Tag Archives: short story collection

Interview with JEAN LEE – Author of Fallen Princeborn: STOLEN #Brainfluffauthorinterview #JeanLeeauthorinterview

Standard

I’d like to welcome Jean Lee, author of the recently released Fallen Princeborn: STOLEN which blew me away – see my review here. I’ve been reading Jean’s amazing blog for a while now and it’s always a pleasure so I was delighted to have a chance to chat to her about her writing.

How does Wisconsin inspire you as a writer?

Wisconsin breeds the fantastic.

We are home to peculiar, toothsome beasts like the Hodag, devourer of all-white bulldogs.

We are home to unique, word-some writers like Neil Gaiman: “There’s that tiny off-kilter nature in the Midwest that’s in the details,” he says when asked about writing…

Neil Gaiman says ‘American Gods’ is

rooted in Minnesota-Wisconsin weirdness

The writer found a strange quality in the Midwest that fuels his “American Gods.”

We are home to hidden towns, small growths of community where railroads and highways meet, places that no one finds unless they mean to find it. Picturesque, perhaps? Plainfield was indeed picturesque once—until Ed Gein was arrested in November of 1957. You may know the rest. Basically, Gein inspired many of the fictional horror icons we know today: Norman Bates, Leatherface, and Buffalo Bill are all rooted in the reality of Ed Gein.
We drove through the wild patches between the hidden towns often when I was a child. I never tried to occupy myself with books or toys in the car. There was too much to see, out there in those scattered homesteads, too much to wonder about. What happened inside that dying barn? Why is that gravel drive roped off, and where does it lead? Where are all the people for those rusted cars littering the field?

This is the Wisconsin I live in now. The land dips and rises in unexpected places. The trees may crowd a rural highway so much you can lose yourself driving, only to have the tunnel burst open to sunshine and a white-crested river running beneath a bridge you’d swear had never seen a car before. In the small farming town of my youth, I could stand on the lone highway through town and hear snowflakes land beneath the orange street lights.

Wisconsin is filled with hidden towns, small growths of community where railroads and highways meet, places that no one finds unless they mean to find it. Rock Springs was a town of 600 when I was a child, a little grain-fill stop for the railroad. We didn’t even have a gas station until I turned 5, and our library, a small portion of the town’s community center, could fit in a utility closet (it probably was a utility closet at one point). Farms and wild wood filled the gaps between towns. Unless, of course, you went towards Wisconsin Dells, where the wilderness is trimmed and prepped and ready for its mandatory close-up before the tourist rushes to the proper civilization of water parks and casinos.

We drove through those wild patches often. I never tried to occupy myself with books or toys in the car. There was too much to see, out there in those scattered homesteads, too much to wonder about. What happened inside that dying barn? Why is that gravel drive roped off, and where does it lead? Where are all the people for those rusted cars littering the field?

This is the Wisconsin I live in now. The land dips and rises in unexpected places. The trees may crowd a rural highway so much you can lose yourself driving, only to have the tunnel burst open to sunshine and a white-crested river running beneath a bridge you’d swear had never seen a car before. In Rock Springs, one could stand on the lone highway through town and hear snowflakes land beneath the orange street lights.

Both Charlotte and Liam, the Fallen Prince, are strong, nuanced characters – when you first started writing this book whose story did you most want to tell?

At the outset, the story was all about Charlotte. It was strictly in her point of view, the story opened with more of Charlotte and her sister’s life before boarding the bus, and so on. I wanted Charlotte to escape her wretched life and fly. But once I got her into River Vine, I began to see an ensemble take shape, a family of characters bearing their own shames and despairs, all struggling to free themselves and find hope in the future.

Liam wasn’t much to me at the outset–just a pompous artist who had some growing up to do. It was Arlen, the teacher, that got me to slow down and see what he saw: a kind heart that had been brutalized so often it had forgotten what it meant to feel. The more I drafted, the more I came to see Liam’s inner struggle to grow beyond his cage.

When did you start writing Fallen Princeborn: Stolen?

2010. Yup, that’s a while ago, but life tends to fill the years, and in my case, I had just become a mom. Postpartum depression hit hard. Very, very hard. I felt very cut-off from life. I couldn’t feel the joy of motherhood. I found myself often staring out a window, trapped in walls yet somehow exiled outside of feeling. I’d look upon my sleeping baby and feel nothing but guilt because I couldn’t feel complete with motherhood. Then a friend introduced me to the awesome challenge that is National Novel Writing Month. From November 1st-30th, you are to write 50,000 words of a story not yet started (that’s cheating. Outlines are permissible, though.). The story may need more than 50K words, but what matters is that you reach that length in thirty days.

I swung it that year, and felt AMAZING. I was escaping the trap, driven to feel with characters outside of this world. I couldn’t just sit and dwell on individual lines or plot points—I had to keep going, and because I had to march on in the narrative, I found myself marching on in real life, too. I wasn’t staring out the window waiting for minutes to pass. I was…I was back, you know?

I felt a part of life again, enjoying the touch of my daughter’s tiny hands around my finger and her boundless grey-blue eyes. I reveled in these things. I felt…complete.

How did you figure out the names of your characters?

Charlotte’s name came from a baby book in the long, long, LONG process of choosing a name for our firstborn. After weeks of highlighting and crossing out names, we had narrowed ourselves down to Charlotte and ____. Well, we went with ____ for our kid, so I kept the name Charlotte for my heroine. I’d grown attached to the name over those weeks. It carries both feminine and masculine traits, both delicacy and strength. A perfect fit.

Nature was ripe for names, since this small society has been cut off from the rest of the world for centuries. From this I uprooted names like Poppy, Ember, and even Campion (it’s a kind of rose). Many of the other names I chose after studying The Writer’s Digest Character Naming Sourcebook. I loved having this broad overview of names across various cultures. It’s through this book I discovered names that fit some aspect of my characters’ nature, such as Dorjan—“Dark Man” and Liam—“strong-willed warrior.” It’s important to have names that matter. Be it the history, the meaning, or because my child almost carried it—the name needs to matter.

Does writing energize or exhaust you?

Writing’s a must. When I write, I channel the depression away from my family and into a universe where my characters can fight it.

It’s never completely gone, you know, depression. We can slay it, burn it, bury it—but it never dies. Only by spinning stories can I transplant some of that darkness into villains, heroes, and worlds. From the darkness grows the adventure and the hope.

What has it been like – juggling writing, teaching and three kids?

Three years ago, you may as well have asked what it’s like to juggle three bowling pins with spikes on fire. Back when I was trying to write in bedlam, I stole whatever time I could before dawn. The television usually bought me at least an hour in the day to outline, draft dialogue, or keep up with my blog. The children’s naptime never felt long enough, but I made due.

Once the boys began preschool, I could at least promise myself one hour of writing time a day. Doesn’t sound like much, does it? But that’s the thing about writing and keeping a job and running a household: every minute to write’s a blessing. Sometimes those days crash and burn. Other times—like when the boys didn’t have school—we found other ways to be creative.

Now that Blondie, Biff, and Bash are in school all day, I always have time for writing, be it for the blog, editing, drafting, etc. Granted, summer’s still a trial, but because I didn’t give up on writing when time was scarce, I have many stories to share here in the daylight hours.

What are common traps for aspiring writers?

Research can feel like a big time-suck, but when it comes to publishing, DO YOUR RESEARCH! There are so many scammers out there with their “author services” and “exclusive anthologies.” They’re going to talk you up, make you feel amazing, and before you know it you’ve paid four digits for lousy editing on a slap-dash affair no one’s going to see. Scope out the small presses. Join author groups online to gather recommendations for editors, book designers, and cover artists. Your story deserves to be seen, but when it’s ready.

Yes, an author platform really does help. Don’t think of it as yet another time suck; rather, treat it as the regimented prose exercise. Reading countless other voices, writing tight posts on a regular basis—all helps the craft, not hinders it. No, it’s not the novel you dream hitting the best-seller list, but making a website, commenting on social media—these simple actions give your name an author’s history. Other writers/publishers/agents/readers can trace your name back to studies, comments, and whatever else you write. You build that platform, you build a writer’s resume for the publishing business to see.

What is your writing Kryptonite?

When my sons’ principal calls. Nothing f***s over the creative mindset when you have to come and talk about one son, or the other, or both. Again.

Did you ever consider writing under a pseudonym?

I do write under a pseudonym, actually. When you’re a preacher’s kid, all your actions and talents are scrutinized—“you play piano just like your mom!” “You sing just like your dad!” “You write just like your father.” “You should be just like your mom and become a teacher.”

There comes a time when you get sick of all the comparisons, and just want to be known for something YOU do, not what your parents do. So when I started my site Jean Lee’s World, I wanted to see who’d like my writing for my writing, NOT because of who I am or whomever I’m related to. Writing under another name’s also allowed me to work through past traumas and current depressions without bringing any family members under fire, which is important to me. These are my demons, not theirs.

How did you begin writing the short stories that accompany your novel?
The short stories began as a writing experiment last year. My husband had been listening to John Carpenter’s Lost Themes, and a story began to shape in my head of a child dying at the hands of a cuddly creature before a dark skulking thing gets involved. When I showed the short story to my publishers, they encouraged me to write more short stories as little introductions to the universe of Charlotte and these imprisoned shapeshifters. Thus Tales of the River Vine was born, with stories following both antagonists and protagonists across the years.

The challenge with such “prequels,” as they are, was to find emotional centers without chipping away at the emotional arc of Fallen Princeborn: Stolen. Take the last story of the collection, “Tattered Rhapsody.” Originally I intended the story to be called “Dirty Charlie,” featuring Charlotte the Wise-Ass taking on some gang members at her high school for profit. Girl’s got to earn bus money somehow, right?

But the story felt wrong. I couldn’t pin it at first. Charlotte’s there, she’s showing her strength, her protective instincts for her kid sister. And yet, the story felt…heartless.
Then it hit me: Charlotte’s heart doesn’t speak with her fists. It speaks with her music.
And just like that, the story’s heart found a pulse, a rhythm both despairing yet defiant. Just like Charlotte.

I hope you enjoy reading “Tattered Rhapsody” and the other Tales of the River Vine and telling me what you think. They’re all FREE on Kindle, Nook, and other publishing platforms!

 

 

 

Advertisements

Friday Faceoff – Myths and Legends… #Brainfluffbookblog #FridayFaceoff

Standard

This meme was started by Books by Proxy, whose fabulous idea was to compare UK and US book covers and decide which is we prefer. This meme is currently being nurtured by Lynn’s Book Blog and the theme this week featuring on any of our covers is the word LEGEND. I’ve selected Myths and Legends by Anthony Horowitz.

 

This edition was produced by Kingfisher in April 1994. I love the Medusan head glaring out at us, but that ugly blue textbox really spoils the whole effect – particularly as the font is so very boringly ordinary. It is entirely in the wrong place, blocking out too much of the cover design.

 

Published in November 2003 by Kingfisher, we still have the threatening glare by an angry female, but this time she is an Eastern princess. I love the box opening and all the creatures escaping. The title running up the side of the cover works well and allows the attractive design to be properly seen.

 

This hardback edition, published by Kingfisher in September 1985 demonstrates just what a difference a textbox can make. This version of the first cover is far more effective as we now can see those amazing snakes writhing around. I also prefer the green colour of the textbox as it merges with the overall design, rather than clashing with it – though given the choice I’d do without it altogether.

 

This edition, produced by Kingfisher in July 2007 has nailed it. Who doesn’t love a dragon – and what a dragon! The vibrant orange hues are glorious, snagging attention and begging for me to pick this one up. The artwork is beautifully detailed without any textbox AND the font has been bevelled and shaded to give an attractive 3-D effect. This is my favourite.

 

This edition is something of a mystery. Unusually, it appears on Goodreads with no other publication details alongside it, though it does look rather amateurish. The dark background doesn’t work with the deep blue font, to the extent that the author’s name is nearly invisible. That’s a shame, because the shading across the title works quite well. Which is more than can be said for the various creatures floating around the page, as they look like they’ve been selected from clipart and simply plonked there without any overarching design to pull them together. Which of these covers is your favourite?

Friday Faceoff – You can’t sow an apple seed and expect to get an avocado tree.

Standard

This meme was started by Books by Proxy, whose fabulous idea was to compare UK and US book covers and decide which is we prefer. This week the theme is a cover featuring a seeds or spores, so I’ve selected The Seeds of Time by John Wyndham.

 

This edition was produced by Penguin in 1959 and I do like it as a piece of history more than because I think it’s a great cover. It has the generic Penguin orange and white cover with an additional dandelion clock moulting seeds which is reasonably effective though not particularly imaginative or exciting. An average effort.

 

Published in 1964 by Penguin, at least this cover displays a modicum of imagination. The lime-green cover is eye-catching and attractive, though the artwork would have looked better if it had been in black, which would have contrasted well with the cover. As it is, it’s a struggle to make out what is going on.

 

This edition, published by Penguin in September in 2014, is evidently going for the retro look, judging by the looping font and eggshell blue background. The snag is, the face is far too poorly executed to be the work of the average cover artist of the time. I cannot even work out if it is supposed to be a man or woman…

 

This Spanish edition, produced by E.D.H.A.S.A. in 1958, is certainly a huge improvement on any of the previous efforts. The quirky abstract design fits the tone and style of a science fiction short story collection, while the colours are attractive and eye-catching.

 

This cover, published in 1988 by Penguin, is at long last a worthy effort. The spacescape featuring a nicely exotic space ship and a planet – presumably Earth either emerging into daylight or being plunged into darkness immediately alerts a prospective reader as to the genre. And Wyndham’s name is also attractively highlighted, which certainly makes marketing sense, given his fame as the author of The Day of the Triffids. This one gets my vote, with the Spanish edition a very, very close second. Which is your favourite?

Friday Faceoff – The silver apples of the moon…

Standard

This meme was started by Books by Proxy, whose fabulous idea was to compare UK and US book covers and decide which is we prefer. This week the theme is food, so I’ve chosen Golden Apples of the Sun by the incomparable Ray Bradbury.

 

This is the e-cover produced by Amazon for the Kindle version of this anthology. Initially I was slightly underwhelmed, but after wincing at some of the truly awful covers for this sublime book, I’m now more appreciative. At least there isn’t a family of woodentops passing around gigantic apples or oddly blue hands waving around *shudders at the memory*…

 

This Turkish edition, produced in April 2016 by İthaki Yayınlarır is quirkily effective. The bats coming out of the apple is an arresting image and the tangerine coloured cover is eye-catching. I quite like this one.

 

Published in November 1989 by Minotauro, this cover is really effective. I love the spacescape with the golden apples dotted around instead of stars with the golden sun shimmering below. It certainly comes closer to depicting the wonderful prose of both Bradbury’s short stories and the final line of the beautiful poem of W.B. Yeates he chose as the title…

 

Produced in February 1979 by Bantam, this cover has a real pulp-fiction feel. The weirdly coloured sun and that particular font which defined London in the 50s and 60s harks back rather than looking forward. While I like the quirkiness, my reservation is that I’m not sure if anyone other than a science fiction fan would go near this collection – and that’s a crying shame as Bradbury’s prose deserves to be read by a far wider audience.

 

This is a real blast from the past – a 1964 edition published by Corgi, hence the rather battered look of it. But despite its age, it gives a sense of excitement and weirdness to this collection. Though there is rather a lot of bare flesh which gives the impression that Bradbury’s content is more sexually explicit than it actually is.

And here is that lovely poem…

The Song of Wandering Aengus
By William Butler Yeats

I went out to the hazel wood,
Because a fire was in my head,
And cut and peeled a hazel wand,
And hooked a berry to a thread;
And when white moths were on the wing,
And moth-like stars were flickering out,
I dropped the berry in a stream
And caught a little silver trout.

When I had laid it on the floor
I went to blow the fire a-flame,
But something rustled on the floor,
And someone called me by my name:
It had become a glimmering girl
With apple blossom in her hair
Who called me by my name and ran
And faded through the brightening air.

Though I am old with wandering
Through hollow lands and hilly lands,
I will find out where she has gone,
And kiss her lips and take her hands;
And walk among long dappled grass,
And pluck till time and times are done,
The silver apples of the moon,
The golden apples of the sun.

Review of Downside Girls – short story collection by Jaine Fenn

Standard

This collection of four standalone stories, with a foreword by Alistair Reynolds, features some of characters from Fenn’s debut novel, downsidegirlsPrinciples of Angels. It isn’t a surprise that someone has jumped at the opportunity to publish further stories in this fascinating world, where the Angels are augmented female assassins principally employed to kill politicians that the electorate have judged to be inadequate. One of the ironies in Fenn’s world is that the Angels are taken from the feral underclass who eke out a living on the underside of the floating Kesh City, most of whom are far too busy trying to survive to bother with voting…

I read Principles of Angels, the first book in her Hidden Empire series, after meeting Jaine Fenn at Bristolcon last year and while I enjoyed the story, it is her world that has lodged in my head ever since. Her clean, unfussy writing style belies the layered intricacy of her worldbuilding, where her protagonists are completely ringfenced by their extraordinary environment which Fenn manages to depict as entirely normal. It’s a neat trick to pull off and a lot harder than Fenn makes it look. The slightest sense of flourish on the author’s part would have immediately undermined the gritty edge of reality confronting her characters.

This collection can be read without having ever picked up a Jaine Fenn book – in fact provides an excellent introduction to Fenn’s writing and the world.

Collateral Damage – When Vanna Agriet accidentally spills her drink over an Angel it could spell death, but instead it leads to a rather peculiar friendship. This story provides an insight into the life of an Angel, and their unique role within society is explored from an enjoyably oblique angle, compared to the political machinations that drove the plot in Principles of Angels. I particularly enjoyed the twist at the end.

Death on Elsewhere Street – The downsider Geal hopes for a better life topside, only to find herself embroiled in a ‘removal’ by the Angel Thiera. This is another story that explores the role of Angels – and what the consequences of becoming society’s official assassins can be for those involved. I found it all the more powerful that it was told from the viewpoint of someone else caught up in the action.

Angel Dust – Downside, Isha’s brother Rakul brings a little black box home with him, and sets Isha on a journey that takes her to a meeting with the most powerful man in Kesh City. This story is the one in the collection that highlights the grim conditions in Downside as Isha struggles to deal with the fallout when her brother becomes embroiled in one of the gangs. I particularly enjoyed the incident where Isha narrowly avoids death when she’s drawn to the ornamental fountain playing Topside, only to receive an urgent warning that it is poisoned to prevent citizens from drinking free water…

The Three Temptations of Larnia Mier – Larnia Mier, a talented topside musician and instructor, is injured after witnessing a removal first-hand. As her abilities diminish, new possibilities open up. This is the odd one out. Larnia Mier comes from the privileged part of Kesh City – Topside. No gritted, giddying journeys for her to gather sufficient water, hopping over holes in the walkways that could plunge you to your death…

The other interesting difference with this story is that it is told in third person point of view, whereas the others are all narrated in first person viewpoint. Yet, it’s my favourite… I’m still trying to figure out why – I’m a sucker for gutsy heroines from hard backgrounds and first person pov is always the one I’m attracted to, both as writer and reader. I found her fascinating in Principles of Angels, too. Fenn has her brittle, solitary personality absolutely nailed, and I think she leaps off the page. I also very much enjoyed the ending – initially, I figured this was going somewhere more predictable and less tricky and hats off to Fenn for giving us this less tidy, yet far more convincing conclusion to this story.

As Reynolds mentions in the Foreword, short story writing is demanding in ways that novel writing isn’t, and in order to produce an anthology of successful short stories takes a high degree of writing skill. Fenn’s Downside Girls not only is a great addition to her list of published books, but also demonstrates her talent.
9/10