Greetings Readers and Writers!
It’s been a pleasure to have other authors visit my blog, and to hear talented folks like Lydia Eberhardt, Dan Alatorre and Vanessa Rasanen share their personal journeys from idea, to manuscript, to published book.
Today’s exploration of the many winding paths to publication leads us to the door of the lovely and talented Jean Lee who has just released her debut YA Fantasy novel FALLEN PRINCEBORN: STOLEN
Hello and welcome Jean! First of all, would you share a little bit about yourself?
Hello! Jean Lee’s my name, fantasy fiction’s my game. I’m a Wisconsin born and bred writer, excited to share my young-adult fiction with those who love to find other worlds hidden in the humdrum of everyday life. My first novel, Fallen Princeborn: Stolen, debuted in November 2018, from Aionios Books. I’ve also got several short stories, Tales of the River Vine, FREE on Amazon and other markets. Oh! And a serialized Young Adult Fantasy Adventure called Middler’s Pride. That’s available from the literary E-zine site Channillo.
That’s quite a list of published work! Where do you find inspiration for your stories?
Wisconsin is filled with hidden towns, small growths of community where railroads and highways meet, places that no one finds unless they mean to find it. Rock Springs was a town of 600 when I was a child, a little grain-fill stop for the railroad. We didn’t even have a gas station until I turned 5, and our library, a small portion of the town’s community center, could fit in a utility closet (it probably was a utility closet at one point). Farms and wild wood filled the gaps between towns.
We drove through those wild patches often. I never tried to occupy myself with books or toys in the car. There was too much to see, out there in those scattered homesteads, too much to wonder about. What happened inside that dying barn? Why is that gravel drive roped off, and where does it lead? Where are all the people for those rusted cars littering the field?
This is the Wisconsin I live in now. The land dips and rises in unexpected places. The trees may crowd a rural highway so much you can lose yourself driving, only to have the tunnel burst open to sunshine and a white-crested river running beneath a bridge you’d swear had never seen a car before. In Rock Springs, one could stand on the lone highway through town and hear snowflakes land beneath the orange street lights.
I love how you describe the physical settings that inspired you! What about other written work- are there books that influenced you as a writer?
This might sound hypocritical, but Fallen Princeborn: Stolen is heavily influenced by the films and television I watched as a child, not by books. See, I actually spent my childhood reading mysteries, not fantasy. Save for Chronicles of Narnia, I was usually sticking my nose into the pages of Hercule Poirot, Sherlock Holmes, and Nancy Drew. What I watched, however…
…Something Wicked This Way Comes introduced me to the Autumn People, to those hunting across the land of our reality, granting our wishes in return for our lives.
…She-Ra proved a girl can be just as tough as a guy.
…Highlander brought me to the world of immortals who duel in forests and cities, carrying swords across time in the quest to be princes of the universe.
…Labyrinth showed me how far a girl will travel to rescue the family stolen from her.
…Beauty and the Beast explained how two souls can fit just so when given the chance. But for me, these souls have jagged edges with a thousand points. They may pierce, even draw a little blood, but the closer they come together, the more these two souls realize: they fit.
So when I read, I read for the mystery of the unknown menace, and to ensure that menace brought to justice. But when I watched, I watched to see unknown places and witness unique characters do impossible deeds.
I have to ask, how do you find the time and energy to weave all of these elements together in your intricate stories on the schedule of a writing and working parent?
Oh, I’m still trying to figure out the whole balancing act of parenting and writing, to be sure! For now, the biggest tool I have is a to-do list. I HAVE to write down what I need to do every day. Making this list during the kids’ breakfast helps me consider what I can realistically accomplish in the day: I can’t write 5,000 words and market and prep a blog and develop interview questions and edit four chapters. I found myself sleeping even less and panicking even more because I never felt like I accomplished anything. By writing a to-do list, I don’t panic nearly as much because I can see myself making progress one small job at a time.
I wish I had advice to you for writing with kids around. Let’s face it: kids are ALWAYS noisy: cars crash, transformers explode, trains go off cliffs, animals eat each other–they are all of them dramatic, violent little buggers. If they’re quiet, then that just means they’re using stealth to accomplish something even more devious, like treating the oven dials as spaceship controls.
So quiet’s not exactly a writing option round these parts. I need to isolate my imagination’s internal senses with visuals and sounds.
Ah. Which explains why you often write on your blog about the music that inspires you! How does that process work?
It begins with snapshots, like slides on a projector. Just pictures at first, distant and untouchable, until more slides come, a photogenic click click click of a paperless book. The cassette player ka-chunks and music sneaks into the space, quiet and wary until it meets the beat of the slides and then maybe, if I time it just right, I can jump into the images like double-dutch and land, smack. I’m there. I’m in. And I can feel it all.
Give the method a go—I think you’ll dig it!
You’re the first author that I’ve had visit who has not chosen to self publish. How did you end up finding your publisher- what did your process look like?
I didn’t actually set out to publish The Fallen Princeborn: Stolen. We are here because of what you’d call a most happy accident.
I had written the first draft back in 2010 for the National Novel Writing Month. It was the first time I’d written since the dark days of graduate school, and it felt so, so bloody good to be writing a story I genuinely cared about. But I was also a first-time mother, still a part-time teacher, so my time was very rarely my own. Over the years I’d pick at the story’s characters/plot/setting, and in 2015 I tried sending it out to a few agents. No interest.
So I put Stolen away. It was destined to be that “unsellable first novel”: the story that got me back into writing, but also the story that’d never see the light of day.
Enter Wattpad & Aionios Books.
Wattpad’s a free publishing platform for stories, poems, plays, and so on. I used it share a draft of my YA Fantasy Middler’s Pride, my shield maiden series, and was getting some excellent feedback as well as some honest to goodness readers—including the lead editor of Aionios Books, Gerri Santiago.
I still remember getting the Twitter message from Gerri while waiting to pick up my sons from 4K one November day: “Have you signed on with a publisher yet?”
My hands start shaking. Who’d want to publish me? A gazillion other fantasy writers are out there probably doing way better. I’m just…I’m just me.
Another tweet: “I love Meredydd’s tough vulnerability in Middler’s Pride.”
Oh! Well… Huzzah, then!
Now you’re probably wondering A) How long is this nattering going to continue and B) isn’t the novel we’re talking about Fallen Princeborn: Stolen?
A) I’m almost done.
B) Publishing often takes unexpected turns.
Gerri asks me to send her a complete manuscript of Middler’s Pride. “Sure!” I start to type. Freeze. I’d been reworking a few key elements inside the story to better fit a series, and that reworking was nowhere near done.
But I can’t afford to lose this opportunity! If I say it’s not ready, she may say thanks and move on. Then who knows how long it’ll be before I get someone’s attention like this again?
I panic myself into a hyperventilating mess—always a smart state for driving preschoolers home from school—seeing all manners of defeat awaiting this exchange with Gerri. I should tell her to forget she ever saw my work. I should flee Wattpad. The internet. The…well you can’t get much more rural than a Wisconsin farming town, so I suppose this is flight enough.
Bo gets home from work and listens to my breathless, teary telling of the Twitter tale. He gets me some cocoa and sits me down. “Can you send her something else to buy you some time?” he asks.
“No. Well maybe. There’s my Fallen Princeborn story. But that’s not totally revised, either.”
Bo considers this. “True, but it’d probably keep her attention long enough so you can get that Middler thing done, right?”
I nod and write Gerri a really, REALLY long rambling email (yes, even longer than the answer of this question) about time and the importance of storytelling and hey, would you like to read this while you wait for me to fulfill your request?
I think only two days pass, maybe three. Bo’s doing what he can to get out of work early and handle the kids so I can finish Middler’s Pride sooner.
My phone beeps: an email from Gerri.
Oh no. She must be wondering what’s going on. She wants Middler now or never. Come on, Jean, get the thing done!
I open the email.
“I just LOVE this story! The characters are so complete, and so compelling! Do you have more Fallen Princeborn? I NEED to know what happens next!”
And here we are.
A happy accident indeed! And now that you’re off and running with a publisher and all that, are there any aspects of the process that you’d like to share or wisdom that you’d like to pass along?
Sure, I think I can share a wee bit.
Editing. TAKE. YOUR. TIME. I’m not just talking about your own editing, but in going through your editor’s notes. Editors often ask for the okay on changing things, but other times they may trim out a detail or alter an action because they see it as unnecessary to the scene at hand, while you see that piece as important to the story as a whole. It’s best to read through both your draft and the comments together to make sure you catch these changes and can handle them in the best manner possible.
Different Perspectives. There’s usually more than one editor involved, and I can promise you that there will be times those editors do not agree on something in the story. One may be irritated by a character while the other loves her; one may freak out over the use of a term that the other doesn’t mind in the least. These differing perspectives can really help you see the story as a reader, but they also help you realize you are not going to please everyone. You just aren’t. So, rather than breaking your creative back, discuss and compromise with the story’s best interests at the center of decisions.
Marketing. Yeah, you’ll be doing a lot of this. Even authors with the top traditional firms still have to maintain some sort of author’s platform on social media. Small presses don’t have tons of money to throw at ad campaigns, so you’ve got to help spread the word about your book. Set aside some time every day to post your thoughts/work on multiple locations on social media. Software like Hootsuite lets you schedule your posts ahead of time, which can allow you to do all your marketing in one hour or so and be set for the rest of the day.
What advice would you give those who are seeking publication?
Research can feel like a big time-suck, but when it comes to publishing, DO YOUR RESEARCH! There are so many scammers out there with their “author services” and “exclusive anthologies.” They’re going to talk you up, make you feel amazing, and before you know it you’ve paid four digits for lousy editing on a slap-dash affair no one’s going to see. Scope out the small presses. Join author groups online to gather recommendations for editors, book designers, and cover artists. Your story deserves to be seen, but when it’s ready.
Yes, an author platform really does help. Don’t think of it as yet another time suck; rather, treat it as the regimented prose exercise. Reading countless other voices, writing tight posts on a regular basis—all helps the craft, not hinders it. No, it’s not the novel you dream hitting the best-seller list, but making a website, commenting on social media—these simple actions give your name an author’s history. Other writers/publishers/agents/readers can trace your name back to studies, comments, and whatever else you write. You build that platform, you build a writer’s resume for the publishing business to see.
Thanks for the fantastic advice and encouragement, Jean, and best wishes on your endeavors!
And many thanks to you for stopping by today.
If you’d like to check out Jean Lee’s work, you can find her at the following locales:
Twitter and Instagram: @jeanleesworld
If you’re interested in her debut novel, the blurb is below!
Desperate, they breached the Wall to hunt humans. But they made one critical mistake. They took her sister.
In rural Wisconsin, an old stone wall is all that separates the world of magic from the world of man—a wall that keeps the shapeshifters inside. When something gets out, people disappear. Completely.
Escaping from an abusive uncle, eighteen-year-old Charlotte runs away. She takes her bratty younger sister Anna with her, swearing to protect her. However, when their bus breaks down by a creepy old farm, the inconceivable happens—Anna is wiped from human memory.
But something inside Charlotte remembers. So she goes over the Wall in a frantic rescue attempt, accidentally awakening a once cruel but still dangerous prince, and gaining control of a powerful weapon, his magic dagger.
Charlotte’s only chance to save Anna hinges on her courage and an uneasy alliance with some of the very monsters that feed on humanity.
Welcome to River Vine, a shrouded hinterland where dark magic devours and ancient shifters feed, and where the seed of love sets root among the ashes of the dying.