The Grove by Jean Johnson – Fantasy, Romance and good writing – Interview and Review! @BerkleyRomance @penguinusa @JeanJAuthor

JeanJohnsonQ&A

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Calm the magics caught in thrall:
Put your faith in strangers’ pleas,
Watcher, Witch, and treasure trove;
Ride the wave to calm the trees,
Servant saves the sacred grove.

At the behest of their leader, the Witches of Darkhana are mobilized. Their mission: gather the most honest, true servants of each deity so that they may respectfully represent their land at the reopening of the Convocation of Gods and Man. For Witch-Priest Aradin Teral, his part in the quest has taken him across the length and breadth of Katan, searching for the best possible representative of an empire bent on preventing that very task.

Ever since the destruction of the last Convocation, the magics of the Grove have been warped, endangering pilgrims and residents alike and requiring the guardianship of the strongest mage the priesthood can spare. Priestess Saleria is now the Keeper of the Grove, and Guardian of the Divine Garden. The arrival of a black-robed stranger bearing the faces of two men brings the promise of change, even peace, to the isolated valley. But it also ushers in an irresistible passion and a threat to Saleria’s control of the wildest magics in the woods..

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Check out this amazing interview, with author Jean Johnson!

1. The Grove, is a hybrid of fantasy and romance, and a very well done one at that.. what do you think they key is to maintain a good balance from being an overly romance book or  being an overly fantasy book?

For me, the key is the fact I hate cheap painted dropcloth backgrounds—it’s good for village theater productions, yes, but if you’re trying to set a story in a realistic seeming universe, the universe has to seem realistic.  If I’m going to cross two genres, say fantasy with romance, it’s easy enough to build a romance story, but if I’m going to put in fantasy, the fantasy has to be integral to the storyline.  It has to be intrinsically consistent with itself and its own rules.  The magic has to work logically for its universe—in this one, it functions in a way similar to the water/rain cycle—and the fantastical elements have to affect the story somehow.  Whether it’s a magical doodad that starts malfunctioning, and thus causes problems for the romatic couple, or it’s a spell misfiring that turns the poor prince or princess into a frog or a newt, which their beloved has to somehow undo and restore them whole…it has to be a part of the story.  But if it’s a romance, then the romance has to be the main focus of that particular book.  Since I’m doing a series of several books, I can let the romances take center stage with each book, and bind them all together with a fantasy plot.  A romance, after all, can be set in a contemporary universe, an urban fantasy universe, a science fiction universe, a western, an historical, an alternate history…and still be a romance.  The rest of it is building the world and the environment and the challenges in a way that enriches the whole.

2. What’s one genre you love, but you don’t think you’d be the best at writing, and why?

I like young adult books and some children’s books—obviously I loved the Harry Potter books, since that led in a roundabout way to my getting noticed for publication—but I also know I suck at writing them.  I write for the people who have reached or passed the high school reading level—I was already reading at the college level in junior high—and YA fiction requires reducing the complexity of the language and the vocabulary.    Because I sorta shot past that whole stage in just a few years, I never thought to study how that kind of writing is put together, and thus learned how to write like that.  I admire those who can do it, and do so in a way that’s entertaining for adults as well as youth.

3.  What’s your writing music? Does it differ depending on the type of book you are writing?

My writing music definitely differs depending upon what sort of scene I’m writing.  I’ll listen to a lot of soundtracks, such as Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, a lot of Babylon 5, even things like the music from Assassin’s Creed…but for romantic or intimate moments, I might listen to “Unchained Melody” by the Righteous Brothers, or “Chocolate” by Nicki Minaj…or I’ll listen to heavy metal while writing hard action sequences.  There are certain kinds of music I do not like, of course; I loathe most country & western, I’m not too fond of the blues or rap—excepting Linkin Park and the occasional Beastie Boys song—and I can only tolerate jazz once in a while in a live concert.  But mostly I like having access to a wide variety from which I can select tunes that fit the scene’s mood.

4.  What are you favorite movies, and have they ever influenced your writing?

Creative storytelling doesn’t exist in a vacuum; we’re always influenced by the things we see and hear.  Sometimes it’s a direct inspiration, sometimes it’s indirect, a series of thoughts that have the author leapfrogging to a new concept or idea.  The movie “Aliens” for instance—I haven’t ever cribbed the exact scene where Ripley takes on the queen alien in a mechanized stevedore/forklift suit, but I and many other authors have used that concept of an exoskeleton powersuit…and I know I’m not the only one who has wanted to write in the sheer intensity of that moment when Ripley appears on-screen snapping,  “Get away from her, you B****!”  That moment, of enraged, kick-asteroid female, that’s definitely an inspiration.  I’ve watched and enjoyed all the Star Wars films—certain moments of “ugh, they did THAT?” aside—and I enjoy comedies as well as action movies like the Bourne trilogy.  Loved the Firefly movie “Serenity” and I’ve enjoyed a wide varity of what Pixar puts out.  Not everything, but most stuff.  It’s hard to pick out exact moments.  After seeing “Avatar” and having read an article on what the light & heat-radiation cycles would be for a tidally locked, planet-sized moon orbiting a gas giant, I do know I’d love to write up a story about a world like that some day, but it wouldn’t involve the “Avatar” movie’s  concepts of using bottle-grown hybrid alien bodies to interact with an alien race.

5.  The world in The Grove is so wonderfully detailed, how do you go about creating a world for your writing?

First, I try to figure out what sets this new universe apart from the world we live in, and all the other worlds out there.  Some unique twist or level of cultural advancement, so on and so forth.  Then I consider how the world works.  If there’s magic, where does magic come from, where does it go to, who can access it, so on and so forth.  I’ll think about how people get their food, and what sort of education system they have, or transportation modes.  I’ll try to think of the things the current generation takes for granted, based on the tech or magic involved.  Sometimes I’ll make a deliberate choice to exclude something, like leaving out artificial intelligences in my science fiction universe, but then I had to come up with a reason why humanity would stop pursuing that, which lead to coming up with the AI War—and similar wars would be a good reason why the other races stop pursuing AI tech.  Also, different regions will have different levels and kinds of advancement, much like our world today has the high-tech lifestyle of Seoul, Korea, or New York City, versus the nomadic herding lifestyle of the Masaai in Africa or the Mongols of Asia.

6. Heroine vs. Hero.. what’s your favorite to write and why?

That question is kind of like asking,  “What’s your favorite sweet treat or dessert?”  and having to choose between chocolate chip cookies, marshmallow treats, whipped-cream-frosted cake, and rich ice cream.  I like writing both heroes and heroines equally, and try to make my main characters interesting and compelling whatever the gender, but I’ll admit I write more heroines than heroes—not just in the published stories, but in the plot-bunnies cluttering up my harddrive.  Partly because I myself am female and it’s easier to write from the female perspective and mindset, but partly because there just aren’t enough female heroes running around in the entertainment industry, whether it’s in books, movies, television or whatever.  I’m a bit of a rabid equalist, so I guess I’m trying to make up for the deep lack of good female role models.  But that’s just what I tend to write; I wouldn’t say that’s a favorite, per se.  There’s also the level of primary hero/ine, and secondary—not necessarily a sidekick, but not the main character.  In my military scifi series, I like both Delia Helsted and Glenn Spyder equally, because they’re unique characters each in their own way.  Spyder has a horribly thick accent and talks like a street rat, but he has a brilliant tactical mind.  Helstead is kinda ADHD in a way, but she’s equally sharp-minded, and approaches most everything with a sense of humor.  It’s easier for me to pick out my favorite character, flat-out, than a preference for a gender.

7. Lastly, since it’s the holiday season, do you have a favorite holiday movie or book, or both?

Oh yes, absolutely.  “A Muppet Christmas Carol.”  Makes me sniffle and grin every time, I really love the design of the Ghost of Christmas Future, and the swirlie-portal they step through…and I love the line, “I am mortal, and liable to fall.”  I’ve even quoted that line a time or two in some of my stories, or some variant of it.  I also love the music, and the acting, and…  Just overall, it’s my favorite version of that holiday tale.  Plus so many quotable lines—“I know the story of A Christmas Carol like I know the back of my hand!”  “Prove it.”  “All right! Um, there’s a little mole on my thumb…”  and “Light the lamp, not the rat! Light the LAMP, not the RAT!”  I’d recommend it to just about anybody.  🙂  There are a few Christmas-themed short story romances (historicals) which I also like to reread once in a while at this time of year, but mostly it’s that movie.

(Good choice on Muppet Christmas Carol, it’s also one of my favorites, along with Polar Express!)

Review:

Grade: B+ (Four Stars)

This was a fun read. I really enjoyed the way the author mixed the fantasy with the romance, but kept both parts strong. She really did a wonderful job staying true to what really makes a fantasy novel. I’ve said before when mixing fantasy with another genre, true fantasy lovers will notice where a non-fantasy author would slack, but Johnson does a great job of living up to the fantasy title. She took a lot of time in her world building, and really fleshed everything out for us. I’m not saying the romance part of the book isn’t well done, it is, but the fantasy didn’t take a back burner to the romance. Bravo! I’ve seen a lot of other books try and fail this same mixture. I didn’t read The Tower first, so I figure you probably should, it’s got amazing reviews, and people are loving it, so if you loved this book, you’ll love the first one. Another wonderful thing I love about this book is the mythology built into it. There’s all kinds of characters and they all have such good back stories. Johnson really took her time with the series in order to really allow the reader to feel like they are in her world, and I completely did. I was walking around, going on adventures, solving problems, and generally loving this book. If  you love well written romance, that also supports an amazing fantasy story right along with it, you’ll truly want to check out the Guardians of Destiny series. Start with The Tower and move on to this wonderful book! This is one book I’ll be looking for this holiday season to add to my book shelf!

*I was given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

About The Author:

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Jean Johnson currently lives in the Pacific Northwest, has played in the SCA for 25 years, sings a lot, and argues with her cat about territorial rights to her office chair. She loves hearing from her readers, and has a distinct sense of humor. Right now she’s living in a home with zone heating & decent plumbing, but hopes to some day put turrets and ramparts on it so that it looks like a castle.
http://www.jeanjohnson.net/

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