Pump Up Your Book Chats with Jessica Yinka Thomas
About Jessica Yinka Thomas
Jessica Yinka Thomas is a novelist with a background in toy design and social entrepreneurship. As managing director of the Center for Sustainable Enterprise at the University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler Business School, she has authored several award-winning academic articles. Jessica has worked as a designer of interactive educational toys, as the director of a social enterprise business plan competition and as a program manager for a community development nonprofit. How Not to Save the World is her first novel. Jessica’s writing highlights her twin passions for technological innovation and for creating significant social change through entrepreneurial ventures.
Growing up in West Africa and traveling around the world has provided her with a rich background from which to draw in her writing. She lives in Arlington, VA with her husband, Jeff Forbes and their son Xavier. Jessica enjoys knitting in the winter and competing in triathlons during the summer. She holds a BS in Engineering from Stanford University and an MBA from Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business.
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Thank you for this interview, Jessica. Do you remember writing stories as a child or did the writing bug come later? Do you remember your first published piece?
A: I devoured books as a child but the writing bug came much later. I started my professional career as an engineer, designing interactive educational toys for LeapFrog. As a way to explore the creative side of my brain, I started writing travel stories as I traveled around the world in my twenties. Several of those stories were published online. Before then, I shied away from creative writing because I thought of myself as a techie. I read Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way while traveling across Australia and wrote in big capital letters at the close of the book, “I will write a novel!” That experience truly awoke the writer in me.
What do you consider as the most frustrating side of becoming a published author and what has been the most rewarding?
A: Definitely having to take time away from writing to do marketing is the most frustrating part of becoming a published author. After I finish my day job, I have to split my writing time between marketing my first novel and writing the second. By far the most rewarding part is getting positive feedback from readers. When complete strangers write to ask me detailed questions about the novel I can tell that they have really connected with the characters and the story. That still blows me away!
Are you married or single and how do you combine the writing life with home life? Do you have support?
A: I’m married with a young child. I wrote How Not to Save the World over the course of 10 years while juggling a day job, grad school, my family, and an attempt at a social life. I had to be very strategic about fitting in my writing. I found that as long as I was consistent, even if I was only writing five or ten minutes a day, I could make progress. I created structure around writing and carved out time by taking writing classes and joining writing groups that kept. My family has been very supportive throughout the process.
What do you like to do for fun when you’re not writing? Where do you like to vacation? Can you tell us briefly about this?
A: I love traveling and writing has given me permission to realize my dream to explore the world. In addition to growing up in the US, Nigeria and Senegal, I’ve had the opportunity to travel to Australia, Japan, South Africa, Kenya, Uganda, Brazil, Botswana, and across Europe. I would love to return to Brazil and I have always wanted to explore India and China. I like to think of these travel experiences as working vacations where I can explore new parts of the world and find inspiration for my writing.
If you could be anywhere in the world for one hour right now, where would that place be and why?
A: Dakar, Senegal, where I grew up. It’s one of my favorite places on earth. Senegal has some of the warmest people you’ll meet anywhere on earth. The culture and food are all deliciously international. Several chapters in my novel take place in Dakar, making it pretty clear much I love the city of my childhood. Many of my readers have commented on how vividly I render the city in the novel. When do I leave?
Who is your biggest fan?
A: My good friend Mavis. She just fell in love with the novel four year ago when I finished it. She has been my biggest fan and supporter since then. We’ve co-hosted 3 book launch events with Mavis playing the role of Oprah and me playing the role of bestselling novelist. I love hearing her talk about how she connected with the characters and story in the book.
Where’s your favorite place to write at home?
A: I’ll often write on my lap using my laptop on my living room couch, but I try to get out of the house as much as possible. If I’m going to put in several hours I’ll go to my local library or a nearby cafe. Much of the writing so far for the sequel to How Not to Save the World involves idea generation and so I’ll make notes about dialogue, character development, and settings just about anywhere. The woman who runs my fitness class is probably frustrated that I will often type on my phone in between sets. She probably thinks I’m texting my friends, but it keeps me distracted during the bicep curls and keeps me writing!
Do you have any pets?
A: No :(
Tell us a secret no one else knows.
A: I’m a novelist :)
What’s on your to do list today?
A: Day job, edit novel 2, publicize novel 1, spend time with family and friends.
Now I’ve got a couple of fun questions for you. If Tom Hanks, in the movie Cast Away, unearthed a copy of your book, how would that help him find a way off the island?
A: How Not to Save the World would absolutely be the one book that Tom Hanks would need to get him off the island. First, he could travel around the world through the pages of the novel accompanying the protagonist Remi from Australia, to Japan, to South Africa and Switzerland. Second, the novel is packed with James Bondy gadgets that could provide inspiration for him to get off the island.
You have a chance to appear on the hit talent show for authors, American Book Idol, with judges Simon Cowell, Randy Jackson, Kara Dioguardi and the newest addition, Ellen DeGeneres, to determine whether your book will make it to Hollywood and become a big screenplay where you’d make millions of dollars. What would impress them more – your book cover, an excerpt or your author photo – and why?
A: That judging panel has the collective attention span of a sparrow so not an excerpt, as engaging as it might be. So I would say absolutely the book cover! It is superstar gorgeous and perfectly communicates the fun, excitement, and intrigue of the novel. Plus, it has my author photo on the back.
You just got word that your book has received the 2010 NY Times Bestselling Book Award and you have to attend the ceremony to give an acceptance speech. Anyone who’s anyone will be there and it’s your shot for stardom. What would you say and who would you thank?
A: What an honor it is to receive this award! I would like to thank my family, for giving me the time and support to write, my friends for being my earliest and biggest fans and the millions of readers who have followed my work over the last 10 years and 10 novels.
I understand that you are touring with Pump Up Your Book Promotion in February via a virtual book tour. Can you tell us all why you chose a virtual book tour to promote your book online?
A: To connect with a growing and engaged community of book lovers online.
Thank you for this interview, Jessica. Good luck on your virtual book tour!
A: Thank you for the opportunity to talk about my work!
About How Not to Save the World
Remi Austin is a fundraiser for the African Peace Collaborative (APC), a conflict resolution nonprofit founded by her late mother. Frustrated by her inability to raise funds and faced with the imminent closure of the APC, Remi turns to a life of crime to keep her nonprofit afloat.
From Sydney, to Tokyo, Geneva and Cape Town, Remi transforms from a fundraiser too shy to speak during staff meetings into a daring international art thief who must stop a war from breaking out and figure out how to save herself from a life behind bars.
With the help of her best friend, a designer and inventor who creates gadget-packed gowns, Remi eludes a dashing insurance agent and a terrifying stalker, all while redistributing the wealth of the world, one work of art at a time.