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Weekly Q&A: YA author Jessie Humphries talks the teen mystique and her killer characters

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Rebel writer: A graduate of UNLV’s law school and the author of popular new young-adult fiction, Jessie Humphries wants it all—and works hard for it.
Photo: L.E. Baskow
Molly O'Donnell

A beautiful blonde with a winning smile, Jessie Humphries could easily be just another Henderson soccer mom. But as the saying goes, don't judge a book by its cover. On top of being an attorney, wife and mother, this local success is a rising star in the world of young-adult fiction. Like George Saunders, Humphries embodies the sentiment that taking the long way can be the best way. We recently had the opportunity to ask her about YA fame, her killer characters and the tricks of her latest trade.

Your debut novel, Killing Ruby Rose, is on the top 10 list for Kindle, and your next book is due out later this year. How do you account for such success? I would trace most of my success to the fact that I landed one of the best literary agents in the publishing industry, Sarah Davies. She is not only consistently ranked by Publishers Marketplace as one of the top-selling agents for young-adult books, but she is a fierce, talented and brilliant advocate for her authors. To see my book ranked with the likes of Divergent and Hunger Games was one of the most unreal moments in my life. When I found out, I nearly screamed, jumped up on the table to dance or slid across the floor on my knees while ripping my shirt off like a World Cup soccer champion, but I didn’t think the managers of Panera would like that—so I didn’t.

Why YA? The simple reason that they are the kind of books that I love to read. I adore the coming-of-age stories where kids are falling in love for the first time, facing heartbreak, enduring betrayals and making decisions that will affect the trajectory of their lives. Teens are vulnerable and fascinating and capable of pretty much anything.

Ruby Rose, the main character in your novel, is a 17-year-old vigilante; do you see parallels with other popular adult characters like serial killer Dexter? I actually pitched this story to my agent as the young-adult version of Dexter. I find myself drawn to complicated characters who do bad things for the right reasons. While the “hook” of my story is a “17-year-old girl vigilante turned serial killer,” I was always conscious of the fact that because I was writing a teen book, the idea of murder needed to be handled with care. So yeah, Ruby Rose walks a tightrope and poses some interesting questions: If there is a choice to take a life to save an innocent one, what do you do? And is a teenager capable of making this choice? I would argue, yes.

You’re a mom, attorney, wife—and you’ve been an aspiring professional tennis player, actor and Francophile. How did all that feed your eventual career? Well, I’m obviously not as well-rounded as you might think, but it’s true that I’m a bit of a career slut. I like to think of myself as a born-and-raised Rebel—not just because I grew up in Vegas and graduated from UNLV[’s] law school, but because I don’t like the feeling of being boxed in or told what I can or can’t do. I want it all, and I love the opportunity to go get it. My education, travels and experiences are all great fodder for fiction. From holding a newborn baby in my arms to defending someone’s rights in the courtroom, I’ve got plenty of inspiration for good stories.

You seem to seriously engage with aspiring writers about the process of getting to where you are. Is being transparent about your process and career a priority for you? For the first few years of my writing journey, I was resistant to the idea of generally “putting myself out there.” But I have to say that the exercise of regularly writing in a public way and engaging with the writing community has been one of the most rewarding experiences so far. The fact of the matter is that getting published in a traditional way is hard—like ridiculously and painfully difficult. It took me six years of intense dedication and focus to see my dreams of publication come to fruition. Along the way, I’ve been the beneficiary of much generous support, and if there is a way to give some of that back, I will.

YA at the movies ... is that a goal you’d be interested in? If so, would you be interested in screenwriting? Yes, yes and yes. I would love to find a way to be a part of YA making it big in the movies. I think it’s great when teens find any reason to read, and if it’s because they are gearing up to see the movie or a trailer inspired them to pick up the book, awesome. But for now, I’m focusing on edits for Book 2 in the Ruby Rose Series, Resisting Ruby Rose, due out October 28.

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