Greetings, my moppets! I have captured for you another fascinating creature, for your enjoyment! She is the terrifying Jean Lee, mistress of YA dark fantasy! Don’t get too close, now. She looks harmless, but believe me, she has torn apart more than one character, and seeing as how we’re all characters in someone else’s story, you don’t know what this author is capable of!
Of course, I suspect you understand we’re not at the Midway and my tall, tall hat is simply a clever writing devise. Jovial Jean Lee has assented to an interview with yours truly, and yours truly shall ask her some devastating questions of peril!
Her first novel Fallen Princeborn: Stolen is available for purchase, perusal, and probably pleasure.
Jean, let me ask first: What drives you to create worlds with words? Why do you write stories?
Love and need.
I’ve been writing stories since before I knew words. I would draw stories of monsters and heroes before I knew how to write, and would ask my parents to punch holes in the paper so I could bind them with string. Self-publishing at its most economical, you could say.
The joy of writing burned bright in me until graduate school, where I studied writing…and hated it. I hated the pressure of writing “commercially,” how “good literature” had to so often focus on misery without redemption or hope. I burned through a masters’ thesis, graduated, and all but swore not to write again.
Three years later I gave birth to my daughter. I also met the monster that is postpartum depression. I felt like an outsider in my own life, staring out the window of my apartment to a world I couldn’t smell or touch.
Then a friend recommended National Novel Writing Month, and everything changed. I signed up for the challenge to write 50,000 words for a story in November, and despite teaching, tutoring, and mothering, I made it. For the first time in years, I loved to write. I was getting outside my walls and feeling characters. I could finally taste the change of time and season. I could reach out and hold my daughter, and….and love the joy of being with her.
When my twin sons were born two years later, I knew I had to keep writing. I absolutely had to. My postpartum depression grew even more severe, dangerous to my children, to me. Only by writing could I pull the darkness out of me, kicking and screaming, to trap upon the page. Only by storytelling could I finally feel more like myself.
So, for the sake of my family and my imagination, I write.
That is… incredibly intense. Do the worlds you create reflect the turmoil from which they are born?
Hmm. A little? A good chunk is escapism, to be sure. Like, the idea of writing anything involving children APPALLED me during postpartum. I didn’t want to have characters as parents, or possibly becoming parents. I didn’t want my motherhood to…how to put it…I didn’t want motherhood infringing on my imagination.
But now that I’ve got some perspective on the last, geez, eight years, I can see now that the theme of family and all its trials and tribulations never really left my writing. Families are not always forged by blood, but in love, respect, and friendship.
As far as the setting goes, there is always a darkness beneath the most beautiful exteriors. I suppose that’s the preacher’s kid in me, talkin’ Original Sin and the hollows in which it lurks. I know people like to think evil can be erased, that good can conquer all’n’stuff, but even Tolkien pointed out that evil’s always going to be lurking somewhere. That’s why the Shire’s found scoured after Sauron’s destroyed, not before.
We learn to live despite the darkness. We learn to push it back. We learn not to let it dominate. We learn what is good because we know what is evil. We cannot know one without the other.
Charlotte in Fallen Princeborn: Stolen learns to face darkness outside and inside. One of the things I noticed about her was that she often used her sense of smell to describe people. That was a unique storytelling decision that I enjoyed. What made you land on that description tool?
Smell is underrated! Animals hunt with it. We learn of certain dangers because of it. We gauge so much about a person or place by its smell, whether it’s musty or bleachy, pukey or perfumey. I wanted to take that a few steps further with Charlotte trapped in a world where one’s got to be as wild as the land to survive.
I’ve read a fair amount of stories based on the fae. The velidevour struck me as similar, but still incredibly unique. How did you develop this neat race?
So I’m an 80s child, raised on the dark and disturbing “family” films like The Secret of NIMH, Something Wicked This Way Comes, Dark Crystal, and more that, erm, weren’t exactly family fare, like Highlander. Worlds were full of sword fights and immortals, transforming beings of magic who feed on lesser creatures like human beings. The more I worked on the velidevour, the more I thought of how magic could breed in other elements…but that’s another story. As in book 2, Chosen. 🙂
Honestly, the simple “fae” reference came to me as it came to the character Jenny Blair on her family farm: in school work. I had studied William Butler Yeats’ “The Stolen Child” in college, and realized it would be the best way for a human without knowledge to explain what was going on.
You mention being an 80’s child… a lot of those movies had kick-ass soundtracks. Do you have a soundtrack in mind for Fallen Princeborn?
OH MY GOSH YES.
Music is HUGE for me as a writer. As a working mom, there really isn’t a place in the house that I can set aside solely for writing. Music helps me leave the boundaries of my reality and walk into worlds alongside characters I could never otherwise hear. I find music to be so important that I maintain a regular thread of posts on my site Jean Lee’s World to discuss composers and songs that help me write. Here are a few sample posts from my site Jean Lee’s World that tie to Fallen Princeborn: Stolen:
“Opening Credits” by Richard Harvey for A Taste for Death
I love having theme songs for characters when I can. When music embodies the spirit of the character, it’s much easier to take on their persona and write with their language. Take Arlen, the mentor character in Stolen. While kind and fierce when need be, he is also a tragic character, struggling to maintain hope while his nephew’s in exile and his student is cursed. Richard Harvey’s theme for the Adam Dalgliesh mysteries embodies tragedy, hope, and sadness in the cello’s melody. Eloquent and heartbreaking, just like the imprisoned gardener.
“Heroes,” covered by Peter Gabriel for Scratch My Back
Ever since I first drafted this story, I imagined a scene of magic creation with this song. Liam is an artist, and with this song I could imagine his magic and heart’s memory coming together to build a piece of beauty for Charlotte.
“Hanging/Escape,” by Craig Armstrong for Plunkett & Macleane
When it comes time for Charlotte to face The Lady of the Pits, she’s totally out of her element. All seems lost, and her sister’s surely a goner. Yet Charlotte fights back.
This track helped me feel that.
Other music inspiring Stolen includes the following:
“Bus,” by Mychael Danna for The Sweet Hereafter:
“Princes of the Universe,” by Queen for Highlander
“Overture,” by Daft Punk for Tron: Legacy
Is there anything you wish I asked that I didn’t?
Not that I can think of! 🙂
Then! It’s time for the lightning round! Answer each question in three words or less!
A book you didn’t expect to enjoy but did anyway:
The Disaster Artist
A book you wanted to enjoy but just didn’t at the time you read it:
Antony and Cleopatra
A book you wish they would turn into a musical:
Why did the chicken cross the road?
Following the Roadrunner
Why are there cows?
A Godsend, Beef.
Why do books smell so good?
Their captured worlds.
Shoutout to your favorite bookstore!
Half Price Books!
What would you do for a Klondike Bar?
Nuthin’, actually. 🙂
Well, that’s disappointing. Because I have a Klondike Bar here, and since you’re doing nothing, I suppose I must supply you with it.
…and now I suppose I should release this Jean Lee to the wild, where she will continue to create stories for you to devour. You can read my review of her novel here, and you can purchase it here to read it yourself. You can even visit Jean Lee’s World, if you dare!
Thank you, Jean, for coming by and agreeing to be locked up in this terrible trap called an interview! You have found a way to free yourself, so flee!