In the Realm of an Alternate Universe with Jamie Marchant

There is no frigate like a book
To take us lands away.

Emily Dickinson

Jamie Marchant
Jamie Marchant

Good old Emily certainly knew the value of a book. And it doesn’t much matter if that book has virtual pages or pages you can actually turn. Either way, it can contain the stuff our dreams are made of, break the boundaries of reality, and take our imaginations where they have never been before. In a book, anything can happen and, for writers of fantasy fiction, they often do. Why fantasy fiction? For Jamie Marchant, who’s been nurtured on fairy tales by an older sister:

Fairy tales were an escape from the mundane world while teaching important lessons about life. Good fantasy fiction is like that. It brings in the magical while illuminating the importance of the simple things of life and human relationships.

I am an inveterate realist whose encounter with fantasy fiction ended with childhood fairy tales (including those I read my son when he was a child). So, I am grateful to Jamie for opening my world to the possibilities of the imagination. Before being won over, however, I had to counter with this: Isn’t all fiction fantasy, more or less? Even fact-based stories, to an extent, rely on fantasy (aka imagination).

It turns out there’s an easy answer to that: duh! Fantasy fiction must include alternate universes, magic, vampires, unicorns, dragons, etc.— anything that does not exist in our world as far as we all know and have experienced it.  Still, as Jamie points out, characters in these stories are still driven by authentic human emotions.  Now, that, I can relate to.

It doesn’t seem an exaggeration to say that, for Jamie, writing fantasy stories is a passion. She has been doing it since she was six. Then, consider this: She pursued a Ph.D. in American Literature so she could have a job that pays while doing what she really loves. How often does anybody make that kind of  decision? It has helped, certainly. It also derailed her for a while when, as an academic, she wrote literary criticism instead of fantasy fiction. But, she has definitely regained her focus.

What do you think is the most interesting thing about you? How or what would you want to be remembered for?

This question stumped me because I think the only truly interesting thing about me is my imagination. I started writing stories when I was about six, simple things intended for my older sister. I continued to write steadily throughout high school and early college, producing my first novel. I never wanted to be anything other than a writer. I only pursued a Ph.D. because of the challenges of making a living as a novelist. Ironically, along the way, I stopped writing fiction. But it is my writing that I’d like to be remembered for. Being able to temporarily transport a reader to another world is a heady challenge.

You got your Ph.D. when you were already married and had a son (something I can relate to). On the surface, that would not have much to do with writing fantasy. Or, has it?

The Goddess's Choice
The Goddess’s Choice

I was married when I started my Ph.D. program. My husband was a tremendous support, financially and otherwise. My son Jesse didn’t come along until I was working on my dissertation. I had planned to have it finished before he was born, but it didn’t work out that way. It took a lot of juggling to finish the dissertation while caring for a newborn, but Jesse has always been one of the biggest joys of my life. It was Jesse who brought me back to writing fantasy fiction. I told him the fairy tales I had heard from my older sister, in particular “The Princess and the Glass Hill,” which had always been my favorite. One day after telling it to him, it came to me that the story could be much more than five pages and sparse details. However, I didn’t want to write a children’s story but the type of epic fantasy I enjoy as an adult. I upped the dramatic tension, villainy, and sexuality of the piece to create something far different than the original fairy tale. The result was The Goddess’s Choice, which is intended for an adult audience.

Do you find you have to underplay your degree in presenting yourself as a writer? Apart from landing you a day job, has your degree figured, in any way, in your writing fiction?

I’m not sure I have to underplay my degree. I’m just not sure how much have a Ph.D. in literature has to do with being a writer of fantasy. Fantasy literature is generally not highly thought of in academia, as if it is somehow less real or important than so-called literary fiction (another term very difficult to define). Indirectly, however, I think my degree has made me a better writer, made my prose more polished. To write well, you have to read a lot, and my degree did require me to do an awfully large amount of reading.

What did you do in the years you got “lost”? Were you writing? How did you realize you must get back to writing fiction?

After I got a Ph.D. and started teaching college. I wrote literary criticism on turn-of-the-century American women writers. I hated that type of my writing. The process was pure torture for me, and the results were not anything I was particularly happy with. While I was writing a piece on Willa Cather, I realized that what had been a means to an end—I originally saw teaching as a way to support myself while writing—had become my entire life. I hadn’t written fiction in years. With the germ of the story provided from my interaction with my young son, I realized what I was meant to do. I gave up literary criticism and went back to my true passion. It was one of the best decisions I ever made.

What writing projects do you have for the future?

I plan a trilogy, of which The Goddess’s Choice is the first volume.  The second volume, tentatively titled The Soul Stone, is nearly finished. The third volume I have a skeleton of. Also in the works is another book set in the same world, this one focusing on the character Darhour, the captain of Samantha’s personal guard in The Goddess’s Choice. And I’m working on an urban fantasy novel, titled The Bull Riding Witch.

How are YA fantasy and Adult fantasy different? Are they marketed to different audiences?

Category definitions are blurry and slippery, especially at the borders, so it’s hard to pin down exactly what makes up a genre, but fantasy is definitely not a subgenre of YA. There is YA fantasy, and then there is adult fantasy. YA fantasy almost always has a teenager as the main character, and the character remains a teenager throughout the book or series. Most the secondary characters are also teenagers. Adolescent angst tends to be a big part of the genre. In adult fantasy, while the main character may start at a younger age, s/he is generally an adult by the end of the novel. Secondary characters also tend to be adults. Violence and sexuality also tend to be a lot tamer in YA fantasy than adult fantasy. In YA fantasy, the characters rarely do anything more sexual than kissing, and in the rare instances where they do have sex, it is generally off-camera. Violence is rarely graphic in YA fantasy. Adult fantasy can be graphic in both sexuality and violence. Language is also generally more PG in YA fantasy. The audience for YA fantasy and adult fantasy do overlap. Many, especially older, teens are drawn to adult fantasy, and some adults prefer the cleaner YA fantasy, but generally YA fantasy novels are marketed to teenagers, and adult fantasy to adults.

My novel straddles the border between YA fantasy and adult fantasy.  My main characters do begin as teenagers, but the violence and sexuality are a little too extreme for a typical YA audience.

How much do you think do you “live” inside your head? How much do you inhabit your characters when you write about them?

A lot and a lot. When my mind is free, I invent characters and stories inside my head. Lots of what I imagine may never see paper or computer screen, but the imaginary plays a big role in my life. Whether that’s healthy or not can be debated. In writing characters, I would say they inhabit me rather than the other way around. They help me decide how their stories are to be told.

3 thoughts on “In the Realm of an Alternate Universe with Jamie Marchant

  1. This form you developed of interviewing authors is very interesting. Jamie gives us a life, an histoire, of being interested in fantasy fiction, of writing in that genre from an early age, but facing up to the challenge of making a living–part of her motivation gaining a doctorate in literature, teaching, and then ironically stifling the writing of fantasy fiction, until it later reemerges. She has a good grasp of the categories, the audiences for the different types of writing. She points to a type of writing some of us do not know.
    Your interviews of differing authors should lead to a book allowing them to show their differences and similarities.

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