Give Yourself Grace: Jas Hammonds
The doubt monster is a sneaky SoB. It's always there, waiting on the precipice for the opportune moment to jump on your back and slip into your mind. "It won't happen", "You're not such and such", "Who do you think you are?", and the second thoughts go on, and on until...they don't. Because one day, you tell that doubt monster to get off your back. It doesn't go easily. You toss and tumble, go back and forth, it reappears and you fight with each other once more. But then you prevail and fling the wretched beast back into the depths of writer hell. That's not to say it will never come back, but for now, what do we say to the god of self-doubt?
And that's just what Jas Hammonds did.
1. Welp, the first question for these sorts of things is usually the ‘how did you get your agent’ question, but you’ve recently announced your fabulous, pre-empt, debut deal with Roaring Brook Press. So, instead, I’ll ask you this: would you share your journey to “My book is gonna be on an MF’in shelf!”
I know the line “it only takes one yes” is pretty cliche, but it absolutely is the story of how Monuments came to be. I was on submission getting rejections for several months and was feeling pretty down. Then I received an R&R from an editor I really admire. The feedback was extensive and required me to rewrite nearly the entire manuscript. I discussed it with my agent and we agreed to sit on it for a bit. But as the months trickled by and more rejections started rolling in, I decided to throw myself into the R&R because I couldn’t stop thinking about the feedback and how it could potentially make my book so much stronger.
I rewrote the last 80% of my book, changed major plot points, etc. It took about two months. We resubmitted the revised version to the editor...annnnd it still ended up being rejected. I was completely crushed. I’d been on sub for about eight months at that point & was really feeling like it just wasn’t going to happen for this particular book, at least not this time around. And I was ready to make peace with it and work on something else. But my agent and I decided to send the revised manuscript out to another round of editors, and we ended up accepting a pre-empt from the amazing Mekisha Telfer at Roaring Brook!
For those folks who enjoy timelines:
I started writing We Deserve Monuments in November 2016.
Signed with my agent March 2019.
Went on submission October 2019.
Received offer September 2020.
And the book is set to come out Summer 2022!
2. It’s common to see publication stories that appear to be overnight successes or unicorn stories. However, many authors stress not to perceive this as the norm. Would you mind sharing the bumps of your writing journey? What advice would you give to writers when the doubt monster rears its ugly face?
Absolutely! It’s really hard not to compare yourself to everyone else’s journey, no matter how many times you hear advice telling you the opposite. I definitely felt like a failure multiple times during my submission process, especially when I was seeing people getting deals after being on submission for a few weeks (or even just a few days!). As a former perfectionist “I have to get all A’s” type student, navigating this sense of failure was hard for me because of how subjective the feedback is. Your writing could be stellar to one editor and not up to par with another. You’ll be told an editor “just doesn’t have the spark” to edit your book. And what can you actually do with that feedback besides sit with it and wait for the next response?
But all that “publishing is a marathon, not a sprint” advice is there for a reason. You’re going to burn yourself out fast and quick if all you do is compare yourself to everyone else and focus on your rejections. It’s helpful to have friends to remind you that your story is worthy, even when you’re not receiving that validation from the publishing industry. And learning how to separate your personal self-worth from how sub is going and/or how your book is received is KEY. You are not less worthy or important or talented if your book doesn’t get an agent or your book doesn’t sell on sub or you get a small (or no) advance or you don’t hit the bestseller list. And it’s important to have friends to remind you of all of this because there will be times when it’s hard to believe it yourself. But you wrote a book only you can write, and that’s really special. Give yourself some grace <3.
3. We Deserve Monuments is a contemporary YA novel that some might classify as ‘quiet’. Do you agree with this? What are your thoughts on the discourse that authors should aim to write high-stakes, loud and proud, extremely commercial stories vs. the so-called ‘quiet’ ones?
I’ve always considered We Deserve Monuments to be a quiet book with explosive moments. It has a contemporary coming-of-age arc, but there’s still intense friendship drama and bitter family fights.
I’m a very character and setting-driven so, as a reader, I’ve always been drawn to these “quieter” stories that focus on these elements. Sure, they might not be the ones snagging the Netflix deals and sitting on the bestseller lists for weeks, but that doesn’t make them any less important. I think BIPOC writers should have the luxury of writing an abundance of stories, and that includes the quiet ones. Some of my favorite authors have books that could be considered quiet: Brandy Colbert, Sarah Everett, Ashley Woodfolk, Rebecca Barrow. I want to push back against the idea that just because stakes aren’t life-or-death doesn’t mean they don’t hold significance. Some of my most memorable books from childhood were the stories of teens dealing with family issues (Tyrell by Coe Booth), falling in love for the first time (Jason & Kyra by Dana Davidson), navigating popularity/friendship breakups (The Del Rio Bay Clique series by Paula Chase), and experiencing growing pains over the course of one hot summer (Peaches by Jodi Lynn Anderson).
4. You are a Lambda Literary Fellow which is an organization that brings together a community of queer writers. How has that experience been for you? Why do you think it’s important for authors to find a community in the writing world? What’s your advice for introverts?
I really enjoyed my time at Lambda when I went in 2018. It was my first (& only?) time being surrounded by a huge community of queer writers. From my YA cohort alone, I talk to Jen St. Jude and Octavia Saenz almost every day. I’m debuting in 2022 with two of my cohort members Lin Thompson and Sacha Lamb. I will forever be grateful to have been introduced to Tia Clark’s phenomenal writing because I think about it on a regular basis. And learning under emily danforth and having her mentorship was truly invaluable. She still makes herself accessible for any writing/publishing questions I have.
I can’t imagine trying to navigate the writing world without a community of other writers. Who else would I complain to?! I’m an introvert who thrives in small group settings (shoutout to the Lit Squad, 306, and the Crown and the Clowns group chats because y’all keep me afloat). My biggest advice for introverts is to find your people. It doesn’t even have to be a lot of people. But having 1-2 friends you can swap work with, talk about the industry, get advice, and vent to is so important. It’s normal to be afraid to put yourself out there & share your work with people you may not have met in person. And it’s okay if these connections don't happen right away! I’ve been actively pursuing publishing for about five or six years now, and I’m just now getting to a place where I feel like I have a set of author friends I can truly count on and trust.
5. There has been a lot of chatter about an author’s, especially a YA author, presence on social media? What is your take on this? Do you think the new expectation is for authors to adapt an influencer/Hollywood celebrity type persona?
Oof, this question alone gives me anxiety. I HOPE influencer/Hollywood Type personas are not going to be the new thing because just writing books is hard enough lol. Between writing and my full-time job, I wouldn’t have the energy. And also, I know for the sake of my mental health I need frequent breaks from social media.
6. Do you know when you’re at risk of burnout? What’s your form of self-care?
I’m really bad at setting boundaries when it comes to writing. When I get in the zone, I can just be glued to my computer all. day. long. So usually it’s my partner (who is also a writer who works too much!) that has to gently remind me to give it a rest, drink some water, stretch, etc. If I had it my way, my self-care would solely be cowering in a dark room under a pile of blankets watching Netflix and eating tacos and sour gummy worms. But—sigh, balance—I know I truly feel best when I force myself to get some fresh air and take a walk outside. Also, taking my antidepressants every single day is my biggest form of self-care.
7. We Deserve Monuments takes place in a small, Southern town (shake those Georgia peaches!). Why did you choose this setting over a more urban area (i.e. NYC or Los Angeles)? What does a small-town setting add to a novel that might be harder to do with a larger city setting?
I grew up with two military parents and was constantly being shuffled from place to place as a kid. Now as an adult, I work as a flight attendant and am rarely in the same time zone longer than a week. I’ve lived in five states in the past six years. So I’ve always been kind of obsessed with the sense of place & the idea of “home.” I can’t really point to a map and say, This is where I’m from. But I do have fond memories of summer nights at my paternal grandparents’ house in Tennessee and hearing my mother talk about her side of the family being from Florida and Georgia. I think this fascination made me drawn to stories where the setting feels like a character itself. I love the intimate (or, in some cases, suffocating) quality of small towns. Having a place where everyone knows everyone else’s business always leads to some good drama haha. In We Deserve Monuments, my main character, Avery, moves from D.C. to a small town in Georgia, and it was really fun to balance her wide-eyed shock versus the rest of the characters who have grown up in this town and love it for better or worse.
Ok, now it’s time for the ‘fun’ questions!
8. Your publisher has secured a mega-billboard to reveal the cover of We Deserve Monuments. You have two choices. Which one do you choose?
Option A: A flashing billboard across the front of the African-American History Museum in D.C.
Option B: A windowpane billboard going across a hotel front on Sunset Blvd.
LOL as much as I love the African American History Museum, that feels like a sacred space and I would never want to see a flashing ad for my book splashed across it. So I’m gonna go with Sunset Blvd billboard and hopefully catch some fancy movie executive’s attention.
9. A few birds chirped to me that you have a fancy palate. Put together a 4-course menu item that has the vibes of your author brand (or We Deserve Monuments).
Oooh, I’ll do a menu for We Deserve Monuments because trying to narrow it down for an author brand feels too intimidating haha. So for that book, the menu would be:
Salad: A nice green salad with goat cheese and fresh-picked strawberries
Appetizer: Fried green tomatoes (tied with chargrilled oysters...or bacon-wrapped jalapeno poppers...omg I can’t choose)
Entree: Caramelized ribs fresh off the grill, my mother’s poblano pepper mac and cheese, and a big pot of collard greens
Dessert: Vanilla bean ice cream with sliced peaches you and a loved one picked together <3
All to be consumed with a sugary glass of sweet tea on the back porch of your grandparent’s house on a hot summer night.
Jas Hammonds (they/she) was raised in many cities and in-between the pages of many books. They have received support for their writing from Lambda Literary, Sundress Academy of the Arts, and the Highlights Foundation. They are also a grateful recipient of a 2020 MacDowell James Baldwin Fellowship. Their debut novel, WE DESERVE MONUMENTS, is forthcoming Summer 2022 from Roaring Brook Press/Macmillan. When she's not writing, Jas can be found binging fiction podcasts, piecing together a jigsaw puzzle, or eating all the sweets in the house (but preferably all three).