Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Kelly Jones

Kelly Jones is easily as much of a fangirl of Regency Magic as I am judging from her debut in the genre, Murder, Magic, and What We Wore, which is a treasure trove that mines the genre for the best of the best. But one would expect that combination of the literary and the historically studious from an author who received a Bachelor of Arts in English and Anthropology, two subjects I wished I'd taken more classes of in college. Growing up in San Francisco she was introduced to Jane Austen at a young age and I'd like to think that that helpful librarian is what spurred her into getting a Master’s in Library and Information Sciences from the University of Washington after she finished her undergrad. Over the next fifteen years on her way to becoming an author she surrounded herself with books; working in libraries and bookstores until she finally decided to focus on her writing. Nowadays when Kelly isn't writing she's teaching workshops for writers of all ages on such diverse topics as just writing a novel to superpets to the science of chickens. Sadly Shoreline Washington is a bit far for me to commute for a workshop...

Getting back to the chickens... not only does she keep chickens that are sadly not showing any aptitude for magic but her first book was about chickens! Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer is about twelve-year-old Sophie and her magical chickens. The book is illustrated by Katie Kath and published by Knopf Books For Young Readers and got a slew of awards. While I have yet to read this book, or it's sequel which comes out later this year, if it is anywhere near as funny or original as Murder, Magic, and What We Wore, I see many awards in Kelly's future. And given her diversity in interests, from "magic, farm life, spies, sewing, the odd everyday bits of history, how to make sauerkraut, how to walk goats, superheroes and what makes them so super, recipes to make with a lot of eggs, anything with ghosts (particularly friendly ghosts), how to draw chickens that actually look like chickens, and any story she’s never heard before" I can't wait to see what she'll write next... though I would like to put in a vote for a sequel to Murder, Magic, and What We Wore!  

Question: When did you first discover Jane Austen?

Answer: As a young person, I was a strong reader with a small public library, and everyone worked hard to keep me from running out of (reasonably appropriate and interesting) books. So, my mother and one of the librarians introduced me to Jane Austen in middle school. I'd never realized a classic could be funny!

Question: What do you think Jane Austen would think of her impact with so many literary offshoots, from parody to pastiche?

Answer: I think she might be a bit surprised to see how many of us share her sense of humor, more than 200 years later! (I know I worry whether anyone will find my writing as funny as I do.) But I think she'd be pleased that other writers understood that she was capturing a world in her stories, and to see how they imagined that world in theirs.

Question: Where do you get your inspiration from?

Answer: I tend to pull bits of stories from the world all around me. For Murder, Magic, and What We Wore, part of the inspiration was Florence Nightingale's Cassandra (early Victorian, I know!), where she talked about upper-class ladies (like herself) losing their minds for want of useful, valuable employment. I love and value the work I do; so what would it feel like to be prevented from doing it by society? Regency England was a time when women could cross class boundaries -- think of Emma, Lady Hamilton. But what would cause a lady to deliberately step down society's ladder, instead of up? What would that lady risk, and why, and what would it feel like?

I find amazing pieces of actual history, too, and try to let those lead me. What were women doing in 1818? Who had power? How did they use it? What did the world look like? The more history I learn, the more I question my own assumptions -- and I consider that a gift. The chapter heading quotes are my answer to anyone who tries to tell me "But a woman could never have -- " Really? Are you absolutely certain about that?

I also write the books I want to read, and I was craving a Regency fantasy that wasn't a romance. I love romance, but I also love stories about work, and family, and friendship, and responsibilities. I wanted to read about a girl who was too busy with other things to fall in love. What would it look like if Jane Austen had written and published a novel about a lady writer who did not marry? It bothered me that I couldn't quite imagine such a story.

Question: What makes the early 19th century mesh so well with magic?

Answer: That it was a time of great change, all over the world, including technological change. Magic fits best into times where anything seems possible, and where it would be used in new ways. I also particularly enjoy the way science and magic can fit together, so I like to think that the scientific advancements of the previous century would have had an impact on magic as well.

Question: The world building and system of magic varies greatly in the regency fantasy genre, how did you go about creating yours?

Answer: I love puzzling out a world from the clues an author includes. One of the things I love about reading Austen outside her time is that she doesn't explain anything, but a reader can pick up what's important to the characters as the story progresses. I like to treat magic and how it interacts with a novel's world the same way.

For this book, I thought about magic as creating things that could not be manufactured -- couldn't be designed and passed on to someone else to produce. It's artisan-magic, perhaps -- something where the person with the magic can't avoid getting their own hands dirty. And that means that a lady who's talented in something other than ladylike accomplishments like music or painting might not be able to use her talent, or at least might not profit from it. I love the ways that practicality and magic interact: what would you need magic for, if you were wealthy? What couldn't you get any other way? I try to think about the social questions as well: In a society with a wealth gap the size of Regency England's, would the lower classes have any experience of magic at all, unless they had it themselves? Or would it be almost indistinguishable from the other privileges of wealth -- just another way to one-up Lady So-and-So? What would people in that particular time be concerned about, or be unable to accomplish any other way?

Question: If you had to choose between writing only period literature or only fantasy literature, which would win?

Answer: It would be a tough choice, but I'd choose fantasy. My first novel, Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer, is a contemporary fantasy about a girl learning to care for magical chickens, after all! I cannot stop asking "what if?"

Question: Be honest, have you ever dressed up in Regency clothes just to pretend for a moment you are in the past?

Answer: Alas, I haven't managed to make the clothes yet so that I can wear them! Instead, I take out the sewing patterns and dream about having a sewing talent like Annis does (and the patience to figure out how to use it!) But I had an amazing amount of fun looking through fashion plates to see what Annis would wear and what she would sew.

It's a funny kind of pretending for me, though. I never wish I was actually in the past, because I know my family history. I'd be the Irish maid, not the English lady -- and I have no illusions about the challenges that Irish maid might face. I suppose that's why I choose fantasy over history: I want to try on a world where I could be something my ancestors couldn't dream about.

Author Photograph © Susan Brown


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