Jeffe Kennedy, the award-winning author behind series such as The Twelve Kingdoms and The Uncharted Realms, recently took the time to answer some questions. She’s written novels, non-fiction, poetry, and short fiction. She’s been a Ucross Foundation Fellow, received the Wyoming Arts Council Fellowship for Poetry, and won a Frank Nelson Doubleday Memorial Award. She’s also on Twitter:
Wes Platt: At what age did you realize you wanted to write?
Jeffe Kennedy: Twenty-five. I’ve always said I figured it out late, but now that looks young to me in retrospect. Still, I’m not one of those people who claim to have been writing novels with crayons. I wrote stories as a kid, as I think most kids do, but I was always intent on a career in the sciences. It was only when I was thick in the middle of getting a PhD in Neurophysiology (and was at the Society for Neuroscience convention when I had my crisis of faith and direction, so I can pinpoint the exact month and year), that I realized my real life’s desire was to be a writer.
WP: Pick some of your favorite authors as you were growing up and what appealed to you about their work?
JK: I like that you only ask for some! Anne McCaffrey was my gateway drug to all things fantasy and science fiction. I also devoured Mary Stewart, Vonda McIntyre, Patricia McKillip, Robin McKinley, Anne Rice, and Tanith Lee, to name just a few more.
WP: Do you prefer writing short stories or novels? Why?
JK: I write novels pretty much exclusively these days, though I like writing both. I started out writing short – essays, mainly, then short stories and novellas. I sometimes still do novellas and shorter novels (~50-60K). But I really love the scope of a full 100-130K novel. It gives me the time to really follow character transformation and the threads of real discovery and political insight.
WP: How did you discover your passion for romantic fantasy?
JK: By accident? From my early adolescence I was also an avid reader of romance. Like most romance readers, I devoured those books. However, in my youth, I read in this blissful omnivorous ignorance. I read a lot of nonfiction and literary fiction, too. There were never divisions for me until I got older and people started asking me what genre I read. I hadn’t even put names on them before that. When I started to write fiction, the stories that came out were fueled strongly by both romance and fantasy. I had no idea that this was a “wrong” or cross-genre thing to do. Maybe it’s better to say that my passion for it grabbed me and took me along for the ride. And I’ve been stubborn enough to refuse to cave to the pressure to change.
WP: Which of your series has clicked most with readers? And which has clicked most with you? Any sense of why?
JK: It’s probably The Twelve Kingdoms & Uncharted Realms series (three and two books, so far, in a connected series) that have gotten me the most notice. They’ve received most of the big awards and have garnered the biggest audience. It could be that they were also available in trade paperback and got marketing push from a traditional publishing house. But, when I wrote the first book of that series, THE MARK OF THE TALA, two of my crit partners predicted it would be my breakout book. That one just really grabbed readers. I’m often told it’s because the heroine is a middle child who feels invisible that makes her a favorite. Of course, it’s also the book that got me my first traditional print deal, so maybe something in that? (I’d done quite a few books with traditional digital presses before that.) As for me, I do love those books quite a lot. But I can’t pick any that click with me the most. I do have an unpublished novel that I keep reworking because I love it so. It’s also a complex world and magic system, so it’s a difficult project. Maybe someday!
WP: How does your writing process work? Do you outline, then write? Just start writing? Do you work a day job and have to fit in writing where you can?
JK: I’ll take those in reverse order. I used to have a day job. I worked for an environmental consulting firm for eighteen years after I bailed on neuroscience and while I built my writing chops and career. I wrote in the mornings before work all that time. About a year and a half ago, I got laid off and my writing earnings, while not what I’d been making, were enough for me to go full-time writing. SO MUCH EASIER TO HAVE ONE CAREER!
I don’t outline, because I can’t. I was one of those kids in school who wrote the paper, then the outline and turned it in. I write linearly, from beginning to end, pretty much without skipping or jumping ahead. George RR Martin compares it to being a gardener rather than an architect, and that analogy works for me. I write for discovery, finding out about the world and the characters through the process of writing. That said, I do track my structure and word count as I go. I’m a pretty disciplined writer – good habits built from the two-career thing all those years – so I work daily with word count goals.
WP: How do you describe success as an author?
JK: Always an interesting question! And amusing – for a really long time I counted it as being able to make a living as a full-time writer, which means I’m technically there. Wow. At this point I’d like it to be a more comfortable living, and I’m working on that. I’m also focused on diversifying income streams. Putting eggs in many baskets, keeping that platform wide.
WP: What does writing do for you?
JK: Keeps me off the streets? Okay, okay… I love this quote by Mark Rutherford: “There is in each of us an upwelling spring of life, energy, love, whatever you like to call it. If a course is not cut for it, it turns the ground around it into a swamp.” That’s me when I don’t write, a swampy, stagnant, unhappy mess.
WP: What’s fun for you when you’re not writing?
JK: I’m pretty boring overall. I love to read and consciously make time to do that. In the evenings I watch movies with the hubs, and we go hiking or fishing on the weekends. “Fishing” for me means sitting in the sun with a book. I also have a stand-up paddleboard that I play with. Working in the garden is a pleasure, too.
WP: Share some modern authors you’re reading and what appeals to you about their work.
JK: I read a lot of fantasy romance and close subgenres, both to keep up with the genres and because I enjoy them. Grace Draven is a good friend who also writes fantasy romance I love. In urban fantasy, Ilona Andrews has two series I’m addicted to, along with Jennifer Estep and her Elemental Assassins books. I recently discovered Sharon Shinn’s Twelve Houses books and gobbled up those. Another autobuy is every book in J.D. Robb’s In Death series. I most love books that have an emotionally satisfying romance thread along with terrific worldbuilding and heroic arcs. . I track my reading and I’m up to 52 books so far for 2017, so there are a lot of them!
Thanks so much to Jeffe for sharing her thoughts and experiences! I’m always interested in hearing from other writers and their perspectives, so feel free to reach out to me via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.