Friday, September 23, 2011


Interview with JANNI LEE SIMNER

Janni Lee Simner is the author of the post-apocalyptic YA faerie tales BONES OF FAERIE and FAERIE WINTER, as well as of the Icelandic-saga based THIEF EYES. She's also published four books for younger readers and more than 30 short stories, including one in the WELCOME TO BORDERTOWN anthology. BONES OF FAERIE received the 2010 Judy Goddard/Libraries Ltd. Young Adult Author Award.

What are you reading right now?

SILENCE by Michelle Sagara, which is due out next year. I love her adult SUN SWORD novels (written as Michelle West), so I'm really excited about this book, which is her first YA.

Books already out that I've loved the past few months include Karen Healey's THE SHATTERING, Megan Crewe's GIVE UP THE GHOST, Sarah Rees Brennan's THE DEMON’S LEXICON, Roseanne Parry's SECOND FIDDLE (not a fantasy, but very much about the importance of art in our lives), and Malinda Lo's HUNTRESS.

What first sparked your interest in writing?

So many things! I was the sort of kid who was always telling herself stories, so in a sense I was always a writer. I also immersed myself deeply in playing pretend games, long past the age when anyone admits to still playing them, and that was a part of becoming a writer, too. And of course, I've always been a reader. Sometimes, if you don't find that book you want to read, you have to go out and write it!

What do you love the most about writing? The least?

I most love the moments when I'm deeply immersed in the story, and the words are flowing, and the characters seem just a little bit real. I also love the revision process, taking the rough words already on the page and turning them into an actual story.

I probably least love all the waiting involved in being a writer: waiting to finish writing a book, waiting to sell it, waiting for it to come out … being a writer has forced me to learn patience, something that doesn't come to me naturally!

Do you have a writing process?

My writing process is as much a rewriting as a writing process. I don't outline ahead of time (unless I need an outline as a sales tool), and I do go through at least five drafts to get a completed book.

- The first draft is the one where I pretty much tell the wrong story. By writing the wrong story--and seeing why it's the wrong story-- I learn things I need to know about the right story.

- The second draft is the one that's sort of kind of is somewhere in the neighborhood of the right story.

- The third draft is the one where I tell the right story, but use all the wrong words.

- The fourth draft is the one where I begin finding the right words, and along the way straightening out muddled character and story arcs.

- The fifth draft is the one where I smooth out all the things that are almost there, and polish the prose more deeply as well.

On top of that, I usually do a bunch more rewrites to get the ending to click into place.

I sort of think of myself as honing in on the story as I go. With each new draft, layers get added to the story, and so every draft has a role to play in making the final book as strong as it can be.

What are your passions?

I'm a serial hobbyist, so what I'm passionate about changes over time. A few things have remained constant through the years, though: a love of writing, an interest in doing volunteer work with kids, and a love of hiking and camping and the outdoors.

What inspires you?

I draw a lot of inspiration from natural world and various places I've visited. Wherever I go, I want to understand the land I'm walking on (whether I'm in a wilderness area or in a city where that land is more hidden beneath all the layers of buildings and people who live there) and how it shapes the people who live there. I've had several books (published and to be written) begin with a landscape.

Why fantasy?

I've always read fantasy, so it never really occurred to me to write anything else! I love magic, in our world and in other worlds, for its own sake and for the things it teaches us about what it means to be human and to live and survive in our non-magical world.

I love what Jane Yolen says about fantasy in her collection of essays, TOUCH MAGIC, which I think gets to the heart of one of the things fantasy is all about:

"And for adults, the world of fantasy books returns us to the great words of power which, in order to be tamed, we have excised from our adult vocabularies. These words are the pornography of innocence, words which adults no longer use with other adults, and so we laugh at them and consign them to the nursery, fear masking as cynicism. These are the words that were forged in the earth, air, fire, and water of human existence, and the words are:
                Love. Hate. Good. Evil. Courage. Honor. Truth."

I have that posted above my desk.

Why young adult?

I've always loved coming of age stories, so I've always tended to write stories with teen protagonists who are living right on the edge of that time when everything begins to change.

It took me a while to realize those stories were YA, though--I started off assuming I was writing for adults, just with younger characters. Then I noticed how much more enthusiastic the rejection letters I was receiving from YA editors were than those I was getting from adult editors, I took another look at both my work and at the books I loved to read, and I began more consciously calling what I wrote YA.

I also have written books for younger children, along with the occasional short story for adults.

How was BONES OF FAERIE born?

BONES OF FAERIE began with an opening scene that wouldn’t let me go. I don't know where that scene came from. I do know that once I wrote it, I had to tell the rest of the story. Only I didn't know how to--I didn't know what happened next, and I also just wasn't yet a good enough writer to tell the story well. So I went off and wrote some other things, but every few years I came back to BONES OF FAERIE’s opening, until I was ready to write the book that went with it.

All told it took me 12 years from writing that opening to finish the book!

How much do the fey and magic in BONES OF FAERIE pull from folklore and how much is your own invention?

It's a mix. Ballads and stories and bits of folklore did contribute to the book, but the elements drawn from them were in many ways transformed when seen through the lens of the book's post-apocalyptic war between faeries and humans. Glamour, for instance, became much harsher in FAERIE WINTER (BONES OF FAERIE’s sequel) than in the stories where I'd seen it used, because the world in which I was using it was harsh, too. And there are other elements that are entirely my own, including the quia trees that once grew only in Faerie, and that become increasingly important with each Faerie book.

A book in which I stuck a little more closely to existing canon than in the Faerie books was THIEF EYES, which is based on my reading of the Icelandic sagas. I think how close one sticks to the known folklore depends a lot on the story being told.

Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?

Be stubborn! Stubborn enough to keep learning, keep revising, and keep becoming a better writer; and also stubborn enough to keep submitting your work. Just because you don't sell quickly doesn't mean you won't sell. The authors who break in quickly and spectacularly are the most noticeable, but that's only one way to build a career. This is a paced game--more of a marathon than a sprint--and it's worth being in it for the long haul.

Learn the business, but keep as much focus as you can on the craft and the process of writing. That's where the joy comes from, and that's where you'll find the things to sustain you over that long haul.

Ignore any writing advice you hear that doesn't work for you, even mine. There are many ways to write, and no one way works for everyone. Try everything, keep the advice that works for you, and ditch the rest. Ultimately, you're trying to find your own way and your own processes.

Is there anything else you would like to tell us about yourself?

I like gelato. I don't like chocolate. I think the Star Wars movies should have stopped with the original trilogy, and I try to pretend the later movies never happened. I used to love unicorns, and then I hated them, but now I love them again.

I've just turned in the third and final Faerie book (from Liza's point of view, anyway) to my editor. So many years after writing BONES OF FAERIE’s opening scene, it feels like Liza and I have traveled a long way together, and I'm going to miss her.

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