Stacey Jay, author of the ANNABELLE LEE urban fantasy series, a YA high school zombie series, and the YA fantasy books Juliet Immortal and Romeo Redeemed, a paranormal take on the English-speaking world’s most famous couple, is a busy woman. Before turning to writing, Jay worked as an actress and playwright. Currently, in addition to working on her various series, she is raising her two boys and participating in several writers’ conferences this summer. I exchanged e-mails with Stacey, and caught up with her at the Mendocino Coast Writers’ Conference in Fort Bragg, California, to ask a few more questions. I’ve got an autographed copy of her book Blood on the Bayou for one lucky commenter.
Marion Deeds: Looking at your website I see you have had a varied career, including acting. When did you start writing and what inspired you? What drew you to fantasy and young adult in particular?
Stacey Jay: I’ve been journaling and writing terrible poetry since I learned to make letters, but I was bitten by the acting bug when I was eight years old. The resulting illness was so pronounced I ended up wasting utilizing my National Merit Scholarship at a conservatory program and getting my BFA in Acting. Frustrated by the lack of juicy roles for ingénues, I took playwriting classes and began writing my own scripts and one-woman shows. After college, I continued to write, but moved on to memoir writing and eventually fiction (because fiction is so much more fun!). I was drawn to young adult fantasy because I love creating worlds in which young women are the strong, empowered heroes of their own stories. Even my adult work has a young adult element in that my heroine is coming of age in many ways. I think those transitions in life — especially from teen to adult — are the most interesting and dynamic times to write about.
Marion: In Juliet Immortal you have a very different interpretation of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. I enjoyed your thorough critique of the popular, and mistaken, notion that it is a love story. How did you come up with this idea?
Stacey: As an acting student, I was soaked in Shakespeare every other semester in college (and for one especially intense period during my study abroad in London), and I always felt for the poor girls in his tragedies. I especially felt for Juliet. I’ve always wanted to rewrite her story and give her the chance to take control of her destiny. She seemed like such a sweet, naïve girl (but with a wild, defiant streak I admired) whose life was destroyed by a boy who was in love with love. Romeo spends the first scene in the play insisting his life is over because his beloved, Rosaline, refused to see him again, so I found it very hard to believe that he was in love with Juliet a few hours later. Romeo was never a character I trusted, so it wasn’t much of a leap to start thinking of him as a villain.
Stacey: It is! And there are aspects of the poem that I used when creating the Dead on the Delta world. I have some juicy back story involving an ancient Irish ancestor of the same name and the first interaction with fairies (and that story’s connection to the poem) that I hope to reveal in a future book.
Marion: Juliet Immortal is set in southern California’s wine country. I thought you captured that perfectly, especially Solvang, a town we don’t often see in fiction. I’m not as familiar with the deep south, but the ANNABELLE LEE series evokes atmosphere beautifully. What is your process for determining, and describing, your settings? To what extent does the setting inform the story for you?
Stacey: The more experience I gain as a writer, the more important setting becomes. I think I neglected that all-important aspect of storytelling in my earlier books, but eventually realized that Setting As Character was something that would give my stories more depth. In the ANNABELLE LEE series I visited Donaldsonville [Louisiana] and did a lot of research to make sure that the world lived and breathed. I did the same with Solvang. (I loved the idea of representing a part of California wine country most people outside our state don’t know exists.)
Marion: You really have an ear for dialogue, especially teen dialogue. Does that come from your acting background, or did you develop it some other way?
Stacey: Thank you so much! I did start out as a playwright (and read upwards of 200 scripts during my acting career) so I think dialogue comes more easily to me than other aspects of the craft. When I was an actor I remember how uncomfortable it was to speak words that felt forced. I try to make sure my characters never have to do that!
Marion: Who were your favorite authors when you were growing up? Who would you say were your influences how, and what do you get from each of them?
Stacey: I read Lucy Maud Montgomery and Louisa May Alcott over and over again, mixed with a hearty dose of Stephen King. From Lucy and Louisa, I developed a longing for an intimate connection with my characters and a love of romance. From Mr. King I gained a taste for the wild and macabre (though he has some good romantic moments too, if you look for them). But really I read everything, and I’m so glad I did. Reading widely and voraciously was the basis of my education as a writer.
Marion: I think King does a good job with romance too. You’re on the faculty here at the Mendocino Coast Writers’ Conference. I was amused that they billed you as Young Adult instead of fantasy. (Is it possible they don’t know about the ANNABELLE LEE series?) Have you participated in other writers’ conferences? I’d be interested in your thoughts about them if you have.
Stacey: It’s possible that A LOT of people don’t know about the ANNABELLE LEE series. I’m definitely better known for my Young Adult work. I’m on a Young Adult panel at the conference and I understand why the people at MCWC made that choice.
As far as conferences are concerned, I have attended several writer conferences and spoken at several writer (and librarian) conferences and I love them. I think they’re a great place to go to spend time with other people who share your love for books and storytelling, to learn new things, and to be reminded of the things you’re already doing right so you won’t forget to keep doing them. I’ve been inspired by every conference I’ve attended (in one way or another) and just adore them.
Marion: Stacey, thank you for taking time out of your hectic summer schedule to talk to us at Fantasy Literature! I have to include a personal story here. I forgot to get Stacey to autograph a copy of Blood on the Bayou for our giveaway. When I realized this, I e-mailed her to see if we could meet someplace, since she lives about 25 miles away from me. Stacey signed a book and delivered it to my house! I really appreciate you going above and beyond, Stacey. The commenter who wins the book not only gets a signed book, but a story to go with it.
Comment below for your chance to win the signed copy of Blood on the Bayou.