Welcome to the third in a series of author interviews! Today I’m talking with fantasy author Jeanne Marcella about inspiration, self-publishing, and what it’s like to write outside the norm. I’m thrilled to talk to the wonderful author of The Phoenix Embryo about her creative process and experience.
Sarah: You’ve described your work as transgressive dark fantasy. Can you tell me a little about why you chose to call it ‘transgressive’ and what that label means?
Jeanne: “Transgressive” was a genre label I encountered on an online critique site a few years back. When I looked it up, it seemed to fit with how mainstream readers were describing my work. So I went with it. While I never personally thought of my work as transgressive, both my books did anger and disgust a lot of people. I did get some mocking, but that’s the risk an author takes.
I had wanted to share humanistic ideas about love, gender, sentience/personhood, and being trapped in a certain skin or alienlike body that would get people to think outside the box. That didn’t happen until I found new writer-friends, and discovered the support of the LGBTQ community.
Sarah: I know it’s cliché to ask an author where the ideas come from. But you have such unique and unconventional ideas that I just have to ask. Where do they come from? What inspires you?
Jeanne: Oh, goodness, where do I even start? If I can use a cliché of my own, it’s like a telepath. They’re just bombarded by thoughts every second, and they can go a little nuts. It’s like that for me. It could be a single word. The light streaming through the window. Breathing. I can’t keep ideas out of my head, even when I sleep. Everything inspires me.
I’m crossing my fingers now that I have critique partners who encourage and understand me, and once I get the second edition of Through Rain and Missing Mantaurs back off the ground, I’ll be much more prolific. I just feel I’m still trying to get myself unstuck from past failure, and that novel is the last reminder of it. Having people who understand you is just so…freeing! That’s my inspiration.
Sarah: You create very dark fantasy worlds, where the threat of violence is a given constant for the characters. Do you think this grim atmosphere plays a role in shaping your characters? How does it affect them?
Jeanne: The gritty atmosphere does shape my characters, making them struggle and claw to discover themselves, and their way. But I also think the characters play a major role in shaping the world around them.
A good example of this is the characters I’m working with now. Pony and Mardyth from Through Rain and Missing Mantaurs.
Pony is a gritty, half-breed mail courier who can barely read. She’s at the very bottom of society. Mardyth is a pampered, highly educated courtesan who guarded the elf queen.
So very different, but you’d want both of them on your side in a knife-fight. Just those descriptions alone really assist me in worldbuilding. Discovering their likes and dislikes, and how they react to their peers builds enough layers to keep things interesting.
Sarah: You’ve self-published your novels. Can you give us some insight into why you made that decision? Do you feel it was the right one?
Jeanne: I did shop The Phoenix Embryo and Through Rain and Missing Mantaurs around to properly-targeted agents, and a few small presses. All I got back were impersonal form rejections. By this time, I felt like all the opportunities were pretty much behind me.
I’m not old, mind you, but old enough. Pursuing traditional publishing any further made me sick to my stomach. Especially when traditional markets make you wait at least two to three years before your book is even printed. It’s even longer when dealing with an editor or agent, or if your title gets bumped and the slot is filled by a more popular author.
I didn’t want to waste any more time on trying to get someone’s attention. I had stories and ideas to write. So self-publishing it was. Besides, it’s all about the story, the imagination, and being immersed in my characters and writing universes.
Jeanne: I don’t think my voice has changed, but I’ve noticed my style streamline slightly as I revised The Phoenix Embryo. I’m seeing a huge difference now as I rework Through Rain and Missing Mantaurs.
By streamlining my style, I mean I’m working to optimize my sentences in the fewest words with the most impact. The most common example: Getting rid of the bulk of unnecessary dialog tags such as ‘said’ or ‘replied.’ These can enhance your story just as much as bogging it down. They can be replaced with action tags where the character does something that pertains to the scene, or with emotion.
Sarah: Can you tell me, in a few sentences, about your recently published novel The Phoenix Embryo?
Jeanne: The Phoenix Embryo is a dark fantasy drama for mature readers, with heavy LGBTQ elements. I describe it as Lord of the Flies on Mr. Spock’s planet of Vulcan. Throw in phoenix gods, magic, and tiny hints of steampunk.