WINTERSONG Blog Tour:
Interview with Author S. Jae-Jones
1. Was there a defining moment during your youth when you realized you wanted to be a writer?
There wasn’t a defining moment, necessarily; it was more like an accumulation of an entire lifetime of storytelling. For most of my childhood, I was an only child with two parents who worked full-time. I spent a lot of time left to my own devices, and in order to keep myself occupied, I liked to play pretend. I would create all sorts of imaginary worlds and characters and storylines, most often inspired by the books I read. After a while, I started writing them down. I also wrote a lot of creative fiction for school—school plays, short stories, skits, etc. I was always thought of as “the writer” in my school years, and I think I subconsciously carried that with me into adulthood.
2. Beyond your own work (of course), what is your all-time favorite book and why? And what is your favorite book outside of your genre? Favorite retelling?
My all-time favorite book is The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman. I think it’s partially because I first read it at the right time in my life (I was eleven, Lyra’s age), but also because it’s a book that has aged with me. I’ve always loved the coming-of-age narrative, and Pullman takes the concept of growing up and makes it literal in ways that amaze and astound me.
I suppose my genre is YA fantasy, so the opposite of that would be…adult contemporary? I don’t know if I have a favorite, but I thoroughly enjoyed Robert Galbraith’s Cormoran Strike novels, which are the adult mystery/thrillers written by J. K. Rowling.
My favorite retelling is Beauty by Robin McKinley. Again, I think it’s because read this book at the exact right time in my life, but every time I read it, it gives me the warm fuzzies.
3. If you could be any character in your novel who would you be and why? What fictional character (that is not your own!) do you personally identify with and, why?
I’m not sure I would want to be any character in my novel, as they lived in late 18th century Bavaria and I like 21st century conveniences like indoor plumbing and modern healthcare. But if I had to pick, probably Thistle. I kind of am a prickly hobgoblin in real life, to be honest.
The fictional character I identify with most is Lyra Silvertongue from Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials. I love that she is half-feral, savage, and a liar, but also loving, loyal, and compassionate.
4. What is the best piece of advice you ever received from another author?
Keep a part of yourself for yourself. It’s easy in the age of social media to blur the boundaries between author and work, but I am not my books. I have an entire life beyond writing, and nurturing that is just as important as developing my craft.
5. What songs fit this book and why? Do you play any instruments? Perhaps the violin and klavier(piano) that were so frequented in the story?
I have a playlist that my publisher very kindly put together for me here! One song that fits this book is probably Coming Down by Halsey.
Most of my musical study was actually focused on voice, but I play a lot of instruments, and none of them particularly well (anymore). Like a good Asian kid, I’ve taken piano lessons since I was three, but I also learned how to play the flute for band, and taught myself the guitar so I could pretend I was Joni Mitchell. In a pinch, I can play the harp, the drums, and clarinet. No stringed instruments, unfortunately. I would love to learn though!
6. What was your favorite part about writing this book? What was your favorite scene to write?
I loved that I was able to draw on so many things that inspired or influenced me aesthetically as I wrote this book. I love goth stories, Death and the Maiden tropes, Jacques Cocteau movies, Phantom of the Opera, glitter, David Bowie, Mozart, and all of that made it into my book in some form or another. I don’t have a favorite scene, necessarily, but one that was “fun” (in that it was full of personal “Easter eggs”) for me was the first time Liesl crosses the Underground lake and meets the Lorelei.
7. What inspired you to write Wintersong?
The easy answer is, of course, the movie Labyrinth. But Labyrinth is only a small piece; I wrote about the whole thing on my blog.
8. If Wintersong was being turned into a movie, who would you cast for Käthe and the Goblin King?
I’m not someone who casts their books; I usually draw what the characters look like in my head. If my book were to be made into a movie, I would only ask that the actor be able to embody the spirit of my characters. 🙂 I say this because David Bowie will never be able to play my Goblin King. 😦
9. What is your writing process like? Are you a plotter or a pantser? Do you have any specific things you need in order to write?
Chaos. I work a full-time day job as well as co-host a weekly podcast and run Pub(lishing) Crawl, so I feel like I’m constantly scrambling. BUT. My general process is to journal my way through writing. I have a notebook that I treat almost like a critique partner; I have long, rambling conversations with myself about the story, the characters, the emotional characters, and ask myself questions about where things are going. The actual act of writing happens in fits and starts, unfortunately. But journaling is crucial to my process.
I am a pantser in that I can’t plan things with too much detail or else I’ll lose the joy of discovery. But I do have a general idea of the story shape before I start writing, as well as inflection points. All the stuff in the middle is one giant question mark though. As for what I need when I write—I am fueled by iced coffee and Twizzlers.
10. Could you tell us anything about your next project after WINTERSONG? What can we expect from the sequel?
Well…it’s a sequel. 🙂 A direct sequel, and not a companion novel. I’m not sure I can say what you can expect without spoiling things too much, but it will deal with the consequences of the decision Liesl makes at the end of Wintersong.
11. What is the strangest thing you’ve ever had to Google for research?
Most of my research is fairly mundane; it’s where I end up that’s a little ridiculous. For one of my WIPs, I think I Googled “King George V” and somehow, in the course of following little details down the rabbit hole of research, I ended up at Aleister Crowley’s idea of “sex magic.” Yeah. #ravenclawproblems
12. Is there another author you would like to collaborate on a book with?
Any author who can plot better than me, which is most of them, I feel. 🙂 I would love to collaborate with Marie Lu, who was one of my earliest critique partners and a good friend of mine. She does action really well, but gets embarrassed by kissy feelings. I do action terribly, but delight in the kissy feelings. I think we could balance each other out.
13. You have stated before that Germanic history was not the original root of WINTERSONG. Yet, it played quite an important role in the story, including influencing many of the word choices and mythology. How did you decide which pieces of the German language and Germanic mythology to place in WINTERSONG?
I’ve always liked German folklore and mythology, and I’ve always liked the language (which I never learned except through opera and German-language musicals). The bits that made their way to Wintersong weren’t exactly all that consciously made; often, the decision was made for me by virtue of the story and characterization. I chose the setting of Wintersong because of two things: Mozart and fairy tales. The latter is easy to explain: if you Google images of Bavarian forests, you’ll find the most amazing images of magical woods. The former is because I wanted to write about classical music, and in Europe, a lot of the greats were in Vienna and the surrounding areas at the time: Mozart, Beethoven, Haydn, et al.
14. The main character, Liesl, writes many Lieder(songs) throughout the story and shares many of them in quite a bit of detail. Did you compose any songs to go with the story or were they perhaps based off previously established compositions? Perhaps by a favorite composer?
I don’t compose. I wish I could, but my brain is not wired that way. I am, as one of my characters says, “an interpreter and not a genius.” Most of Liesl’s composing process is in fact my writing process, and my process of artistic creation in general. My favorite composer is Mozart, but I actually think a lot of Liesl’s music sounds more like Schubert’s, even though in my personal chronology, she predates Schubert by a few decades. (Incidentally, Schubert wrote a Lieder based on Goethe’s poem Der Erlkönig.)
About the Author
S. Jae-Jones (called JJ) is an artist, an adrenaline junkie, and erstwhile editrix. When not obsessing over books, she can be found jumping out of perfectly good airplanes, co-hosting the Pub(lishing) Crawl podcast, or playing dress-up. Born and raised in Los Angeles, she now lives in North Carolina, as well as many other places on the internet, including Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook, Instagram, and her blog.