Emboldening Stories: An Interview With Jennifer Freitag

16 January 2015


Jenny approached me a week ago with a novel proposition (pardon the pun): a post-publication Plenilune interview that deals with some of the questions readers have raised after finishing the book. Now that Plenilune has made a variety of impressions on its audience, I had fun doing a bit of research through reviews of all colors, and came up with the following list of interrogations, which Jenny willingly answered. Have you wondered about the pacing, the exposition, the romance, or the warfare in Plenilune? Still considering whether it's something you should pick up or pass over? Then read on, Lizzy! Plenilune — and its author — just might surprise you.

1. Welcome to Literary Lane, Jennifer! After more than two months on the market, Plenilune has received its share of reviews. Have any readers’ comments surprised you?

Well, considering I had not read Jane Eyre during the years I was working on Plenilune, the comparison surprised me—what surprised me still more were the similarities, not in plot, but in detail, between the two novels.  

Another thing which surprised me is the polarization between people who like or don’t like Plenilune.  No one is middle-of-the-road on it, even if they must be divided in their own opinions: it is an all-or-nothing novel: you either love it or hate it.  That degree of emotional response took me by surprise.

2. Several readers have compared Plenilune to Jane Eyre in style and form. In what way is your prose akin to Brontë’s? Where do you differ?

This is the only Charlotte Brontë novel I have read—and I’m not finished with it—but I have the endorsement of someone who has studied Charlotte’s writing, so I’m assuming my assessment is not totally off the reservation: Charlotte Brontë and I are both passionate artists, and no matter what we write, we see things in a visceral.  Our emotions are powerful and important to the way we see the world.  But at the same time, I noticed, we don’t quite trust our own tempestuous spirits, because alongside that rich, colourful flare of vision and prose is a sense of the calm and collected, almost as if holding ourselves and the world at arm’s length so that we can see them clearly and so that our passions do not wholly cloud our perception.  

3. Your characters have been labeled wild, god-like, and larger than life. In the context of planetary fantasy, how do these lords and ladies maintain enough humanity so that we still relate to and empathize with them?

To really do this question justice, the answer would be longer than I should make it here.  Suffice it to say, mankind has, since the antediluvians, looked backward to a golden age in which men were great, grand, god-like, and bent the world to their will—just as we would expect of a race crafted along divine lines and turned out onto a planet with the injunction to dominate it.  No longer living in those times, we have legends, epics, and the fantasy genre to sate our desires to be more than merely dust.  The characters in Plenilune are “larger than life,” but they exhibit those ancient human attributes that we want, and we still associate with those personalities at a deep, essential level.  

4. Civil war lies at the center of the novel’s plot. In that vein, have readers expressed surprise or consternation at the violence in the story?  What is your stance on literary bloodshed, both in your novels and in others’?

There has been some surprise expressed, which has puzzled me, given the subject matter of the novel.  You couldn’t not have violence in the novel, given that is revolves around war, and given the nature of the culture and characters involved.  The impact of the novel would be lost and the taste would be spiceless and insipid without physical expression.  

Obviously, I don’t have a problem with bloodshed in writing.  Some of the stories we like best are the ones in which people are willing to go to the point of shedding blood (their own and other people’s) for what they hold dear, and it would be an injustice to human sentiment to leave that out of Plenilune.  There is a time for peaceableness, but there is also a time for war; I’m surprised that any student of the Scriptures and the history of the war-lords of Israel would find my bloodshed “over the top” or too much to handle, especially as I do steer clear of “gratuitous” violence.  When people take issue with the violence that arises due to the war in Plenilune, I am more often perplexed as to the nature of modern fiction today, which would render people shy of my approach to bloodshed.

5. Romance, though not the primary focus of the story, plays a significant part in Plenilune. Does your handle on love affect its interpretation in the book?

I don’t read a lot in the romance genre, so the tropes and clichés of the trade are lacking from the relationships in Plenilune: I think that lack throws people off at first.  Someone said that Plenilune is like nothing they had never read, and therein lies the key!  My approach to my written romances tend to be far more intuitive, the conjoining of two souls more subtle, than you may find in a novel slotted solely under the genre of romance.  

6. How does the pace of the novel deviate from most twenty-first century books? Why does this best suit Plenilune?

I want to be safe and say right here that the answer contains a slight spoiler.  The underlying drive of Plenilune is the gradual, inexorable melding of Margaret and Plenilune itself; the war between the contenders for the Overlordship of the Honours becomes progressively more and more contiguous with the possession of Margaret as she herself becomes the visible icon of that world.  This naturally takes time to explore and build, and the pace of the novel is occasionally like the pace of life: Margaret has to come to know and grow into Plenilune, and vice versa.  Because of this important aspect of Plenilune, such a pacing would not be suitable for novels that don’t hinge upon this plot point.

7. Readers have voiced mixed opinions on Plenilune’s ornate prose. Do you feel your use of exposition adds to the story’s merit?

[review by elisabeth grace foley]
Plenilune and the people who populate it are rich and raw and like nothing Margaret has experienced before: everything she experiences with them hits a nerve in her and rarely lets up.  The rawness and richness of the prose style I chose for Plenilune is tailored to deliver the same impact to the reader.  It would be lying to say this hammering was always pleasant for Margaret; I gather readers, suffering a similar barrage, feel the strain of the overwhelming splendour of the story’s surroundings as well.  

The characters you meet in Plenilune, as has been pointed out, are larger than life: even more than that, the character of Plenilune itself is going to have a genius that will almost break your bones, it is so immense.  The intensity of the prose is an exposition of the world Margaret is getting to know, and it is a character which is often unforgiving in its revelation to the reader.  But without it, it would not be Plenilune.

8. Looking back on the book post-publication, are there elements of it you would change? 

At this point, no, actually, there aren’t.  I’m still astonished by the cohesive scope of Plenilune, and as I continue in my career, I can only hope to attain that again even as I grow in my craft.  There is a mindset in the writing community today that tacitly stipulates that one cannot write one’s own novel: one must have beta readers, and be constantly going to other people to insure plots are “good,” or to glean new ideas.  While I would not be so arrogant as to deny the use of outside eyes and minds, I do not believe I need help writing my novel.  It is my novel, and if I cannot write it myself, I have no business in this craft.  Having edited and scrubbed and tightened and polished the novel more times than I can remember, I would now not change a person or a plot-point.  In the words of Lord Frith,

There is no bargain.  What is, is what must be.”

9. Plenilune has been called a “love letter to goodness and grace . . . to legend and pain.” Is this an accurate reading? Specifically, in a story where warfare and animosity are not veiled, how does grace come through?

A “love letter to goodness and grace…to legend and pain” is probably one of the most touching and rewarding things I have heard about Plenilune.  Plenilune was an opportunity to express in unveiled terms how passionately militant grace can dominate the human spirit.  While closely joined within the characters, there is a sharp contrast between the swift harshness of justice and the tenderness of mercy: the godless, unbending, and haughty are leveled with the full weight of retribution, while the weak, helpless, and unprotected are shown grace.  

It is possible that the harsh side of characters is interpreted by readers as being part of their flaws.  These characters are fallible and fallen, and will have flaws, but their occasional hammer-and-tongs attitudes and the seeming brutality of their justice when it falls are not flaws at all.  In our acceptance of the idea of Christ-likeness, we readily gather to the concept of meekness, gentleness, mildness, compassion, forgiveness; while these are all beautiful attributes, people often overlook the wrathful side.  There is no other word to describe it than “wrathful.”  A reader will find certain characters in Plenilune zealous for the Lord’s house and jealous of the protection, rights, and comfort of those who have no power to defend themselves.  The picture of a consuming fire is not a flaw, it is an aspect of holiness; the disavowal of the haughty and wicked are not signs of unforgiveness, but an imitation of God’s own heart.  On the other coin-side of this wrath is grace.

10. How do you want readers to come away from Plenilune?

There is a Rich Mullins song which asks, “Did they tell you stories about the saints of old, stories about their faith? They say stories like that make a boy grow bold, stories like that make a man walk straight.”  I want both myself and my readers to come away from this story bolder and deeper.  In the words of Evangelist (referencing the Lord out of Isaiah): “Look well to your own hearts and set your faces like flint.  You have all power in heaven and earth on your side.”

You can learn more about Jennifer at her blog, The Penslayer. Plenilune is available for purchase through Amazon.

3 epistles:

  1. I've wanted to read Plenilune for a long time, but I haven't gotten around to it yet. I really love books with ornate prose, and I can tell just from the interview how beautiful the writing in Plenilune is going to be.

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  2. This is a wonderful interview, Elizabeth, and I specifically appreciate the questions you chose. I think that while the punchy prose of Plenilune (alliteration follows me wherever I go, it seems) would not suit another author, it is the meat and substance of Freitag's excellent story. As she says - without it, it would not be Plenilune. And I think it's as well what we love about it so much (but Dammerung helps too). Lovely.

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  3. Aw! I'm so glad you were touched by that quote from my review of PLENILUNE, Jenny. Your book really does a great job of conveying the close relationship between grace and wrath, I think. GK Chesterton did something very similar in THE NAPOLEON OF NOTTING HILL where he made the point that loving a thing and fighting for it go hand-in-hand; you can't do one without doing the other.

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