Friday, April 29, 2011

Eleven Up: Interview with Jessi Kirby

Hello everyone! Today’s interview is with Jessi Kirby, author of Moonglass (Simon & Schuster, May 3, 2011)

Here is a summary of the book:

When Anna was little, she and her mother used to search for sea glass, but since they looked at night, they called it moonglass. Now, ten years after her mother's mysterious death, her father is working as head lifeguard on the same beach where her mother grew up and her parents first met and fell in love.

Reluctant to get close to anyone (including her father) and not pleased about having to start at a new school, Anna begins to spend more time alone, running the length of the beach and wondering about who her mother really was. After meeting a lifeguard named Tyler, she slowly lets her guard down and together they start exploring the abandoned houses that dot the beach.

But when learning more about her mother's past leads to a painful discovery, Anna must reconcile her desire for solitude with ultimately accepting the love of her family and friends.

Now, onto the interview!

1. Tell us a little about yourself.

I grew up in Mammoth Lakes, a small ski resort town in Northern California, then high-tailed it to the beach when it was time for college. In San Luis Obispo, I met my husband, studied English, and wrote my first short stories, which were mostly terrible. I’ve worked as a sandwich maker, lifeguard, English teacher, and librarian, and now feel exceedingly lucky to call myself an author.

2. Can you give us a description of your book?

Moonglass is the story of a girl confronting her past, namely, her mother’s death. She and her dad have buried the subject between them, but when he accepts a job transfer to a beach called Crystal Cove, bits and pieces of it begin to surface. The Cove is the place where her parents met and fell in love, where strangers seem to know more about her family’s past than she does, and where she finds that the red piece of sea glass she wears around her neck has a history all its own. The fun part about the story is that it’s set against the backdrop of Southern California summer, complete with bonfires, lifeguards, and sneaking out for midnight swims.

3. What inspired you to write Moonglass?

If I really think about it, a number of very definite things inspired Moonglass.

The first would be Janet Fitch’s gorgeous novel, White Oleander. I read it back in college, and was completely floored by the sheer beauty of her writing and fascinated by the strong mother-daughter dynamic in it, where the mother is this mythical, distant figure to her daughter. It was so striking to me that I wanted to find a way to explore that theme in my own way.

At the time, I was working as a lifeguard in Pismo Beach and fell in love with that world, which is how Anna’s dad came to be a lifeguard and Anna such a beach girl. My first notes for the story date back to 2001, and some of them were taken while sitting in my lifeguard tower—only when the beach was empty, of course. 

The biggest inspiration though, is the real Crystal Cove. In 2008, my husband (who is a lifeguard), transferred to the Cove, and we found ourselves living in this little idyllic cottage on the beach, in a place that feels like you’ve somehow fallen through a crack into the past. The real Crystal Cove has a history that is just touched upon fictionally in Moonglass, but from the moment I came to it, it felt special and I knew it was the perfect place to set the story. The majority of the novel was written from a comfy green chair in my living room where I could sit and look out at the beach whenever I needed inspiration or the perfect little detail. There’s no way to describe how lucky I feel to be in this place, and I just hope Moonglass does it justice!

4. Did you create the sea glass necklace like the one described in the book or is it a necklace you've seen some place before?

When I moved to Crystal Cove, I discovered sea glass and how much I love combing the beach for it, so I knew I wanted to incorporate it into the story somehow. Red sea glass is one of the most rare colors, and collectors search for bits of it like you would rubies. I wanted Anna to have a symbol of her mom always with her, so a red piece that they’d found together seemed perfect. I had yet to find one when I wrote the story, but this last summer--on my birthday no less, I struck gold. Or red. And now I do plan to have it made into a necklace.

5. What character do you most relate to in Moonglass and why?

I relate most strongly to Anna for a few reasons. She’s not super shy, but not overly outgoing either. Like her, I’ve always fallen somewhere between the two. She’s an observer who keeps her thoughts about the things she notices mostly to herself, which I do too—until I sit down to write.

6. What came first to you? The plot or the characters?

The characters and the feel I wanted the story to have, if that makes sense. I had a picture of Anna and her mother and father. I had the setting. I had the ending. Then I had to figure out how to take those characters through a journey to the ending.

7. Tell us a little about your journey to publication.

My journey has been long and short at the same time. I don’t remember a time when I didn’t want to be a writer, but I didn’t truly pursue it until later on. In college I took a creative writing class where the first day the professor told us that less than one percent of us had a shot at making a career out of writing. I figured she knew what she was talking about, so I decided to the next best thing in my mind, which was teach English. I was lucky to grow up with brilliant, inspiring teachers I wanted to emulate, and so I put everything into doing that.

But I still jotted notes and dreamed up scenes. I still couldn’t get Anna out of my head. And right as my 30th birthday was coming up, I was teaching this whole Carpe Diem-themed unit to my 8th graders, and I decided I should put it into practice for myself too.

I started MOONGLASS the day after I turned 30 and gave myself a year to finish it. I finished it in 10 months, took another 3 or 4 to revise, then queried it in the fall. I had a few partial requests and one or two fulls (all of which got politely rejected), but those responses gave me enough courage to query my number one agent choice, Leigh Feldman.

She requested a full right away then got back to me saying she’d like to see revisions before offering representation. I sat on that for a while until I got another email from her saying she’d be in my area and could we meet up for coffee. I had a heart attack right then and there. I also had no babysitter, so asked if she might be able to meet at my house instead.

Yes, my house. I was dying. And cleaning like a madperson.

That day was New Year’s Eve 2010. She actually came down, I fed her lunch, and we talked about MOONGLASS and revision possibilities in my living room. By the time she left, she’d offered representation and I’d had my most memorable New Years’ Eve ever.


From there, things moved quickly, which I’m so thankful for. I did a big revision for her and then it went out on sub in February and sold at auction. And now the longest part has been waiting for May 3rd, when I’ll finally be able to say I have a book published!

8. Because we are the Apocalypsies could you answer the following questions: What five albums would you take with you into your fallout bunker?

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers Full Moon Fever --Reminds me of being a kid, riding around in my dad’s truck.

Dave Matthews Band Live at Red Rocks--So many great songs. And it’s a double-album. Is that cheating?

R.E.M. Automatic for the People—So, so beautiful. And they are my favorite band ever. Ever.

Voices of the Beehive Honey Lingers—for old times with my sister sake. We probably burned a hole through that CD when we were 13 and 15.

For the 5th, what about the best 90’s compilation CD ever? Because that would pretty much encompass my teen years and bring back fond memories to get me through the tough times in the bunker.

Yes, I’m a total cheater. Apologies.

9. In the post-apocalyptic world, what one book would you like to have with you?

One? That’s so hard! Hmm…

I’m gonna have to go with The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho because it’s one of those books I go back to every couple of years and come away with something new and beautiful and inspiring. I’d think it’d be uplifting to have in a post-apocalyptic world!

Thanks for the interview Jessi!

To learn more about Jessi and Moonglass visit her website at


  1. I've just ordered this book! Can't wait to read it. Super interview. Love these behind the scenes stories

  2. The book sounds great...very unique, which I love. Wonderful interview, and good luck to the author!

  3. Awesome interview. Moonglass looks fantastic. It's on my list! Good luck :)

  4. This is at the top of my TBR list. Sounds so fantastic! Great interview, too!