Why did you feel drawn to writing a story about private investigator Jessica Jones? Can you tell us a bit more about how you developed her character in Breaking the Dark?
LISA JEWELL: As a young girl growing up in England, the comics I read featured stories about dolls’ hospitals and aspiring ballerinas, so I wasn’t initially sure I should be the one to write a novel based on the comics of today. But then I heard the name Jessica Jones and did an abrupt about-face.
I love Jessica Jones! Who doesn’t love Jessica Jones?! And not only is Jessica Jones my favorite Marvel character, she is also a private investigator, and I have never written about a private investigator before, so it felt like there was a lot to get my hooks into. I first of all set about reading the full Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Gaydos ALIAS comic series and came to the first page of my novel fired up with pure Jessica energy.
I found a place between the events of the ALIAS series where my story could take place. I knew that Jessica at this time was starting to be aware of the fact that she might be pregnant, and I knew that would be a brilliant aspect to play with, especially as a woman writer. I also knew this meant she’d be struggling with not drinking and smoking and with her feelings about Luke Cage and the up-till-now casual nature of their relationship—all of which would be great fun to write about.
From line one, I felt a deep connection with Jessica Jones and knew that putting her into the pages of my novel would be a dream, and it really was. She stayed constant throughout, and I never had to stop to think about what she’d say or how she’d react. It just felt innate.
Breaking the Dark tackles a variety of themes—family, community, motherhood. Was there a specific topic you knew you wanted to dig deeper into?
LISA JEWELL: I tend to come to novels with a vignette, a moment I want to jump into and then see what happens from there. With this novel, I had a picture in my head of Jessica chasing a cat through her apartment building and reluctantly having to ponder flying to catch it when it escapes through a window.
I pictured these scenes like frames in a comic book: black, roiling, stormy sky, and Jessica with a hangover. And then I pictured a well-dressed client coming to her office with a story about her teenage twins coming back from the UK acting like different people, and from there I followed the story where it took me. I always write like this, so things like “themes” and “topics” are never part of the original premise of a book; they are things that come out of the book, unplanned and unexpectedly as I write.
I went through many rewrites before finally a strange, villainous family evolved, and through that family, themes of motherhood were explored, coalescing alongside Jessica’s own journey toward being able to see herself as a mother, Amber’s struggles as a single mother to teenagers, and Ophelia’s sacrifices and crimes in the pursuit of being a mother.
How did your understanding of the dynamics between Jessica and Amber Randall and between Jessica and Luke Cage evolve through the writing process?
LISA JEWELL: With Amber Randall, I wasn’t sure for a lot of the time what her true intentions were. Is she complicit in what happens to her children in the UK, even if her fondness for Jessica and the tenuous bond between the two women is palpable as the story goes on?
It felt as if they were coming at each from two opposite ends of the spectrum in the opening chapters and then slowly found their way towards each other, especially after Jessica confides in Amber that she thinks she might be pregnant. It felt huge to me that Amber would be the first person she mentions this to, and from that point on I just wanted them to stand side by side, even though they are such different women.
With Jessica and Luke, I just continued the vibe set by Brian Michael Bendis in his comic books. Their relationship, while intense, is also kind of goofy and adorable, and so putting them together on the page as much as possible felt key to me. I wanted to explore that sweetness whenever they were together, not throw obstacles at them or challenge them too much.
Luke has his own stories, of course, one of which will be told by S. A. Cosby in his Marvel Crime book next year, and his life is not uncomplicated. But for this take, I wanted simplicity and affection, for him to show himself to her in a pure way as a supporter and a friend, and, of course, as the potential father to her child.
In a sentence, what can Jessica Jones fans and readers expect to encounter in Breaking the Dark, the debut book from the brand-new Marvel Crime series?
LISA JEWELL: Readers can expect a rollercoaster transatlantic adventure involving a colorful cast of rogues and villains, a power-crazed beauty influencer, some dark romance, a precocious teen detective, clairvoyants, dystopian tech, Jessica Jones at her most Jessica-y, and an immortal cat called Mr. Smith.