What inspired you to write your first book?
I loved ancient mythology and read every book our jr. high library had. I even did a minor in Classics with my BA. And I noticed that there was a trend among myths of all cultures that an outside god(dess), usually a red-head, comes in, causes wisdom and mischief, and leaves. The thesis was “What if all these outsider god(desses)s were all the same person?” I wanted to explore what it would be like to be that goddess, what would drive her to wander the way she does, and to tell the “real” story behind each of the myths. Much, much later I read “American Gods” by Neil Gaiman, and thought – yes, just like that, but more.
What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating your books?
Apparently I’m a bit of an activist! Who knew? I’ve never tolerated deliberate and willful stupidity, and I feel like homophobia, sexism and racism are the worst sorts of stupidity in existence. So of course my views and opinions make their way into the book, and before you know it, my work has accidentally become opinionated and situated. I’m fine with that, though. I like that there’s a social message in each of my works, even if I didn’t deliberately put it there.
Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to come away with?
Racial, sexual, and religious intolerance is stupid. Stop being a jerk, human race. We’re totally better than this, guys. Let’s start acting like it.
What books have most influenced your life most?
I love, love, love fish-out-of-water stories. I love stories where somebody from our normal, boring, plain world ends up somewhere or somewhen fantastical.
My first obsession was Peter and Wendy by J.M. Barrie, followed by the Xanth series by Piers Anthony (until I realized how misogynistic the books were), and then the Vampire Chronicles by Anne Rice. I latched onto the vampire myth from there because I am fascinated with the idea of a monster who hasn’t always been a monster, a good person pulled into the darkness and how each individual reacts to that. I reread Shapechangers: Book One of the Cheysuli Chronicles by Jennifer Roberson until the glue on the spine flaked away, and a YA time travel book called Yesterday’s Doll by Cora Taylor, which was gorgeous and heartbreaking story about a girl who ends up taking over her ancestor’s life in the pioneering prairies. These are all stories where someone is pulled out of the comfortable life they know and forced to deal with the realities of another. Just recently I read Three Cups of Tea by Eric Mortenson and it just grabbed my heart and squeezed. I like memoirs like that one, and like Alex Kerr’s Lost Japan. They make me want to do incredible things, too.
What book are you reading now?
I have begun to reread The Hobbit. I haven’t read it since the first Lord of the Rings film came out, and I wanted to ‘cleanse my pallet’ as it were before diving into something new. I might read The Child Thief by Brom next, which is a retelling of the Peter Pan story, or maybe The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, by David Mitchell. Both are near the top of my pile of to-read books. Maybe I’ll reread Alcestis by Katharine Beutner. I just can’t get that one out of my head.
What are your current projects?
You’re going to regret asking that!
I have a short story coming out in an anthology from Dragon Moon Press this August. It’s called “The Once and Now-ish King”, and it’s in WHEN THE HERO COMES HOME, edited by Ed Greenwood and Gabrielle Harbowy. I also have an essay called “Whose Doctor?” about Doctor Who and Canadiana coming out in DOCTOR WHO IN TIME AND SPACE in October.
I am currently querying two novels around – one is a YA steampunk adventure stories about a girl pilot and her mystical jetpack, one is an adult historical romance about a time traveler who accidentally turns Jane Austen into a lesbian. (LMAO!) I have the follow ups to the YA book plotted, but I won’t start writing them until (if/when) the book sells. I still have that monster of a first novel on my radar, but as I said earlier, I have no idea what to do with it. I also recently began a new novel set in a world where vampires have always been a part of working society (what sorts of government services must there be for those who can’t die?), and a memoir about the years I lived in Japan and the accident that broke my knee and forced me to more or less give up on my dream of acting. There are some novellas and short stories I’m still shopping around, too.
I also have a webseries all written and am talking with a filmmaker about it, but I have no idea where that is in terms of reality, and if it’s ever going to go forward. I have ideas for a comic miniseries, some plays that are done and I should really try to get into a Fringe Festival, and some academic articles and poems that I haven’t even begun to shop. I would like to rewrite my undergrad thesis at some point, and sell that as a text book, as well as my MA thesis.
Who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?
I really like Neil Gaiman because he doesn’t let himself get pigeonholed into one age range, or genre, or even medium. He writes comics and TV episodes, kid’s picture books and adult novels, articles for magazines and newspapers, sci fi, fantasy, horror, reviews and everything in between. I love that, and that’s what I want for my professional career – a little of everything, and getting to work on whatever I feel like writing!
What was the hardest part of writing your book?
The bugging ending. I had something entirely different there, and my editor said that it didn’t work. It was too much of an epilogue and not a climax. I hadn’t wanted to write the big adventure ending, the action movie stuff, because the book wasn’t supposed to be about the action. It was supposed to be about the emotional reactions, and the character studies, and the domesticity. I wanted to keep the narrative firmly in the realm of the home.
But every beta reader, even my mom, felt unsatisfied with that. They wanted to see the bad guys get their comeuppance, and while I thought it was redundant and gratuitous, I let them convince me to just try writing it. It worked. They were all right, of course. I spend so many pages making you love these characters; it is gratifying to witness them being avenged.
But I still feel ambiguous about the ending, because as much as I just love it now, it hasn’t been in the book as long as the rest of the novel, and it hasn’t gotten as thorough a polish. I fear it’s the weakest writing simply because I haven’t inhabited it as long as the rest, though I’m assured the opposite.
Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?
The hardest part of writing a book isn’t the writing, the editing, the querying or the revisions. It’s the marketing! It’s unbelievable – I think I’ve put more hours into promoting the book in the last year than I ever put into writing the thing! Of course, I’m completely type A and so I love it.
The great thing about being with a small press is that I have a say in a lot of what happens, and they’re willing to listen to my ideas, even if they veto them in the end. But much of the marketing is up to me – writing and sending out press releases, the social media and building my website, arranging readings and appearances and give-aways, producing a book trailer, all of that. It’s good because I can be consistent; it allows me to build and maintain my brand across all platforms. But it’s also a tiring. I joke that I have two forty-hour-a-week-jobs – the day job that pays for things, and the writing/academic job, that doesn’t pay well enough, yet!
I look forward to getting an agent and getting the kind of book deal that comes with a marketing budget. It may never happen, but I’m hopeful. As much as I do really love handling every aspect of my career, I’m just exhausted. I don’t get any time to write any more, and even if I do find the time, I end up just staring at the computer screen, wondering why I’m not napping, or trying to remember what my friend’s faces look like. I look forward to having all of that other stuff taken over by someone who’s probably going to be so much better at it than I am, anyway. Then I can concentrate on actually writing again, on being creative, which I really miss.
Do you have any advice for other writers?
If you want to be a writer, write.
Don’t whine, don’t stall, don’t make excuses. Bum in seat, fingers on keys, shut up and do it. Some people set time aside daily, some weekly, some use contests to keep themselves on track, or challenges, or writers groups. (I’m a fan of NaNoWriMo to help start a new novel). I can’t tell you what you have to do to motivate yourself, that’s your job. But find it. Then write.
If you love writing, you will write. If you prevaricate and make excuses, and talk big but never get a word on the page, then you’re not a writer. Period. If you don’t like that label, then do something to fix it.
In the words of Yoda, “Do or do not. There is no try.”
Also, never underestimate the power of using the fanfiction community as a writing apprenticeship. The feedback is brutally honest, quick, and fair.
What’s the one interview question you hope you’ll be asked but never are?
“Hey, aren’t you that actress from [insert title of documentary and/or webseries and/or short film here]?”
(Hey, aren’t you that actress from…)
What about you? Do you have any Questions for JM Frey? Post them below!