Wordsmiths is a monthly post that interviews new and established authors, links to their media and published work, and best of all: excerpts!
January’s post is a little bit late because of the holidays (oh my gosh, can you believe we’re in 2018 already?!) Today I’m chatting to Bethany A. Jennings, author of the short stories, Threadbare and Dragon Lyric.
Let’s get started!
Thanks so much for agreeing to this interview!
To start with, paint me a picture of your favourite writing space. What’s in it, what colours do you surround yourself with, and what would you change about it?
My favourite writing spot is my living room couch, followed closely by my bed (pecking out something intense on my phone after midnight, usually!), and I haven’t customized either of those spaces for writing, so I’ll describe my third favorite place—my desk. It sits in the family dining room, where the walls are a warm cream color and covered with maps and my children’s abstract paintings. I have fantasy art by Julia Busko around and on the desk itself, a stack of books, a rock salt lamp, and a very messy basket full of paperwork and odds and ends. If I could change anything about it, I’d have that desk inside a quiet room with purple walls (and a comfy chair instead of a folding chair!), but for now I make it work with what I have.
1. What is the first book that introduced you to the fantasy genre?
That’s hard to say because my mom read me SO many books growing up! It was my father, however, who introduced me to The Chronicles of Narnia, and read the whole series to me. While I doubt it was my very first foray into the fantasy genre, it was a memorable one! Another series that shaped my taste for fantasy early on was The Prydain Chronicles by Lloyd Alexander.
2. Are you friends with other authors? How do they help you become a better writer?
I have several writer friends who are very close and dear to me. They inspire me with their ambition, broaden my taste with genres or book elements I might not normally read or consider, give me feedback on my writing, and cheer me on so I can push through discouragement and make progress.
3. If you could choose any language to write in, would you still choose English?
I don’t think I know enough about other languages to decide fairly! I probably would still write in English, though.
4. What would you give up in order to become a better writer?
Spending money. Hahaha. In all seriousness, though, investing in an author coach has been one of the best things for my career! My coach (Janeen Ippolito) has revolutionized the way I see my writing, pursue it, and market it. Another important investment has been going to an annual writing conference.
5. You’re a Christian fantasy writer, a combination that is sometimes viewed as a contradiction of beliefs. How does Christianity impact your fantasy stories, and how do you personally reconcile magic with belief?
Ooh, that’s a meaty question! My faith in Christ is foundational to my life, and although it may not be visible in all my stories, the underlying worldview always flows from that. I often work deep symbols into my stories, using my fantasy worlds as a metaphor for reality, mostly because that’s how my brain works—I create fantasy so I can understand and process the real world from new angles. When it comes to magic, I’ve approached it from a few different directions: in some stories it’s just science we don’t understand yet, and in some it’s a supernatural gift. Often it is both.
6. What is your favourite punctuation mark, or the one you inadvertently find yourself using the most?
The em dash! My precioussss…
7. If you had to list story elements in order of importance to you as a writer; from most to least, where would you place the following: plot, character, setting, conflict, resolution?
Character, resolution, conflict, plot, setting.
8. Threadbare is the first short story you published. How did publishing it change your writing process?
There is a thematic depth to Threadbare which, after publishing it, forever “spoiled” me—it made me realize I craved that depth, and I couldn’t honestly share a story with the world unless I knew there was a meaning and a purpose behind it, as I knew I had with Threadbare. So now a major part of my writing process is understanding the WHY behind a story, the reasons I’m writing it, and the purpose I have in sharing it with others. I value stories that are meant as pure entertainment, for sure, but as an author I feel compelled to ensure there is a piece of sincere truth from my heart in everything I publish.
9. The story is clearly part of a much bigger world. It opens with Bess fighting a battle with magic, but very quickly it’s revealed that she’s one of a few who use magic in a world similar to ours. Do you have plans to write more stories, or even a novel, based in this world?
Yes, I do hope to write more stories! I would love to write a series of them, each focusing on a specific member of Bess’s team, but the thought of writing a full-length novel has occurred to me too.
10. Threadbare is a lovely story of courage and hope. What inspired the idea of magic seen as threads?
Threadbare was born from a long personal struggle I endured with a “gift” of my own. I had to set aside a major project for a time (I didn’t know for how long, at the time), which was brutal. Doing so made me realize that the project and my goals for it had become unhealthily integral to my identity—without them, I didn’t even know who I was. While working through the pain of that struggle, unraveling layers and layers of faulty thought processes and loss and grief, I began to think of my trouble as “tangles” entrapping me. Every time I unraveled one tangle, it seemed, I’d find a worse one beneath. One day I had the thought, “What if there was a character who had literal tangles entrapping her?” And so Threadbare was born. Writing it was very cathartic, and became a part of my healing.
11. The cover for Threadbare is gorgeous. Who designed it, did you have any input on the creative process and how much of the design matches your original vision for it?
It matches my original vision almost perfectly! I made some mock-up covers of my own to serve as a rough idea, and then hired LoriAnn Weldon of Magpie Designs, Ltd. She took my ideas and recreated them as the beautiful cover Threadbare has now! I especially love what she did with the title text.
About Dragon Lyric:
12. Dragon Lyric was quite possibly one of the most unique short stories about dragons that I’ve ever read. What inspired it, and how long did it take you to write?
I actually typed up the first few pages one late night in 2014, and I was so disturbed by the darkness of the story that I tucked it into a folder in my computer, unfinished, and left it there for several years. In 2017, I was older and more prepared to handle the material, and showed it to some friends—who begged me to finish it. So it actually took me several years to complete. But the actual work of writing it only took a few days or weeks, combined; it’s just that the writing sessions were very far apart! As to what inspired it initially…I’m not actually sure! It was one of those “flash of lightning” inspirations. My running theory is that I felt “devoured” by my responsibilities at the time (I had just found out I was pregnant with my fourth child) and my subconscious created a cruel dragon out of the overwhelm I was feeling.
13. Like Threadbare, this story seems destined for more. Do you plan to write more about Theryn and her world?
This should probably be a secret, but…yes. 😉 I have actually already written a partial draft of a sequel! We shall see if it ever sees the light of day…
14. What did you edit out of this book?
Not much! It was very tightly written. However, I did rework the ending several times to hit all the emotional notes that I wanted.
15. Theryn is not a typical heroine of a romantic fantasy. Nor is Roth the typical hero. Reading the blurb, it seems the story may be destined for a happily ever after, but the ending was quite delightfully unexpected. Without giving too much away, why did you choose to go that route? Were you just trying to avoid clichés or is there a message you hope readers will take away from it?
I definitely hoped for readers to take away a message, or at least for the story to spark thought. Speaking as a Christian, I know that in the church there is often pressure for an abused wife to stay with her husband—despite the danger to her physical, mental, and spiritual health—and that grieves me. There are some situations where I believe taking Theryn’s course of action is necessary, and I wanted to show that in how I ended the story.
About Your Future:
16. What does literary success look like to you?
Being agented, with my novels published through a major publishing house and (let me dream big here!) developing fandoms of their own. J I would also like to continue self-publishing shorter works—so ultimately I’d like to be a hybrid author. But traditional publishing has always been my goal and will probably continue to be my “barometer” of success unless something drastic changes.
17. Do you think that as your readership grows, you may fall into the trap of changing your stories to give people what they want, or do you plan to avoid that?
I don’t think I would fall into that trap easily, because I have very strong feelings about what I feel called to write and pretty good self-awareness about what works for me. So I plan to avoid that!
18. If you could have a discussion with your future self, what would you remind her of that you think you’ll want to be important to you for your whole life?
You write for Christ your King—seek Him first, trust Him with your journey, and remember that being close with Him is a greater joy than any earthly success can give you.
19. If a significant person in your life were to give you one piece of advice about your plans for the future, who would it be, and what would you want to hear from them?
I would love to hear from any number of successful authors how they pursued their vision for a project through the difficulty of making it marketable and appealing to a broad swath of readers. And how to keep a balanced perspective on their own craft and calling.
20. Social media plays a big role in modern society. I know you have your own Facebook group, and you’re on Twitter. What would you most like to see developing from the platforms you use in the near future?
I would love to see my Twitter platform gain more prospective readers and continue to encourage authors through my hashtag game, #WIPjoy. And I would love to see my author Facebook group grow, and for members to be bold and share their thoughts about my books (or just their lives!) in it. I’d love for it to be a space of mutual enjoyment and nerdy fun.
Excerpt from Threadbare
A long sleep does nothing to help my magic. I wake, still exhausted, with a knot in my middle that rivals the one I saw in my hands the night before. The tiny windows of the safe house bedroom cast sunlight down on the concrete floor. The door is closed. It’s quiet— an oppressive kind of silence that beats on my ears, reminding me how alone I am. I sit on the edge of my bed, stiff and sore, wondering if the others have gone to the store or chased down another Drifter, leaving me here alone.
Magic drifts around me, faint but appealing— a sensation that feels more like a taunt than an invitation right now. Its faint pressure tugs at me, prickling on my skin, begging me to interact with it.
Fighting the ache in my bones, I reach out and catch a wave. The mass reappears in my hands.
Trembling and gritting my teeth, I try again and again to disentangle it, but I can free only one tiny, glittering strand. I bury my face in the tingling threads, crushing them in my hands, and cry until my heart feels like it will tear in two.
I’m trapped. I can’t manipulate the waves anymore. I can’t continue my training. I couldn’t withstand the current, couldn’t hold my own threads steady.
The rattle of the doorknob and the creak of hinges are dim details on the edge of my awareness. Then Marshall sinks onto the squeaky mattress beside me, wrapping a wiry arm around my shoulders.
I turn and weep into the soft folds of my mentor’s flannel shirt, taking in the scent of pine dryer sheets and Cajun seasoning.
“I’m so sorry! I’ve put the whole team in danger. I’m no good for you all. I shouldn’t have tried to train with you. Why did I think I was ready for battle?”
He rubs gentle circles on my back until my agony fades to desolate sniffles on his sleeve.
“It’s a great loss, Bess,” he murmurs finally, “and there’s no shame in being sad about it.”
I smudge away my tears. “No, I’ll untangle it. I’m sure I can.”
“It’s pretty bad.” He’s quiet for a long moment. “I know this isn’t what you want to hear, but I’ve never heard of such a severe tangle unraveling.”
He falls silent, leaving me to piece it all together.
Everything in me fights back against the suggestion he’s planting. “I won’t let you cut my threads.”
He lets out a quiet sigh. “But either way, you’ll be free.”
“Free to do what? To be helpless and useless?” I push away from him, my throat constricting. “You leveled up to a blade when your threads were severed, but most people revert to Threadbare and their magic never comes back.”
“And they’ve gone on to live quiet, normal lives away from this conflict.” His voice is measured, cautious.
I picture living as a Threadbare: plugging away at a meaningless job, blind to the magical forces eroding my confidence and motivation, surrounded by others who are sapped of their strength and peace by enemies no one can see.
I tremble. “I don’t want that! I’m not a super magic warrior with extra special powers, like you are. This is all I have.” My voice breaks. “I have to untangle it.”
“Bess…” He tries to lay a hand on my arm, but I edge away. “I didn’t have special powers either. When my threads were severed, no one could’ve predicted I’d advance to a blade instead of losing my magic.”
“Like I said, you’re you.” I slide back against the wall and pull my knees up under my chin, fresh tears rolling down my face. “I’m nobody. I never belonged here to begin with. I’m nowhere near as gifted as the rest of you.”
Hardened ferocity comes into his face, and he stands, shaking a single finger at me. “Whatever you do, kid, I don’t ever want to hear you say you don’t belong here. I wanted to train you. You’ve apologized to me again and again for failing, but all I see is a girl who always gets back up.” He rests a hand on my shoulder for the briefest moment, then walks out, shutting the door behind him.
I sit on the bed, huddled against the wall, until the shadows lengthen and the sinking red sunbeams pierce my eyes. Anna raps on the door and calls me to dinner, but I ignore her. Over and over, I draw out my hideous mass of strands and tug and pull at the endless loops.
By the time darkness fills the room, the glowing ball has threads trailing out of it in all directions. It’s an improvement. At least it’s something. I picture Marshall summoning his blade and slicing my tender strands apart, and anxiety grips me. No; I will fix this, even if it takes years.
Threadbare is on sale on Amazon now!
Bethany’s short story, Dragon Lyric, can be found here.
Thanks so much for taking the time to spend with us today, and we look forward to what’s still to come!
Bethany A. Jennings is a science-fiction and fantasy author, a sandwich aficionado, and a chronic night owl. She is endlessly passionate about the power of speculative fiction to shape hearts and cultures and unveil hidden realities. Though worlds and stories are always dancing in her head, she is often found wrangling her younglings, running Twitter events, editing, and doing graphic design. Born in SoCal, Bethany now lives in southern New Hampshire with her husband, four kids, zero pets, and a large and growing collection of imaginary friends.
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