It is my great pleasure to introduce another authoress among us, Miss Jennifer Freitag! Jenny is the authoress of The Shadow Things and writer extraordinaire at her blog, The Penslayer. She was kind enough to agree to a semi-formal interview for the readers of Living On Literary Lane, which you will find below.
Be sure to read all the way to the bottom — there's a special surprise!
Be sure to read all the way to the bottom — there's a special surprise!
1. Welcome, dear friend and fellow authoress! Please be so kind as to share a little about yourself:
Truth to tell, I’m not sure what to share. I don’t consider myself wildly fascinating and so I’m afraid of painfully boring the readers here on Living On Literary Lane. I’ve been married for three years to my childhood sweetheart, I take walks in heels, I’m both fashionably girly and cheer during the arena scenes of “Gladiator,” I was a horse for the early part of my childhood and a Parliamentary soldier for the latter, I have a prodigiously splendid family, and my favourite dessert is my mother’s zucchini chocolate cake. I still have imaginary friends, I write letters to my real ones, I’m a middling cook, I dislike washing bathtubs, and I can only paint my nails while watching a movie.
2. At what age did you discover your love for writing?
I really can’t remember. I never thought about writing, so far as I can recall. All I do know is that, at an extremely young age (presumably after I had learned to read and write) I began typing the most horrendous horse stories on my father’s computer. The horse stories gave way to fantasies of massive proportions, and gradually polished themselves into something decent. I was a combination of a wildly active imagination and a familial love for books. I never thought about writing; it just happened.
3. What is your favourite writing medium (journaling, novel-writing, short story, poetry, etc.)?
I confess to keeping up a journal of sorts in the form of letters. I find it very helpful to have someone to communicate to (other than just the book of empty paper), even if that person cannot write back. I have written poetry over the years, off and on, as the spirit moves me; but I never learned how to write poetry so if I tried to do it seriously I know I should do it very badly for quite some time before improving. Having written novels (of impossible lengths) for most of my life, prose comes most naturally to me.
4. Good books can be so inspiring when it comes to learning how to best write certain scenes. Is there any particular writer whom you most admire? What works of his/hers do you like the best?
The Achilles’ heel of questions! Unfortunately, it is only natural that every book, even if written by the same author, should be a little different, a little better or a little worse. Allow me to instead answer this question by mentioning the books I like most, and expounding on the authors who wrote them.
First up is Rosemary Sutcliff’s Simon, which is really a relatively new book in my library. I have long loved Sutcliff—in fact, she really taught me how to write by virtue of reading her books. I have owned Simon for a year (or thereabouts) and have read it twice, and may read it again very soon. Sutcliff’s elemental prose and clear description, her fascination with the small, significant things, the feeling she gives you of always looking at a bit of shadow and light-on-gold, has enthralled my heart since childhood.
Another book I adore is Carol Kendall’s The Gammage Cup. If you have not read it, do so at once. At once. I have read her simple, sweet, heart-wrenching tale so many times that I have lost count, and I will continue to read it time out of mind. She never ceases to make me laugh or cry or hold my breath with fear. I writhe in agony over her brilliance.
I have given you a simple story and a middling story, and now I’m going to introduce an older, rather complex book that very few people have heard about. Near the start of last year’s fall term I read E.R. Eddison’s The Worm Ouroboros. For those of you who don’t know what the ouroboros is, it is an ancient depiction of a dragon eating its tail: a sign of endless continuity. While this symbol seems to take a very background role in most of the novel, its significance blew me away at the end. The book is pagan, but for all that it is a marvellous tale. The prose is quite heavy in style, but not, I think, difficult to understand: I found it more like picking up a cloth heavy with embroidery than anything else. Eddison’s novel has greatly improved my own style, I think; I’m deeply indebted to him not only for a splendid tale but for a great lesson in writing.
5. What do you do when that fearsome epidemic masquerading as writer's block threatens to call on you?
I read. I have difficulty seriously devoting my energy to both writing and reading at once, so when I am light on the writing I put more energy into my reading, and vice versa. My brother was relating an author interview he had seen of the smash-hit wonder-writer Mo Willems who has a character which is a pigeon. Willems said that, regardless of how anxious his publishers may be for him to write another story, if the pigeon is not talking to him, he can’t write. Through my brother’s reaction I was able to see how odd this sounds to “non-writers,” but my father, who is a writer himself and helps both me and my sister, pointed out that what Willems said is true. Pointing to myself and my sister, he said that he can see it when our characters aren’t talking to us. We simply shut down. I know I hear a lot of people say that, when you have writer’s block, to just keep pushing, but I wouldn’t advise that. Sometimes the trouble is the characters. They simply take a holiday and leave you in the lurch.
6. What do you consider the best time of day for writing? Please explain your answer.
Usually I find the best time for writing is when I have a ton of housework to do. It is amazing how the founts of creativity will gush forth when you really ought to be expending yourself elsewhere.
7. Do you outline your books or do you prefer to begin writing and let the plot sort itself out?
The Shadow Things is the only novel I have ever outlined, and then only because it outlined itself and I happened to write it down. Typically I have a vague idea of where I want the story to go; sometimes I will even have a definite end in mind. I almost always have a purpose, but it usually works for me to start with the bare bones of an idea and write the meat on as I go.
8. Of all the characters you've invented, who is your favourite and why?
Oh boy. I am only at the start of my career, but to date I have to say that my favourite character of all time thus far is Rhodri from my novel Adamantine. It is very difficult to sum him up without doing him a disservice or giving too much away. Rhodri is the character who would slyly slide a bit of prose into any conversation which I was not expecting, which would draw me up short and leave me wondering how to answer him. He was a tough nut to crack. He can be mulishly disagreeable and heart-throbbingly coy. He is quietly and passionately vain, a brilliant intellectual, tough as whipcord and the very opposite of athletic. He is a stewing pot of contradictions which somehow worked (goodness knows I don’t know how), and he, of all my characters, has been more of a friend and companion to me than just another person I have written.
9. What are your opinions on romance in books? Do you see these standards acted out in the literature sold today?
You would think that, being married, I would have a dogmatic view on this topic. I find it talked about a great deal in our circles. But the truth of the matter is that, one, my own romance was rather unique and, two, I don’t read many contemporary works of fiction. I don’t actually recall (and I can remember back to when I was three) a time when I was not determined to marry the man I did. It was not, of course, mere determination: I did and do ardently love him, and that unquestioned love spawned a most doggedly determined will in my passionate being. It is rather an amusing story. As for contemporary fiction, I don’t go out of my way to avoid it, I’m just more in the way of older literature and have a closer acquaintance with that. It is my understanding that contemporary romantic fiction tends to be sensual, pushing the limits of “Christian” acceptance. Naturally I disagree with that. A child gets in trouble for “pushing” his limits of obedience; I don’t see why an author, myself included, should be any different.
One caveat: in an above book I mentioned, The Worm Ouroboros, there is a fantastic scene between the Witch-king and the daughter of one of his lieutenants. While the liaison was not legitimate, it was in character and expertly written. I would not have Christian writers be unrealistic in their portrayal of romances, for rubbishy romances do happen; however, should such a liaison happen between the protagonists, it is incumbent upon the author to make very clear that it is not godly. This can be done without being “preachy,” believe me.
As for having romance in books at all, I say hurray! I tend to like a more intuitive attachment, simply because that was my own case, but it warms my heart without fail (and thwarting in love can get my blood up). Love, loyalty, unquestioned attachments that are stronger than life can make a cast of characters more than mere pawns playing out a plot. They make them human.
10. What are some of the writing projects on which you are currently working?
At present I am supposedly finishing up tweaking the complete manuscript of my novel Adamantine and continuing to write my latest story Plenilune. Both of them are fantasies, the latter is a sort of “companion” novel for the former, though either can be read separately.
11. As a Christian, is your faith a central theme in all of your books? Why or why not?
It absolutely is. Christianity is not my religion, it is my life. It is my paradigm. It is my breath. I may contract the hiccups with more frequency than I like to admit, nevertheless I cannot think or see or communicate without the life of Christ. Christianity was a major theme in The Shadow Things, which deals with the difficulty of being a Christian in an otherwise powerfully pagan culture. Christianity takes a serious role in Adamantine, which is a conflict between good and evil; Plenilune, too, is a power-struggle between good and evil on the political scale; but in my two companion novels, unlike The Shadow Things, Christianity is more a kingdom and a paradigm at war with another, so that in some senses these two are more apocalyptic, more like fairytales, than The Shadow Things.
12. Could you be persuaded to share an excerpt (or three) from some of your works?
I would be happy to give you one from each of my current fantasy novels. I trust they are not too long. I do believe in some sort of context.
A D A M A N T I N E :
The commander met them in the courtyard, a neat ring of soldiers around him. His helmet was on, and Adamant could only see the way the light caught in his eyes: all else was in shadow. His plume was black, and his tunic, worn underneath a wadmal cape like her own, had been black once, but had since faded to flat grey. But his mail and buckles and weapons shone unbearably in the light, and that made up for the worn, shabby effect.
“Sir.” Rhodri drew to a halt in front of him, his gaze flickering neither to the right nor left. “I fear there is no time for introductions. A hosting of Black Catti is sitting up the dale ready to besiege you. They have taken the bridge-works and slaughtered the villagers.”
Adamant stifled a horrified gasp. The silence, the piercing gazes! They had been Catti, not fairies—malicious Catti!
The light came and went from the commander’s eyes as he looked long and hard at Rhodri. Kielk shifted backward, trying to be comfortable, and Adamant could no longer see Rhodri’s face. But whatever his life had been in the Ambrosian, before the quest and his imprisonment, he seemed to hold up under that light, frank stare without flinching.
“How do you know,” said the commander, his voice as light and frank as his gaze, “that they are Black?” He looked up past Rhodri at Eikin, and his eyes rested a moment on Adamant. “They could be Dunr.”
“They are not Dunr,” Eikin replied bluntly, “else I should be out there alongside my sword-brothers.”
P L E N I L U N E :
With a little sniff that she was coming to know of him, Skander unfurled his own napkin with a violent flick and said, “I was reading Dante’s first instalment of his Comedy. I don’t advise doing so before a nap. It gives one the most curious dreams.”
Margaret, who had never read but had heard of the Inferno, canted her head politely and opened her mouth to ask about the dreams, when Rupert interrupted.
“I don’t know why you read such rubbish.” His voice, though low, was rather cutting. With a little deft flick he had the ladle out and was curling a bit of soup round-wise into the curve of his own bowl. “I don’t know why I still have it. It’s so full of lies.”
The air crackled between the cousins. The light, amiable nature that hung so well about Skander’s big shoulders seemed to slip away like a cloak, and the man sat heavily, broodingly in his chair, spooning out his own soup, but watching Rupert sidewise from under his brows. Rupert was busy making his own cup of tea with a bit of brandy to stiffen it, but he took the time to raise a light, daring look at his cousin, a look that was to Margaret like a rapier, so light it was, so cold and bladed.
Livy took the soup tureen from Skander and set it down the table, making the little fish-mottled patches of light dance.
“Why,” said Skander, picking up his teaspoon and putting it back down for his soup spoon, “do you say it is all lies?”
The rapier darted away, seemingly put back in its sheath for now. Rupert closed up the brandy bottle and, by way of Livy, offered it to Margaret. She declined. The bottle was put back up on the sideboard where it cast its own little shards of light, gold and amber-coloured, jinking from the movement of Livy’s hand. She watched it in that long silence that Rupert made, her head turned from the two of them, but she did not really see what lay under her eye. She was waiting for his answer.
“Is it that you must get rid of everything?” Skander demanded in a low thrusting tone.
She looked back at them. Rupert had begun to drink his soup in a thoughtful sort of way, but even she caught the smile that was playing at one corner of his mouth. She hoped a bit of soup slid out of that smile, just for the indignity of it. But no soup did.
“When your father died, you made changes to Lookinglass. It is not that I ‘get rid’ of things. This is my house, and it is mine to do with as I please. Also, it is my own opinion that Dante was a liar, and that, too, is an opinion which I am free to hold.”
“Then hold it!” Skander said, rocking back in his chair. “And don’t pass it off on me.”
13. Have you published any of your writing before? If not, do you plan on doing so in the future?
The Shadow Things is officially published by the house Ambassador-Emerald International. I fully intend to publish both Adamantine and Plenilune in the future, but that day has not yet arrived.
14. And finally, do you have any wisdom for young authors that you would care to share?
I am often asked this question, and I am often disappointed by my own replies. Again, I never really thought about writing, I simply did it because I loved it. As I grew and became more critical of both my reading and my writing, my literature, naturally, improved. So the only advice I have to offer is that: continue to write, continue to read, and cultivate a healthy, critical, intelligent mind. Don’t divorce your reading from your writing: I see so many writers who read excellent books but can’t quite carry the goodness over into their writing. Oftentimes it is a mere matter of being made aware of the disconnect: the capacity for excellence is there.
Thank you so much for doing the interview, Jenny! It was wonderful having you here at Literary Lane.