Jean Lee is a fellow author I encountered after reading her amazing blog, which talks mostly about family life, writing, music and films. What has kept me coming back is her quirky view on Life and her wonderful way of putting things. So it was a no-brainer that I’d get hold of her first book when it hit the shelves – Fallen Princeborn: Stolen – see my review. And I was thrilled when she offered me an arc of this new release, the second book in the series, Fallen Princeborn: Chosen – see my review. I asked her to be a guest on my blog to celebrate the release of this second book, which is a major triumph, after a major setback. I’m delighted that she agreed and I am able to share with you a slice of her writing and an insight into her writing process. Enjoy…
1. You are crazily busy – three young children, including twins; a job and running a family – when do you make time for your writing? Are there any activities you use to help you maximise your time – playing music or lighting scented candles, for instance?
Oh, I’m not going to lie—it can be Hades some days in finding the balance between family, work, and writing, and that was before life in lockdown with remote learning. The balance between teaching and writing is still in a BIG flux; I haven’t taught full-time since before Blondie was born ten years ago, so I’m no longer accustomed to working with over one hundred students. But with the right sounds, be it fall ambience or instrumental music, I can stir a few story things around in my mind while grading. Even if I don’t get to physically write that day, I’ve still been brainstorming a fight, working out the kinks of some dialogue, or revising a plot line.
Honestly, I look back to five years ago when my three B’s were tiny, and I have no clue how I got the writing in that I did. Now that Biff and Bash are, as they put it, “pre-tweens,” I can usually let them occupy themselves for at least a little while so I can work and write. Often this leads to Bash using up all the tape in the house to build robots or his own paper story books about robots while Biff is drawing collections of favourite characters or cars—whatever strikes his fancy. Once the battery runs out on the Nintendo (or is simply removed and hidden, mwa ha ha), Blondie grabs her pencils and paper and leaves us all behind with her comics about dragons and pet detectives. All three can be like this with books, too. I wonder how many parents around us have to say, “Would you stop reading and___”? Like, we actually have to make them stop reading to finish meals or clean their rooms. It’s a good problem, that.
2. Your main characters, particularly Charlotte, ping off the page with such vividness in Fallen Princeborn: Chosen. How did you stay so closely in touch with them, between writing Stolen and Chosen?
Hmmm. I suppose it helps that large portions of the storyline have been in my head for a long time—ever since I first drafted Stolen back in 2010. This is largely why I couldn’t turn my back on the series and turned instead to self-publishing: I wanted to see these characters complete the journeys I’d imagined for them all these years.
It also helps that each of the major characters, in their way, connect to something I am, or aspire to be. And to be clear, this includes the antagonists. If a reader cannot relate to a story’s villain somehow, then that villain no longer feels real and is therefore no longer a threat. A villain made of lies and air is too easily waved away. So whether it’s Charlotte’s passion for music or Bearnard Artair’s utter refusal to accept he’s wrong (yes, I can be a stubborn bastard), there is something real, something of my human nature, inside both hero and villain.
For better or worse, we’ll always be connected.
3. Your writing is so full of sensory input – touch, taste, and sounds, as well as the images – do you always put these descriptions down on the page during your first draft? Which is the sense that you most easily visualise when writing?
I am a BIG fan of sensory detail! Often my rough draft is overloaded with detail I have to scale back for the sake of pacing. Sounds—or lack thereof—are usually my initial input I get down, followed by the visual. The smells of emotions and desires comes from an older place, where the sense of smell aided far more in survival. There’s something very ancient and instinctive about smell that just feels a bit dismissed, if that makes sense, which is why I love using that sense, too.
4. Which scene in Chosen was the easiest to write and why? And which was the hardest?
Well I don’t know if it was “easy,” but I had gobs of fun writing the fight scenes. Being the action junkie I am, if there’s a chance to bring horrifying creatures of dark magic onto the scene to fight, I’m going to take it.
Hardest…there’s a lot of hard scenes in here. That tag line I put on Chosen’s cover of “The Bloody Days are soon returning” is not just about the return of Liam’s family; it is also a reference to what Arlen says to Charlotte in the first book about the difficulty of facing one’s own “bloody days.”
Arlen studies Charlotte’s face for a long, quiet moment before he says, “We have all of us had our bloody days, Charlotte. For many it is easier to remain in them than to change. To change requires facing a past stained by screams.” Pause. “It is not an easy trial.”
Redemption is not given only because one experiences dark trauma. No. Redemption comes to those who battle through that darkness and change for the better, and in Chosen, Liam and Charlotte both must come to terms with their own bloody days in order to change—not just for their own sakes, but for each other’s and those they care about.
5. I loved meeting Liam’s terrible family, as it gave a real insight into his personality. Which of his horrible relations was the most satisfying to write and why?
Ooooooh, that’s a toughie! Liam’s parents were both fun to write, especially when they interact together—I have a whole post about Ceasar Augustus and Ewoks and why Bearnard and Livia interact as they do. The most satisfying, however, would have to be the one remaining family member never mentioned in Stolen, but who comes with Liam’s parents to River Vine in Chosen. To avoid spoilers, I will only say this:
Livia Artair is not the only one with a plan.
6. You use a lot of nature-inspired imagery in your writing – what is your own favourite natural place, where you feel inspired?
This may sound a little strange, but there is something…something fascinating about standing at the border and not seeing what’s beyond. Ever since I was very small, trips in the car between small towns always meant driving through farmland and wilderness. It was a like a quilt, these squares of corn, pasture, and forest, stitched together by streams and tall grasses. I loved imagining what could live in those forests. I still do. Were I to physically walk into those wild places, the spell might break, so on the outside I remain. I walk along the road, or near river’s edge, the woods always in sight, but out of reach. That is where I feel storytelling’s potential at its strongest, imagining impossibility into reality.
7. As soon as I got to the end of Chosen, I was keen to know when the next one will be available! Have you started writing it, yet? And is there any spoiler-free teaser you can give us as to what is next in store for Charlotte, Liam and those relying on their success?
The third book, Fallen Princeborn: Hidden is in a very, very rough state, but it’s there! At this point, I see a 2022 release so I can get some other projects taken care of (see my answer to the next question, lol). Let’s see, a little scene…how about visiting someone we didn’t get to see in Chosen—Jenny, the farm girl who lives just beyond The Wall?
The freak snow starts just after Jennifer Blair passes the wishing well. Flakes fat with cold tease her, melting onto her glasses and at the nape of her neck to slide in under her hooded sweatshirt. But does she go back inside for a proper coat? Of course not. It’s Wisconsin. A typical fall day can jump twenty degrees up or down, easy peasy.
So Jenny runs on, leaves of red, gold, and brown sucking tight onto the souls of her sneakers as she makes her way across the farm yard, beyond the old white barn and the tractor shed to the woods that rim the eastern edge of the farm. A few blood droplets fall from the bag she carries, melting snow clusters as she goes.
She dodges the poison ivy bush, sticks to the worn path to the nice little grove of maples that her dad finally agreed to tap this year because Jenny promised the wolves wouldn’t bother him. More snow runs down Jenny’s spine and she shivers, eager for some furry hugs, maybe even a sandpapery wolf tongue to lick the cold from her cheek. D always gave her so many happy welcome kisses that she’d laugh, and scratch his ears, and—
The glen’s roofed in fiery colors among the trees, all the brighter for the snow clinging every leaf’s edge. The wind carries Jenny’s panting white breaths out of the glen, away from the tap tap of sap dripping from the maple trees on either side of her.
A mound of fur huddles on the other side of the glen, but there’s no giant of black fur. No green eye paired with a blue eye. Just…normal looking wolves, speckled shades of winter woods. One lifts its head, flares its nostrils. Whimpers.
“D’s still not here, huh?” Jenny tips her bag. Half a dozen cuts of venison slop into the bed of snow and leaves of bygone autumns. “Serves him right if I eat all my coffee cake by myself.” She talks snotty, but the crack in her voice, the whimper of another wolf—they say otherwise.
Especially when they do not come for the morning treat.
Jenny wipes her glasses clean even though the snow continues to cover her work. That shivering of the pack, it’s not just her blurred vision. “What is it, a bear?” She spins as she moves towards them, a scouting dance to check for marks of some sort. But nope—just the half dozen trees tapped. One’s lost its bucket, but nothing else is different than yesterday. There’s a bit of a stink in the air, too, but duh, it’s a farm. The air’s going to smell like manure sometimes.
Only when she’s next to the pack does one separate to say hello: a half-breed runt, she wages, considering his size compared to the other wolves. His head’s a bit different, too—more pointed, like a collie, and fur much coarser than the others. One of his ear’s torn from a long-ago fight—the test to get into the pack, maybe? But D liked him, so the others accepted him.
He licks snowflakes that land on her nosebridge, smothering her glasses with spit. “Dangit, I just cleaned those!” And Jenny giggles, because it feels way nicer to giggle than to cry over a missing friend. “I gotta check the taps quick. You grab your breakfast before the snow buries it.”
The runt gives his family the once-over, then takes a few cautious steps toward the meat. The others follow, eyes darting from Jenny to the tapped maples. Even the biggest of them all, the one with holes in his fur marking an enemy’s bite, scratches at the ground like he’s searching for something before heading over. His whimpers trail him like winter’s pawprints.
Jenny wipes her hands clean in the leaves and snow. No extra blood. No impressions in the ground. But still, Jenny bites her lip and checks her back pocket for her dad’s old jack knife. Something’s spooked her friends.
Could it be…
Jenny stands up, turns to the north. To the Wall. No snow sticks to it. Never does. No moss grows on it. No cement or mortar stuff. Just stones, smooth and round like from a river, all fitting just so to make a wall too high for a person to jump or peek over.
Old as the farm, too, probably older. She’s tried to research it on national park sites. She’s gone through books and pamphlets on historical markers and tribe histories. She even tried that weird microfiche machine the library keeps of old newspapers. Nothin’ about a wall that just goes on and on in the middle of a forest in the middle of Wisconsin, or even the three-story stone fortress-type place her family converted to a farm house. How does no one ever mention stuff like this in the history of ever?
Well Jenny has her guess, sure, not that she likes to dwell on it much.
The fairy-animal things.
They took her brother. Tried to make her come with them, with their creepy purple swirly eyes and the dreams they’d stick into her head. But D never let them get her. Never let her go over on her own, either. Any time she got close to following him, he’d turn right around and bat her to the ground and growl until she promised to stay away. Then off he went, bounding over the Wall like some horse into god knows what over in god knows where.
Six months now, he’s been gone god knows where. Is he hurt back there? Dead?
One fairy-animal appears on the ground before her now, orange-feathered and tiny. It chirps super short, like singing’s an after-thought for this songbird. But it always lands real nice in Jenny’s hands, and listens when Jenny talks about school all the way up until Jenny says thanks, and takes care to chirp once before flying off. Its purple eyes never swirl or glow at her like the bad fairy-animal things.
“Any sign of D today?” Jenny always asks that first.
The bird shakes its head.
The bird pecks the ground once, twice, three times, only it doesn’t pick up anything.
“Sure wish you could talk.” Jenny kneels. The cold damp quickly seeps through her jeans and numbs her knee. She pulls out a handful of coffee cake crumbs from in her pocket. “Something’s spooked D’s pack. I was gonna look around after checking the taps. Wanna come?”
The little bird hops into Jenny’s hand, chirps, then starts pecking away.
A little yip from behind—the runt half-breed’s finished first. He trots up to Jenny, smacking his chops.
“Sorry, buddy, that’s it. Come on,” she pulls out her knife, breathes, deep, “let’s see what’s what around here.”
The sugar maples for fall are pretty close, about as far as a kickball pitcher from home plate. It’s the last one with its bucket off, a weird happening since the hook is beneath the spigot. Wind shouldn’t be able to do that. A squirrel—a normal squirrel, anyway—wouldn’t have the strength. Raccoon, maybe, or a curious animal sniffing around. “You knock that off?” Jenny asks the half-breed.
His tail’s between his legs, nose sniffing fast, steps slowing down.
Too many leaves crunch as Jenny walks, the bird still and watchful in her hand.
“How about you?” she asks the bird. It chirps twice, flies into the bucket to shake off the snow clawing at its wings. Pecks. Chirps. Hops onto the ground. Pecks. Shakes its head like it’s found a worm.
“You found somethin’.” Jenny goes on without the runt and…oh yeah. She can smell it now.
That ain’t a poop smell. It’s pee. Kinda faint, the sort when someone uses the bathroom but forgets to flush. “So…another wolf, maybe. Cuz if it were someone in the pack marking here, they wouldn’t be so spooked.”
The bird shakes its head, pecks the ground again. Jenny follows the beak and picks up the snow clumps.
Half circle. Curvey rectangles.
Air freezes in Jenny’s chest. She has to look up from the ground, she’s gotta—
—and sees the spigot.
A few thin rust-ish lines rim the nozzle. She’s seen lines like that before when her dad drinks from a glass after a long day outside: cracked lips.
Someone drank from the spigot.
Someone is here.
The bird circles the spigot before landing for a closer look.
A branch snaps deep inside the wild brush.
Jenny bolts upright. The runt growls, once and quick. The pack echoes, closes ranks.
Could just be snow too heavy for a stick.
8. Have you any other writing projects you’re currently working on?
Oh, it’s such a higgeldy-piggledy pile of WIPs! 😊 I suppose the one I’m most keen to complete and publish next year is my expanded edition of Middler’s Pride I started some years ago. It’s a fun little escape, this land of Idana, and writing a fantasy series that does NOT focus on romance but instead building identity and friendship while also kicking butt is something I think today’s girls—girls like my daughter—would like to read.
In the land of Idana, where enchanted blades and goddesses can be found in the unlikeliest of places, no one wants to be a middle child. All the best inheriting goes to the firstborn, and all the best blessings in life elsewise go to the youngest.
Meredydd was a middler, and therefore useless. Unlike her handsome heir of an elder brother, or her lovely little sister, Mer was…there. Well, not really there. She did her best to stay out of the manor as much as possible, preferring the company of others whether they preferred her company or not.
Because my brain has a hard time flowing creatively in one lane, my other big goal is to finish What Happened When Grandmother Failed to Die, that NaNoWriMo project I started in 2019. It features some characters from the Fallen Princeborn universe, but is set in an isolated forest home in the dead of winter back in the 1960s. Trust me when I say this is no story for my daughter or any other child. Oh no. This story comes from the corner of my heart that loves a good scare with a splash of horror.
The kitchen itself wasn’t overrun with crows, at least. There were more pictures pinned to the walls, sure, but there weren’t feathers pinned to the cupboards or beaks in a bowl. It was actually pretty plain in there–wooden cupboards too old for their varnish lined one wall, interrupted only by a window and a sink. A long, narrow butcher’s block sat in the middle of the room, and a simple ovular table with four chairs sat over by a row of windows along the far wall–the back of the house, Chloe figured, since there was a back door, a pile of wood for the fire, and an axe. A big axe stained with blood. Stained with the same blood, maybe, as the blood on one of the kitchen chairs. On the furthest cupboards. In the sink. Maybe the same blood as that which sizzled atop a coating of grease, of oil, of God knows what else on the old gas stove where a kettle steamed.
Thanks so much for having me, Sarah, and sharing my work! I hope you will all stop by sometime and say hello when you can. Read on, share on, and write on, my friends!