On Editing and Writing With Jessica Landry

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Joe Sullivan: Editing is such a broad field of specialties, from reading slush for an anthology to helping an author develop the plot of their novel. What was your path into professional editing?

Jessica Landry: When I started out, I had no intentions of editing—I just wanted to write and get my name out into the horror world. So I started by reviewing books for Hellnotes, and, as a reviewer, I quickly learned how to self-edit. At the same time, I was honing my own creative writing skills, and started taking those self-editing lessons into my fiction. I made my rounds through Hellnotes and did a stint at the (sadly) now defunct Dirge Magazine before I landed an editor role with JournalStone Publishing. It was there that I truly learned what editing was all about: how to build up someone else’s story without losing their voice. I had a wonderful few years there—working with some amazing writers like Gwendolyn Kiste, Lisa Morton, S.P. Miskowski, and Ed Kurtz, to name a few; and being able to work on novels, novellas, and collections—before I left to focus more on my own writing (which had taken a back seat at that point). 

You were able to work on multiple well-regarded books with S.P. Miskowski and Gwendolyn Kiste. What are some of the qualities of a good author-editor partnership?

Trust is a good thing to have between an editor and an author, but that doesn’t necessarily come right away—it’s something you both have to build up to. And when you take on a project, it’s very possible that that trust never comes, and that’s okay—just like a real-life relationship, you aren’t necessarily going to “click” with everyone that you meet or work with. But if you’re both working toward the same goal (making the story the best it can possibly be), and if you’re both open to having discussions on, say, why the author chose to word it like this, or why the editor thinks the author should try it like that, then that builds that foundation of trust. 

I think some writers shy away from editing because they’re worried that they might lose some of their style or voice in the intimate process of editing someone else’s work. You’re award-winning for your fiction while working on some great stories by other writers. How would you say editing has impacted your storytelling for better or worse, if at all?

Some people are great at self-editing and don’t necessarily need a full edit on their work, but I think, even as a writer with some experience, getting an extra set of eyes on your words goes a long way, so don’t be afraid to use an editor or a beta reader or to give your work to someone you trust. A good editor shouldn’t try and change your voice—they should amplify it. That can come in different ways, like making suggestions on how to tighten a scene, or giving constructive feedback on the overall structure of your work. These are the things I keep in mind while editing others’ works and my own work. Having gotten the opportunity to edit different kinds of works from different kinds of authors has helped my own writing in ways that I never thought it could—I learned by reading. I took note of how they pieced together their own prose, deconstructed it, and thought long and hard about how it worked so well and why I responded to it. From all that, I found my own style.

Your debut collection The Mother Wound released earlier this year from Independent Legions. I believe it covers your work from 2015-2021. While putting the book together, were you surprised at any of the themes that emerged from your body of work, that maybe you weren’t entirely cognizant of beforehand?

Absolutely. Let me tell you, it ain’t called “The Mother Wound” for no reason! Whether it was consciously or subconsciously, I filtered a lot (if not all) of my own issues into my stories in a bunch of different ways, and as I was editing and re-reading works I hadn’t scanned over in years, I thought to myself, Damn girl, you have problems. But this is how I deal—writing. Every strained relationship, every trauma that’s happened, it’s all in my work. It may not be obvious (because who wants to fully admit all their issues?), but in every single story, there’s a thread of truth, a thread of something that I’ve experienced, that I’ve locked away but am slowly letting it out to see the light of day. This is how I deal with my trauma, and it’s taken me a long time to see it, but I’m okay with how it’s coming out.

There Is No Death, There Are No Dead is a Spiritualist-themed anthology you co-edited with Aaron J. French, featuring some of my favorite horror writers and scheduled for release this summer from Crystal Lake. I grew up hearing the stories and visiting the sites of the Spiritualist Movement: Lily Dale, the home of The Public Universal Friend, Georgetown Spirit House, the Joseph Smith sites, etc. So I’m hoping New York will get some love in your anthology. Could you speak to some of the direction you gave your writers in order to bring out your theme?

Some of my favourite horror writers too! Aaron and I got very lucky in putting this book together—it started off as a What If? idea, and became reality through the support of everyone who backed and donated to the Indiegogo campaign, and thanks to Joe Mynhardt at Crystal Lake Publishing. We had no real restrictions or directions to give the authors, other than make your story about spiritualism. That was it. Go nuts. The stories we got back…they exceeded my expectations in every way, shape, and form. Even as I’m re-reading them now (for the umpteenth time) for our final edits, I’m still in awe of each of them. We wanted to cultivate different experiences, different styles, different stories, and the end result is just that. This book is truly something remarkable (I mean, I’m biased, but still…). (And there are a few interpretations of Lily Dale in the anthology!)

What other future projects can you share, either as author or editor?

As an editor, I’m wrapping up final notes on There Is No Death, There Are No Dead, which is scheduled for release at the end of August from Crystal Lake Publishing. All my editing energy is going into that project, so we’ll see what comes up after its release!

Author-wise, my collection, The Mother Wound, was released in May from Independent Legions, so I’m trying to get the good word out there. I mostly work as a screenwriter, so I haven’t written many stories so far this year, but I do have a big one coming out in December—”Carbon Rites” will be included in Aliens vs Predators: Ultimate Prey, edited by Jonathan Maberry and Bryan Thomas Schmidt, from Titan Books. It’s mind-blowing to write a story for two franchises that you grew up watching, so, needless to say, I’m really excited for that anthology.

I’m working on several film and TV projects, too. I have a few Lifetime movies that are scheduled to air later this year, most notably Breast Cancer Bucket List, starring Kelly Hu (I believe that’ll air in the fall). I’m currently gearing up to direct an original feature, My Only Sunshine; am writing on a true crime series called Heartland Homicide, which will be airing in Canada in the fall (and hopefully in the US, too!); and have a few other projects in development that I have to keep quiet on for now.

I am busy, and I love it!

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From the day she was born, Bram Stoker Award-winner and Shirley Jackson Award-nominee Jessica Landry has always been attracted to the darker things in life. Her fondest childhood memories include getting nightmares from the Goosebumps books, watching The Hilarious House of Frightenstein, and reiterating to her parents that there was absolutely nothing wrong with her mental state.

Since then, Jessica’s fiction has appeared in many anthologies, including Tales of the LostTwice-Told: A Collection of DoublesMonsters of Any KindWhere Nightmares Come From, Lost Highways: Dark Fictions from the Road, and Fantastic Tales of Terror, among others. Her debut collection, The Mother Wound, is out now from Independent Legions Publishing, and There Is No Death, There Are No Dead, an anthology co-edited with Aaron J. French, is set to be released in August from Crystal Lake Publishing.

Her original horror feature, MY ONLY SUNSHINE, was accepted into the Whistler Film Festival’s Screenwriters Lab in 2020 and is currently in development with Eagle Vision, producers of CBC’S BURDEN OF TRUTH. Alongside Neshama Entertainment, Jessica has written several MOWs, including A SECRET TO KEEP, BREAST CANCER BUCKET LIST, DEADLY MOM RETREAT, and THE THERAPY NIGHTMARES, with others in development. She’s also currently writing for APTN and Eagle Vision’s joint sitcom, FAMILY FIRST; Eagle Vision’s factual series, 7TH GEN; a World War II biopic with Sir Harry Films; a true crime series with Farpoint Films; and has other projects in various stages of development.Your best bet at finding her online is at jesslandry.com, and on Facebook and Twitter where she often posts cat gifs and references Jurassic Park way too much. You can also check her out on IMDb.

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