Monday, January 9, 2012

Q&A - Jocelyn Fox

I've been wanting to get to know Joceyln A Fox ever since I read her incredible novel The Iron Sword, and recently got the chance to wrangle her into filling out my Q&A fact sheet while she was on leave. Please take a few to read what goes on behind the eyes of this (perhaps overly) caffeinated writer.

For my review of The Iron Sword click here

Q & A

Tell us about yourself.

I’m terrible at answering questions like this one…but here goes anyway. My day job includes sailing the high seas, hunting pirates, handling guns and consuming epic amounts of coffee on a daily basis. I frequently have crushes on fictional characters and I use inappropriately large words in normal conversation. I have to run at least every other day because otherwise I get restless. (That might have something to do with the coffee, come to think of it.) I love music—my favorite artists are Florence + the Machine, Adele and Lady Gaga. And I’m always up for an adventure, whether it’s surfing, rock-climbing, riding a camel or hunting for the perfect pair of red heels.

 The Iron Sword is your first published novel, but do you have anything else under your belt still sitting in journal somewhere.

Oh, I’ve been writing since I could hold a pencil! In middle school and high school I’d buy those black-and-white marbled journals and just fill them with stories. I had a novel that I worked on for about two years in high school, and it filled four or five journals cover to cover. In hindsight, that first novel served a test-run to prove to myself that I had the endurance as a writer to stick with a long project and finish it. It taught me about pacing and characterization, and the importance of knowing the direction of the plot.  And of course I have snippets of stories that I write down just to get them on paper, scenes that come to me when I’m running or sleeping…or supposed to be doing something else, like paying attention in class! I’ve met a lot of characters and hopefully I’ll be able to tell all their stories. There’s always something new catching my eye and one of my goals this year is getting back into some short fiction. It’s been a few years since I’ve written short stories, and I think that’s a great way for a writer to hone her talents. It takes skill to encapsulate enough raw emotion and action to make a reader really care about a character and conflict in a shorter work. It makes you concentrate more as a writer, because every word counts. So I’ll be dredging up some old works and maybe drawing some inspiration from them.

 Considering your job, where do you find the time to write?

My career in the military definitely makes it difficult to keep any kind of steady writing schedule, but it’s taught me to be flexible. It depends on my unit’s schedule and mission. I’d get up early before watch or stay up a little longer than I normally would to squeeze in a few minutes of writing. The Iron Sword originated as an independent study creative writing project during my last semester at the U.S. Naval Academy, so I’ve always had to work around a packed schedule. But I’ve always been a writer, so to me writing is a necessity just like breathing and eating. I get cranky if I don’t write, just like I get restless if I don’t run. Luckily I work well under pressure and with little sleep. If I can do my routine of getting a latte at a local coffee shop and holing up in a comfy armchair for a few hours, great, but I’ve adapted so that as long as I have my trusty laptop I’m good to go!

 How much of your job/training do you use in your writing?

Since I write fantasy, my training influences my work in more oblique ways than if I was writing a contemporary thriller or something like that. I’ve taken boxing and martial arts and I served as a weapons coach for the M16-A service rifle, teaching our incoming freshmen how to shoot, so I have some experience with weapons and fight scenarios. Some of the training I’ve done involved “simunitions,” which is ammunition fired from real weapons but with a paintball-like tip, so you get the feel of firing the weapon and you get the adrenaline rush of someone else firing a weapon at you. And the rounds leave some impressive bruises! Rather than my experiences influencing my work literally, I’ve taken those emotions and those reactions and applied them to the action scenes in my novels. There’s a physical element to fight scenes and action sequences that needs to be present in the writing; without it, the reader ends up feeling uninvolved, and I use my experience with my “real job” to help me inject those scenes with the intensity needed to pull in the reader.
                Writing also requires discipline. That’s definitely something we know about in the military, so it’s had a positive impact on my work ethic and my determination to make a story as good as it can be. I also get to see some amazing places—over the past six months I’ve been to Albania, Montenegro, Dubai, Bahrain, the Seychelles and Portugal. It’s definitely a fast-paced life.

 I love your choice of language for the Sidhe, a very Celtic feel to it. How much research did you do into getting the language right?

I searched a lot of databases online as I was building the foundation of the Sidhe world. I wanted to familiarize myself with the sounds of the language, and I did use some words, with some liberal spelling. For example, talamh is the Gaelic word for “land,” so I used it in naming the mortal world (Doendhtalam) and the Fae world (Faeortalam). Just like I put my own twist on the legends of the Seelie and Unseelie Courts, I wanted to put a bit of creativity into their language. Language fascinates me, but I’m not a scholar of Gaelic/Irish, so I tried to make it feel authentic without overreaching.

 What first inspired you to write The Iron Sword? Which aspect/character came to you first?

I’ve always had an affinity for strong heroines, and I really love British and Celtic mythology. The legends of King Arthur, Excalibur and the Knights of the Round Table always fascinated me. At the beginning I knew I was going to have a strong female protagonist, and I experimented with a few different viewpoints before I settled on first person. Then I had to pick a place, and one of the most inspiring places I’ve ever been was the Texas Hill Country. My best friend’s family actually has a cabin there, and Tess and Molly’s experiences there are based on the spring break that I spent with my friend and her family. Once I settled on the Hill Country, it started flowing from there. I wanted to write a story that I would want to read myself, and I wanted to put my own spin on the Excalibur legend. I’ve always had this question in my head: What if the “knight in shining armor” was a woman? So I knew that Tess was going to be the main character, and she was going to become the “knight in shining armor” despite the fact that the Sidhe weren’t originally interested in her. And then of course there’s Finnead, the handsome and enigmatic Sidhe knight. Knights in shining armor need to have someone to rescue. Even though Finnead is a formidable Named Knight, Tess saves his life and that establishes the tone of their relationship, even though he’s a Sidhe and she’s a mortal.

 Are you a fantasy reader generally?

The answer to that question is a huge, resounding YES. The first books that really unlocked my imagination were C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia. In elementary school I got in trouble in math class because I’d hide a book under the desk and read…I thought I was so clever and that the teacher wouldn’t catch on. Throughout middle school and into high school, I read J.R.R. Tolkien, Anne McCaffrey, Philip Pullman, J.K. Rowling, Tamora Pierce, Diana Wynne Jones, Mercedes Lackey and so many more.  I could go on for hours about books. Some of my recent favorites are the Hunger Games trilogy and the Dark Tower series. (I was a late bloomer in finding Stephen King.)

I know you’re working on the sequel to Tess’s story, but are there any other stories in your future you’re looking forward to telling?

There are a lot of stories that are at the edges of Tess’s story. For example, Vell was a character that I didn’t expect to meet. She just showed up and said, “Here I am. Now let’s get down to business.” She’s definitely a strong character who has a story of her own. But outside the Sidhe world, I’d love to do some historical fantasy with nautical elements. That’s something constantly on my mind when I’m out at sea, the “What if…” questions circulating in my head. There’s a lot of very rich lore involving the sea, and I’d like to add that to my own experiences. That could definitely be fun.

What is your “Writer must-have”?

Caffeine! If it were professional, I’d insert an emoticon smiley-face here. My preferred vehicle for caffeine involves coffee and chocolate combined in some diabolical way, which explains why I haunt coffee shops on my days off when I want to write.  Other than coffee, I’d say the Internet. I really like connecting with other writers and talking to them about their inspiration and their experiences.

Advice for writers?

Write a little bit every day, and don’t put unrealistic expectations on yourself. It’s great to have goals but there’s that old proverb that says the hardest part of any journey is the first step. If you write a little bit every day, whether you think it’s good or bad, you’re working on technique and forming discipline. And it’s really easy to burn out and get discouraged if you expect yourself to become a bestselling author overnight, because you don’t see all the years of hard work and effort that those authors put into their books. So just have fun. Write because you love telling stories to the people who want to listen.

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