We recently had a chance to interview bestselling author Jessica Burkhart about her books and writing journey. Jessica is the bestselling author of the middle grade Canterwood Crest book series, with over 1.6 million copies in print! Jessica has also written a YA novel, Wild Hearts, a chapter book series, Unicorn Magic, and edited a YA anthology centered around mental health.
I’m a huge fan of your middle grade Canterwood Crest book series. Can you tell us all about your new series, Saddlehill Academy?
Thank you so much! Saddlehill Academy is a spinoff of my Canterwood Crest series. It’s about a 12-year-old equestrian who struggles to keep her eye on the prize while dealing with anonymous threats. The main character, Abby, is queer, and I’m so excited to bring some sapphic rep to the MG equestrian book space! The first book, Sweet & Bitter Rivals, is out on May 30. Book two, The Showdown, releases on July 25.
What kinds of struggles have you faced during your writing career? How did you overcome them?
I’d always had severe anxiety and in 2009 when my first book was published, I moved to New York City and began seeing a psychiatrist. He prescribed me benzodiazepines and from the first pill, I was hooked. I didn’t even realize the moment when I stopped taking them as prescribed and became an addict, but soon, I couldn’t function without them. And if that wasn’t enough, I began taking opioids for an elbow injury from typing and that became another addiction. At the height of my seven-year addiction, I had prescriptions for over 30 different drugs. I spent more time doctor shopping than I did writing because if I ran out of pills, I went through withdrawal which meant everything from vomiting to hallucinating. At my rock bottom moment, I was going to buy heroin for the first time, when I overdosed and couldn’t go that night. That was the moment I knew I had to get help, or I wasn’t going to make it. I went to rehab the next week and spent the next painful two years coming off all the drugs I was on. I tried writing while getting clean, but I wasn’t in the right headspace. After a few years, I slowly started writing again. One sentence a week was all I could muster for a while! Then a paragraph a week. And it kept growing from there until now, six years after getting clean, I’m finally back to writing as much as I did pre-addiction.
I see you’ve published books in a couple of different age categories and genres. Which is your favorite to write? Why?
I’ve bopped around from chapter books to middle grade to YA, and I’m hoping to break into adult soon. I love writing for any age category, but there’s a special place in my heart for writing middle grade. I love writing for kids that age! It can be so difficult to be a tween, so anything I can do to entertain kids and make them smile is important to me.
What attitudes or habits can turn an aspiring writer into one who eventually succeeds?
Having a core group of writer friends has meant everything to me. We have a Discord channel that I leave open all day while I’m writing so I feel less alone. We use it to chat and hype each other up. This business can be incredibly lonely and isolating, so having those friends whom you can go to about anything is huge. I also think it’s important to realize that your career is truly never dead! I thought mine was over when I had to step away. It’s been eight years since I last had a novel out, but now I’m back in publishing at full speed. It’s good to keep in mind that agents leave the business. Editors change houses. Books die on sub. Sales tank. Reviews can be less than favorable. Those things are all painful and difficult to handle, but they don’t mean your career is over. You’ve just got to keep going and work on the next thing.
I read that you participated in National Novel Writing Month when writing your first book, Take the Reins. Can you tell us about that experience? Have you continued to write drafts that quickly, or has your writing style changed?
NaNoWriMo is so much fun! It’s not for everyone, but if you’re up for a challenge with a great community, I’d check it out. I did NaNo for the first time in 2006, when I was a senior in college, and it taught me how to turn off my mean inner critic and just write. Thirty days isn’t a lot of time to write 50,000 words, so it was a great way for me to dip my toe into the novel-writing process, see if I liked it, and try writing a book for the first time. I still draft pretty fast and average around 6-7 weeks for a first draft. Revising is more fun to me than drafting, so I’m eager to get the draft down and then get to work on making it shine.
Can you tell us about any other writing projects you have on the horizon? Or projects you would love to work on one day?
I have a lot going on at the moment! I’m busy working on the fourth Saddlehill Academy book now. After that, I’d love to write an adult romance and a YA. I’ve also got a freelance gig writing interactive story games for StoryLoom, which anyone can come play. Finally, I’ve written a couple of pilots and will be searching for a manager and TV/film agent soon because I want to break into screenwriting next!
Can you provide any links to any websites or social channels you’d like readers to follow?
Readers can find me at www.linktree.com/jessicaburkhart. Thank you so much for having me on your blog!