Interview with JM Frey, author of The Untold Tale

Can you tell us a little about your book? Is it your debut novel? Rotoscoped Cover_JMFrey

Publisher’s Marketplace called it “Inkheart for Adults”, and I’ve nicknamed it my feminist meta-fantasy novel. But honestly, I’ve found it one of the most difficult of my books to try to describe in a pithy way! This is what we came up with:

THE UNTOLD TALE follows Pip, who is pulled against her will into the epic fantasy novel series she’s loved since she was a teenager. However, the world is darker, and far more dangerous than she could have ever predicted, especially when it turns out the hero is a much bigger misogynistic ass than she knew.  Pip knows how to circumnavigate the Hero’s Journey and the pitfalls and loopholes of this particular world – but what will happen to her beloved characters outside of the comfort of the fantasy they were written for?

What I love about this book, though, is that it’s not told from Pip’s perspective. The narrator is the younger brother of the world’s big enchanted-sword wielding power-fantasy hero. And he himself is a representative of the everyman geek.

I wanted write a book about what happens to people like the fantasy fans who read the books while in the books. Not everyone is Aragorn or Lancelot. Classic fantasy books have a history of having no respectable place for women in their narratives, and stereotyping men who are clever and use their brains instead of brawn as snivelling, whiney villains. This made it really hard for me, as an adolescent, to find anything to relate to in fantasy books. I was nerdy and female.

So when I decided I wanted to write a Swords and Sorcery epic, I wanted to write a compelling, engaging tale where the power-fantasy hero is not the one who saves the day, but the sidelined, ridiculed characters.

THE UNTOLD TALE isn’t my debut novel (that was the Lambda Award Nominated TRIPTYCH, in 2011), but it is my first epic fantasy novel. TRIPTYCH was social science fiction, and I’ve put out a lot of urban fantasy/spec-fic/ horror short stories since. So, this is sort of like a debut, because I’m entering a side of the genre world that I’ve never trod before. It’s very exciting!

Are you a plotter or a free writer?

Generally I’m a free writer/pantser.

When I start a book I’m never certain if what I’m writing will be the beginning, the end, or something in the middle. Usually I write the scene that has jumped into my head, and then I write down whatever other chunks are floating around in there, and then I take a step away to consider what I’ve created and what the structure of such a story could be. I find Scrivener invaluable for this process – it’s a great program and I cannot pimp it enough! I move things around like Jenga blocks, so having the Binder feature is really useful.

Once I’ve figured out what the overall narrative might be, based on what I’ve written, then I usually try to figure out how the narrative should end. I jump to the ending and I write that next. Once I know where the end is, then I think about where the beginning has to be, based on that – and I jump forward and write that. Once that’s done, I try to think of all the cool scenes or moments that I really want to get on “paper” before they fly out of my head.  Then I go back to the beginning and start filling in the blanks as I come to them. If another cool scene or bit of dialogue jumps into my head, I leap forward and write that, and then go back to where I left off.

So, essentially, it’s like building a stone walkway. I make a bunch of bricks and then play Tetris and Jenga with them until they fit together the way I want them to. I lay the first and the last stones of the path, and then play with the rest of the stones until they lay right, and then I go in and cement them all together.

However, as this book is a series, I’ve found myself having to outline and workshop the second and third books in a way I’ve never done before. It sort of takes some of the spontaneity out of it, I’ll admit, and I find myself bored with the hours I’m spending in front of the keyboard only because I know how the book ends and what happens and everything and there’s little for me to discover or play with.

That said, I just finished the second book in the series in about five weeks, and I’ve never done so much that quickly. Also, I think it’s a stronger and more connected draft than I’ve ever had as my first before. So there’s definitely advantages to both ways.

Is your book part of a series or a standalone?

This is my first series! THE UNTOLD TALE is Book One of THE ACCIDENTAL TURN series. I’ve also never had such tight timelines and turnarounds before. In some ways it’s really inspiring and motivating, and others it’s scary as heck! The series is comprised of three novels and two novellas, which I understand will be ebook only. They are: THE UNTOLD TALE (Dec 2015), THE FORGOTTEN TALE (June 2016), THE SILENCED TALE (Dec 2016) and THE GUARRALOUS GHOST OF GWILLFIFESHIRE (winter 2016) and THE WONDROUS WOES OF THE WRITER (summer 2016).

There’s also a website and social media for the faux-author of the fake fantasy series I created for the books, The Tales of Kintyre Turn, and it’s been a lot of fun commissioning fan artists to draw fan art of the series, posting as Elgar Reed, the author, and encouraging people to write fanfiction about the non-existent fantasy books.

Do you require silence when writing or do you listen to music?

Oh, silence, definitely. I studied singing and musical theatre when I was younger, so I have such an ear for lyrics that if I have music playing I pay attention to the words, or the narrative that the music is building, instead of what I’m trying to create. I absolutely have to write to silence. I can’t even write if someone has the TV on in the other room.
Having said that, I do edit to noise. Having the distraction is useful in this case because then I don’t become too wrapped up in the story to remember to take my red pen to it. I always do the first round of edits on a printed copy of the manuscript (it helps me get the sense of it as a book rather than just a story), and with a red pen. And generally in a pub.

Are you writing your next book? Can you share a little about it?

Right now the first two novels and the first novella is written. I’m in the midst of writing novella number two (which I want done by the end of August) and then novel number three is next (followed by a screenplay that’s already been promised to a production house. Next year I’ll be writing another screenplay on spec, potentially the transmedia stuff for the first screenplay, and then two more novels for my next trilogy.)
What I love about book two is that it follows our heroes after their Happily Ever After, and talks about what sorts of domestic issues might arise when you end up with the Perfect Book Boyfriend.

How long were you writing before getting a publishing contract?

I began writing fanfiction in 1991, and wrote nearly every day for pretty much a full decade. In 2001, one of my TAs at university suggested I try my hand at original fiction. Between 2002-2007 I wrote this, jeeze, just epic dark fantasy book about vampires and ancient gods and redheaded trickster figures, and knew as soon as it was finished that it was just unpublishable. Not because it was bad, but because it was so big, and sprawling, and … epic. Even editing it was a chore. The spellchecker would conk out because there were just too many weird names. (I’m actually serializing it on Wattpad right now under a pseudonym.)

After that I decided to try to write something smaller, more like the fanfiction I loved to write, something that was more of a character study with plot (which is a narrative style that has sort of become my signature, now.) I eventually produced the novella (BACK), which I sold in 2008, and then expanded based on fan mail I received for the novella into TRIPTYCH. I sent out 64 queries to agents and small presses, and in the end it was because I was at a room party at the Ad Astra convention in 2009 that I met Dragon Moon Press’ acquisitions editor Gabrielle Harbowy. She asked to read TRIPTYCH, and DMP signed it in December 2009. It was published April 2011, and we held the launch party back at Ad Astra.

From there, the critical attention that TRIPTYCH received put me out there, and after some false starts, I ended up signing with my agent at Fuse Literary with the next two books I wrote. One of which was THE UNTOLD TALE.

When does your book release?

December 8th, 2015! Yay! Just in time for Holiday prezzies!

Bio: JMFrey_Sears

J.M. is a voice actor, and SF/F author, fanthropologist and professional geek. She’s appeared in podcasts, documentaries, and on television to discuss all things geeky through the lens of academia. She also has an addiction to scarves, Doctor Who, and tea, which may or may not all be related. Her life’s ambitions are to have stepped foot on every continent (only 3 left!), and to perform a duet with John Barrowman.

Her debut novel TRIPTYCH was nominated for two Lambda Literary Awards,  won the San Francisco Book Festival award for SF/F, was nominated for a 2011 CBC Bookie, was named one of The Advocate’s Best Overlooked Books of 2011, and garnered both a starred review and a place among the Best Books of 2011 from Publishers Weekly.

THE UNTOLD TALE, book one of The Accidental Turn Series, debuts December 2015. Dubbed “Inkheart for Adults”, the story follows Pip, a fan girl extraordinaire as she teams up with the overlooked younger brother of a fantasy-epic hero to defeat the one villain the author of her favourite fantasy book series never seemed to be able to get rid of.


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