Conversations Between Writers


Jessie Kwak

I first met Jessie at Cascade Writers in 2011 where we spent several days trying to figure out why the other looked familiar until we FINALLY figured out we followed each other on Twitter and had no other direct connections. You can check out more about her writing at and follow her on Twitter. For all of you crafty people and bicyclists I suggest you check out her bikes and craft blog too.


Minerva Zimmerman: How are you doing today? I keep forgetting you’re practically local to me now.

Jessie Kwak: I know! I haven’t gotten out to that part of the coast since we last Twittered about me being in town. I’m doing well – had a dentist visit this morning, which is always … fun.

My dentist is nice, though. How are you?

MZ: I’m doing OK. A little sore, had a busy weekend making cookies.

JK: What kind?

MZ: Ooo, I made ginger snaps, wedding bells, and berliner wreaths

JK: Yum! I made angel cookies for a cookie exchange with neighbors.

MZ: I need to make krumkake tonight

JK: Are you baking for an event? Or just general holiday merriment?

MZ: I’m giving them as gifts and for a trip to the in-laws. It just isn’t the holidays if I don’t get to bake

JK: Right! Maybe I should do cookies as gifts this year. I’m still at a loss for most of the people on my list.

MZ: I’m hoping to do some homemade marshmallows too, but I’m not sure if I’ll run out of energy.

JK: I’ve never tried to make marshmallows. Is it hard?

MZ: I haven’t either 🙂 It’s not supposed to be too bad if you have a stand mixer. You have to get the sugar part to the soft ball stage which I’m a little skeptical about. I suppose if I cook it too much I just end up with caramelized marshmallows?

JK: It’s not too hard to get it to the soft ball stage if you have a candy thermometer.

I think the marshmallows would just be chewier. But if you get it past soft ball you can always add a bit more water and try to hit it again. I’ve done that before making divinity, and it works all right.

MZ: yeah, and I do have a candy thermometer, I’m just weird about doing sugar cooking. I’ve had bad results in the past.

JK: Let me know how it goes – I’m curious!

MZ: I love eating them so I’m hopeful.

JK: And now all I want to eat is cookies, which is terrible after just getting my teeth cleaned.  🙂

MZ: heh, but it is cookie eating time!

JK: Yep. Probably should have waited until after Christmas for the cleaning, but I’d put it off way too long! I’m finally an adult with insurance now, so I figured I should probably use it.

MZ: Yeah, if you need to get in before end of the year you have to take your appointments when you can get them

JK: Right. What are you working on these days? Anything fun? Besides cookies, obviously.

MZ:  I am actually working on Runed Creek right now, which is the story I took to Cascade Writers all those years ago. It’s weird how stuff never seems to go from point A to B in writing.

I set it aside because I ended up selling some other projects and had to work on those and I’m just now really getting back to it. What are you working on?

JK: I think that stories are a lot like good soup stocks, where you need to let them simmer forever, and throw things in from time to time. I’m working on a couple of things right now

First is a project with some friends in Seattle, called Four Windows – I’m editing it along with my friend Christine. There are four writers (myself included), and we’re each working on a novel set in Seattle. We’re publishing them serially in a journal format. We published the first quarter in September, the second quarter last month, and the third quarter will be out in February.

MZ: Oh what a cool thing!

JK: We’re workshopping our stories together as we go. It’s been a really fun process, but the timeline of serially publishing is kind of stressful. Like I added in a big plot twist at the end of section two that really screwed up the timeline I’d already plotted out, but now it’s published so I have to figure out how to work it in. 🙂

MZ: Yeah, that’s what the second half of my 2015 is going to entail (no public details yet!)

JK: It’s fun, but really different.

MZ: I think it’s a good way to go

JK: You’ll be serially publishing something in 2015?

MZ: yes 🙂

JK: I’m so curious! It’s a really fun way to write.

MZ: I think some stories are just a good match for serial

JK: Totally.

MZ: It’s like binge-watching on Netflix

JK: Yes!

MZ: sometimes it makes sense to release stuff in chunks

so that people who devour it can devour it and still want more

JK: I think if we were going to do this again, I’d release things in smaller chunks, on a tighter timeline. Probably I’d want to have more of it written before I started releasing it to take some of the pressure off, but I think people have a short attention span and quicker release dates would have been a good idea for the Four Windows project. Right now each section is almost 3 months apart.

MZ: Yeah, I’m hoping to get stuff done beforehand mostly. So that the release dates aren’t dependent on me finishing things. But I also used to run a web comic that had major update problems, so it might just be me 🙂

JK: When you combine the logistics of publishing with the writing side of things, it gets tough.

MZ: No publishing plan survives contact with life.

JK: I’ve probably spent more time formatting and editing and promoting Four Windows than I have had time to write my story. Haha, so true! The best laid plans of mice and men…

MZ: Yeah, once you get to this point the actual writing is only a % of time.

JK: Right.

MZ: Which is kind of annoying sometimes .

JK: Yes. My “day job” is as a freelance copywriter, which takes up a lot of my creative writing energy as it is.

MZ: Ooof. Typing for work always saps my ability to write for fiction

JK: I’m learning how to transition, but it’s been a challenge for sure. For a long time it was hard to quit the sales copy brain and get into lyrical writing brain. I kept wanting to describe the features and benefits of my characters interactions.

MZ: Heh.

JK: But there are benefits, too. One of my main clients is an apartment rental place, and I write glowing copy about the homes they rent – which I think has helped me learn to describe setting better.

MZ: Ooo, I tend to have white room syndrome

JK: I’ve learned a lot about the economy of language. Ha – the problem is that now all my story settings are mid-century modern chic. 🙂

MZ: Heheheh So, white rooms are a feature!

JK: With Noguchi coffee tables and Eames chairs, and ironic artisan lightbulbs. There you go! White rooms are a feature, and the benefit is that the reader gets to supply her own setting.

MZ: Yeah, I’m trying to grab at those little items that breathe life into a setting.

JK: I heard someone say just choose three things. For setting, or for character.

MZ: Which is hard sometimes when you have characters who are cluttered magpies.

JK: Yes, for sure. Maybe the task then is to choose three things that best represent the cluttered magpie-ness of the character, and pique the reader’s interest. Then you can flesh them out from there.

MZ: Yeah. I think I’m getting better, but it’s something I have to spend a lot of mental energy thinking about.

JK: The other thing I’m working on is a novel for a small press in Portland, Elly Blue Publishing.

MZ: Ooo

JK: She publishes bike non-fiction, mainly, but she’s started a series of short story collections called Bikes in Space.

MZ: Cool! I wanted to ask about your biking and how it is different in Portland vs. Seattle

JK: They’re feminist bicycle science fiction collections. 🙂

MZ: ! 😀

JK: I’ve had stories in the first two (and one coming out in the third issue next year), and one of the stories turned out to be a much bigger idea, so Elly and I talked about serializing it.

Eventually we decided it should just be a novel. It takes the idea of projects like “Bikes to Rwanda,” and sets it on a colony planet in the future. And then adds in the mafia, and aliens.

I’m really, really excited to write it – It’s going to be super fun.

MZ: I like these things.

JK: Going back to your question about biking in Seattle vs Portland – Portland is definitely more bike friendly. It’s flatter, too, which is nice, and there’s tons of bike infrastructure.

The downside is that with no hills and no traffic to battle, I feel like less of a badass biking here than I did in Seattle.

MZ: Hah. I’d never thought of it that way.

JK: There’s a certain pride that comes with commuting up Capitol Hill every day. Although now that I work from home, my commute is pretty weaksauce anyway. I’ve started running in the mornings to make up for it.  🙂 I never thought I’d be a runner. Portland did this to me. Or maybe it’s all the cookies that I like to eat. 🙂

MZ: 🙂

JK: Overall I like Portland, though. I’m meeting other writers, other cyclists, and getting to know neighbors. People seem pretty friendly here, and willing to meet up for coffee or to just hang out.

There are definitely some Portlandia moments, though! I look around some times and think “Where on earth AM I?”

MZ: Heh. Is there anything like that, that sticks out in particular?

JK: There was a guy at the grocery store the other day wearing purple zebra pajamas and a matching chullo hat. People just let their freak flag fly, which is lovely. Also, one of our neighbors has a window built into their chicken coop to the sidewalk, and a chalk board so people walking by can write messages to the chickens. Which is odd, but kind of charming. And at least once a week someone on the neighborhood list serve posts something like: “I just saw a goat at the corner of the street, is it yours?” Or, “I’m making kambucha this weekend, who wants an extra scoby?” People are super into their homemaking. Which I dig, I grew up on a farm, but am not used to seeing in the city.

MZ: Man, neighborhood list servs and chain emails and such are so… not the future we imagined, but yet so perfect.

JK: Haha, yes!

MZ: I mean, I live pretty rurally, but the way you find out about what’s really going on is checking some particular facebooks and being on certain email lists. Well, what doesn’t get disseminated at Senior Meals… that’s still the fastest way to learn anything.

JK: Senior Meals? I bet there’s some juicy gossip happening there.

MZ: So much.Sooo so much. I get it all second hand. They won’t let me in, I can’t pass in that crowd yet. 😀

JK: That’s not a bad thing.  🙂

MZ: nope. Is there anything else you want to make sure we talk about?

JK: That’s pretty much all I’ve got going on. Dentist, check. Delicious cookies, check. Writing projects, check.  I really would like to chat in person next time I’m out your way – hoping to get through your neck of the woods in the next few months.

MZ: That would be awesome. It’s kind of nice here in the winter when stuff is quiet.

JK: I bet!

MZ: The beachcombing is the best too 🙂

JK: Ooh! Well, give me a shout if you make it over here, and I’ll do the same.

MZ: That would be fabulous. Stay dry! I’d say stay warm, but it’s downright balmy out

JK: You, too! And happy holidays, happy new year, all that jazz.  🙂