I recently had the great pleasure of dining and talking with urban fantasy author Jaye Wells, whose Mage In Black hits shelves today. In fact, in our two-book giveaway, one lucky commenter on this interview will receive a free copy of Mage in Black while a second will receive a copy of Red-Headed Step Child. So, be sure to comment below.
Ms. Wells is one of my favorite new urban fantasy authors. Her books are driven by action and suspense and spiced with humor and remind me of the popular series by Jeaniene Frost and Karen Chance. To be honest, though, I was a bit nervous about a face-to-face lunch with Ms. Wells, because during my research, I stumbled across reports of her stunningly brutal brawl with fellow Orbit author Nicole Peeler.
SB Frank: [sits to order] Out of curiosity, are these violent tendencies something that happen frequently when you’re out in public with fantasy authors, or, say, um, fantasy critics?
Jaye Wells: [laughs and picks up a menu] No, no, I only assault other fantasy authors who deserve it… [Rants for several minutes about why Nicole Peeler deserved it for daring to disagree with her]. My point is that critics are perfectly safe… unless, of course… [Laughter snaps off suddenly. Eyes transform into sharpened gimlets.] You liked my book, didn’t you?
SB Frank: [gulps] Ha, ha. Never fear. You are in no danger of getting a bad book review from me! [On a completely unrelated note, see my four-star review of Mage in Black here].
[Still, despite my initial nervousness, I had a good feeling that I was going to like Ms. Wells because I’d read on her website (www.jayewells.com) that she had “decided to leave the facts behind and make up her own reality.” Those who know me know that I have extensive personal experience with this particular lifestyle choice. In fact, it is somewhat of a Frank Family tradition, though unlike Jaye we are merely dedicated amateurs, not paid professionals. Ms. Wells’ website also claims that she has a life-long fascination with the arcane and freakish. So, I asked her about this.]
Jaye Wells: As far as I can tell, my fascination has two sources. The first is that I’m a recovering Catholic. No offense to any believers out there, but being raised in a church that actively employed exorcists had an interesting effect on my young, overactively imaginative mind. For example, I used to believe a vampire waited outside my window at night for me to go to sleep. It’s funny to think about now, but back then it caused many sleepless nights. But I guess at some point in my life, my fear turned into fascination. In high school, I discovered Anne Rice‘s Vampire Chronicles and just couldn’t get enough of them. They’re not horror, per se, but seeing heavy Catholic undertones used to portray monsters as heroes shifted something for me.
The other source of my twisted sensibilities is that all the men on my dad’s side of the family were involved in emergency services. My dad was mainly a fireman, but he did consider becoming a mortician at one point. In addition, both my mother and father were involved in the police reserve force when I was quite young. Therefore, I spent a large portion of my youth around people with unique perspectives on things most people find uncomfortable. Gallows humor is pretty common as well as spinning good yarns for entertainment. I remember spending hours around my grandmother’s table listening to the adults crack wise and share tales about their exploits. I maintain that this early exposure to dark humor was critical to the development of my own sick sense of humor and fascination with the darker sides of human nature.
[Wells’ twisted sense of humor comes out early on in Mage in Black, when Wells’ protagonist, Sabina Kane is assaulted by vampire assassins in a convenience store. Throughout the novel, the humor was well developed, a balance between witty narration, clever dialogue, comical situations, and great character interactions.]
Jaye Wells: You know I think part of this just has to do with how my brain is wired. It’s not really a conscious effort to find ideas anymore. My mind just tends to make odd connections between seemingly disparate items. For example, the porch light you mentioned. I was driving by an apartment complex one night. Outside one of the doors, someone had replaced their regular bulb with a red one. For some reason it fascinated me. Now, probably the person did it because that’s all they had or because they thought it was cool. But to me it became a secret signal, like they used on the underground railroad or something. Since most of my stories tend to include a vampire, I started thinking about a vampire on the run, desperately looking for this red light and the safety it symbolized. That idea was the inspiration for a short story I wrote called “Red Life.”
That said, I always try to warn new writers not to fixate too much on ideas. I see sparks of ideas everywhere. Most writers do. It could be a conversation, a news story, a soup label, whatever. But ideas matter much less than execution when it comes to story. That’s what non-writers don’t get when they ask “Where do you get your ideas?” We get them everywhere. What they really want to know is, “How do you do that?” And the answer to that question is, you sit your ass in the chair and flesh out the idea and characters, you type and revise and then do both some more until you have a story. Ideas alone are worthless.
SB Frank: You (as do several other fantasy authors) place a great deal of symbolic significance on the apple. I get the whole Garden of Eden thing, but what I’m wondering is: why fruits and not vegetables? Sure, I mean fruits are sweet and tempting and kids would rather rip their own heads off than eat vegetables, but it still hardly seems fair. If you were going to pick a vegetable to be the symbol of loss of innocence and whatnot, which vegetable would you pick, and why?
Jaye Wells: Hmm, loss of innocence? Has to be asparagus. Beyond the phallic and aphrodisiac implications, there’s the whole unfortunate, um, urination issue. Asparagus is a lot like evil, I guess. It’s fun when you’re eating it, but you’ll pay the price later.
SB Frank: Hm… Darn. I had this idea for a children’s book with a magic asparagus. Now, I may have to choose another veggie… Changing subjects, I understand you’re currently contracted for three books in the Sabina Kane series. What else is in the works?
Jaye Wells: Even though I pitched the series as a trilogy, as I’ve gotten deeper into Sabina’s world I’ve realized there’s just too much there for only three books. I’m hoping that once I turn in the third book, Green-Eyed Demon, that my publisher will want more. Other than that, I have another urban fantasy series bubbling on the back burner. I can’t really talk about it yet, but it’s got major elements we haven’t seen yet in the genre.
SB Frank: Well, I for one can’t wait. Thank you so much for joining us today at fantasyliterature.com!
Readers, be sure to comment on this post for a chance to win a copy of Mage in Black or Red-Headed Step Child.