I’ve been wanting to get to know Joceyln A Fox ever since I read her incredible novel The Iron Sword, and recently got the chance to wrangle her into filling out my Q&A fact sheet while she was on leave. Please take a few to read what goes on behind the eyes of this (perhaps overly) caffeinated writer.
For my review of The Iron Sword click here
Q & A
Tell us about yourself.
I’m terrible at answering questions like thisone…but here goes anyway. My day job includes sailing the high seas, huntingpirates, handling guns and consuming epic amounts of coffee on a daily basis. Ifrequently have crushes on fictional characters and I use inappropriately largewords in normal conversation. I have to run at least every other day becauseotherwise I get restless. (That might have something to do with the coffee,come to think of it.) I love music—my favorite artists are Florence + theMachine, Adele and Lady Gaga. And I’m always up for an adventure, whether it’ssurfing, rock-climbing, riding a camel or hunting for the perfect pair of redheels.
The Iron Sword is yourfirst published novel, but do you have anything else under your belt stillsitting in journal somewhere.
Oh, I’ve been writing since I could hold apencil! In middle school and high school I’d buy those black-and-white marbledjournals and just fill them with stories. I had a novel that I worked on forabout two years in high school, and it filled four or five journals cover tocover. In hindsight, that first novel served a test-run to prove to myself thatI had the endurance as a writer to stick with a long project and finish it. Ittaught me about pacing and characterization, and the importance of knowing thedirection of the plot. And of course Ihave snippets of stories that I write down just to get them on paper, scenesthat come to me when I’m running or sleeping…or supposed to be doing somethingelse, like paying attention in class! I’ve met a lot of characters andhopefully I’ll be able to tell all their stories. There’s always something newcatching my eye and one of my goals this year is getting back into some shortfiction. It’s been a few years since I’ve written short stories, and I thinkthat’s a great way for a writer to hone her talents. It takes skill toencapsulate enough raw emotion and action to make a reader really care about acharacter and conflict in a shorter work. It makes you concentrate more as awriter, because every word counts. So I’ll be dredging up some old works andmaybe drawing some inspiration from them.
Considering your job, where do you find thetime to write?
My career in the military definitely makes itdifficult to keep any kind of steady writing schedule, but it’s taught me to beflexible. It depends on my unit’s schedule and mission. I’d get up early beforewatch or stay up a little longer than I normally would to squeeze in a fewminutes of writing. The Iron Swordoriginated as an independent study creative writing project during my lastsemester at the U.S. Naval Academy, so I’ve always had to work around a packedschedule. But I’ve always been a writer, so to me writing is a necessity justlike breathing and eating. I get cranky if I don’t write, just like I getrestless if I don’t run. Luckily I work well under pressure and with littlesleep. If I can do my routine of getting a latte at a local coffee shop andholing up in a comfy armchair for a few hours, great, but I’ve adapted so thatas long as I have my trusty laptop I’m good to go!
How much of your job/training do you use inyour writing?
Since I write fantasy, my training influences mywork in more oblique ways than if I was writing a contemporary thriller orsomething like that. I’ve taken boxing and martial arts and I served as aweapons coach for the M16-A service rifle, teaching our incoming freshmen how toshoot, so I have some experience with weapons and fight scenarios. Some of thetraining I’ve done involved “simunitions,” which is ammunition fired from realweapons but with a paintball-like tip, so you get the feel of firing the weaponand you get the adrenaline rush of someone else firing a weapon at you. And therounds leave some impressive bruises! Rather than my experiences influencing mywork literally, I’ve taken those emotions and those reactions and applied themto the action scenes in my novels. There’s a physical element to fight scenesand action sequences that needs to be present in the writing; without it, thereader ends up feeling uninvolved, and I use my experience with my “real job”to help me inject those scenes with the intensity needed to pull in the reader.
Writingalso requires discipline. That’s definitely something we know about in themilitary, so it’s had a positive impact on my work ethicand my determination to make a story as good as it can be. I also get to seesome amazing places—over the past six months I’ve been to Albania, Montenegro,Dubai, Bahrain, the Seychelles and Portugal. It’s definitely a fast-paced life.
I love your choice of language for theSidhe, a very Celtic feel to it. How much research did you do into getting thelanguage right?
I searched a lot of databases online as I wasbuilding the foundation of the Sidhe world. I wanted to familiarize myself withthe sounds of the language, and I did use some words, with some liberalspelling. For example, talamh is theGaelic word for “land,” so I used it in naming the mortal world (Doendhtalam) andthe Fae world (Faeortalam). Just like I put my own twist on the legends of theSeelie and Unseelie Courts, I wanted to put a bit of creativity into theirlanguage. Language fascinates me, but I’m not a scholar of Gaelic/Irish, so Itried to make it feel authentic without overreaching.
What first inspired you to write The IronSword? Which aspect/character came to you first?
I’ve always had an affinity for strong heroines,and I really love British and Celtic mythology. The legends of King Arthur,Excalibur and the Knights of the Round Table always fascinated me. At thebeginning I knew I was going to have a strong female protagonist, and Iexperimented with a few different viewpoints before I settled on first person.Then I had to pick a place, and one of the most inspiring places I’ve ever beenwas the Texas Hill Country. My best friend’s family actually has a cabin there,and Tess and Molly’s experiences there are based on the spring break that I spentwith my friend and her family. Once I settled on the Hill Country, it startedflowing from there. I wanted to write a story that I would want to read myself,and I wanted to put my own spin on the Excalibur legend. I’ve always had thisquestion in my head: What if the “knight in shining armor” was a woman? So Iknew that Tess was going to be the main character, and she was going to becomethe “knight in shining armor” despite the fact that the Sidhe weren’toriginally interested in her. And then of course there’s Finnead, the handsomeand enigmatic Sidhe knight. Knights in shining armor need to have someone torescue. Even though Finnead is a formidable Named Knight, Tess saves his lifeand that establishes the tone of their relationship, even though he’s a Sidheand she’s a mortal.
Are you a fantasy reader generally?
The answer to that question is a huge,resounding YES. The first books that really unlocked my imagination were C.S.Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia. Inelementary school I got in trouble in math class because I’d hide a book underthe desk and read…I thought I was so clever and that the teacher wouldn’t catchon. Throughout middle school and into high school, I read J.R.R. Tolkien, AnneMcCaffrey, Philip Pullman, J.K. Rowling, Tamora Pierce, Diana Wynne Jones, MercedesLackey and so many more. I could go onfor hours about books. Some of my recent favorites are the Hunger Games trilogyand the Dark Tower series. (I was a late bloomer in finding Stephen King.)
I know you’re working on the sequel to Tess’s story, but are thereany other stories in your future you’re looking forward to telling?
There are a lot of stories that are at the edgesof Tess’s story. For example, Vell was a character that I didn’t expect tomeet. She just showed up and said, “Here I am. Now let’s get down to business.”She’s definitely a strong character who has a story of her own. But outside theSidhe world, I’d love to do some historical fantasy with nautical elements.That’s something constantly on my mind when I’m out at sea, the “What if…”questions circulating in my head. There’s a lot of very rich lore involving thesea, and I’d like to add that to my own experiences. That could definitely befun.
What is your “Writer must-have”?
Caffeine! If it were professional, I’d insert anemoticon smiley-face here. My preferred vehicle for caffeine involves coffeeand chocolate combined in some diabolical way, which explains why I hauntcoffee shops on my days off when I want to write. Other than coffee, I’d say the Internet. Ireally like connecting with other writers and talking to them about theirinspiration and their experiences.
Advice for writers?
Write a little bit every day, and don’t putunrealistic expectations on yourself. It’s great to have goals but there’s thatold proverb that says the hardest part of any journey is the first step. If youwrite a little bit every day, whether you think it’s good or bad, you’reworking on technique and forming discipline. And it’s really easy to burn outand get discouraged if you expect yourself to become a bestselling authorovernight, because you don’t see all the years of hard work and effort thatthose authors put into their books. So just have fun. Write because you lovetelling stories to the people who want to listen.