At OCD Nerd News we enjoy interviewing all kinds of nerds, including authors we should know and discover. This week, we are making place for Jill Hedgecock.
Author Jill Hedgecock
My name is Jill Hedgecock. I enjoy taking readers on high-stakes adventures in exotic settings and spending hours upon hours doing research. It is a skill I honed at the University of California Davis.
As I completed her undergraduate degree in the biological sciences and then at the University of San Francisco. All the while achieving a master’s degree in environmental management.
I am an award-winning and internationally published author. When I’m not churning out words on the computer for my next novel, I’m chasing down speakers as program coordinator for the Mount Diablo branch of the statewide California Writers Club (CWC.)
I was honored to receive the Distinguished Service Award from CWC for the second time in 2018. I have also judged the Young Writers contest sponsored by CWC and also the National Scholastic Art and Writing Awards.
I also delve into journalistic prose by writing book review columns for Books ‘N Pieces Magazine and The Diablo Gazette. My short stories, personal essays, and nonfiction pieces have appeared in multiple anthologies, newspapers, and magazines.
I always loved animals and transforming hard science to make it entertaining. In May 2018, my nonfiction essay, “Rhino-cide,” appeared in the anthology, Writing, Language, Culture and Development, Asia vs. Africa, which included stories, poems, and other literary art forms from 18 different countries.
My debut novel, Rhino in the Room, was released in Fall 2018. When I’m not writing or reading, I enjoy hiking and doing dog agility. Jill lives in the East Bay of the San Francisco Region with her husband and three rescue dogs.
ALEXA WAYNE (A.W.): When did you find out you would want to write novels?
JILL HEDGECOCK: My journey to publication began because of my passion for nature. In the late 1980s, I became concerned about the impact of rainforest destruction on birdlife and then developed a broader concern for our planet.
I wrote nonfiction pieces for several birding magazines and concocted an idea about writing a book about all the American wildlife we have lost intending to have The Sierra Club or some other nonprofit as my publisher.
Each chapter would target an environmental catastrophe or species that are in trouble. For example, grizzly bears used to roam the San Francisco area. The last grizzly in California was reportedly shot in August 1922 at Horse Corral Meadows in Tulare County.
I’ll never forget my husband leaning against a door frame after I explained my book idea and telling me not to “preach to the choir” and that I should write a novel that would capture a broad audience.
The science nerd in me protested that I didn’t know the first thing about writing fiction. The next thing I knew, I was enrolled in a creative writing class.
A.W.: You define yourself as a nerd. What do you think makes you a nerd, and how do you share your passion?
JILL HEDGECOCK: I’m a science nerd. I get excited by bugs, unusual plants, bee communication, how microplastics are taken up into fish and shellfish, and especially trying to help animals in peril, such as rhinos.
I work in an environmental consulting firm performing ecological risk assessments by day, but by night, I am all about letting my creative juices flow.
When I was a teen, I was such a Star Trek nerd that I memorized the titles of all of the episodes and would quiz myself. I also went to the conventions. I still have an autographed photo of Leonard Nimoy.
I was a half-hour late to my 8th-grade school dance because I had to finish watching a Star Trek rerun. My poor date thought I had stood him up.
I don’t write science fiction, but if I ever did, I suspect my subconscious would conjure up a Spock-like character and a modern version of the teleport technology.
A.W.: When writing, do you do research and if so, how far do you go with your analysis?
JILL HEDGECOCK: Research is my favorite part of the writing process. One question leads to another and another, and before I know it, I am in a wormhole. How far would I like to go? To the stratosphere, but I have to reel myself in.
I tend to follow my general rule of thumb when I’m giving public presentations: Know ten to twenty times more than you plan to present. This thinking gives you a strong chance of having the answer to any questions.
Those are answers that arise at the end of the presentation. In writing, if I can find ways to weave my added research into my story, I’ll dive.
But I won’t compromise story tension with unnecessary details that distract from the plot. That isn’t fair to my readers. Sometimes this extraneous information can be included in the afterword.
A.W.: What is most important to you when writing your novels?
JILL HEDGECOCK: The most important thing is that I deliver a compelling story. I want my readers to remember scenes from the book long after they have turned the last page and to feel that the time they invested in reading was time well spent.
I want to validate my readers’ values or change their minds and compel them to action. I want them to experience the human condition and to inspire empathy for other people as well as the creatures that share our planet.
A.W.: Which nerd fandom influenced your writing?
JILL HEDGECOCK: My main characters are strong, young females who rise to the occasion in the face of peril. So Katniss Everdeen and The Hunger Games fandom have helped shape my process of character development for my teen-girl protagonists.
At one point, Claire in Rhino in the Room has to make a difficult choice. The choice being of whether or not to take the life of another person.
A.W.: Which of your novels is your favorite, and why is it your favorite?
JILL HEDGECOCK: Oh my gosh. How can you ask me to choose one of my babies? I’m glad I only have two out in the world, though I have draft manuscripts of three other novels. If I have to choose, I suppose my favorite book is my firstborn: Rhino in the Room.
It is particularly special because it has been a gateway to raise awareness about the looming extinction of these amazing creatures. I was enamored with these giant beasts when I first viewed them in the wild. Hours of research for the novel showed me how vital rhinos are to the delicate African ecosystem.
The loss of rhinos contributes to the long-term survival of big cats because rhinos create grazing habitat for the prey of lions and leopards, which further solidified that I had written a remarkable novel.
A.W.: Do you have a favorite superhero, and if so, which ones and why?
JILL HEDGECOCK: It has to be Superman. In part, because as a kid, the idea that green kryptonite could take down an “indestructible” superhero appealed to the science nerd in me. And, of course, my boy-crazy tween self had a major crush on him.
A.W.: What made you decide to be self-published?
JILL HEDGECOCK: My journey to publication has been filled with ups and downs. I was determined to be traditionally published, and nothing less would be acceptable. I acquired an agent, but my book didn’t get picked up. A small press wanted a manuscript then didn’t.
A big part of me wanted the validation that my writing was worthy, and part of me felt overwhelmed by the thought of doing my marketing.
After I traveled to South Africa in 2015 and learned that poachers slaughter three rhinos every single day just for their horns, I couldn’t wait any longer. After watching at this giant, grey, living dinosaur, I decided that people needed to know the species was facing “rhino-cide.”
I wrote the first draft of my Africa-inspired novel in about two months then spent about six months editing it. I queried agents, and when it failed to generate interest, I created my press.
And guess what? Book marketing isn’t so bad. So many amazing things have happened because I went in this direction, like interviewing George R.R. Martin and Emmy-Award-winning screenwriter for L.A. Law, Alan Brennert, having my work appear in India and participating in a Guinness Book of World Records painting project.
I would not have had these opportunities if I hadn’t jumped into the indie publishing world. The biggest challenge with self-publishing is the perception that a book isn’t good because it isn’t traditionally published. But I stand behind my work and am proud that I went this direction.
A.W.: What sets you apart from other nerdy and geek authors?
JILL HEDGECOCK: I like marketing. I never in a million years thought I would say that. But if I hadn’t been so actively promoting my novel, I would not have had the opportunity to do an exclusive, in-person interview with George R.R. Martin. How cool is that?
I also enjoyed playing movie producer when I had the privilege of listening to auditions and choosing the actor for the voice-over on my Rhino in the Room book trailer produced by Chasing Light Studios. After I uploaded the book trailer to Bookreels, my novel was nested between Stephen King and Harry Potter books.
I can’t say that I enjoy public speaking, but I am not afraid to stand in front of a crowd and raise my voice on behalf of rhinos, rescue dogs, or other causes. I’m also a bit of a social butterfly which goes against my perception of a typical nerdy author.
A.W.: What can readers look forward to from Jill Hedgecock in 2019?
JILL HEDGECOCK: My second novel, Between Shadow’s Eyes, was released this summer. Like my first novel, it delivers page-turning suspense with a teen girl as the protagonist. I’m a big-time dog lover, and one of my goals in writing the book is to help de-stigmatize the Doberman breed.
The novel is about a sixteen-year-old orphan, Sarah, who keeps breaking a promise she made to her dying father to follow his Game Plan—ten rules designed to keep her safe and out of foster care. A rash decision to hold a stray Doberman she names Shadow puts Sarah’s living situation in jeopardy.
Shadow’s incessant barking draws warning citations from the authorities. Desperate to save her pet, Sarah turns to an animal behaviorist for help, only to learn that Shadow barks because Sarah’s house is haunted. Sarah is skeptical until she glimpses a teen ghost while petting Shadow between her eyes.