Women In SFF Author Spotlight: Josie Jaffrey
Josie is the author of seven self-published novels plus short stories: the Solis Invicti series (paranormal romance), the Sovereign trilogy (YA fantasy) and Living Underground (a paranormal romance short story). She is currently working on a range of fantasy and historical fiction projects (both adult and YA), for which she is seeking representation. Ultimately, she hopes to be a hybrid author, both traditionally- and self-published.
Welcome to the Hive, Josie. Let’s start small: tell us about a great book you’ve read recently!
I just finished reading Hannah Green and her Unfeasibly Mundane Existence by Michael Marshall Smith, which I really enjoyed. I loved his debut, Only Forward, and his latest novel retained some of the twisty world-bending magic that I love in his writing.
Okay, time to escalate things: reality warps and you suddenly find yourself leading a D&D-style party through a monster-infested dungeon. What character class are you, and what’s your weapon of choice?
Confession: I don’t play, and have never played, D&D. I’m a Gloomhaven addict instead. I’ve been playing solidly since Christmas and my party is about to finish the Forgotten Circles expansion. We are SO EXCITED for Frosthaven.
So, if I may, I’m going to go for Gloomhaven character class and weaponry, which makes this question very easy to answer. My favourite character of all time is the Scoundrel (run in, stab baddies, go invisible and let the other characters take all the heat). I like to play the party’s resident back-stabbing bastard, and accordingly, my weapon of choice is a poison dagger.
When you’re not trawling through dungeons, how do you like to work? (In silence, with music, or serenaded by the damned souls of a thousand dead shrimps? Do you prefer to type or to hand-write? Are you an architect or a gardener? A plotter or a pantser? D’you write in your underwear, or in a deep-sea diver’s suit?)
Tell us a little bit about your writing method!
Oh wow, this is going to get embarrassing. I write in what I call my ‘work pyjamas’, which are just the same as any other pyjamas but without the guilt. I’m definitely one for silence – if interrupted while writing, and particularly while editing, I have been known to growl – and I do almost all of my work on the laptop, though my research notes are often handwritten.
My writing method used to be ‘sit at computer, write book’, but it’s evolved a little more since then. I have a big whiteboard in my office that’s split into lots of boxes. I use those to plan out the main character and plot arcs over the course of the novel. Then I’ll dig into any research I need to pin down (How far can a horse run in a day? What’s the highest point in Romania? What naturally-occurring poison kills fastest?) before getting on with the writing, which is mostly a linear process for me. I do a lot of editing as I go, so the first draft takes me some time, then a few full edits to polish before it goes to my betas.
What (or who) are your most significant female fantasy influences? Are there any creators whom you dream of working with someday?
The big one is NK Jemisin. I love her writing. I love the brutality and humanity of the worlds she creates, and the way those things are so perfectly balanced against each other. I don’t think I write like her at all, though (who could?). My work probably sits more comfortably somewhere between Gail Carriger, Samantha Shannon, and Sarah J Maas.
I love the idea of collaborating, but in practice, I’m not sure I play well with others, so co-writing might be difficult. What I am quite good at is organizing things, so I’m planning to launch a digital SFF magazine next year with a load of other authors and bloggers as contributors. I can’t wait to work with all of them. Watch this space!
What was the last thing you watched on TV and why did you choose to watch it? Alternatively, what games have you enjoyed recently?
Floor Is Lava on Netflix! It basically does what it says on the tin – it’s a silly game show where people have to get around the course without falling in the lava. I spend most of my days writing or researching at the moment, which means that when I get to the evening I have very little brain left. I can’t cope with anything more intellectual than that!
But when we have spare time at the weekends, my husband and I like to play video games together. We’re currently working through The Last of Us II. I adore that franchise and Naughty Dog games in general. It’s so well written, so harrowing, so morally grey. All the things I like best!
The world shifts, and you find yourself with an extra day on your hands during which you’re not allowed to write. How do you choose to spend the day?
I’d probably read. That’s a cop-out, right?
I don’t know. It’s difficult to answer this question at the moment, because with COVID-19 my horizons have shrunk so far that imagining things I could do beyond my own front door feels like painful pipe-dreaming. In normal times, I would probably want to go out for a meal somewhere, go to the theatre, and hang out with friends.
But at the moment, I’ll stick with reading.
Can you tell us a little something about your current work(s) in progress?
I’m just about to release the first book in my new Seekers series (out 9th July), which is called May Day. It’s urban fantasy and it follows a vampire detective called Jack. Her job is to investigate the murders of humans who are killed by vampires. On her latest case, she has to team up with her nemesis to catch the killer, and chaos ensues.
I’m also currently editing a YA historical fantasy called The Wolf and The Water, which will be out in October. It’s inspired by Atlantis and follows a disabled girl who’s trying to find out who murdered her father before her city floods.
What’s the most (and/or least) helpful piece of writing advice you’ve ever received?
There’s so much bad writing advice out there. The worst I’ve ever heard is ‘write every day’. That just doesn’t work for everyone, and it certainly doesn’t work for me. I’m an all-or-nothing kind of person, so I’ll write 20,000 words one week and none the next. Consistency is not my thing.
The most helpful advice is: read. Read widely, and read lots. There is nothing more important for developing your craft than reading other authors with a critical eye (How did they manage that POV change? How did they balance the backstory to prevent it becoming an infodump? What is it about the way this novel is paced that makes it so exciting?). For me, reading is the key, so I do it a lot.
Every writer encounters stumbling blocks, be it a difficult chapter, challenging subject matter or just starting a new project. How do you motivate yourself on days when you don’t want to write?
Honestly, I don’t. For me, it’s often the worst thing I can do. If I don’t want to write, there’s probably a reason for that, and I need to give myself time to work out what that reason is. Maybe a particular plot arc just isn’t working and needs to be changed, or maybe the last section of dialogue I wrote is something that character would simply never say. Or maybe something’s happened in my personal life that has sapped my energy. Either way, if I really don’t want to write, then it’s probably a sign that there’s a problem I need to deal with first.
If I have no choice because a deadline is looming (and I set myself many in order to motivate myself to get things done – I work well to deadlines), then I can usually bribe myself back to the computer with chocolate, but writing like that hurts. It’s a painful process and I don’t like doing it. So if there’s any wiggle room in my schedule, I’ll step back for a day or two and let the story work itself out in my head for a bit. I’m a firm believer in giving yourself space for creativity. The best ideas are born in idle thought.
If you could visit any country at any point in history, where/when would you go, and why?
My first degree was Classics, so I’m tempted to say Ancient Greece or Rome, but my soul says that it would rather see the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. Can you imagine? The flowers, the complicated irrigation system of Archimedes screws, the Tower of Babel in the background… I think it would be beautiful and fascinating.
So Babylon, in about 580BCE, assuming I could dress up as and pass for a man (history is generally not very female-friendly!). And if I could catch a camel and visit some of the other Wonders of the Ancient World while I was in the area, then that would be ideal.
Who are your favourite female characters in literature or pop culture? And do you have a favourite type of female character you enjoy writing?
Eek, there are so many! In literature, it’s Alexia Tarabotti from Gail Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate series and Granny Weatherwax from Terry Pratchett’s Discworld. In television, it’s Faith from Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Starbuck from Battlestar Galactica. I’m also a huge fan of Brooklyn 99 – I love Amy and Rosa. I wish I was Rosa, but I’m definitely Amy.
I really enjoy writing women who are dickheads. Not aggressively evil, but scoundrelly and chaotic. The main `character in May Day is exactly this, whilst also being a bisexual vampire, and she is everything I never knew I was missing in a main character. I don’t know where she came from, but I’m really pleased that she took up residence in my head because she is SO FUN.
Tell us about a book that’s excellent, but underappreciated or obscure.
I’m going to go obscure: Bannerless by Carrie Vaughn. It’s a dystopian novel set in a future where people live in communal houses that are not formed from family units, just couples and singles. Each house is only allowed to have a child if its residents have been productive enough to earn the privilege. In the midst of this weird civilisation, there’s a murder. The book follows the murder investigation, whilst also flashing back to the main character’s teenaged years spent trekking the parts of the country that are outside the protection of the community system. It was fascinating and really well constructed.
I’m a huge fan of that wave of SFF we got in 2017/8 that examined infertility, miscarriage and contraception. It felt like women’s SFF in an aggressively honest way that nothing had ever captured for me before. The other excellent book that springs to mind in this vein is The Last One by Alexandra Oliva. If anyone knows of any more, please tweet me @JosieJaffrey!
Finally, would you be so kind as to dazzle us with an elevator pitch? Why should readers check out your work?
I’ll give you the pitch for May Day: A vampire detective has to team up with her worst enemy in order to solve a murder. In the process, she discovers that she doesn’t hate him quite as much as she thought she did…