a scene that needs to take place, or a line that needs to be written down, I feel very uneasy until I get it on paper. I will go back and forth and agonize over how to move forward with a particular scene, or how to develop a character, and those are the times that I want to pull my hair out . . . so I leave the computer and turn on Netflix.
But, I am not some tormented black-turtleneck-wearing author who rocks back and forth at my typewriter. (Most of the time.) Writing makes me happy, especially when I get an Epiphone in the middle of the night, or things finally fall into place. It feels like I’m setting something free that has been caged in my mind. There is a great sense of relief when the words that have been bouncing around in my brain are out on paper. So I don’t know if I would use the word demon. I’d probably settle for a demanding ping pong ball.
What has writing taught you?
Writing these stories has forced to me examine the parts of life that have always been confusing to me—why people do what they do and why they are who they are. I have relived parts of my own life through these characters and I think that kind of introspection makes life a little deeper and more meaningful. I have had to look at things I’ve done right and things I’ve done wrong, and been honest about where those decisions have brought me.
Most of all, writing has helped to teach me empathy. Everyone has a story. Usually, when someone is “mean” they are really just hurting. If someone comes off as haughty, they are probably really just afraid. I think, in most cases, people are driven by our best intentions. The trick is to find that in other people, and not just assume we are the only ones trying our best. Most everyone is doing the best they can with what they’ve been given.
Cover art and photo published with permission from the author.