We had the good fortune of connecting with Jessica DeHart and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Jessica, how has your perspective on work-life balance evolved over time?
As I strive for life satisfaction, I find that a Work-Life balance is not necessarily the most important ingredient. Something much, much more important trumps any desire for such a balance, and it’s this: Magic. Sure, I spend the first hour of every Sunday morning planning the week ahead. Then, during the work week, while enjoying my quiet morning coffee before the noisy world wakes up, I time-block my entire day down to the minutia of flossing my teeth at night. I have always etched out this time for planning, only I’m not exactly sure why. I suppose I plan because I like the idea of work-life balance. Or maybe as a way to stave off chaos, given that I was reared in a tumultuous household that inadvertently instilled in me a lifelong desire for structure and predictability. Before every new year, I purchase my calendar in October. I would never wait until January–just incase the world happens to run out of calendars. But truthfully, what my mind desires more than work-life balance and order is getting lost in The Zone. That’s the magic part. And it happens to me whenever I’m writing stories. All my synapses start firing. My brain feels like its glowing. I lose all track of time. I couldn’t hear a tornado making its way up the street. I need nothing more than the moment at hand. It’s so unbelievably satisfying and I hope everyone in the world knows that feeling like I know that feeling. Eventually, most assuredly, there will come the time when my brain cries, “Uncle,” and I’ll put my pen down. That sort of exhaustion will force me to phone a friend to walk, or I’ll grab a meal. But I trust this magic. I prefer the magic. I derive immense amounts of joy that no kind of balance could ever bring. Balance always begets the need for more balance, doesn’t it? I’d just prefer to make room for the magic.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
I am a novelist. I haven’t always been one, but I’ve always been a writer. As a kid, I had the most gorgeous white writing desk in my bedroom. It beckoned me constantly. That desk is still one of the loveliest things I’ve still ever seen. There, I began to write poems and journaled. I named my first book Poems, Pearls and Passages. I am not a poet and never have been. Poetry’s only purpose in my life was to get my pencils moving. I think I wrote a whole lot about finding a way to California. Ha, funny enough, I think I still write a lot about finding a way to California. Now seems like a good time to mention that I have always lived on the East coast. I’ll work to keep that dream alive! As an adult, I started writing children’s books the moment my first son was born. I started writing picture books, then followed the ages up via a Middle Grade Mystery Series, then landed in Young Adult manuscripts. Finally, I have just recently landed in adult Literary Fiction. Literary Fiction best suits my style of writing. But here’s the thing, after writing full time for 27 years, I have yet to have a manuscript accepted by an agent and a book traditionally published. But I’m close. Yes, you read that correctly, 27 years. Who does that, right? I would have told a friend to give up long ago. This aspiration of mine never ceases. Thank goodness, rejection letters from senior agents at high profile agencies have become absolutely splendid and encouraging. So I keep at it. Daily. Truth is, I couldn’t quit writing if the world ended. I’d just find paper in Heaven. I presume there is a stack of Levenger’s baby blue Freeleaf note pads and a bouquet of freshly sharpened Faber-Castell pencils from NYC’s CW Pencil Company waiting for me up there. What I’m most proud of in my writing career happened at the end of 2017. I was 1 of 8 people accepted into NYU’s Workshop in Paris. So I must believe that the writing doesn’t suck, and, as I said before, the act of writing frequently sets me in The Zone. Therefore, I must believe that I was born to write. So I will continue to persevere and chase my writing dreams of multi-book contracts and teaching at my alma maters someday: Stony Brook University, American University of Paris, and NYU. Maybe I should be proud of my tenacity as well. In an attempt at doing my part to make the world a better place, in 2007, I began A Brilliant Life Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to tweens, teens and emerging adults. The curriculum of the program was based on a formula I created for Purpose. It is this: Our purpose is where our gifts and dreams meet the world’s needs. Now, of course, we do not know the world’s exacts needs, but we can figure out our gifts and dreams. I went into local public and private schools and organizations such as Big Brothers Big Sisters, The Girl Scouts, The Ron Clark Academy, and Boys & Girls Clubs of America, I created 5 workbooks and through these workbooks and a personal strengths finder test, students discovered more about who they were and what they wanted to do in this world. Then they created a game plan for success. It was tremendously rewarding work.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
Since Atlanta has always been my hometown, I know the little places that bring so much joy and I frequent them often. For instance, a must do is viewing our ever-expanding skyline from atop of Ponce City Market’s roof top. I wish Ponce City Market allowed the occasional sleepovers because the entire city surrounds you from that point of view and it’s quite mesmerizing. The Atlanta History Museum, which happens to be located in my neighborhood, is such a terrific step back into yesteryear. So much of our important Atlanta history is the civil rights movement and the fine men who sacrificed so much to lead the movement. Their stories are well-capsulated at the History Museum. But there is a just as impressive slice of yesteryear located in the back of Emory Univeristy Library’s first floor. I’m not sure enough people know about it. As a writer, I am quite fond of the Margaret Mitchell House Museum, which happened to be where Margaret lived and wrote Gone With The Wind in her quaint apartment there. The MMHM has recreated her apartment. It’s enchanting to see how she lived and wrote and spent her days. As a fellow TaB cola junkie–I’m still in counseling due to its exit from the consumer market–nothing beats the fun time going on at the World of Coca-Cola museum. It’s lively. Go thirsty because they let you taste their 60 or so weird cokes from around the world. Also, check out their art by local Atlanta artist, Steve Penley, and all the Coke nostalgia. When you finish there, walk 100 yards across the lawn to the Georgia Aquarium and take the behind the scenes tour. Both museums spared no expense and our city is very lockup to have them. Given our relatively mild weather in Atlanta, about every other week I find my happy little soul sitting on the porch of the Steam House Lounge restaurant. It’s a fabulous dive on 11th street that serves up mounds of kindness and the best lobster bisque soup and crab dip ever made. Everyone needs to try the place once. Atlanta’s best date night spot is by far the Atlanta Botanical Gardens. My husband and I go early and walk about with a glass of red wine. Then we head to Longleaf Restaurant inside the gardens. The gardens does a phenomenal job with their Holiday Lights stung throughout. Our high Museum of Art is one of the most beautiful, well lit buildings you can step into in Atlanta. That is one place that I can never get enough of. After the museum, stopping at Alon’s Bakery in Morningside Neighborhood is a must. Even if you’re not hungry, you’ll find a lovely pastry to take home and share with someone. Best place to walk: The Beltline, a former railway corridor made into a wide sidewalk. It stretches all over Atlanta and is one of my husband and I’s favorite weekend to-dos. Our food scene in Atlanta has exploded. Lots of James Beard-awarded chefs are turning the city upside down. The food a lone is a reason to visit. Our faves” Le Bilboquet, Marcels, Lazy betty and Superica. And last, I just love to drive my great city. My husband obliges me most weekends that we are in town and we drive around for about an hour or so. He picks the route. None are wrong. I don’t know what it is, but this simple act brings me such joy. Peachtree Street is the main road the runs through the very center one downtown and meanders its way up past our house in Chastain Park and onward into the suburbs. We usually head south on these drives. Anything north of our home gives me a nosebleed. Always has.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
Tough question! I have more friends than a morning talk show host. But I need each and every one of them in so many different ways. I love that our paths have crossed in this time in history. I know it’s no mistake. But I can narrow this important list down. I think. Let’s see . . . (all delivered in alphabetical order because I want them to stay in this fine village!) Having recently earned my MFA at NYU’s Workshop in Paris, I found a small staff of brilliant mentors whom taught me how to believe in my writing and trust the things that I do well. They are as follows: John Freeman, Katie Kitamura, Meghan O’Rourke, Helen Schulman, Darrin Strauss, & Matthew Thomas. Those were learning moments like no other, and we all knew it. These mentors were profound and I miss each of them like I miss Paris. Thank goodness literary land is small, so I know I will see them again soon. In my close-knit writing village, I rely on the love and support of a few special writers, their judgement I trust most: Sarah Frances Hardy, Janie Havemeyer, Jen Jabaley, Rebecca Randall, & Heather Wolf. I would be remiss if I did not thank the grocery store cashiers that I encounter. I don’t know what it is about them but they always seem to say the exact right phrase I need to hear, or they sing a song that sparks a thought that helps me finish a sentence or title a novel. It’s uncanny and constant, and I only wish they worked on tips. Then there are those whom help me navigate my days and weeks and most new moments: Susan Dabney, Elise Drake, and Lori Snellings. But my most important thank you: Without the love of my husband, three sons, and my mother-in-law, I would be a sorry sack of something without a train ticket home. They have taught me how to love well and they probably don’t even realize it. But I suppose that’s actually the inherent power of love; it’s really quiet and very powerful.
Atlanta photographer Kem Lee took black and white photo