I met Jennifer Landels at WorldCon and was immediately drawn to her well-organized author table and displays. We fell to chatting and I extended an invitation to come to No Wasted Ink.
I’m Jennifer Landels, and I write under JM Landels. I wear many hats – writer, editor, swordswoman, and equestrian are just a few. I’m the author of the Allaigna’s Song trilogy, managing editor of Pulp Literature Press, head of the Mounted Combat Program at Academie Duello, and owner of Cornwall Ridge Equestrian in Langley BC. I’ve also been an illustrator, childbirth educator, and lead singer and guitarist of several punk/metal/grunge bands.
When and why did you begin writing?
There’s a picture of me at the age of 4 holding up a ‘book’ I ‘wrote’ and illustrated. I think it was an interpretation of Little Red Riding Hood, with about one malformed word per page. It was completely done in thick red marker. I like to think it was a feminist manifesto of some sort. I don’t know why I’ve always felt compelled to write. My first attempt at a novel was when I was fourteen. It was highly derivative, inspired by Anya Seton’s Katherine or something in that vein, and never saw more than two chapters.
When did you first consider yourself a writer?
In high school, I got good marks for short stories and was often given free rein to go off and write fiction when everyone else was stuck with essays. I won a few contests, and attended some conferences for young writers, and always felt I would eventually write novels. However, I stopped writing fiction in university, and even though I occasionally wrote a few pages here and there during my time as a musician and dilettante, I always got stuck. I did pages and pages of comics, but I could never get past the beginning of a novel. It wasn’t until my kids were in preschool that I took Dale Adams Segal’s Hour Stories workshop and unlocked all that pent up prose at last.
Can you share a little about your current book with us?
Allaigna’s Song: Aria is the middle book in a bildungsroman trilogy. The first book, Allaigna’s Song: Overture, follows the heroine from childhood to adolescence as she learns to control her dangerous and illicit ability to sing music into magic. It also weaves in the stories of her grandmother and mother as young women. On the surface, it’s an epic fantasy with adventure, romance, and political tension, but it’s really about mothers and daughters.
The second book finds Allaigna on the road, running away from an unwanted betrothal, furious over the lies her family has told her all her life, and searching for her biological father. It is in some ways picaresque, but the continuing stories of her mother and grandmother anchor the book in the realm of the family saga.
The final book brings Allaigna full circle as an adult and unites the timelines of the three main characters.
What inspired you to write this book?
The character of Allaigna arrived in my head as a fully formed hero, and I started writing to find out what forces shaped her into one. It took over a decade to write the first book and was heavily influenced by my three daughters as they grew. Many of my other influences show as well, such as my musical background, my involvement with childbirth, and my love of horses.
Do you have a specific writing style?
That’s a better question for one of my readers. I’m not sure. I tend to lean towards first person, but my voice changes considerably with the characters. I’m currently working on a historical series set in 17th century France, and I find a touch of Gallic insouciance shows up in the narration. With Allaigna’s Song, I have different rhythms for each of the three main characters, and I differentiate them further with tense and person.
How did you come up with the title of this book?
Allaigna’s magical ability with music made Allaigna’s Song a fairly obvious choice for the series title, and the subtitles are musical terms. Overture is clearly the beginning; Aria is about Allaigna on her own, away from her family – a soloist, as it were; and Chorale brings a host of characters old and new together for the finale.
Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
This middle novel is about Allaigna pulling free from her family with a self-imposed quest. Despite physical distance, she continues to discover much about herself and what makes a family in her travels. Saying more than that would create spoilers, so the rest is up to the reader to glean.
Are experiences in this book based on someone or events in your own life?
There are bits of me in all three characters, but there are also bits of my daughters, my mother, and my grandmother – not necessarily in the generational order you’d think.
What authors have most influenced your life? What about them do you find inspiring?
Early on, CS Lewis, George MacDonald, Ursula LeGuin, and Madeline L’Engle gave me my love of fantasy. Anne McCaffrey, Andre Norton, and CJ Cherryh were huge influences in my teen years – they wrote (and in the case of CJ Cherryh, still write) wonderful women characters that were a counterpoint to the male-dominated worlds of Tolkien, Heinlein, Asimov, which I also devoured.
If you had to choose, is there a writer would you consider a mentor? Why?
It would either be Margaret Atwood, who is so remarkably clever, and who has been disobediently flitting through genres for years with her marvellous, literary voice; or Barbara Kingsolver, who writes so beautifully and passionately about families and ecology. I find her prose just guts me, in a good way.
Who designed the cover of your book? Why did you select this illustrator?
I commissioned the painting from Melissa Mary Duncan. I fell in love with her work back in 2013 when she was working on the painting Frost and Snow (which later became the cover of Pulp Literature Issue 21, and is currently the first image on her website), because it looks exactly like Allaigna’s great aunt Lauraign. I decided then and there that she was my number one cover artist choice, and I was thrilled when she agreed to paint first Overture and then Aria. The cover design of Overture was done by Kris Sayer, who lovingly handcrafted title font for both the cover and interior. She was unavailable for the second book, but my daughter Kate Landels is also a talented designer and created a design that fits perfectly with the style of the first book.
Do you have any advice for other writers?
Turn off your inner critic and just write. Write without thinking, or plotting, or trying to be clever – just let the words pour out. It might take some practice before you can do that. Then, when you’ve done that a good while, go through and pick out pieces that you can polish and arrange into a coherent story. The more you write, the better you will get at picking the right words the first time, and the less you’ll have to discard.
Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
Allaigna’s Song: Aria