Nicole Peeler (Tempest-Series) is a woman after my heart.
She enjoys food, loves a good laugh and writes great books. Even when her culinary curiosity leads her into experimental territory, she stays her lovely self (see picture left). I’m sure her unnatural pallor and manic eyes are only temporary . After all I ate brains (with scrambled eggs) as a child and look how I’ve turned out!
Interview with Nicole Peeler (interviewed by hwm)
Welcome to Darkstar’s Fantasy News Dr. Peeler!
Thanks! I’m thrilled to be here.
Would you please introduce the series to our readers?
My books are about a young woman who discovers she’s half-selkie. Selkies are seal shape-shifters from the mythology of Iceland, Scotland, the Faroe Islands, etc. In the myths, selkies are always roaming about, seducing mortals. My heroine is the product of this type of seduction. That said, her mother disappeared when she was young, so she has no idea about her own heritage. Therefore, she’s just as surprised as we are to discover she’s half seal. She learns her mother’s secret after discovering a murdered body where she swims, and this discovery soon forces her to plunge into her mother’s supernatural society–to very dramatic results.
Jane is not a traditional kick ass urban fantasy heroine and I love her for it. Her brand of heroism shows itself in every day events – when she faces small town bigotry, takes care of her ailing father and when she struggles with the void the abandonment of her mother and the death of her boyfriend left within her. What made you decide to create a protagonist like that?
I really wanted to honor the bravery of real women. Women in real life are usually vulnerable in ways that the kick ass heroines in fantasy novels aren’t. And yet, despite knowing we’re not invincible, women go off all the time and do these amazingly brave things. So this book attempts to honor women like that: the nurses, the teachers, the social workers, and the like. Women who know they can be hurt, but who still do jobs that are emotionally, psychologically, and physically dangerous.
Your series, especially the first novel, has a chick-litty tone to it. While I’m usually not a fan of that kind of thing, it worked for me in Tempest Rising. First of all you do it well, secondly there is an unexpected depth, an almost subversive element to it. Why did you choose that direction and how did you go about it?
I’m glad you caught that! I was definitely trying to add some subversive elements to the book. I’ve always been a big fan of satire, and I’ve also always been a big fan of fantasy. And the first rule of satire is only engage with what you have a stake in, or what you love.
Jane is sort of my answer to both The Amazon Fantasy Heroine and, oddly enough, Judd Apatow. Judd Apatow, who wrote Forty-Year-Old-Virgin and Knocked Up, writes awesome comedies about boys who, through the course of the film, grow up. They often do so because they’ve met this totally hot chick who inspires them to change. I adore these movies, but I hate how the women still have to be super successful hotties, especially like you see in Knocked Up. Why can’t women be interesting, and lovable, and not be Super Model Astrophysicists?
So, in a weird way, Jane is my answer to all of these trends in American society, at the moment. She’s my Everywoman Heroine, and I have so much fun writing her.
Even your love triangle doesn’t follow the “rules”. Please tell us a bit about Ryu and Anyan and their appeal to Jane.
The thing I don’t like about romance novels is that everyone has to be in love to have sex. While I know that’s romantic, it’s not realistic, and I think it says more about the way American society conditions women to delude themselves about romance and shame themselves about sex than it does about how real women function. So, first of all, I wanted to write a woman who has sex, not falls in love. And it’s not because she’s a nymphomaniac, or she has Freudian issues, or doesn’t respect herself: it’s because she enjoys sex and she’s not ashamed of that. Radical, I know.
I also wanted to write about people who were basically decent humans trying to find a partner, rather than a Soul Mate. Ryu and Anyan are very different men who live very different lives and treat Jane very differently, while still both treating her well. So the “triangle” isn’t about her discovering one’s really a cad, or her being genuinely torn because she can’t decide what she likes because women are fickle. Jane knows what she wants, and it was important for me to establish this, while also establishing why she feels how she does about each of the men in her life. In other words, again, I wanted the relationships to be realistic, even though they involve a barghest, a selkie, and a pseudo-vampire.
Jane is half selkie and in the beginning of Tempest Rising she isn’t aware of her magical heritage. What attracted you to the selkie myths and why is Jane a halfling?
I loved the selkie mythologies as a child, so that’s been there for a while. And when I started thinking about the books, I first had this kernel that was Jane. I knew I wanted a heroine who could start out vulnerable and weak, but become more powerful as the series went on. So it all fell in place: Having Jane be half-selkie meant she could be unaware of her heritage, weak in the beginning, but have the potential to grow in power over the series.
I also thought that writing a fully selkie heroine might get boring. I don’t think they do a lot besides eat fish and bask on rocks.
The story takes place in a small town at the North Atlantic, which goes well with Jane’s magical abilities. Apart from its subversive nature and Jane’s unusual character, the setting was my favourite part of the book. It’s made of pure awesomeness – so vibrant you could imagine going there on holiday. How did you go about creating this setting for Jane or was it the other way around?
I think what makes it vibrant is that I tried to imitate how small towns work, and how the relationships work in places like Rockabill. Socially, they’re very complicated, very rewarding, and can be very ostracizing. But as for the research, a lot of it is real stuff. The Old Sow, for example, is absolutely real. Stuff like that I couldn’t have invented!
The setting would be nothing without the people inhabiting it. You did a great job portraying small town dynamics – from the lovely, to the silly, to the ugly. Who are your favourite characters living in Rockabill? Whom would you like to give a good whack?
I kind of adore them all. Except for Stuart and Linda, of course. But as far as the most fun, that would have to be Grizzie. She’s a hoot to write. That said, though, I try to make sure each character is as real to me, or almost as real to me, as Jane is, herself. So I have little backstories for each of the peripheral characters, even if they only have a line or two. That’s the thing about small towns: everyone has their baggage, and because it’s a small town, that baggage gets shared about rather freely. So I had to know quite a bit about everyone, to make Rockabill fell real to me.
Story progression and character growth demand some changes in Tracking the Tempest.
For the most part we leave Rockabill and its small town charm behind and move to the bigger and scarier Boston, where Jane gets into lots of trouble. The feel of the story is a bit less chick-litty, a bit more adventurous while staying true to Jane. Did the transition happen consciously? If so, what did you hope to accomplish? Where will we go from here?
I think that what’s happening in the books (and it’s both semi-conscious and semi-unconscious, on my part) is that Jane goes from a woman who has only lived in fantasies and books in Tempest Rising, to someone whose increasingly active and engaged with life. So the first book has a dreamy quality that’s all in Jane’s head-because that’s how she’s lived since Jason died. And before that, she and Jason were very much living in their own, shared dream world. So I think that the tone change you’re noticing has occurred as Jane develops an outer-life, to go along with her inner-life. She’s still reflective, and naturally rather dreamy. But more and more, she’s living for her own moment rather than reflecting upon the moments of others she’s seen in books or movies.
Cover art is a big topic and rightfully so. Your US and German covers go in completely different directions. What do you like about them?
I adore my US cover art, as well as the artist. I think she’s done an amazing job. The German covers are interesting…I think that’s a mermaid on the cover?
While your US covers are eye catchers and have a lot of fans, the cover for Tempest Rising also sparked some controversy. Even the words “kiddie porn” came up (Jane from Dear Author, a major romance blog). Were you at any point worried that the cover art wouldn’t be received well and, because of it, your novel? Did you and Orbit feel vindicated when the book did well and the cover art won the Spectrum award and was included in the prestigious Communication Arts Illustration Annual?
I’m still irritated by the “controversy” stirred up by Dear Author. I think it actually helped me, in that it brought a lot of attention to the books. But as someone whose mother has worked with many child victims of abuse, I think that bandying about accusations of child pornography is extremely irresponsible and in very poor taste. So it’s hard to feel vindicated when you feel that the people making the original accusation are so entirely off the mark. That said, I’m hugely grateful, honored, and humbled to have such amazing covers, and to have a publishing company that takes such risks and has such vision. I think I’m too happy about all of that to need vindication.
(At the moment) You have a six book contract for the Jane True series with Orbit. Do you build up to an Event or do you plan to turn it into an open ended series?
Jane’s story is a six-book arc, and will remain that way. I do have some ideas for spins-offs with different characters, though, which should be very fun. But I’m a firm believe in capping a series like Jane’s, where the whole point is her development. You can only stall development for so long, or develop a character so far, before it all gets a bit ridiculous.
After years of teaching English Lit. at college, you took on a position as an assistant professor in Seton Hill’s MFA program for Writing Popular Fiction. Has your academic career helped you with your writing career or has it hindered you sometimes? Was there any influence in the other direction?
I owe my writing career to my academic career. I never intended to be a writer: it’s something I always dreamed about, but I couldn’t produce anything, ever. Until I did my PhD. thesis. Doing my doctorate taught me how to dream up, outline, organize, and then finish a big project. I wrote my first book right after I’d finished my thesis and was applying for jobs. I was at loose ends, read a book that inspired me, and sat down to write. TR was finished just three months later, and it had sold in less than eight. I could never have done that kind of work not having done my dry, rather boring, academic thesis.
Do you have any advice for aspiring speculative fiction authors considering studying English Lit. or attending a writing program?
If you want to be a writer, you need to learn to read and to write. Don’t take it for granted you can do either. Anybody can skim their eyes over a page or write a few pretty sentences. But really learning the ins and outs of how fiction works is the key, and you can only do that by learning everything you can about how other people write, and then learning the nuts and bolts of writing, from grammar on up.
Thank you, Dr. Peeler, for having a nice chat with us. I won’t interrupt your meal any longer. Good luck for your careers and other endeavours. Do you have any final words?
Thank you so much for having me! I haven’t enjoyed an interview this much in a while. I’m so glad you enjoyed the books and would love to chat again, soon!
I’d love to!
Dear reader, I hope you enjoyed the interview as well. If you want to know more about Nicole, follow her on twitter under @NicolePeeler or check out her homepage at www.nicolepeeler.com . It has excerpts of all of her books and a great blog, where she talks about writing, travelling and food.
Tempest Rising will be released as Nachtstürme in Germany on December 8th, Tracking the Tempest as Meeresblitzen in September 2011. Nicole’s third book appears in stores in January of 2011. It’s called Tempest’s Legacy.
Have a nice Advent. At the latest I’ll be back with an interview with Diana Rowland in February.
Nicole Peelers Website can be found here.