Join author, educator, and learner, Annmarie Kelly as she laughs, cries, and kvetches with the writers, musicians, entrepreneurs, and wanderers who inspire all of us to reach beyond our divisions and discover what it means to be wild, precious, and brave.
Jessica Payne’s most recent novel MAKE ME DISAPPEAR is a twisting thriller that poses important questions. What would it take for anyone to make a clean escape from their own life? And how far should you go to fight back against an abuser? This book provides hope for anyone who’s ever wanted to leave a broken relationship, but could not find their way out. In this episode, Annmarie and Jessica discuss their shared love for the Pacific Northwest, juggling writing and family life, and how any story truly comes to be.
Browsers–Olympia's downtown independent bookstore since 1935. At Browsers, we make it our work to support both emerging and established literary voices, and our staff work tirelessly to match readers of all ages with their next favorite book. Stop by or shop online at browsersolympia.com.
Booksmith–An independent bookstore and mainstay of San Francisco's Haight Ashbury district since 1976. Booksmith offers signed copies by local authors and ships worldwide. Shop online at booksmith.com.
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Annmarie Kelly: Wild Precious Life is brought to you in part by Browsers, Olympia's downtown independent bookstore since 1935. At Browsers, we make it our work to support both emerging and established literary voices, and our staff work tirelessly to match readers of all ages with their next favorite book. Stop by or shop online at browsersolympia.com. And we're brought to you by Booksmith an independent bookstore and mainstay of San Francisco's Haight Ashbury district since 1976. Booksmith offers signed copies by local authors and ships worldwide. Shop online at booksmith.com.
Annmarie Kelly: So you know all those warnings about strangers on the internet, how you're supposed to stay out of chat rooms and not give personal information to any Nigerian princes? It's probably good advice, except in order to meet today's guest, I ignored a whole lot of internet common sense.
Annmarie Kelly: I was relatively new to Twitter in 2019. I had like three followers and at least two of them were probably bots. I'd been on other social media platforms for years, but Twitter scared me. It seemed like the Wild West. You'd post a seemingly innocent opinion and the next thing you knew, you were being canceled or someone was threatening your cat. But then I saw a tweet from Jessica Payne, a mom and writer who wondered if there were other folks out there in the Twitterverse who might want to connect about the opportunities and costs of being a parent who also wanted to publish. So we connected.
Annmarie Kelly: Then everything Jessica tweeted made me feel like she was a kindred spirit. We talked about craft books and how to plot a novel. We talked about mom guilt and sacred writing time, and how to know when you were ready to query your manuscript. And just recently, she finally published her first book, which she has called the fulfillment of her lifelong dream, and I feel like I've been a tiny part of this journey. So I finally slid into her DMS and I asked this friend who I'd never, ever met if she would come be on our show.
Annmarie Kelly: So let's introduce her. Jessica Payne grew up in Kansas City later moving to the Pacific Northwest where the mountains and Puget Sound became home. Beyond writing, she loves to run and explore the great outdoors with her husband and daughter. She's also an RN.
Annmarie Kelly: When holding still, which isn't often, you'll find a book in her hand and a cat or dog on her lap. Jessica writes suspense and thrillers, and is the host of #MomsWritersClub on Twitter and YouTube. She is the author of Make Me Disappear, which is out now and The Lucky One, which will be available in September 2022. Jessica Payne, stranger and friend, welcome to Wild Precious Life.
Jessica Payne: Thank you so much. I'm really excited to be here with you.
Annmarie Kelly: So you and I have like 100% never met, but I feel like I know you because I've followed your online progress with this book, I think since it's inception. So you're basically a total stranger I met on the internet and now you're here and we're going to be friends.
Jessica Payne: Yeah. Yeah, we are.
Annmarie Kelly: Does this work for you?
Jessica Payne: Yeah, this is great. Let's do it.
Annmarie Kelly: Well, I feel like we're grabbing a few minutes with you in this amazing debut year where you've got your thriller, Make Me Disappear. It came flying out of the gates here in the summertime in time for all of us to curl up with it pool side and now The Lucky One releases in September.
Jessica Payne: I know.
Annmarie Kelly: And I see from your social media, you're drafting a third book. So clearly you're in possession of mad talent and possibly magic. And I want to hear about this literary jujitsu of yours, but in case there are a few of our guests who didn't meet you while they were online scrolling, let's give you a chance to introduce yourself to them. So Jessica Payne, will you tell us your story?
Jessica Payne: I would love to. I would love to. And I feel like I've gotten to know you online as well, these past years. So I'm really excited to get to, quote-unquote, "meet you face to face," or on this podcast here.
Jessica Payne: I have always been a writer. I was the kid who was scribbling in notebooks in the back of class instead of doing the assignment, because that was way more fun and interesting. And I always wanted to be a writer. I'd walk into bookstores and look around and think all these books have been written, surely I can do this too, but life happens. You go to college, you get busy, you meet the person you're going to marry someday maybe. I had a kid. Life gets busy and sometimes that stuff gets put on hold.
Jessica Payne: But when I was 34, I had my daughter and came to the conclusion that life is short and you have to do what you want to do preferably sooner than later. So I decided that, that was the moment I was going to take control, and I was going to start doing this thing that I've always loved, and I was going to figure out how to really write a book because I had tried a few times and I'd just never quite gotten past the 20 K mark. I always had a character and an idea, but not actually a plot, which apparently you need to write a book. Imagine that. So-
Annmarie Kelly: I may have heard something somewhere about that.
Jessica Payne: Yeah, I know, right? So I dove right in with NaNoWriMo of 2018, which if anyone listening doesn't know, it stands for National Novel Writing Month. And the idea is you write a book in a month. You put everything aside in your life and just focus on that main goal. And I did it, I actually did it. And I wrote several books before I ended up signing with my agent. It's a bit of a process to go from that first book to the one that is actually good enough to be publishable, and lots of learning along the way. But it was really fun and exciting, and I met some great writers who have become dear friends of mine.
Jessica Payne: And yeah, that has all led up to me publishing my first book, Make Me Disappear. It came out in May of this year, and it is about a woman who is desperate to escape her sociopathic narcissistic boyfriend. And there's really no way to get away from him. So she arranges for her own kidnapping, but nothing goes as planned. And she soon realizes that she is still within his clutches and that the only way to free herself from him for good is to turn the game back on him and beat him at his own game of cat and mouse.
Jessica Payne: So it has just been a whirlwind with this debut year, these last few months, but it's also been so fun and people have been so supportive. And as you said, my next book comes out in September. So I'm gearing up for that.
Annmarie Kelly: Yeah, that's bananas. I love hearing the stories of how people who always wanted to be writers, what it was that made them think, if not now, when? And I hear you saying that it wasn't until after your daughter was born, that you decided this.
Jessica Payne: So a few things happened all at once. For one, I had stopped working full time to go to graduate school, to be a neonatal nurse practitioner. I'd been working as a NICU nurse leading up to that. So when my daughter was born, I quickly realized that the idea of spending 50 hours a week away from her, which is what I would've had to do was just something I was not capable of. And my husband was thankfully very supportive of me taking a year off of graduate school.
Jessica Payne: So I had a little more time on my hands, but alongside that, we had a pretty rough delivery and not as rough as I have seen with other people, but I had pretty severe preeclampsia. She was very small. She was a surprise breech delivery. Feel free to stop me if I'm getting into too much detail here. But long story short, it was a really scary delivery, and I already had been working as a NICU nurse where I could see that line between life and death could be very, very small.
Jessica Payne: But I mean, I think having a child to begin with makes you step back and think about your life and what matters to you and what's important and what you want for your child, but also that made me really think about it. And I just had this moment where I was like, "I want her to do whatever she wants to do with her life. So why am I not doing that? Why am I not giving that to myself?" And also, I mean, we need to set that example for the generation before us, our children.
Jessica Payne: So I just kind of had this moment where I was like, "This is what I've always wanted to do. It's the first time in my life where I'm not working and going to school at the same time and super busy," because I had taken a year off of graduate school and was working PRN. And so it was just this perfect combination of things.
Jessica Payne: And I just remember I was out on a run, I'm a runner, with one of my friends and I was talking to her about thinking about writing a book and she's like, "You should do it." And I was like, "I should do it. I'm going to do it." And it was just this magical moment that has stuck with me. And I've told her this a couple times just how grateful I am for that moment, because it was like, "Why not? Why not do what I feel like I was put on this world to do?"
Jessica Payne: And I feel like so often there are so many reasons we can't. And not to minimize the fact that people have to work to put a roof over their heads and provide food and everything, I'm not trying to say that, but I do think it's important in the moments that we can find to do what matters the most to us or what feels the most right to us.
Jessica Payne: There's a quote, it's something like, writing is the only thing that when I'm doing it, I don't feel like I should be doing anything else. I'm not sure who said it because I've heard a few different people have supposedly said it, but I really feel that in my heart. When I'm writing I'm like, that is purely who I am as I can be, I think.
Annmarie Kelly: That is so beautiful. I love the idea that you had a friend give you a nudge in the direction and saying walk in the direction of your dreams. And you're totally right, our children are watching. The surest way to model what you hope and dream for them is to have some hopes and dreams for yourself that you're working toward. Oh, that's fantastic. I didn't know that. I love that you shared that.
Annmarie Kelly: And so I think I mentioned we are chatting in the summertime. So many folks are checking in and they're asking for some twisting and surprising vacation reads. And I feel like your debut thriller Make Me Disappear hits all those marks. And there are so many ways I could ruin this book for folks and spoil everything, but I'm planning to be on reasonably good behavior today.
Annmarie Kelly: So I'm actually going to start with like a confession of my own. I don't read many thrillers. I definitely enjoyed yours, but I don't usually read books that make me afraid of my house.
Jessica Payne: I understand that.
Annmarie Kelly: For that creek in the upstairs hallway or the woods where I like to walk. I don't want to be scared of my life, and so I don't seek out books that make me afraid, but I also know I'm in an absolute minority here. I feel like everybody I know, so many people love, love, love mysteries and thrillers. Why do you think that is?
Jessica Payne: I have many thoughts on this, but I think it boils down to a couple things. For one, I think that thrillers do this delicious twisting and pulling back of the curtain where you get to see what happens behind closed doors, and I think we're all a little bit fascinated with that.
Jessica Payne: And for example, in my book, the main character is named Noelle and on the surface she has it all. Her boyfriend is this super handsome, charming guy. He's rich, he's an anesthesiologist and people see them together and they just think she's got it all. But you know what? Nobody sees how he acts behind closed doors, that he's controlling, that he's tapped her phone, that kind of thing.
Jessica Payne: So I think there's some element to a lot of thrillers dig into the secrets that people have and how they affect them, and I think that's pulling back that curtain because we all have those skeletons in our family closet, so to say. And I've definitely had moments where I'm hearing people talk about something with their family and I'm like, "Oh, that would make such a good thriller. Darn it, I know this person."
Jessica Payne: So I think that's one aspect of it. And then I also think that we're all just fascinated with some of the drama around it. Mine is considered a psychological thriller, but it also fits within the realm of domestic suspense. It's just so interesting the different relationships that people have and how twisted things can be.
Jessica Payne: I also think there's an aspect with a psychological thriller where we love the idea of trying to understand how people think. And I will use the example of Joe Goldberg from you or Dexter. My male character, Daniel has been compared to both of them. And the idea that humans exist in our world who think very differently and darkly. And I think there's some part of our human nature that seeks to understand that, possibly to protect ourselves if we were ever in that situation.
Jessica Payne: So I think there's a lot that goes into it. I also think it's just pure entertainment and there are a lot of genres I really enjoy, but sometimes I want to not feel like an emotional wreck at the end of a book. Some beautiful books have been written and I avoid them because I don't don't want to be sad, but thrillers usually are more thrilling. Anyway, I feel like that was maybe a bit of a roundabout way to answer your question, but those are my thoughts on the matter.
Annmarie Kelly: Yeah. No, I mean, I think voyeurism certainly, entertainment absolutely, and seeking to understand people and situations we don't. I'm thinking also, I was ... Your daughter is how old?
Jessica Payne: She's just turned four.
Annmarie Kelly: Okay, so she probably doesn't know this book yet, maybe she does. But when my daughter was little, one of our favorite preschool teachers gave us this book called The Big Green Monster, and in it, a big green monster. As you turn the pages, the big green monster gets purple hair or big yellow eyes. And sometimes as you keep turning the pages, the monster goes away entirely. And at first I thought the book would be too scary, I'm just like, "I can't believe you would just give my child a monster book," but it was actually not scary at all. It was power and control.
Annmarie Kelly: So here was this scary thing that she was in charge of, a book she can open and close, danger that was made manageable. And I wonder if for many of us opening and closing a thriller is like that. I could read Make Me Disappear, and Noelle is on the run and it is frantic, it is scary, and my heart is racing, and I can close it whenever I want to. And I don't have that kind of control in my real grown up adult life over things that scare me. Does that make sense?
Jessica Payne: No, it totally makes sense. I understand that. And I think you're right, I think that definitely taps into one of the reasons that people enjoy thrillers. It also confronts you with the realities of your own fears, I guess.
Annmarie Kelly: Yeah, which is what I usually don't want to think about, but yes. And so, as you mentioned, we meet Daniel and Noelle. They're this couple and in many ways they are beautiful. He's very wealthy, they both work at the hospital, but as you also said, there are issues. One of the issues is there's a power imbalance. Noelle is a nurse in the same hospital where Daniel is an anesthesiologist. He out ranks her in some ways. And some of that power dynamic at work also then threads its way into their relationship at home.
Annmarie Kelly: I believe I read that you've worked in hospitals and you talked about graduate school for neonatology. Have you seen firsthand this kind of power imbalance in your workplaces?
Jessica Payne: Yeah. For the most part, everyone I've ever worked with in a hospital has been wonderful. They are kind, generous people who just want to help. However, as in any career field, there are definitely the people who are in positions of power because they like being powerful, and they like that feeling. And I have definitely seen, I've seen it with nurses, but more often with doctors who honestly, I am shocked at the way that they treat the quote-unquote, "lesser" staff. And that was one thing I really wanted to bring into this book.
Jessica Payne: I have had a few experiences where I just stop and I wonder, do they really think that they are that much better than everyone around them? And I really wondered about the psychology behind that kind of mind, which is what I tried to understand when writing Daniel, the male character. But yeah, I've absolutely seen behavior like that in the hospital.
Jessica Payne: And I do think it's something that is being cracked down on. There's a greater awareness of it and how it can negatively affect the nursing stuff, but also the patients, because if your nurse is afraid to talk to your doctor about something, something might get missed. So I do think that, that has improved since when I first started working in the field. But yeah, that was something that was important to me to bring into this book and specifically into their relationship.
Annmarie Kelly: Yeah, it all read very real. I could tell that you'd had experience in hospital settings because it was very believable. And of course then beyond hospital rank and workplace pecking order, we also come to understand very quickly that this fictional couple has very real problems outside of work. Daniel, as you've mentioned, is narcissistic and possessive of Noelle, and of course she is feeling trapped.
Annmarie Kelly: And before reading Make Me Disappear, I'd never thought much about how technology has made it easier than ever for an abusive partner, in this case, Daniel, to keep track of a woman. There are the usual ways we all think about like, you're checking into a restaurant on Facebook, or he can track her on Google Maps, or just see what she's doing on social media.
Annmarie Kelly: But there were these other ways, unusual methods. He has hidden spyware on her phone and her computer keyboard. He knows what she's pressing. He's gone so far as to hide cameras in her house so he can watch her from his own. Oh, I'm getting chills just thinking about all the ways that he can possess her. And even if Noelle were to break up with Daniel, she can't really get away from him. This was terrifying.
Jessica Payne: Yeah, it is. It is terrifying, and the reality is that this happens in real life. This was a thriller written for entertainment, but also with the awareness that this is a real thing that happens to people. And on this topic, I hope I'm not veering off the topic too much, I myself had a bad relationship. And it was nothing like Noelle's, it was nothing that bad, but I wanted to be able to talk about that in this book, somewhat abstractly I suppose.
Jessica Payne: And I've had readers reach out to me and tell me things like, you made me realize how a smart person could get pulled in and trapped in this kind of toxic relationship and not realize it until they were deep into it. Kind of like the saying, with the frog and the boiling water. I'm not sure how that expression goes exactly.
Jessica Payne: But basically, if you put a frog in cold water and slowly heat it up, they don't realize it's getting hot until it's boiling and they're basically dead. But the same thing, people don't get into relationships thinking, oh, I love that I'm being treated so badly or that I have no privacy. It never starts that way, it's something that slowly becomes that almost without you realizing it.
Jessica Payne: And it's from this person who you feel deeply for and love. And at first you make excuses and then one day you wake up and you realize you're completely trapped. And I felt the need to represent that with a strong character. And it's meant a lot to me that people have reached out and said that it helped them realize they weren't dumb for falling into a bad relationship.
Annmarie Kelly: Thank you for sharing that. I saw at the end in a letter that you wrote that you had been in an abusive relationship and that you had gotten out and wanted to write about it. As a survivor of that, what was it like to write this book? Were you ever re-experiencing the trauma or did the book give you renewed control? What was that like?
Jessica Payne: A little bit of everything. It was really therapeutic in a way. So the relationship I was in at the time was in my mid 20s, and I didn't realize how bad it was until one day I woke up and realized how bad it was. But I didn't even realize how bad it was, I wrote this book when I was 36, 37, until I was writing it. And I, as an adult now and a mother now and someone who's gone through a lot and is now in a very different type, like a very happy, peaceful, I in no way feel any negativity marriage, looking back and realizing how messed up it was.
Jessica Payne: So some of it was hard, moments like that, where it was just like, wow, why did I put up with that, or how did that ever get to be that way? Those moments were a bit difficult, but it was also really therapeutic in a way. And then therapeutic, without giving spoilers, to write about Noelle's journey from the beginning to the end was therapeutic. And some of that was definitely feeling like taking power back, but largely it was about processing it. And I didn't realize this book was going to be about that when I wrote it, but that's what slowly started to come out.
Annmarie Kelly: In the book you wrote, quote, "A woman once a victim is twice as easy to victimize again." Is that true?
Jessica Payne: I think it depends on the person, but I think that people often follow patterns in their relationships, and there's hopefully a point at which that individual is able to break that pattern, but absolutely. My relationship in my mid 20s with that person was not the first bad relationship I had. Growing up, I had a relative who was very controlling, and I didn't realize that, that was abnormal. It feels normal, so then when you go into the dating scene and meet people, it feels normal to have someone start to control you because that's your only point of reference.
Jessica Payne: So yeah, I do think it is very common. As a nurse, I can tell you that it is very common for people to go from one abusive relationship to another. And it's almost, it's something you don't even recognize as being abnormal because for you growing up, it potentially was your normal. So I hope that people are able to recognize what's going on and break that pattern, but I know that not everybody gets there and it makes me very sad.
Annmarie Kelly: I think it was this larger theme that kept me coming back to a book that again, the type I don't always myself reach for. But I think it can be really easy to reduce a situation like Noelle's and Daniel's, oh, Noelle's in a bad relationship. We always ask this, well, why didn't you just leave? And in your personal experience and in the book, you give us all of these reasons why I understand why it's not possible. Quite early in the book, we understand that Noelle can't legitimately escape from this man, her financial situation, the healthcare of people she loves, her phone and internet activity, her home. Daniel is threaded into every corner of her life.
Annmarie Kelly: And it didn't start out being problematic, it started out like all relationships do, with some flirting and with a dinner and with someone handsome. But this person, like you said, she gets to a point where she's looking around and she doesn't see any way out, and she's desperate. He's even done favors for the police, so there's this idea that she can't even go to law enforcement.
Annmarie Kelly: So she arranges, like you said, but I want to make sure people get this, she arranges to have herself kidnapped. She hires someone. This title, Make Me Disappear, she hires someone to kidnap her from her own life. Is this extreme kidnapping something you made up? I'd never heard of it.
Jessica Payne: Yeah. So she hires someone to kidnap her from her own life because then he can't blame her for it. And I did not make up extreme kidnapping, I actually was trying to sort out how someone would go about having themselves kidnapped. And I quickly realized this would involve me figuring out how to access the dark web, and I was like, "I do not want to do that."
Jessica Payne: But I stumbled across this website that is about, I don't remember if they called it extreme kidnapping or ultimate kidnapping, but basically it's kind of like doing the locked door. What is that called, where you have yourself locked in a room? Escape rooms.
Annmarie Kelly: Oh, like the escape room. Uh-huh.
Jessica Payne: Yeah, it's kind of like that. You can go do this experience that's not really normal or typical. But yeah, you can arrange to have yourself kidnapped, you pay them and they will do whatever you want. They'll pretend to be a mafioso who's coming after you. You can have a whole role play thing attached to it. You can hire this company to kidnap you or your friend for a fun birthday party.
Annmarie Kelly: Okay. Please, to all my friends who are listening and even the friends who are not, under no circumstances do I think that, that would be fun. I do not want to be kidnapped. Hell no. Oh my gosh.
Jessica Payne: I know. I found it, and I was like, "Is this real?" And it is. If you look around the internet, you'll find this.
Annmarie Kelly: As a nurse, is there ever a conflict of interest when you are Googling kidnappings, or I don't know if you've ever murdered someone in a book, but how to do murder? As a nurse, is there ever a conflict of interest with your dastardly writerly ways?
Jessica Payne: Well, I mean, I'm going to say no, not really, which maybe is the wrong answer, but it's just a different part of my life. I can want people to get well while also writing fictional character doing awful things, but I think it definitely makes it more interesting. A lot of my characters are nurses and it definitely creates some conflicted emotions and feelings. So it's definitely fun.
Jessica Payne: People have a certain view of the type of person nurses are. So in a way it's funny to be writing these evil characters, whereas everybody's just like, "Oh, you're a nurse? Oh, you're such a nice, wonderful person." I'm like, "I know, but I also kill people in fiction, so ..."
Annmarie Kelly: Don't cross me. Do people assume that you are Noelle? Or do they assume that you're a nurse and she's a nurse and-
Jessica Payne: Yeah.
Annmarie Kelly: ... I don't know.
Jessica Payne: I've gotten that actually-
Annmarie Kelly: Do you get that a lot?
Jessica Payne: Yeah, I get that a fair amount. I had one interview where I was like, "No, really, it's not me."
Annmarie Kelly: Well, how is Noelle like you, and how is she different? Draw some lines for us.
Jessica Payne: Yeah, first of all, I would just like to say, I think every character, every main character anyway, has some component of the author, even if we are just writing about an emotion we have felt before in a completely different situation. I think it's almost impossible to write a character that does not in some way share some attributes with you.
Jessica Payne: But yes, I am a nurse. I did move to Washington State in my 20s. Let me think. I have had a bad relationship. I have thought about revenge. No, I'm just kidding about that. I mean, those are the main things I would guess. I'm runner. She's a runner, Noelle's a runner. I think all my characters are runners though. But yeah, I mean, there are definitely some similarities, but there are some big differences as well.
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Annmarie Kelly: I could tell you were a runner and I also could tell you'd spent time in Seattle because in many ways this novel is yes, it's a thriller, but it's also a love letter to the Pacific Northwest. I mean Noelle and Daniel and Jack and Kari, and these other characters, they drive and sprint and flee and they're stuck in traffic on Rose and near landmarks that ... I mean, I used to live in Seattle, so were very recognizable to me, but anybody who's familiar with really the Portland to Seattle I-5 jaunt, or who've visited these areas, it just was really ... There was this beautiful familiarity. You really captured that place. What do you love about the Pacific Northwest?
Jessica Payne: Well, first of all, I want to say thank you for saying that because I really wanted to wrap the Pacific Northwest all up with this book. So I'm really glad that, that came through. Okay, I don't love how much rain we get and for how long we get it, but I do love the rain. I find it beautiful. I love the Puget Sound. We live pretty close to it. We can walk down to it and it's just gorgeous. I love taking my daughter down there and she plays on the beach and you can see seals out there and you can take your dogs on a long walk along the beach. I really, really love that.
Jessica Payne: Okay, so I'm originally from Kansas City and summers are so hot and winters are so cold and spring and fall last like a week each, if you get them at all. So I love that. I mean, other than the rain, the weather is so much more mild here. As a runner, I can get out 98% of days, even in the rain. And it doesn't typically pour here, it sprinkles off and on. So it's not this deluge of rain that people usually think it is.
Jessica Payne: I also love all the green. It's just gorgeous. I love that I can drive out to Eastern Washington and be in the desert or I can go up to Mount Rainier and be in the mountains. I love that the peninsula has just these gorgeous places where there's almost no one. I could go on and on, but I'll stop there. It's just a wonderful place and very much where my heart is.
Jessica Payne: We were briefly in Texas about a year ago for a year and a half, pretty much during COVID, and Texas has some good things. I was very skeptical, but there are some great things about Texas, but being back in Washington is like coming home. And also just the people, I just feel like I fit in here better. We're all a little weird and we're okay with it.
Annmarie Kelly: That's so true. One of my favorite things about living in Seattle was the indomitable spirit, because when I lived there, my next door neighbor was a very avid gardener and she would be out every Saturday morning rain or shine. It did not matter what the weather was doing, she was gardening. I attended outdoor concerts in the rain.
Annmarie Kelly: And Seattle's the only place I've ever lived, where if you made plans to meet and walk around Green Lake with a friend, you wouldn't even call them if it was raining, you would just show up in your rain coat. Everywhere else in the world, if it's raining, I'd be like, "Hey Jess, are we still meeting?" You wouldn't think twice about it, you would just show up and you would let the water roll off your back, and I think there's a life philosophy in there.
Annmarie Kelly: It was also the place I've lived, where more people checked out library books than anywhere else in the country. I don't know if that was lore or what, but it is an avid library, like the highest library card use per capita or something like that.
Jessica Payne: I was unaware of that, but I believe it. The libraries here are very, very active. I think we belong to a couple different ones and yeah, they are very well run and I feel like I can always get books quickly and I've been really impressed with it. But yeah, you're right, absolutely, with the rain thing. I have to add one more thing, the coffee. You can get good coffee almost anywhere here, and that is definitely not the case elsewhere. Okay, I'll stop.
Annmarie Kelly: That's right. I've been to the original Starbucks in the U District and then down on Pike Place Market, and of course. And it was great to just ... I have not lived there since 2002, but I remember the feeling of driving 2,600 miles and stepping out of my car and breathing in the air that felt like home. And I hope that, that's what people will feel, what readers will feel when they find themselves in your book, because I certainly did.
Annmarie Kelly: Can we talk process a little bit? Process. Most of the time when I draft a scene, I've got two people walking and talking. Every scene I write could basically be a not as funny outtake from When Harry Met Sally or that Ethan Hawk movie with the Before Sunrise where he and Julie Delpy are walking around Vienna. My character's just yap and talk and walk, but a thriller is a very particular kind of book. There are rules and patterns and pacing. It's got to twist. It's got to move. How in the world did you figure out how to do all that?
Jessica Payne: I feel like I'm still figuring it out, if I'm being completely honest. So my first two books were not thrillers, they were contemporary fantasy. And I decided I wanted to try to write thrillers because I was obsessed with them. I was listening to audio books while my infant daughter was doing stuff where I couldn't really read, but I could listen. And then I started reading them trying to figure out how to do it. And I was reading a book a week just trying to sort out the formula, but there's not really a formula, but there kind of is.
Jessica Payne: So the thing I have found that is really important with thrillers is to keep readers on their toes. Constantly be putting up a question that they want to know the answer to, that they have to keep reading to find the answer to, but as soon as they think they have the answer, there's a twist and nothing was as it appears. So that's a big thing for me is to just constantly be raising questions. And you want to give the reader enough that they don't feel as though you are keeping secrets from them, while at the same time withholding details, making them work for it, so to say.
Jessica Payne: But I feel like thrillers, one thing I love about them is it's almost like a dance with the reader. You have to have all the clues there. They have to look back at the end and think, oh my gosh, how did I not see that? And figuring out how to do that definitely takes a lot of writing and revising. And that is one thing I had to learn as I learned how to write thrillers, because a lot of times you get to the end of the book and you realize there's not enough there and you need to go back and add red herrings or add another twist. So every book is a little different with figuring out how to do that.
Jessica Payne: The other big thing that's helped me is keeping in mind, I think Alexa Donne is the one who originally said this, she has a YouTube video, but it's the plot behind the plot. So there's the surface of what's happening that the reader gets to know, but then you also need to know what's really going on in the background. And that really helps you get to the end of the book and look back and have all those clues laid along the way. So anyway, that might have all been too vague to be helpful, but those are the things I keep in mind as I am writing a thriller.
Annmarie Kelly: And did you know as it was being written, what the ending was? I'm not going to tell the ending.
Jessica Payne: Sometimes-
Annmarie Kelly: Okay, they both drive into the Grand Canyon. I gave it away.
Jessica Payne: Yeah.
Annmarie Kelly: Sorry, everyone. No, no, that's not ... That's the ending to Thelma and Louise. Do you know what the ending is that you're writing toward? Or are you experiencing a thriller on the way where you're like, "I didn't know they were going to drive that ..." I don't know, how planned is it?
Jessica Payne: It's a little bit of both. I do try to have an idea of what the middle will look like and what the end will look like, but I'm always open to that changing and it most often does, but that helps give me some direction. I definitely am a pantser with everything in between. I also love starting a book not knowing who the bad guy is, because then you leave that possibility open, and I think that it helps the reader also feel like it could be anybody, which at least at the beginning is good.
Annmarie Kelly: Well, that is so hard to do well, and you did it very well. I remember one time in a scene, trying to plant a green folder that was going to be important two scenes later. And so I kept writing about the green folder and one of my critique partners was like, "Is this green folder important, because you keep talking about the green folder?" She's like, "I'm sort of sick of hearing about it and actually annoyed by it." It's just, it's so hard to drop hints without like hitting people over the head and with ... So hats off to you for figuring that out, because that is not easy.
Jessica Payne: Thank you. Yeah, you just got to trust the reader sometimes. And your critique partners will tell you if you screwed up, trust them too.
Annmarie Kelly: Well, I started this show by mentioning that you and I met online and lest folks think it was like in a strange chat room or that I often troll for strangers-
Jessica Payne: Oh, we're not telling them about that?
Annmarie Kelly: ... on the interwebs, why don't you tell us about #MomsWritersClub, which is where I met you?
Jessica Payne: Yeah, I would love to. So a couple years ago around the time COVID hit, maybe just before COVID hitting, I posted something along the lines of, I really wish there was a cool club for writers, kind of like the 5amWritersClub, but for busy moms who write at odd hours when their children are asleep, like during naps or in the middle of the night when they're breastfeeding or whatever.
Jessica Payne: And I had 50 followers on Twitter at the time, but that post blew up. I think I had a 1,000 responses or something between all the likes and comments. And I was like, "Oh, okay, I guess I'm not alone," because it felt really alone. Being a new mom, you're often very isolated and you don't really know what you're doing and it just feels very lonely and I felt ... I knew a couple writers, but I wasn't part of a writing community.
Jessica Payne: So going off of that, I was like, "Okay, so there are a bunch of moms who are writers on Twitter who want to know each other." So I just started posting using the hashtag #MomsWritersClub and encouraged others to do so, and it started rolling. And I was very aware that there were chats on Twitter for writers basically where people would post a handful of questions, people would respond, you'd get to know each other. And I asked if people would be interested in a #MomsWritersClub chat, and again, their response was huge. And I was like, "Oh, okay. Okay, we'll do it."
Jessica Payne: And so yeah, we started. It's been I think a little over two years now that we've been doing this. Every other Wednesday night, we hop on at 8:00 PM Central, 6:00 PM Pacific and I post a series of questions and people respond and discuss, and it's just been really wonderful. We have just created this cool community and I've gotten to know so many other mom writers. And we have a few non mom writers too. So anybody can join us. We're not particular about it. There are a few dog moms in there. And it's just wonderful. These people are wonderful human beings who are moms and writers and we have some unique challenges that not everybody else does. So we can bond together with that.
Jessica Payne: And then about a year ago, I guess it's been longer than that, it doesn't feel that long ago, my friend Sara Read and I, we both have recently become agented, decided that we were interested in doing a YouTube channel. So we did start a YouTube channel called #MomsWritersClub where we talk about all things writing and often having to do with being a mom. And I do feel like there's a lot of good information that would be applicable to anyone on there. We talk about querying and getting our agents and book deals and how to find time to write and all kinds of stuff, but then we also touch on a lot of those specific things about being a mom writer.
Jessica Payne: And it's been really wonderful. I never thought I would do a YouTube channel. I remember specifically telling my husband, I would never do anything like that, but having a good friend to do it with has made all the difference. And it's been really fun, really enjoyable, and we've reached a lot of people. And yeah, it's just such a great community and I feel so grateful to have stumbled into it.
Annmarie Kelly: Yeah, you started that #MomsWritersClub hashtag and it quickly became a safe Haven for those of us looking to make connections and build a following in the wild, Wild West that Twitter can sometimes feel like.
Jessica Payne: Absolutely.
Annmarie Kelly: I probably had three followers and two of them were probably my mom, but your little corner of that platform was just such a safe haven and a place where we could ask questions and find out that we were not the only ones who've come to writing, many of us late, who worked other jobs and didn't believe in ourselves as writers until we became parents, many of us.
Jessica Payne: Yeah.
Annmarie Kelly: And it's beautiful.
Jessica Payne: Well, thank you.
Annmarie Kelly: I'm so glad to have stumbled into it. And thank you for putting yourself out there. And the same is true with the YouTube channel, I feel like there, you guys definitely drill down into the nuts and bolts. Let's face it, there's a lot of people writing books and they don't know how to turn that manuscript on their computer into a book that's on a shelf. And I feel like you guys do a really good job of journeying with people to make that dream seem possible. And for a lot of folks, it doesn't until you hear about somebody having done it.
Annmarie Kelly: I don't often ask about work-life balance because first off, it pisses me off that women get asked about that and men don't.
Jessica Payne: Absolutely.
Annmarie Kelly: We ask women how they make time and then we don't ask men. So it's bullshit and we should not do that. And so I purposely do not ask, because there's not enough time for anybody to get their stuff done. However, I think I heard you talk about that you do most of your writing early in the morning. Is that still true and how? I'm so tired. How do you do that?
Jessica Payne: Yeah, so I do almost all of my writing while my daughter's asleep. I wake up at 4:30 and try to be at my computer by 4:50 AM with coffee and ready to go. And yes, it is so freaking hard. I will admit, I've always-
Annmarie Kelly: I'm dying. 4:30?
Jessica Payne: I will admit, I've always been a morning person, but by morning person, I mean 6:00 AM not, not 4:30 AM. But yeah, I wake up early and it's really peaceful because my husband's asleep and my daughter's asleep and it's the one time where 99.9% of the time I will not be interrupted by anyone else. And I usually try to get an hour to two hours of solid work in during that time. And that is my time when I only write.
Jessica Payne: Now that I have published a book, I have other things I'm doing like social media and promotional stuff, but that is my reserved time only for writing. And it's like, I don't actually have a schedule because I hate being that organized, but if I did, that would be blocked out just for writing, and that really helped me.
Jessica Payne: I used to write during her nap and then at night after she went to bed, but I was just so exhausted by the time she went to bed that I was hardly getting anything done later in the day, and I needed more than that hour and a half to two hours that she was napping. So now I write in the morning and then I usually get another couple hours during her, I'm going to call it a quote-unquote "nap" now, because now that she's four, she naps about half the time. And then otherwise, we do quiet time in her room and that's worked out okay.
Jessica Payne: It also has helped her learn to be respectful of the fact that while I am home with her, I can't always give her my full attention. And I think that's good for a child to see that their parents have things they are passionate about and spend time doing, and also for her to learn to entertain herself. So she has my attention most of the rest of the time, but it's helped her be respectful of the fact that I'm a writer and this is, I call it my writing room and she calls it that too, it's very cute. So yeah, that's what's worked for me. I know it doesn't work for everyone.
Annmarie Kelly: Oh, that's excellent. I do think you've got to grab time when you can, but knowing that you could count on that sacred hour and that it's carved out, that allowing yourself to be important in your own life. Because I know that when I became a parent, there was definitely this period of feeling lost, that I had gone from being a capable person who was in charge of my own self and my own body and my own needs, and then it really did feel like overnight where you are suddenly incapable and utterly unable to handle anything, but this little person. And so carving out a space where you're still able to do what you love, I feel made me a better parent because I was less resentful of the time that I couldn't do what I love.
Jessica Payne: Oh definitely. Yeah, I agree. And for me getting it done first thing in the morning makes me feel just more relaxed throughout the whole rest of the day. But I think you really hit on something important there where you said you're this strong, independent person who suddenly has this child that you're responsible for, this baby, and it's like you have no time for yourself, and it feels like your own life is on the back burner. And I feel like that can create a lot of helplessness, it has for many of my new mom friends. So I don't know that it would've been possible right after I had my daughter, but as she got to be four or five months old, it made a huge difference in my life and in my happiness to have this thing I was passionate about and to make time for it.
Annmarie Kelly: Well, Jessica Payne, you are an inspiration and it's just been so thrilling to watch all of this come to be. We always close with just a few icebreaker questions. So I'm going to shift into those now. And for these first ones, just pick one. So dogs or cats?
Jessica Payne: Both. I have two dogs and two cats. I can't pick one, I'm sorry.
Annmarie Kelly: That counts. No apologies, you can pick both. Coffee or tea?
Jessica Payne: Coffee, but I also like tea.
Annmarie Kelly: Mountains or beach?
Jessica Payne: Oh my gosh, these are so hard. Well, right now I'm going to say beach, but I did come to Washington for the mountains. So I feel like I'm just saying both to everything.
Annmarie Kelly: You can do that. There are no rules. Running or yoga?
Jessica Payne: Running, but stretching out with yoga afterwards.
Annmarie Kelly: Loud or quiet?
Jessica Payne: Quiet.
Annmarie Kelly: Are you a risk taker or are you the person who always knows where the Band-Aids are?
Jessica Payne: I feel like as a nurse I should say Band-Aids, but in reality, I try to take a risk with every book and it has paid off most of the time. So I'm going to encourage people to take a risk.
Annmarie Kelly: What was your risk? I can think of a few. What was your risk with this book, if you don't mind me asking?
Jessica Payne: Yeah, I will talk all about it. Well, the first thing was, it was my first book ever doing dual point of view. So I was really intimidated by that. I also did not have an agent when I started writing this book. This is the book that got me my agent. And Daniel is written, so technically it's first person and he's talking to someone, but everybody calls it second person, and it's similar to how-
Annmarie Kelly: Yeah, it reads like a second person to me.
Jessica Payne: Yeah. It's similar to how Joe in the book and Netflix show, You is written where he's like talking to the person. So Daniel is talking to Noelle throughout the whole book and writing this book in what we're going to call second person felt like a huge risk to me. It's how his voice came to me. It's how he wanted to be written, so to say, but I also was not sure how that would go over with agents. But I also felt like it's what the book needed so that's what I did, and that's actually one of the things that my agent said that she really loved about the book and that really pulled her in before she offered.
Annmarie Kelly: That's excellent. Yeah, we'll put you down for the risks and the Band-Aids. Okay, this one is a fill in the blank. If I wasn't working as a writer, I would be a ...
Jessica Payne: Well, I was a nurse before, but let me think about this. Well, I would love to be a professional athlete in another life. I really love the physical movement. It makes me happy.
Annmarie Kelly: Wow. Would you be a professional hockey player or a professional ping pong player? What would be your sport?
Jessica Payne: Professional rock climber.
Annmarie Kelly: Oh my God. Do you rock climb?
Jessica Payne: Yeah, not much lately since having our daughter.
Annmarie Kelly: How do you not die every single time?
Jessica Payne: I too would've thought that before I rock climbed, but there's so many safety things. There's a whole procedure around everything. If you do it right, it's actually very safe and there's a backup to everything. If you are at the top of a rock, you should have your safety clipped in as well as still be on quote-unquote, "belay," so even if one were to somehow break, you've got the other. If done properly, yes, it carries risk, but it's actually pretty safe.
Annmarie Kelly: Wow. And how are you not afraid of heights?
Jessica Payne: I'm not saying I'm not, but I'm just saying when you're on the rock and your hands and feet are on the rock, you're not looking down. But sometimes when you get up really high and look down, you're like, "Oh, that was a mistake." But it's incredible to feel like you're on top of the world. I highly recommend it.
Annmarie Kelly: All right, that's amazing. If you could time travel, would you rather go forward or back?
Jessica Payne: I think I'd rather go back. I'm a little afraid with how things are going right now. I would love to see the world before we had roads everywhere. I think of, for example, Seattle. What do you think the area that is now Seattle looked like 500 years anything?. Wouldn't that be incredible to see all the waterfronts completely natural before they built up the hills and everything? Anyway, I just think it would be incredible to be able to go back in time and see the world when there were only hundreds of thousands or maybe a few million people on it.
Annmarie Kelly: Uh-huh. The trees, I'm picturing the trees.
Jessica Payne: Mm-hmm.
Annmarie Kelly: All right, what's something quirky that folks don't know about you, a like, love, a pet peeve.
Jessica Payne: I think people see me as very open and social online, which I am and which I try to be, but person to person, I really love going and hanging out for an hour and then I want to go home and I'm good and I'm done. So I guess people don't expect that, that when you've got that screen there, it's just a little easier to be, I don't know, there, because you can turn it off. You can set your phone down and you're done, whereas in person, I like being in person, but then I'm ready to go hide for a little while.
Annmarie Kelly: What's a favorite book or a favorite movie or both?
Jessica Payne: Okay. So for a movie, if you haven't watched it yet, I'm going to recommend it's called Mr. Right, R-I-G-H-T. And it is kind of a romcom and it has Anna Kendrick in it. And it's amazing to me how many people haven't heard of this movie, but it is hilarious. It is about this woman who happens upon a hitman. It's fun and hilarious.
Annmarie Kelly: Is it going to make me afraid of my house?
Jessica Payne: No. I don't think so. No.
Annmarie Kelly: All right.
Jessica Payne: No, definitely not. It's got Anna Kendrick in it. I mean, it's a wonderful movie. And then for a book, I recently read The Favor by ... I've got it right here. I'm trying to remember her last name. It's Nora Murphy. And this was really good. I don't think this would make you afraid of your house, but it is a thriller, so ...
Annmarie Kelly: All right. We'll link to that in the show notes. What's your favorite ice cream?
Jessica Payne: I really like just plain French vanilla, but I often will add something to it. But in general, just plain French vanilla, it has such a rich creamy flavor.
Annmarie Kelly: Do you add something like gummy bears, something terrible like that, because that's what my children would add?
Jessica Payne: Oh no, like dark chocolate. Dark chocolate, or a shot of espresso or maybe some alcohol depending on ... Yeah, no, no, no, no.
Annmarie Kelly: I could get behind that. All right, last one. If we were to take a picture of you really happy and doing something you love, what would we see?
Jessica Payne: You would see me out backpacking on the Wonderland Trail around Mount Rainier with my husband and daughter, and my daughter's too young. But it's about 100 miles and my husband and I did it for our honeymoon kind of. It was a little bit after we got married. But it's just wonderful. You're out there, you see very few other people and it's gorgeous. It's just mountains and rivers and it's all very wild and pretty remote and the most gorgeous sunsets around the lakes. And I cannot wait to be able to do that with my daughter when she's a little bit bigger.
Annmarie Kelly: Wow. That's a beautiful image. Thank you for leaving us with that. And thank you, Jessica Payne for carving a few minutes out of your busy double debut year to stop by and share your story. You've called writing this book the quote, "fulfillment of a lifelong dream." And it's such a delight to have shared in just a snippet of that joy.
Annmarie Kelly: For folks who are listening, you can pick up Make Me Disappear at an indie store near you. Be on the lookout for The Lucky One in September. I mean, here in Cleveland, you could pop over to Mac's Backs or Loganberry or Visible Voice Books, but be sure to pay a visit to the place where you like to get your books and check out work from Jessica Payne.
Annmarie Kelly: We are wishing all of you the fulfillment of your lifelong dreams, whatever those may be. And until then, be good to yourself, be good to one another, and we'll see you again soon on this wild and precious journey.
Annmarie Kelly: Wild Precious Life is a production of Evergreen Podcasts. Special thanks to executive producers, Gerardo Orlando and Michael DeAloia, producer, Sarah Willgrube, and audio engineer, Ian Douglas. Be sure to subscribe and follow us on Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts.
Alyson Holland: I'm Alyson Holland host of the Kennedy Dynasty podcast. Equipped with a microphone and a long term fascination of the Kennedy family, I am joined by an incredible cast of experts, friends and guests, to take you on a fun, relaxed, yet informative journey through history and pop culture, from book references to fashion, to philanthropy, to our modern expectations of the presidency itself. You'll see that there is so much more to Kennedy than just JFK or conspiracy theories. Join me for the Kennedy Dynasty podcast.