Jeffe says her work is classified as fantasy or as fantasy romance. Each story (out of 4 so far) has a love arc. I asked her about the requirements of Romance as a genre, but she said she doesn't conform to them so strictly; her main contract with reader is the happy ever after (often referred to in Romance as HEA), which she called "one rule to rule them all."
In her first trilogy, The Twelve Kingdoms, she followed the journeys of three princesses. In this book, Pages of the Mind, she moves to the point of view of a kingmaker librarian who assists all three of the princesses in the first series.
Jeffe said she expanded her world concept when she moved to this second trilogy, which is one reason why it's called The Uncharted Realms. She describes herself as a character-driven writer who discovers the world as she writes around. The first trilogy began as a dream where she was trapped in a castle by a monster and people would go out to battle the monster for her and die until she realized she had to battle it herself. The main character of the first book is the middle sister of three, a recluse who discovers the world and finds a mythological land.
Jeffe says, "I write for discovery." I think it's probably fair to call this the opposite of beginning with extensive worldbuilding and a world bible - but each technique can yield good results.
Jeffe came to fiction out of environmental consulting, so she has deep interest in ecology and biology, and this is evident in her work.
One of her books in the original trilogy works with the eldest sister, who falls for "a man she couldn't deal with," a foreign mercenary. The presence of the foreign mercenary opened up the door to a whole new region of the world, and a lot of new political complications.
I asked her about one of the main plot elements of Pages of the Mind, which is that the heroine and hero start out not speaking one another's languages. She said that since her heroine, Dafne, was smart and bookish and spoke lots of languges, she wanted to give her a hero she could not communicate with. (Jeffe and I are both interested in languages and linguistics!) Jeffe said, "There's a big chunk of the book where there's a lot of gesturing," and she said it was very challenging for her to work through.
Jeffe describes herself as "a word person." She studied languages in high school and is very interested in etymology. As a graduate student she looked at neurobiology and language in the brain. When she was building words for the language used in Pages ofthe Mind, she built words off real Earth languages: Hawaiian and Polynesian. The word mo'o for dragon she borrowed directly. She wanted the feel of a tropical island for the location where most of the book's action takes place. She said she didn't do a lot of research specifically for this book, but relied on much of her previous reading. She also looked at "behind the name" websites, and a website of colloquial Hawaiian phrases.
We talked about the character arcs for her hero and heroine. Jeffe notes that Romance is often criticized by people who say "you know how it will end," but different genres make different such promises, as when mystery promises that you will find out who did it. She sees the romance arc as someone going from being unfulfilled to being whole and happy with a partner. She says transformation is an important theme to her, and she gives her characters the chance to seize happiness as promised by love.
I asked her about a phrase she used several times in reference to her heroines, that she wanted to give each one "someone she can't handle." Jeffe told me that's her shorthand for finding someone who will force change in a heroine's life. It doesn't have to be an instant physical attraction, but there has to be some attraction, and some reason to want to change, as well as a reason why it's difficult to do so. If it's too easy, she says, it's unsatisfying. We asked, "should both people change?" She said it depends, because often having both people change introduces a lot more complexity and plot.
Jeffe told us she teaches classes on writing sex scenes and about taboos. The word tabu is originally Polynesian. Cultural taboos, she says, are often meant to help us survive to adulthood, but you have to break them to become fully adult. This particularly applies to sex-related taboos. Taboos also vary depending on the culture. What's ok in the US is not ok in China. Taboo can be an important story element because it makes characters profoundly uncomfortable.
We spoke a bit about the sexuality of the characters in Pages of the Mind. Dafne was orphaned when the High King took her castle and has been a political hostage her whole life, having to resist being married off for political purposes. Her attitude is that she avoids sexual entanglement for the purpose of safety; she has been kissed twice but didn't much enjoy it. Another character in the book, Jepp, is pansexual, very sexually active, and essentially doesn't understand her way of thinking. There is value in portraying different characters whose attitudes about sex vary.
I asked Jeffe about the shape-shifting in her book, and she said that originally it was an analog for the fae, but that it fed into her interest in mutability and transformation. She didn't want her Tala people to be were-creatures. Some can't transform, some can take just one form, and others can take many. Shapeshifting informs how the character Zynda sees the world, and where she places her sympathies, as when she refuses to kill animals with magic except in self-defense.
One of the interesting aspects of Dafne's character is that she struggles to accept the coexistence of science and magic, because the realm where magic applies has just dramatically expanded.
Thank you so much for joining us, Jeffe! I really enjoyed our conversation.
Dive into Worldbuilding will meet tomorrow to discuss Vermin at 10am Pacific on Google Hangouts. I hope you can join us!