[This issue, we sit down with Jolene Dawe. A devotee of Poseidon, and a frequent contributor to EHS, Dawe has used her story subscription service to pen a number of new short stories, a novella, and a full-length novel. Here, she discusses NaNoWriMo, the subscription service, and learning one’s talents and limits as a writer.]
Eternal Haunted Summer: When last we spoke, back in 2013, you had just tackled your first NaNoWriMo. What have you learned in the intervening years about your writing, and your writing process?
Jolene Dawe: Oh, loads! I’m still trying to accept that working full time on a non-writing job means I can’t manage to write full time, too — it’s a hard lesson that I keep forgetting I’ve learned, so I over-extend myself, and commit to projects I have no hope of succeeding at, and then I fail miserably and have to dust myself off, remind myself of my limits, and start again. I’m not a writer who writes every day, and I’m okay with that. I write most days (though not always on fiction), but I also will go weeks without working on a project. While working 35-40 hours a week outside the home, the idea of sitting down and writing 500-1000 words every day, or even 4-5 days a week renders the writing into tedium for me — sometimes. I’m much happier doing the bulk of my writing on my ‘days off’, and I think the material ends up being better. So, I’ve learned to trust that about myself as a writer, too.
I try to remind mindful of passing time when I haven’t worked on a project for a while. A few weeks is okay; anything longer than three weeks begins to become more about inertia than resting or letting ideas steep.
Except, sometimes I’m deliriously content to write every day for hours on end on a project, and it’s all exciting and not the least bit tedious.
EHS: What became of that first NaNoWriMo project, “Inundated”? And what did you work on the last few years?
JD: “Inundated” is languishing from neglect on my hard-drive. There are stories contained within that I do want to release, at some point, and some of the material might see the light of day on my blog. Maybe. Maybe. Mostly, the whole manuscript is a mess.
My biggest project since 2013 has been my Story Subscription, which was born from desperation in 2014. I found myself facing a surprise dental surgery that, while inexpensive as far as dental surgeries go, and despite having dental insurance, I had no hopes of paying out of any of our then-current income. I approached a number of my most supportive fans with an idea: new, original, unpublished material delivered — either a short story, or, knowing me, more likely a 4k plus words installment in an ongoing story — to their inbox on a monthly basis, for a set price. Not only were they supportive of the idea, I picked up a number of new readers with this project. I was able to cover the bill almost every month based on my writing alone — and it was months into the project before I realized I was supporting my household, even in a very modest way, by selling my writing.
There’s something incredibly gratifying about that.
The material that my subscribers see is slated for wider release, eventually, down the road. Igraine’s Flight was only the first of the projects the Story Subscription is helping to support. Still waiting for release is Spirit-Touched, a short story introducing my post-apocalyptic witchcraft series; and A Marriage of Land and Sea, book one of a three book series that explores arranged marriages, fairy changelings, and the interdependence of the worlds. (And this is why I forget that time is a constraint for me. Lookit all these cool stories to explore; why do I need to sleep again?)
EHS: You recently released the novella, Igraine’s Flight. First, congratulations! Second, why did you decide to feature the Wild Hunt in this story? And, how did you decide *which* version of the Wild Hunt to use?
JD: Thank you! I know we’re supposed to be proud of all our projects, but Igraine’s Flight is one of those stories that I sort of don’t believe I had a hand in writing. Editing it was extremely difficult for me, because I would get caught up in the story all over again and stop seeing the technical aspects . . . It’s the dogs, you see. They’re extremely distracting.
Igraine’s Flight came into the world as an attempt to write a Samhain or Halloween short story for possible submission to an anthology, and I had hellhounds on my mind at the time, so it seemed the most natural thing in the world to incorporate a Wild Hunt into the story. (It became clear by the first few thousand words that I was not going to make the 8k word cut-off for the anthology I’d wanted to submit it to!). In my personal religious landscape, the dark half of the year is dominated by the Wild Hunt — specifically, Odin’s Wild Hunt. I’m fascinated by Wild Hunt folklore from various cultures, and I find something very appealing about them. As a devotee of Odin’s, I admittedly have a preference when it comes to which Wild Hunt I think is the most interesting or important or appealing. I’ve seen other authors write with Herne at the head of the Hunt, or Oberon, or others, and those are all very interesting — but if I’m going to write about any of the Wild Hunts, it’s going to be Odin’s, even when Odin himself isn’t a part of the overall story.
EHS: What kind of research went into Igraine’s Flight?
JD: This is where I’m supposed to admit to reading oogobs on Wild Hunts in general, and on hellhounds, and on dog behavior and all that, right? The truth is, almost no research went into writing Igraine’s Flight, during or immediately preceding the writing. I’ve studied ‘hunt lore’ on and off over the years; I’ve educated myself on breed-specific legislation and the issues facing ‘trouble’ breeds; I’ve lived with dogs since I was a teenager; I’ve read memoirs and interviews about, and have had a general interest in, dog rehabilitation. In a lot of ways, Igraine’s Flight was the culmination of a number of seemingly disparate interests all coming together in a delightful way.
EHS: Without spoiling too much, can you tell us how Igraine came to be with the Wild Hunt?
JD: The Wild Hunt itself is more of a backdrop to Igraine’s Flight than it is anything else. Neither Igraine nor the antagonist are ‘proper’ members of this Hunt. They are both of them part of its magic, but they’re also sort of hangers-on, Wild Hunt groupies, rather than being part of Odin’s Host. Igraine became involved with this Hunt ages and ages and ages ago, and liked that she could be a part of it without specifically joining it, so she stayed. And that would have been fine, except then she ran afoul of this other hanger-on, and suddenly she’s locked into her hellhound shape and forced to obey his commands, which does not sit well with her at all.
EHS: Igraine’s mortal love interest in the story is Marion, a woman who works in dog rescue and rehabilitation. Why that field?
JD: I needed Marion to be special, but I also knew I wanted her to be more-or-less mundane. My favorite sorts of stories are first contact stories — those moments when the supernatural worlds are revealed for the first time, so I knew Marion needed to be open to wonder and magic and everything, but I also really wanted her rooted in the mortal realm. Given Igraine’s hellhound nature, I needed someone who would not be intimidated by a very large dog, and I needed it to be believable.
Marion’s work does not factor largely into the story, considering that the dog we see her rescuing isn’t truly a dog, but it’s a field I support, a field I think is incredibly important, and those involved deserve so much praise. I’ve done cat rescue; I can’t imagine how much harder dog rescue must be, especially for the maligned breeds. And, yeah, BSL is a soapbox topic for me (in that I’m firmly against it) so portraying “trouble” breeds in a positive light is certainly something I’m going to do, when the chance presents itself. That said, I do not advocate the adoption or domestication of hellhounds.
EHS: LGBTQ characters are becoming increasingly common in fantasy, especially urban fantasy, and *especially* in Pagan/polytheist literature. Did you set out to write a story with lesbian protagonists? Or did the story just come to you that way? Or did it change in the course of writing it?
JD: I am so pleased to see LGBTQ characters becoming more common, to see their stories being told. I think it’s tremendously important that people are represented in the stories we tell, no matter the medium we use. This is a very exciting time to be a reader!
I didn’t set out to have a lesbian couple in this story, and frankly I was a bit surprised when Igraine started showing interest in Marion — I thought she had more important worries on her mind, but I guess not. I try not to hem my characters in by determining for them their genders or orientations or sexual preferences going into a story, so I want to say, ‘It just happened.’
Except, this was not my first instance of F/F pairing, and it’s not my last, and I’m beginning to think I might prefer writing lesbian protagonists. On the one hand, I don’t want to be accused of neglecting other sorts of relationships, but on the other hand, it isn’t as if we can say with any seriousness that there are too many stories that focus primarily on women and their relationships.
EHS: Where can curious readers find Igraine’s Flight and your other works?
JD: Both Igraine’s Flight and The Fairy Queen of Spencer’s Butte and Other Tales are available for Kindle via Amazon.com. Print versions of The Fairy Queen of Spencer’s Butte and Other Tales, and Treasures From the Deep, as well as an e-book version of Treasures From the Deep are all available at Lulu.com
I am planning on getting my books released for .epub users, as well; that’s a goal for the beginning of 2016, as well as re-releasing previously published stories into one or two new volumes. In essence, collecting them all into one place, rather than being scattered out here and there.
My newest material will continue to go to the Story Subscription, at least until I figure out how to clone myself. The next project for that is up in the air, and I need to decide really, really soon. I had thought, going into November, that this year’s NaNo project would be the focus of the next round of installments, but that’s not quite ready to see the light of day. Poseidon: A Narrative, which is a sort of alternative mythology (or rather, a mythology that’s shown with Poseidon at the center of it) was last year’s NaNo, and I’d sort of love to get that one wrapped up and finished and out into the world. These days, I’m leaning more in that direction, and I need to make a decision soon. Poseidon . . . knitting vampires and kelpies . . . Poseidon . . . it’s a tough choice! In the end, it’s going to be whichever one is the most ready.
JD: I’ve covered a bit about what prompted it above. Initially it was all set up via Paypal donations, but people have expressed a desire for the ease of pledging via Patreon, so now you can decide which way you’d like to pay. The subscription is $10 a month — though you can pay more if you want to, and there are perks to doing so — for which you receive either a .mobi or .epub file once a month containing either a short story or a story installment of no less than 4k words. This is all previously unpublished fiction of mine. You also are promised the final product once it’s complete — so people who subscribed for the initial Igraine’s Flight run received free e-book copies, and the people who have subscribed through all of A Marriage of Land and Sea (which was one part long form experiment on my part) will receive both that book, and the remaining two books (which will not be released via the subscription plan) in that series, when they are completed.
I love the ability we have to support our favorite artists, writers, and creators directly. I can appreciate what it can mean to know on a concrete level that my money is helping this artist or that writer to pay their bills. I love living now, and I think the Internet provides us with some amazing opportunities. At the same time — look, my subscribers paid essentially hardcover novel prices for Igraine’s Flight — an e-novella. I am grateful, and I wouldn’t blink at spending $5 or $10 a month to get to see new material of my favorite authors before ‘the masses’ gets to see it — but the fact that people have paid hardcover prices for my novella sort of blows my mind. So, I’m going to offer them more than just that, you know?
The latest story wraps up in December, and come January we’ll be starting a new one, and you can opt in at any time while the story is ‘live’, so people coming in late do have the option of buying ‘back issues’ so to speak. Once the story wraps up and the month is over, however, that particular story won’t be available. After December, A Marriage of Land and Sea won’t be available to buy until it’s mass release.
EHS: What sorts of stories have you written as a result of this subscription service? Did you find yourself able to pen stories that you had been putting off? Were some of the stories a surprise?
JD: A Marriage of Land and Sea is the one I’ve been the most satisfied with having finally gotten to because of the subscription service. This story has been with me in one incarnation or another since 2000/2001, so the fact that my subscribers allowed me to use them as an excuse to get around to writing this book, and helped me make the writing of this book a serious endeavor, has been beyond fantastic. The plan with using that particular project for the Story Subscription was that, because I knew the story so well (stop laughing), it would be a breeze to write (no, really, stop) and I could double down and get the whole series out in six months (you’re going to want to inhale soon). I was high off NaNo last year when I planned this out, and I thought, sure, I’d have book three done by July at the latest, and then I could go on to other projects, and I would release this one over the year, and go into 2016 with a ton of material already written and ready to go.
That didn’t happen. (See above; re: limits and lessons and bruised ego.)
If I release a full book via the subscription service again, it’s going to be in bigger chunks. Mostly I want to get back to shorter fiction. There’s this witch in our distant future, after the gods have pulled away and nightmares walk free, and I really want to see how she’s doing . . .
EHS: Which book fairs, conventions, or other events will you be attending in the foreseeable future?
JD: None at the present moment, though I’m starting to that they might be a good idea to explore.
EHS: What other projects are you working on?
JD: The Story Subscription projects get the bulk of my attention. I’ve got the two WIPs that are currently jockeying for top spot, though thanks to both last year’s NaNo, and this year’s, I’ve got a decent amount of words to work with, so hopefully I can manage to juggle more than one project at a time. I’m turning over the idea of an essay series on my blog exploring storytelling and how we use it to explain our world, and how we tell the stories of our experiences and views on the world can shape how we think . . . but that’s still in the steeping stage, and I’m not sure what’s going to come of it. I’m also planning on resurrecting my Celebrating Pagan Fiction series in the coming year, though that will be later on down the road. For right now, the plan is to get through the holiday season in retail intact. Which, by the time this goes live, I should know better whether or not I will!