Author Interview: Jas Hammonds on We Deserve Monuments

Jas Hammonds author photoJas Hammonds’ debut novel We Deserve Monuments follows biracial teen Avery as she learns more about her Black maternal grandmother, family secrets, and her own queer identity over the course of one turbulent summer. I got to read We Deserve Monuments early for a panel I moderated in May for SLJ’s Day of Dialog (read the recap) and I have been thinking about this book ever since. I’m very happy to Jas here today to talk a bit more about their debut novel.

Miss Print: Can you tell me a bit about your path as a writer? How did you get to this point?

Jas Hammonds: I grew up in the reigning era of My best friend and I were obsessed with reading and writing stories we found on that website. We’d upload our stories and eagerly await feedback from anonymous reviewers on the internet. But writing for fun slipped away from me in high school and college when all my time was taken up by required reading and assignments. It wasn’t until I was out of college and working as a flight attendant that I found myself itching for a creative outlet. I started writing on my layovers and slowly We Deserve Monuments emerged.

Miss Print: What was the inspiration for We Deserve Monuments? Your book has an interesting structure where Avery’s first person narration is interspersed with third person narrations that expand the story. Did you always know you’d intersperse these wider-view vignettes with Avery’s narration?

Jas Hammonds: I was largely inspired by trying to capture the feelings of loneliness and yearning that were so present in my life when I started drafting it. I had just moved to a new city, my family was all the way across the country, it was the 2016 election—there was a lot going on! I always knew I wanted the story to revolve around a woman who was full of so much anger because of some horrible incident in her past, but all the details took a lot of time to iron out. That character became Mama Letty, my main character’s grandmother.

The third person interstitials came later. As a reader, I love when authors play with narrative structure. During edits, I realized there was so much backstory about Avery’s family and the town that needed to be included, but I didn’t just want characters giving long-winded speeches about these things. Everything kind of clicked when I was talking with my editor and I mentioned how much I love it when settings feel like their own character. Once I started letting the town of Bardell speak for itself, the third person narrations came pretty naturally.

Miss Print: Avery discovers a lot about her maternal grandmother and her mother’s pasts in We Deserve Monuments including finding an unlikely refuge in a restaurant known by regulars as Renny’s. Was it always clear what locations would be touchstones for your story? Did any real locations inspire the landscape of Avery’s story 

Jas Hammonds: Absolutely. I love when I’m reading a book and I feel like I’m there. Renny’s (although it wasn’t always named that) has been in the book since my very first draft. I knew I wanted to create a safe haven for Avery and Simone when they’re in the midst of so much friendship and family drama. It was largely inspired by different juke joints in the South as well as the history of underground gay & lesbian bars.  

Miss Print: Avery cites the pandemic as an added source of stress (on top of academic pressure and the danger of school shootings) early in the novel. What was it like writing about this historic moment that we’re all still in? How did you decide to include it in We Deserve Monuments? 

Jas Hammonds: It wasn’t a decision I made lightly. I know mentions of COVID and the pandemic are automatic turn-offs for certain readers. But We Deserve Monuments is a contemporary story set in the present day so as I was working through edits (largely in 2020 and 2021), it started to feel odd to not include it. The pandemic has touched everyone’s lives, especially kids in school. Having Avery’s “typical” high school experience ripped away from her became yet another stressor to her character arc because she’s even more cognizant of time and how little she has left with Mama Letty. I also think it adds to the novel’s sense of urgency of trying to make the most out of time with your loved ones before it’s too late.

Miss Print: How would your characters be handling the pandemic?

Jas Hammonds:

Avery would be spending a lot of time in nature and trying out new hairstyles (I honestly can see her just shaving it all off hahaha). Mama Letty and Zora would be bickering, per usual, but would eventually start a movie night routine. Jade would be painting and Simone would be giving online tarot card readings to make some extra cash.

Miss Print: Avery does a lot of learning and growing over the course of the summer as she discovers new things about her family and herself. What is some advice you would have given Avery or advice you wish you’d received as a teen?

Jas Hammonds: My advice to Avery comes via her dad Sam when they are having their father-daughter talk at the ice cream parlor. He tells Avery she needs to breathe and give herself grace. She’s only seventeen but she’s so hard on herself, trying to figure out all the world’s problems alone. Like Avery, I was also very hard on myself as a teenager. I didn’t apply to certain colleges because I’d convinced myself I wouldn’t get in and I stayed in certain relationships because I was afraid of exploring (or even thinking about!) my sexuality. I’m glad I chose to give Avery certain knowledge I didn’t get until I was in my mid-twenties­—mainly making sure to surround yourself with people who uplift your full spirit, not just their ideas of who they think you should be.

Miss Print: What does a typical writing day look like for you? Has this changed in light of the pandemic?

Jas Hammonds: I’m a flight attendant so no day is ever the same. Sometimes I write on layovers, but I’m usually too tired. I do my best writing when I’m at home, in my cozy reading/writing/puzzle nook. I definitely don’t write every day, but when I’m in the zone I can spend hours working on a single chapter.

Miss Print: Can you tell me anything about what you’re currently working on?

Jas Hammonds: I’m currently working on edits for my second YA novel. It’s another contemporary standalone about a girl who is desperately trying to gain admittance to an elite sorority. It’s full of friendship and relationship drama, all told over the course of one hot Virginia summer.

Miss Print: Do you have any advice to offer aspiring authors?

Jas Hammonds: Get yourself a solid group of critique partners you trust. Publishing can be a tough industry, and it’s invaluable to have friends in your corner to weather the highs and lows.

Thank you to Jas for taking the time to answer my questions. You can find out more about Jas and their books on their website.

You can read my review of We Deserve Monuments here on the blog.