"New Worlds Are Our Oyster."
Jeri Smith-Ready has been writing fiction since the night she had her first double espresso. Her debut novel, urban fantasy e-book REQUIEM FOR THE DEVIL (Time Warner, 2001), won First Place in the National Writers Association Novel contest.
November 2006 saw the release of Jeri’s first print novel, romantic fantasy EYES OF CROW (Luna Books). It features a world where everyone has magic according to their Guardian Spirit Animal—sort of X-MEN meets CLAN OF THE CAVE BEAR.
EYES OF CROW has been nominated for a Romantic Times Reviewers Choice Award for Best Fantasy and the Colorado Romance Writers Award of Excellence for Best Paranormal.
Jeri keeps her head in the real world by fostering dogs for animal rescue organization Tails of Hope. So far she has helped thirteen shelter dogs find homes with loving families.
An Interview with Jeri Smith-Ready
PNR: Have you always known you wanted to be a writer; when did you begin writing?
Jeri Smith-Ready: I’ve always loved reading. My grandmother told me if I didn’t “get my nose out of a book,” I’d end up needing glasses. By the time I was eight, it was too late!
I was always making up alternative storylines to the comics I was reading, and later, to the soap operas I watched.
But I never considered being a writer. Over the course of my life I wanted to be an actor (I would of course play the character I’d made up for General Hospital, who would of course have John Stamos fall in love with her), psychologist, veterinarian, environmental lawyer, editor, and dog trainer.
Then one night in my mid-twenties, I went to a coffee shop to watch a very loud blues band. With a caffeine overdose and no way to carry on a conversation over the music, I concocted in my head the first scene from a mystery/romance/spy thriller/science fiction/comedy novel that is now safely tucked away in a drawer where it can't embarrass me. Once I'd caught the writing bug, I never wanted to do anything else ever again.
PNR: Could you tell us about your writing routine, how do you balance writing and personal time?
Jeri Smith-Ready: I despise routine, so I keep changing it to trick myself into working. I’d love to write first thing in the morning so it wouldn’t be hanging over my head all day, but the quality of my work is highest after 4PM, which is unfortunately the time my beasts (two cats and usually two dogs) start badgering me to be fed.
I confess, I don’t balance writing and personal time very well right now. I’m lucky that my husband also has a creative business of his own (web design), so he understands why we never have time to go to the movies or watch TV. Most of our evenings are spent side by side on our laptops. Romantic, huh?
It’s like anyone trying to build a new business--for at least the first few years, the personal time gets crunched. I write two books and one new proposal each year now. My goal is to be able to afford to write just one (wildly popular, best-selling) book a year by the time I’m 50, so I can get my life back. Maybe raise some chickens.
PNR: Most writers are avid readers, is this true for you? What titles would we see in your TBR pile? Who has most influenced you?
Jeri Smith-Ready: I like to read a little of everything--romance, sf/f, horror, mystery, young adult, mainstream, literary fiction. Having a TBR pile stressed me out, so now my new books go right on my shelf in their proper alphabetical place. Since I’m terrible at making decisions, I have a random number generator select a number between 1 and 26, then pick an unread book on my shelf with an author whose last name starts with the corresponding letter of the alphabet.
And I just realized that made me sound like a complete freak.
Early on my biggest influences were Margaret Atwood, Carl Hiaasen, Douglas Adams, and Elmore Leonard. Now I think my voice is developed enough that I’m not influenced by what I read. Inspired, yes. There are so many fantastic authors out there, and sometimes I find their writing painfully beautiful. I’ll see a unique turn of phrase and think, “Wow, that amazing way of describing something has now been taken, and I’ll never be able to say it like that.” Of course, I can come up with my own way of sharing the world that might be equally beautiful, but at that moment it’s like I’m mourning a phrase that will never be mine.
PNR: How do you feel popular urban fantasy differs from traditional fantasy?
Jeri Smith-Ready: I write both urban and traditional fantasy and find the former comes more naturally. Everything in the world around me is potential fodder for plots and characters in an urban fantasy. I can use every word in my vocabulary, including slang and colloquialisms. Basically, I can write the way I think. Urban fantasy, in my opinion, has greater room for moral complexity. Heroes and heroines don’t always have to be heroic.
On the other hand, traditional fantasy provides more of an escape, for both reader and writer. When the headlines are depressing, I can imagine a better world, one where good always triumphs over evil. And ironically, when I’m forced to stretch myself into “unnatural” territory, I work harder and perhaps write better books.
PNR: Your work is very popular with readers and reviewers; how does it feel to have such positive recognition for your work?
Jeri Smith-Ready: It feels great! I was thrilled to get a Top Pick from Romantic Times and be singled out by them as an up-and-coming “hot commodity” of fantasy fiction. Then one of my favorite novelists, Charles de Lint, gave Eyes of Crow a glowing review in Fantasy and Science Fiction. His fiction touches on a lot of similar themes--and he’s a big fan of crows--so it was the ultimate validation. I can die happy now.
But none of the reviews mean as much as hearing from readers that the story touched them. That’s the ultimate goal and purpose of writing for me—to entertain others. It’s nice if I can make them think, too.
PNR: Readers are drawn into the magical, mythical world you have created. Tell us about the challenges you face in world building and making it work with the ideas you have in mind for the progression of your characters? Could you tell us about the mythology behind the Guardian Spirits?
Jeri Smith-Ready: The challenge when working with an “invented world” is to make it accessible enough to relate to and yet fantastical enough to transport readers out of their everyday lives. I like to make my characters very real and human--i.e., with a lot of flaws and complexities. The key is to remember that people living in a different type of society than ours would be human in a slightly different way.
As for the mythology, EYES OF CROW takes place a few thousand years from now. It all began with the mid-21st-century Collapse and Reawakening, when the Spirits called certain people to follow them and build a new way of life. It’s sort of like The Rapture, but the chosen people get to stay here and survive rather than be taken away. I wrote an urban fantasy serial short story about the Collapse and Reawakening for my publisher’s website entitled “The Wild’s Call.”
The basic concept of the Animal Spirit comes from a spiritual practice called “core shamanism,” a term coined by anthropologist Michael Harner. In the 1950s and 60s, Harner lived with several tribes in different areas of the world, and he noticed that their spiritual practices had certain elements in common. The idea of the Power Animal, a helping spirit that embodies qualities of the shaman, is one of those elements.
So I took this concept of the Power Animal to its magical extreme and made up the rest. I’m always fascinated by the ways people divide themselves, so having conflicts and prejudices among different “Animals” is fun territory to explore.
PNR: Rhia is a strong heroine who must overcome her fears to fulfill her destiny, and readers have really connected with her; could you tell us about the development of her character? Would you describe your writing as female focused?
Jeri Smith-Ready: Most of my protagonists feel guilty for something horrible they’ve done (redemption is a big theme for me). Rhia, however, feels guilty for what she hasn’t done, for what she let her fear keep her from doing. She starts out a bit of a coward, unlike many “kick-ass” fantasy heroines who throw themselves into the fray without a second thought. I suppose readers find Rhia easy to relate to in that respect. She has to overcome her fears, not by ignoring them or “stiff-upper-lipping” her way through life, but by meeting them head on and taming them the best she can.
I don’t think of my writing as female-focused. In fact, Eyes of Crow was the first book I’d written from a female POV. My three previous novels were all from a single male POV. I think it was because I’d mostly grown up reading books written by men, for men, and about men. That was my default way of thinking. Plus, the stories I came up with seemed better suited for men. If I were to depict the Devil as a woman, it might be considered misogynistic, or at least gimmicky. Besides, he’s Lucifer, the fallen angel. Definitely a dude.
Also, except for my total lack of spatial relations and mechanical ability, my mind usually works more like a man’s. I love football, beer, and Kevin Smith films. I hate shopping, white wine, and talking about other people’s children*. You couldn’t pay me $100 to stop and ask for directions.
*except my nieces and nephews, who are all fascinating.
PNR: Do you feel your writing is character driven or plot driven? How do you balance these two elements?
Jeri Smith-Ready: Character-driven, definitely. I don’t really think of it as finding a balance, because the plot comes out of the characters. Whenever I’ve tried to cram a character too tightly into a pre-fabbed plot (from an outline, for instance), something inevitably feels “off.” I get that little, “She would never do that” alarm going off in my head.
PNR: Could you tell us a little about how you develop your characters? Who has been your favorite character to write? The most challenging?
Jeri Smith-Ready: Lucifer was my favorite, once I got used to hanging out inside the mind of the Devil. He’s just so cool, even when he’s not. It was fun to imagine what it would be like to be the second most powerful being in the universe, but at the same time be so incredibly, humanly vulnerable when it comes to the people he loves.
Rhia was the most challenging, partly because she was my first female protagonist, but also because her culture is so different from ours. They’re much more socially oriented, with a stronger instinct to serve the community, even at the expense of the individual’s desires. Her people don’t get a choice of Guardian Spirit or magic—the Spirits call them based on what their society needs for the challenges of the future. Rhia is as individualistic and “modern” as anyone can be in her circumstances, but she still has to be a realistic part of that world.
PNR: How would you describe the sensuality level of your books; do you find it challenging to write love/sex scenes? How much of a role do Rhia’s relationships play in her story and to what extent does it drive the plot?
Jeri Smith-Ready: It varies from book to book. REQUIEM had lots of sex in it, but it was depicted evocatively, rather than graphically. EYES OF CROW is more explicitly sensual, but it’s fairly tame compared to what’s out there these days. Its level of sensuality fits with it being primarily a fantasy with romantic elements (as opposed to an out-and-out romance). I would consider EYES OF CROW appropriate for older teens to read, and indeed, it seems to have found a following in that age group.
My vampire books (more on them later) are a lot more graphic, but not to the point of being considered erotica.
I enjoy writing love/sex scenes, because it’s a great way to reveal character and develop a relationship. They require lots of polishing, though, to achieve the desired effect—one sour note or “snort-worthy” phrase can ruin the mood. A love scene has to be as carefully choreographed as a battle scene, with the right rhythms and beats (as double-entendre-ish as that sounds).
PNR: You have written urban fantasy in REQUIEM FOR THE DEVIL, and traditional fantasy in EYES OF CROW; what is it about the fantasy genre that captures your imagination? Is there a genre you haven’t written but would like to try?
Jeri Smith-Ready: I think it’s the kid in me who never grew up. It’s wondering, “What if that panel in the wall led to a secret cave?” or “Maybe I could fly if I ate enough Pop Rocks.” When I was 5, I made a pact with God to turn me into a cat when I turned 9. The four-year delay was in case I changed my mind, and so I could get my affairs in order.
I’d love to write mainstream stories that are a little “straighter” and less dependent on fantastic elements, because nothing to me is more wondrous than the human psyche. However, I think I’d always want to put at least a touch of magic in my stories. It’s no fun otherwise.
PNR: Voice of Crow, the second book in the Crow series, will be released in October 2007; can you give us a sneak peek? What are your plans for the series?
Jeri Smith-Ready: Yep, I just finished Voice of Crow and am really excited about it. We see the world through four points-of- view: Rhia, Marek, Alanka, and Filip. Filip is a Descendant prisoner-of-war who had a cameo near the end of EYES OF CROW. I never intended him to turn into a major character when I wrote EOC—it was one of those happy surprises. Voice of Crow also takes us to new lands: to the seaside village of Velekos and to Leukos, the dreaded Descendant city itself.
Though VOC begins just a few days after EOC ends, in the second book all the characters are forced to grow up and learn to take responsibility for their world. Whereas EOC is a coming-of-age story of one young woman, VOC is more of an action/adventure ensemble piece. But the book is still Rhia’s, and her challenges and heroics are larger than anyone else’s.
Wings of Crow (Fall 2008) is the final installment of the trilogy. It takes place a generation later, after enormous upheavals have occurred in the lands of the Reawakened. I’ve just started writing it, and it’s like creating the world all over again because so much has changed—and not for the better.
That will be it for the Aspect of Crow series. I’m not big on eight-book trilogies. I might one day do a prequel novel or novels about the Collapse and Reawakening, perhaps using the characters from “The Wild’s Call.”
PNR: Could you tell us about your current projects, what can readers expect to see in the coming months? Do you have any additional series in the works? Single titles?
Jeri Smith-Ready: Next spring (tentatively May) will see the debut of my vampire series from Pocket Books. BAD COMPANY is about a cadre of vampire DJs and the con artist trying to redeem her sordid past by saving their radio station from corporate takeover. These vampires are musically and psychologically stuck in the eras in which they were turned, so they still wear the fashions and speak the slang of their particular decade. There’s a blues vamp, a rockabilly vamp, a hippie vamp, etc. The commitment-phobic heroine falls hard for the grunge vampire, who of course is a tortured soul in ripped jeans and Doc Martens. I love music, so that series is a real treat for me to write. Its sequel, BAD TO THE BONE, will come out in 2009.
I’m also working on a proposal for a young adult futuristic fantasy trilogy that will be a distant sequel to REQUIEM FOR THE DEVIL. It features Lucifer’s and Beelzebub’s daughters as high-school seniors.
PNR: Thank you Jeri, for taking time out to talk to us. Where can readers find out what’s new and how can they contact you?
Jeri Smith-Ready: They can visit my website (www.jerismithready.com/), my blog (www.jerismithready.com/blog), or my embryonic MySpace page (http://www.myspace.com/jerismithready). The website features an interactive personality quiz (www.jerismithready.com/quiz) to find out which Animal you would be, with monthly prize drawings.
Readers can also subscribe to my e-mail newsletter (http://www.jerismithready.com/contact/). It comes out a few times a year, whenever I have something worth saying. Each newsletter issue has at least one contest. (Secret hint: there are special prizes for the first three people who reply to the newsletter.)
Thanks for listening to me ramble, and thanks for reading!
Website Find Your Spirit Animal
November 1, 2006
Read the Review!
Her Spirit carries the darkest wisdom...
For Rhia was bound to the Spirit of Crow, gifted with the foresight of Death's approach and doomed to the isolation of one feared and set apart.
There must always be one whose magic can ease the passage of the people of Asermos to the Other Side. But to be the guide her people require, to truly know the depth of her gift--her curse--Rhia must surrender herself to the wisdom of the Great Forest…and drink deeply of Death itself. And though two powerful men stand ready to aid her, even to love her, the Aspect of Crow demands unthinkable sacrifices from one who walks its path.
April 1, 2001
Read the Review!
Set in modern-day Washington, D.C., REQUIEM depicts the end of the Devil's ten-billion-year career. For the first time in his existence, Lucifer falls in love, and this event threatens to transform his identity and perhaps even his destiny. Gianna O'Keefe is the woman who drags him out of his ancient despair and points him toward possible salvation.
Yet Lucifer's path from evil is neither straight nor smooth. Pursuing love means betraying his fellow fallen angels, the loyal friends who once followed him to damnation. Divine and infernal forces seem to conspire against his and Gianna's union. Lucifer's empire crumbles around him as he dares to defy the natural order and question his fate.
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