New Author Spotlight: Jenna Jayroe
What drew you to writing stories that move across genres? Is this a new direction for your writing?
I’ve always written stories that slanted toward fantasy or science fiction: swords, sorcery, spaceships, that sort of thing. (Not always together.) In late 2005, I finished my first (really bad) novel during NaNoWriMo, and I was so jazzed by the idea that I could actually do it, that I searched for ways to write more. I found the Genre Challenge community on LiveJournal, and for a year, I wrote a story every month that blended various themes with sci fi or fantasy. I wrote some real rubbish, but also a few gems.
That community, of course, became Crossed Genres Magazine.
The theme for this issue is Food. Please talk a little about how your story reflects that. Did you write it for the theme, or was it something that you’d already completed that seemed to fit?
I wrote “Feed the Bird” for this issue, but these characters have been around – in my stories and in my head – for years. It’s really the origin story of the uirapuru, Mapi. In all my research on shapeshifter legends, the uirapuru story is the most obscure. It would make sense that no one would know much about him and as just a tiny thing, it would be hard for him to care for or feed himself. This story is really about the despair of wanting to help someone, but not knowing how.
“Feed the Bird” is a werewolf story, but not a traditional werewolf story. Do you see yourself as revising the werewolf mythos?
The three main characters are wolves, true, but not werewolves in the traditional sense. They’re shapeshifters. It’s a fine line, I know. A few years ago, I was heavily into mythologies and stories from different cultures. I became fascinated by the fact that nearly every culture has a shapeshifter mythos; many are about wolves, of course, but not all, because not all cultures have wolves.
Japan has the kitsune fox goddesses; Native America, her bearwalkers. In Ireland, the selkies shed their sealskins to appear human, and in Ethiopia the totem around a hyena’s neck identifies him as a shapeshifted shaman (and usually gets him shot).
The many wolf stories are not all the same, either, ranging from the terrifying wolfman of England, chained to the moon, to the elegant and deadly loup garou of France, shifting into a true wolf form at will.
Even a vampire is a shapeshifter, with his batwings and creeping fog…
In most modern werewolf or shapeshifter stories, if I’m bitten by a werewolf, I become a werewolf. What if whatever virus or germ from a werewolf bite that enters my bloodstream interacts with something long hidden, something that can be traced to my ancestors? And what if that ancestor was a beautiful Irish woman who mated with a human man before stealing back her sealskin and vanishing into the sea? I may shift or I may die, but I won’t become a werewolf.
I’d become selkie.
This is a kind of follow-up to question 3: The relationship between your Lupine characters is just great – their sense of humor, the way they seem to understand one another, their closeness. I think this relationship one of the strongest aspects of the story, but it doesn’t seem typical of werewolf stories. What spurred you to create this relationship?
These characters form the basis of my novel, Shift. In this world, shapeshifters are gathered together in communities, overseen by the strongest amongst them – the vampires. Those communities or shapesifters that fall to violence or infighting – and a sad number of them do – are eliminated by the vampires. Because of this, shifter communities tend to be small and highly volatile.
But in San Francisco, things have evolved differently, with Cash Ward keeping the small band of shapeshifters together. He keeps the vampire overseers at bay by patrolling the city himself; when a new shapeshifter appears, he and his friends track and either kill it or take it into their care. This is allowed and even encouraged (as we see with Mapi) by San Francisco’s vampire guardian, Simon Grace.
Just like in life, one good person draws more good people to him.
While “Feed the Bird” stands on its own, it also reads like a story set in a well-developed world, one that you know well. How did you go about building such a fully realized world in such a short story?
As I said, Cash and his friends have been with me for a long, long time, starting with a short story called “Turning Point” in which Cash tracks a bitten girl, and has to make a decision whether or not to kill her when she turns. That’s expanded into my novel-in-progress, Shift. I think it was Hemingway who said that only ten percent of what you know about your novel should actually make it onto the page, and that’s the case here. I know these characters and the physics of the world in which they operate very well.
Tell us something about your future writing projects. Are you developing more short stories? Do you have a novel in the works?
I have two novels in the works. I’m finishing the final edits on my as-yet-untitled dramatic novel, which could not be more different than Shift, which I am working on now. (Not a sword or spaceship to be found.)
Where is your favorite writing place? Can you draw us a visual picture of the kind of space you create for yourself when you write?
They always talk about the kitchen being the center of the home nowadays. Maybe it’s because I live in a 110-year-old farmhouse, but for me, my dining room is where it all happens. I have a long, handmade cherry wood dining table that was made for me by a friend, backed by a huge picture window. No matter how many comfortable chairs I set up in the living room or what’s going on in the kitchen, everyone gravitates to that table. And when I write or game or do a video hang out with friends, I gravitate there, too.
What’s the question that you wish someone would ask, but no one ever has?
It’s not so much a question that hasn’t been asked, but one I really wish someone would answer: Where do the stories come from?
What’s the answer to the question in number 8?
I wish I knew. In one of my stories, a very wise man tells a young woman who has had a devastating life that he knew she would never kill herself. This after she’s rejected everyone in her life and run halfway across the world to get away from everyone she knew or loved. When she asks him how he knew that, he says:
“People do not run when they want to die, Miss Rivas. People run when they want to live.”
‘How did you think of that line?!’ I’ve been asked, and I have no idea.
He said it. I just wrote it down.
Is there anything I didn’t ask that you think is important or that readers might want to know?
That I’m not special. That everyone who wants to write is a writer. If you have a story in your head, or characters who speak to you, you are a writer. If you’re asking yourself, How do I become a writer, I have one word for you: