How many fantasy book series can you count on your fingers? I bet you’d need a hand, literally, perhaps even two or three or more hands to account for myriad of prolific sagas of swords, sorcery, and science fiction.
From modern hits like Harry Potter and The Hunger Games, to the classic series’ such as The Lord of the Rings enjoying rejuvenated life, fantasy is bigger than ever.
But what’s better than all of these celebrated works of fiction is the excitement of what’s to come via the new generation of writers. In my new off-shoot of the series The Writer’s Mind, I’ve decided it would be best to ask other writer’s how their thought processes play out, what they daydream of, and what their hopes and aspirations are.
So the series isn’t just about me.
Without further ado, here is my interview with Elizabeth Jalbert, author of the new books series, Storm of Ages which is out November 12th (Originally the 17th) or as you’re reading this: Now!
Ellie M. Jalbert sits on her couch in front of her massive painting of the cover of her new book, Storm of Ages: Nightmare, (Book 1 of her series). She sips tea in her Doctor Who mug as her cats wander around her infrequently as cats often do.
[[EDITOR’S NOTE: We know each other, and this is our first interview, ever.]]
The Writer’s Mind: What do you do for work nowadays?
Ellie: I work in the mental health field with adults and children as well as do the marketing for a mental health agency.
TWM: Wow, yeah yeah, I don’t know how you found time to write!
E: And I also go to school.
TWM: Holy sh*t, Ellie! (Both laugh) Tell us a brief synopsis of your book.
E: It’s about a girl who has dreams abot an apocalyptic flood. She’s trying to get away from them and goes off to the city, but things only get worse. Even though it seems crazy to her, elements from her dreams are making their way into her real life. There are some interesting characters, some intense moments, and a bit of humor.
TWM: Wow, that sounds intriguing. Great name too.
E: (laughs) Thanks.
TWM: What event or thought triggered the development of this book?
E: Dreams. I used to go to work with a friend, every single morning. And one day I was telling her about a crazy dream I had, and she said, “You know that’s the third dream that you told me about in the last couple of weeks?” And I’m like, “Really? Oh. That’s weird.” I guess I had mentioned those things in passing. A couple of nights later I had another one, and holy crap! They were so crazy, they were so real I’d freak out- when I wake up, like yelling (Aaah!) you know, I’d wake myself up, they were so real.
They would happen several times a week, and my friend was like “You should write these into something cool.” I didn’t know what to write; I thought, “I’ll just write these down then. Like, what am I going to do with this? No one wants to read this.”
I started writing it down for myself, and there was one dream that was particularly intense– and it’s actually the first scene in the book. I was standing on this balcony and this giant tidal wave was coming toward the city and I was trying to outrun it and I ran into the Civic Center in Portland and the wave hits the city and it burst open the whole building and it began to fill with water, then I drowned. And that’s what happens: she drowns.
The whole story is based on these dreams. A lot of them happen in the first book, some in the second, the third, the fourth, the fifth, etc. All of the different books are dreams that I had, and they tie the story together.
TWM: You took those dreams and kind of put them together as a thematic element and you built upon them?
E: Yeah, yeah that was basically how that started. But I felt like, okay this girl’s having these dreams and something’s going to happen, but there’s something missing here. Why is she having these dreams and why is this going to happen, there’s got to be something more?
TWM: Let’s hope not. (laughs)
E: Its okay, I know where we can go to survive.
TWM: The Civic Center. (laughs)
E: I’ve got some inside information.
TWM: Had it always been planned as a series or had you started with the first book and worked from there?
E: Yeah, I had this encounter with this friend of mine. She has this magical energy that even people who aren’t into energy are like “There’s something about this woman.” She’s just amazing; she has this pull. We were in this pizza place and I was telling her about the series and she said: “I know you said this was going to be four books, but it’s going to be seven books.”
“I just know, it’s going to be seven books.”
And I’m like: “Noooo.” And I just started writing down all of the ideas; it ended up being seven books.
E: And whether that was self-fulfilling or not, who knows but I think in the beginning though to answer your original question (laughs). I didn’t have any expectations for it at all when I started really; I just wanted to write down the first dream. And wrote another dream, and when I figured out how they all fit together I was writing it for my best friend and myself. And soon after other people were like “Oh, I wanna read it!”
“Ok, Maybe I’ll let my friends read it.” And they were all impressed and wanted me to let others read it too. I had to be basically forced to let other read it, because it was supposed to be for me.
TWM: Now, it must have made you nervous- to have other people read it. That initial groundswell of people who were recommending others read it. That’s always interesting for me, I’m like “Do I want people to read my blog, I mean I put it up there…”
E: (laughs) Right, I think that’s what brought the flood dreams was needing change in my life. And I was just about to graduate and feeling like if I have to go sit in an office all day, 40hrs. a week, I would go crazy.
I mean, I really love art therapy, but I couldn’t do anything 40hrs. a week in an office straight (laughs). Ultimately, I wanna do that (art therapy) and write.
I’m excited for you, you’re gonna go on an adventure.
[[EDITOR’S NOTE: Looking to move within a year and we’d discussed it prior to this interview.]]
E: You’re going to go on an adventure, I’m excited for you!
TWM: It’s not about me alright? (laughs)
E: Why not, we’re friends; I can be excited for you.
TWM: Well of course, you can. However, this is a professional interview… (adjusts fake tie).
So who are some of your writer inspirations, other authors?
E: I would say well, Stephen King for sure. I started reading his work in sixth grade. I had to get notes signed to say it was okay to read King for my English class. I loved it.
More recently I’ve read his book “On Writing.”
TWM: I’ve wanted to read that [and have since purchased it].
E: Highly recommend it. Changed the way I wrote; my writing lost like a hundred pounds. (both laugh)
Like I said it was mostly dreams so it was hard to really feel like I was “going off” anyone’s style. I feel like this is an idea that I’d never heard before, the whole Atlantis thing in a popular young adult sci-fi fantasy.
But authors I love- Robert Frost. Stephen King. (laughs) I guess when I started. We moved from California to Idaho, and I started kindergarten and then they found out I wasn’t old enough; I was four.
I was doing well, but there was some rule in Idaho that you couldn’t be in school that early, they pulled me out. My Grandmother taught me how to read.
So I learned how to read basically before I’d been doing anything else, I’ve been doing it my whole life. And it started with her; she was a one-room school teacher, so she taught me how to read.
TWM: Nice, that’s so awesome. I wish I could have read like that when I was younger. I never enjoyed reading as a child. I mean, I found a few books here and there that piqued my interest, but it was mostly television and movies.
E: I used to read so much that I would go through a book a day. We’d go to family functions and they’d have to say: “Play with your cousins, put your books away.”
Unfortunately, I had an incident where in seventh grade; someone whom I’d really respected said something to me about how writing wasn’t a real career. They told me it was a bad idea, so at that point I stopped. Interesting to wonder how much of a better writer I’d be if I hadn’t stopped for ten years.
TWM: Well you know, if you think about it– I listen to a podcast about screenwriting called Scriptnotes co-hosted by Craig Mazin and John August. They’ve written Hangover 2 & 3 and the upcoming Huntsmen; and Big Fish, Go, and Frankenweenie, respectively.
E: No waaay!
TWM: Yeah, it’s fantastic. Anyway, John had mentioned that as a kid his “10,000 hours of work” in terms of screenwriting was playing with action figures as a kid and creating storylines with them. The mind still uses the same creative muscle, so you weren’t away from it, but you weren’t physically writing, which is a different thing of course.
E: Or reading, which is sad. During that time I despised it too: “I don’t read, I don’t write.” I was defiant.
TWM: Had you ever hoped to write in another medium, such as film?
E: I did for a period of time write plays, but mostly it was stories. I did have a period of poetry as well, which was always dark, horrible stuff (laughs).
TWM: Yeah, I had my poetry phase too.
E: I remember second grade being in trouble for writing a chapter book. Everyday we had a writing prompt and you’re supposed to go find a spot in the room and write, but I’d keep adding to my chapter book. I didn’t have any of the entries done, it was all my story instead. I got in lots of trouble… it was horrible.
TWM: You’d think that they would encourage you writing nevertheless?
E: Right? How do you discourage someone in second grade?! (Both laugh)
I was always writing chapter books. I’d always start them but I never finished them.
TWM: I know that feeling well. So you as well I imagine, have dealt with those less-productive days when you’re trying to get something done. What do you do to rejuvenate your creative juices; what activities help you decompress and regain that ability to write?
E: You know, I honestly don’t get writer’s block, because I just expand my definition of what my writing habits are. I set the goal of one word a day. Tomorrow I may delete that word, but it’s always one word. Generally if I take the time to get out my book there’s more than one word. Only when I was deathly ill were there only one word, but I haven’t missed a day in over a year.
TWM: Oh wow, that’s awesome.
E: I take my journals with me everywhere. That’s how I write, I write in journals first by hand. So some days it’s just an outline, and others if I am stuck at all, I’ll do some concept mapping maybe with some dialogue. “What happens here?” and kind of just let it tell me.
Outlining and doing the other stuff motivates me because it just comes from a different spot, but I think more than that if I’m just stuck on something I meditate, and put on some music— I have a playlist for my Storm of Ages music.
TWM: That’s great. I have a playlist too, and use it when I’m stuck. Then there’s my garden, being “one” with the Earth is a peaceful experience. Even a simple walk can help, something that takes you away from the workstation, so when you come back to the writing process you wondered why you were even stuck at all.
E: My best friend and I will dance in the living room. We’ll have this two-person dance party when one of us is getting drained, we’re like: “No, let’s do two-person dance party” and you’re like revived. It ignites the mind-body connection and you’re focused.
TWM: Physical activity is a good method.
E: I like to go hiking too.
TWM: Ok, this is an interesting question, but I don’t know if it will pan out. As a writer, your worst critic is yourself. What sort of things do you tell yourself, or what issues do you anticipate after the release? What crazy things do you “expect” to happen? Because most times these wild scenarios don’t.
E: Like bad things? Oh my gosh. This whole process was so indulgent from the start. I wanted to write it, I enjoyed it, and I didn’t care who read it. I didn’t have any “big ideas”, maybe my Dad did. (Both laugh) He’s very convinced that we are going to buy a house from it.
Dad and I are going on tour this fall by the way (laughs). That’s not how it works in the self-publishing field, when you’re not already established. When you’re a student and you don’t have thousands of dollars for marketing.
When I finished and sent it off to my beta readers, I was like “Holy shit, it never occurred to me that people might not like it. What happens if people don’t like it? Anyone who has read it liked it. And Dita Von Teese had said “You can be the ripest, juiciest peach in the world and there’s still going to be someone who hates peaches.”
Somebody’s not going to like it so I just need to get over that. There are people who love to hate for various reasons.
TWM: And in the same token, they’ll be people who love it. There’s an old adage: You’re never as good as you think you are, and you’re never as bad as you think you are.”
E: That’s true.
TWM: So that’s always humbling. (laughs) So how long have you been writing this series, because like I told you, I remember you talking about this series three-four years ago maybe. Like “I have this book series in mind.”
E: I kinda always knew I’d write a book, I just didn’t know when it would be. Since even before that little girl’s heart was crushed. (Both laugh) I still knew “ok someday eventually I’ll come back to this” because this is what I’m supposed to do with my life.
This started in July of 2011. It’s been four years. I know because I have all of my journals dated page by page, and I have like a dozen journals.
It’s been since then, but on that first day it was just the first dream, but I didn’t have the name or the girl with the red dress yet.
TWM: Do you think your plan regarding distribution changed? I mean back then, the ubiquitous accessibility of online digital distribution is HUGE now.
E: I’m using Create Space; it’s kind of a newer thing. I did a lot of research and I decided I was going to publish it. I never thought that it would be big. Like I said from the start this was for me.
[Create Space] prints On-Demand which has this great allure because you don’t have to buy thousands of copies upfront. You can just go on Amazon and buy a copy and they’ll print it, ship it to your house, and I don’t have to do a thing.
And there’s a digital version (not yet available) but it’s all a free service so why wouldn’t I do it this way, ya know?
TWM: Absolutely. That sounds like a no-brainer.
E: Right. The manuscript itself was like about three hundred and twenty pages printed off so… how much ink is that, how much paper? I’d then have to send it to all of these different companies, which for somebody who has the time and wants to put that effort into it, you know it’s great, but I didn’t want to do that side of things to be honest.
I wanted to not put a lot of pressure on myself to perform, I just wanted to enjoy what I was doing. For me it was just about having it in my hands with my name on it and I looked at a lot of different options and that made the most sense, and it seemed like a way to retain my rights on it and have a say on the way it came out.
I have an art background so I can do a lot of my own stuff like the cover so that helps.
TWM: What do you hope happens with the series, but on the flipside what do you wish to happen, the pie-in-the-sky stuff? Like perhaps in other mediums?
E: I’d love to see it in any other medium, I really love the story and the characters. I feel kind of like the story just happened and it felt real to me as I created it. It was something that I could see being a movie or a graphic novel. I want to continue to create art with it, I have a lot of art now for the book.
I’m looking forward to having (like down the road), a leather-bound, gold-rimmed page version with all of the images inside of it (laughs). Honestly, I’m still getting used to the whole idea of it, and as you know, I come from a very small area and I’m self-publishing and I’m not expecting to be like you know, a billionaire or something (laughs).
My biggest goal is to get the whole series done and if it becomes un-enjoyable, why am I doing it? I don’t want to hate it. If it becomes about the work and the money you know it won’t be as fun.
TWM: Yeah, I don’t blame you there; it’s not what I’d like to see either. I personally, just want to do something that I can like enjoy doing and I don’t care if I make “more than enough.”
E: And it’ll be a while before I can “pay the bills” with it or anything.
TWM: Any more thoughts?
E: I guess… just it was a really long process of growth and it took four years because it was something that I’d never done before and it took a long time to get out of my own way. I went through a lot of life changes in that period and I’d changed a lot. The story changed a lot– I had no idea what I was doing.
So it took four years to do that, to get out of my own head. And I’m still in my own head.
And you want to do it because you love it, right? I think if you love it then you’ll get better at it.
TWM: Yeah I think if you put your best foot forward, people will respect it no matter what their take is on the material. Like “I’m not a big fantasy guy, but I could see where she’s going with this.”
TWM: Well thank you for speaking with me today.
E: Thank you.
Storm of Ages: Nightmare (Book 1) is available NOW on Amazon.