Welcome to my weekly Author Spotlight. I’ve asked a bunch of my author friends to answer a set of interview questions, and to share their latest work.
Today, Jeanne G’Fellers – Born and raised in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, award-winning Science Fiction and Fantasy author Jeanne G’Fellers’ early memories include watching the original Star Trek series with her father and reading the stacks of books her librarian mother brought home.
Thanks so much, Jeanne, for joining me!
J. Scott Coatsworth: If you could sit down with one other writer, living or dead, who would you choose, and what would you ask them?
Jeanne G’Fellers: I would easily choose Anne McCaffrey because she so sparked my young imagination. I still have the first book of hers that I read, The Harper Hall Trilogy. Its cover is faded, the spine is taped, and the pages are yellowed and stained by my fingers, but I love that book so much I still won’t lend it out. Yes, it made that much of an impression on me. I’d ask her about her Pern series, of course, and about the queer characters she worked so well into her series. My younger self didn’t notice them because they were hidden in plain sight. They were a natural part of the narrative in a time when such things often received a backlash. I love her all the more for it now.
JSC: How would you describe your writing style/genre?
JG: All my series are queer in content: FF, Bi/poly, Pan/NB respectfully. My Sci-Fi falls under the sociological/ soft category, meaning I focus on the cultures, politics, and interrelationships between peoples and species. As for my Fantasy – Cleaning House is my first trip into Contemporary Fantasy, and I’m loving the genre far more than I thought I would. I like writing about the Appalachian Mountains where I was born and raised and still reside. Writing the series has given me the same feeling I had when we moved back here a few years ago… It’s about time.
JSC: What was your first published work? Tell me a little about it.
JG: My first published work was my first novel No Sister of Mine, 2005, Bella Books. It’s far future FF Sci-Fi about an all-female society trying to live peacefully alongside an often-antagonistic patriarchal society. There are four titles in the series and two won GCLS awards for excellence in Speculative fiction. No Sister of Mine was also a Lammy finalist.
JSC: How long do you write each day?
JG: Since I’m physically disabled, my writing schedule is fairly wide open. However, I also do occasional formatting and cover design for a small publisher, but that rarely gets in the way. This means that I have no real set schedule and that I don’t measure how long I write each day. It all boils down to how I’m feeling and how cooperative my nervous system is being. Strong tremors will slow me down and blurry vision will put the brakes on any new writing for a day or two, but neither come along so often that things come to a complete halt.
JSC: Do you read your book reviews? How do you deal with bad or good ones?
JG: I try not to read reviews of my work, but I always end up doing so despite telling myself not to. It’s a perpetual argument. Good ones – yay! I generally print them off and store them away for days when I run across bad reviews. I print those too, and I burn them in my little iron cauldron to release the negative feelings that I know I’ve associated with them. It’s quite cathartic.
JSC: Are there underrepresented groups or ideas featured in your book? If so, discuss them.
JG: I like writing those who are considered minorities on multiple levels and consider myself a diverse writer based on that. Women. Bisexuals. Pansexuals. Neuroatypical. People of Color. My Surrogate series features a Bi/poly woman of color (though she’s not Human) and my new series features a Pansexual Appalachian woman protagonist (Cent) with nonbinary leanings and an Earth elemental with severe anxiety issues. Local tremors would be Stowne (said Earth elemental) having a panic attack. Poor creature. Losing Cent so many times over three thousand years has made them a mess. Good thing she’s back, right? And, yes, being Appalachian places you in an underrepresented group. The media has treated us horribly over the decades and those stereotypes still prevail.
JSC: Are you a full-time or part-time writer? How does that affect your writing?
JG: I was part-time until 2015 when my chronic, nagging health issue suddenly became major, life-threatening, life-changing ones. Now, I’m a full-time author because it’s what I do, because it keeps me occupied in a positive way, because it keeps my mind off all the things I can’t do anymore.
JSC: What character gave you fits and fought against you? Did that character cause trouble because you weren’t listening and missed something important about them?
JG: The only character in Cleaning House that really fought me is Dane Gow, She-King of the Hunter fae. I began writing this novel saying that there would be no fae, that adding fae was expected in Fantasy and too easy and… then Dane spoke up near the end of the first draft. Actually, I think she cursed at me in her mix of archaic Appalachian slang and insults that derive from her living four-hundred years. She’s backwoods Appalachia from beginning to end and a snarky lesbian to boot. The fae Dane leads, the Hunters, are the exact opposite of every other fae I’ve read about, and she’s as hateful as she is fun. The Hunters are originally from Scotland and were so despised there that the Seelie and Unseelie actually worked together to drive them out during the late 16th century, hence why they’re in Appalachia. And, yes, I did miss something about her that’s important to Cleaning House but, even after I addressed it, Dane wouldn’t shut up until I promised she’d have her entire story told in Keeping House.
(Sigh) Some people, no, fae, no… eh, you get it.
Actually, my wife says that Dane has my sense of humor. I’m not certain if that’s a compliment or an insult. (grin)
JSC: Were you a voracious reader as a child?
JG: My mother was an elementary school librarian when I was young, so I spent summers with a library all to myself. As long as I put things back where I found them, I had no limits. I browsed fiction and nonfiction, watched filmstrips, read encyclopedias, and stared warily at jars filled with old biological specimens to my heart’s content. That last one always creeped me out. It’s a wonder I don’t write Horror because of it.
JSC: What action would your name be if it were a verb?
JG: Fretting, as in I’m always fretting about the small things in my writing, the find details, the little things that make the story feel real to the reader.
And now for Jeanne’s new book: Cleaning House:
Centenary Rhodes is an old soul with a well-traveled name, but she doesn’t know this yet.
Growing up in southern Appalachia wasn’t easy, so Cent left home as soon as she could, but the post-collegiate happiness she’d expected has never occurred. She can’t find a decent date, much less find that special someone and, after losing her job in a corporate downsize, she’s struggling to meet her most basic needs. Her car has been repossessed, her bills are piling up, and her questionable North Chicago neighborhood is dangerous to navigate.
Returning home to Hare Creek, Tennessee, never crosses her mind until her Great Aunt Tess contacts her with an offer she can’t refuse. The family’s southern Appalachian homestead must be sold, and Aunt Tess needs someone to clean it up. Cent will have access to Aunt Tess’ garden and truck and can live on the homestead rent-free for as long as it takes. A part-time job is waiting for her as well.
It’s a chance to solve some of Cent’s financial woes, but will her return be enough when evil sets its sights on Embreeville Mountain and the homestead?
Cleaning House is a carefully woven Appalachian tapestry of granny magic, haints, elementals, and the fantastic diversity of the human condition – served with a side of fries and a quart of peach moonshine.
Everything You Thought YouKnew
July 17, 2017
“Fourteen. Fifteen.” Centenary Rhodes counted the bills in her hand a second time and shoved them back into the front pocket of her cargo pants. She had fifteen dollars left after she paid her rent. Fifteen dollars for food and the bus. She sighed and turned away from the hamburger joint whose door she’d darkened. “Beans and rice it is… again.”
She skipped the bus— too much money— and walked the two miles back to her shabby one-room North Chicago apartment, opting for the alley that shortened the last six blocks to four, ignoring the catcallsfrom the construction site at the far end.
Short, dirty-blond hair styled into an undercut, black, heavy-framed glasses that hid soft blue eyes, and baggy pants that masked what little curve her large-boned frame had managed to achieve. She wore a loose t-shirt over her top-half and a ball cap with a brim bent much like her current attitude. Cent was skinny but strong nonetheless, a tough-as-nails Appalachian woman, a concept no one in North Chicago seemed able to grasp. Those idiots will whistle at anything on two legs.
She turned on her size twelve sneakers to jog across the street, down the block, picking up her pace the last two blocks to her apartment when it began raining, closing the progression of bolts and chains on her front door before she leaned against it to stare wearily at her dingy apartment. The marble flooring and Art Deco lighting in the corridorwerestill pretty, but they didn’t match the cracked plaster walls. The old bank had once been grand, but now…
“What a dump.” Still, it was all she could afford on two part-time jobs. Cent threw her coat over the single dinette chair and flung herself, face-down, over the sheet-draped, worn plaid couch that served as both her living space and bed. Not even a fold-out. She’d finagle one eventually, but until then she’d sleep solo. Always solo. “Who’d want to come back here, anyway?” Her romantic and job prospects had been abysmal since she’d lost her full-time accountant job in a corporate down-size. For the past year, she’d divided her time between a local bodega and a small computer repair shop. Both bosses were pricks, and the bodega owner’s wife kept telling her that she’d find herself a good man if she’d try.
“You’re a smart girl, too smart to attract a man, so dumb it down and pretty yourself up. Put on some makeup. Grow your hair. You can’t find gold without putting a bit of polish on yourself.”
Forget that. Take me as I am or not at all.Cent kicked off her shoes and rolled so she faced the cracked, plaster ceiling. She’d graduated top of her classat the University of Chicago and knewaccount management inside and out. Cent could do absolute magic with numbers and tell you exactly where things were going right or wrong in your financial life. But, even so, the ability to manage her own numbers now evaded her. She was in over her head and nearlybankrupt. Her monetary life was in shambles, and she knew you had to have good credit yourself to manage other people’s money. “If I can’t be myself then—” She startled when something struck the door four times. “What the—” Cent rolled offthe couch and plodded to the door in sock-feet. “Who is it?” She peered through the peephole.
“Delivery for Centenary Rhodes.” The messenger held up the envelope that’d been tucked under their arm. Ruddy-brown, almost earth-toned skin, hair that went everywhere but was short enough to go nowhere— this messenger was, well, different on so many levels. And, their, yes, their. She’d learned long ago not to make assumptions about anyone, especially those she found herself attracted to.Interesting. “Lemme see your ID.”
“Sure.” The messenger held up the card tethered to their waist. “I need your signature.”
“Gimme a moment.” Cent opened the locks and chains slower than she’d closed them. Another summons. It has to be. She’d been sued three timesin the last two months for debts she accrued during her good job. A ten-thousand-dollar judgmentfor the car. Another thousand for breaking her lease before she was evicted. She’d been forced to adopt the blood-from-a-turnip method of dealing with her debt spiral. You can’t get what I don’t have to begin with.
“Sign here.” The messenger held out an old-fashioned, lined-paper signature board. “Nice neighborhood.” Their voice held a muddled accent. Maybe European, but Cent couldn’t be certain. “I would not want to be here after dark.”
“You and me both.” Cent took the envelope when the messenger held it out. “Thanks.” Her heart fluttered when she peered up into their face to see piercing dark brown eyes that were inquisitive, seeking but easily humored by the way one brow over those eyes cocked.
“Make certain you lock up tight.” The messenger lingered at the door to stare back at her. “Can I do anything else for you?”
Are they flirting with me?Cent looked down then back up, startlingwhen she saw the messenger’s eyes were still on her. Taller than she was, which was unusual, a bit thick at the waist, but it was clearly muscle. A puzzle, and an attractive one at that. There was something calming about this person’s eyes. Something familiar Cent couldn’t quite place. They’re damn-near twice my size.The realization that such strength stood so close made her skin prickle in a way she’d come to miss. No wonder they’re on this route.“No, um, thanks.”
“Have a good day.” The messenger turned down the hall, leaving Cent to watch their floor-gliding strides until they reached the stairs.
“Cute accent, by the way.” The messenger stopped at the stairheadto smile at her then descended without saying more.
“I thought you were into men.” Mrs. Donright, 3J, stared at Cent from between the chains securing her door. “That was a woman, right?”
“Mind your own business.” Cent slammed her door closed and turned to press her back against it. Was that a man or a woman or…?Hell, she didn’t care. They were hot, and they’d flirted with her. That was enough. She looked out her peephole and sighed, securing every lock and chain before she turned to stare at the envelope. The messenger had left soft-dirt fingerprints along its edge. They must work in a plant nursery or something, too.
Maybe I should take up gardening.
Being close and sweaty, their hands touching as they worked side-by-side. Cent shivered as she scrutinized the envelope. “It’s too thin to be a summons.” She went to the kitchen for the scissors but couldn’t find them, so she opted for a paring knife, sliding it beneath the taped flap to open the envelope, pulling out a single, handwritten page.
I need you to come home to help me clean up the homestead for sale. I’ll keep you fed, and you can stay there or at my house until it’s sold.
Mr. Jones at Dryler’s said he could use you ten hours a week, so that’ll give you some money too.
And some collections service man came by the other day to serve you papers. I gave him a fake address in Carter County so he’d go away.
Never mind him or what your mama said last time you spoke to her.
Just get yourself home.
I need your help.
P.S. Quit changing your phone number.
Cent read the letter twice more, smirking when she realized she’d read it in Aunt Tess’ thick, Southern Appalachian accent.
“I’m not going back to Hare Creek, Aunt Tess, but I’ll give you a call just the same.” Cent pulled her phone from her pocket and clicked the contact list, praying her mother or another family member didn’t reach the phone before Tess did.
Born and raised in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, award-winning Science Fiction and Fantasy author Jeanne G’Fellers’ early memories include watching the original Star Trek series with her father and reading the stacks of books her librarian mother brought home. Jeanne’s influences include author Anne McCaffrey, Ursula K. LeGuin, Octavia Butler, Isaac Asimov, and Frank Herbert.
Jeanne lives in Northeast Tennessee with her spouse and their five crazy felines. Their home is tucked against a small woodland where they regularly see deer, turkeys, raccoons, and experience the magic of the natural world.