Lexi: I’ve cracked out the prosecco because our guest today is one of the sparkly ones. Welcome back to the blog, Jeffe Kennedy!
Thank you! You know I love a cold glass of prosecco, so that makes this visit extra special.
Lexi: Dear readers, I was lucky enough to meet up with Jeffe at RWA in Denver this summer. We talked, laughed, enjoyed wine, and talked about Exile of the Seas! I gave it a 5 wine rating, and I’m not the only one giving it 5’s. But Jeffe, you worried that you’d given away too much of Jenna’s story. Is this the first time you’ve experienced this?
Well… yes and no. Usually my stories take longer to tell than I think they will – so that might factor into how I feel about this. But I’m also an intuitive writer. I follow my subconscious storyteller rather than apply conscious control, which means my stories end up where they end up, not where I think they will. So, “worried” might not be the right way to put it. I’m very happy with Exile of the Seas and I’m delighted that people love it so much! What concerns me is how Warrior of the World will feel to readers. But there’s a lot that happens in that third book that’s critical to Jenna’s personal journey, so I think it will work fine.
Mostly I think it comes down to a fundamental kind of writerly insecurity, where there’s a seed of potential failure in every success. When people say “I think this is the best book you’ve written so far” – as people have with Exile of the Seas – then there’s a semi-inevitable mental transition straight to “therefore the next book won’t be as good.” That’s certainly not true or rational, but I think that’s part of being creative. If we stop worrying if the next book will measure up that’s an indication that we don’t care enough – and a very bad sign. I think about how actors often say that if they don’t feel “butterflies” before going on stage, the performance isn’t as good. There’s something to be said for a level of creative despair because that’s the fuel that drives us to do better.
Lexi: There should be a name for that kind of thing. But, back to Exile of the Seas because, well, I loved it so much! And my favorite part was that you had Jenna take a vow of silence, for most of the book! Experts say over 90% of our communication is non-verbal…but you had to write it. Did you do research, read a book, or camp out at an outside cafe with a latte and people watch?
That was very interesting for me to write. I really wanted to avoid having Jenna be magically cured of her terrible trauma, so I searched for ways to give her space and safety, even while she’s essentially naked in the world – bereft of family, friends, and even her homeland. In some ways it’s similar to The Pages of the Mind where my linguist librarian who relies on words is trapped in a marriage with a man she can’t talk to. So, clearly this is something that fascinates me! I’m very much a word person, too, and I’ve always been interested in language and communication. I truly do believe that with people we’re close to we develop a great deal of nonverbal communication. Couples can look at each other across a party and know the other is ready to leave already. I think it’s a mark of deeper understanding and harmony when people can communicate without words.
So, did I do research? Not exactly, but in graduate school I studied animal behavior and I’ve continued to be interested in how people work with animals. People like that get very good at understanding nonverbal communication. There are jokes around the internet about people talking to their pets as if the animals understand, but the thing is, they DO understand us. And if we pay attention to the nonverbal cues they give us, we can understand a great deal about them.
Now, I did do research on elephants! I read a couple of books about captive elephants and watched a lot of videos of people working with elephants.
Lexi: Having a latte outside a cafe is a good idea any time, good for introspection. And Jenna’s story is one of transformation, of finding yourself, which is what I connected to. She went through some tough stuff. But pre Prisoner of the Crown release I remember you promising that even though it wasn’t a romance you’ll get Jenna to her HEA. And we get a good first taste in Exile of the Seas. Ochieng is amazing and his culture, stunning. What inspired him and his home?
For me, transformation and finding happiness includes finding love and a partner to share your journey, so yes on that HEA. Ochieng was one of those characters who walks into the story and introduces himself as someone planning to stay. He and his culture grew out of knowing he’d be attached to elephants. I know what kind of climate elephants thrive in, so that ecology dictated a great deal about how his culture would have developed in that environment. So I thought about the weather, the climate, the food supply – what they did and did not have – and the rest grew from that.
I also wanted a family culture that was entirely different than what Jenna had grown up with. The D’tiembo house, too, is the opposite of the Imperial Seraglio – as airy, open and free of walls as the seraglio was densely encased underground.
Lexi: I loved that we traveled along with Jenna to Ochieng’s home, a new land in the Twelve Kingdoms realm. Seriously, Jeffe, I can’t get enough of this world! Which is why I’m also excited for the next release in the Uncharted Realms, The Arrows of the Heart. I did it, *hides behind wine glass*, I got off track. But Exile of the Seas is connected because Dasnaria, Jenna’s home, plays a big part in this world you’ve built. And you like to hide little references to things in your books, any hints on what we should be looking for in Exile of the Seas?
I don’t think it counts as off track! These stories are all interconnected, so it’s completely a legitimate excursion. It’s true I am tickled when I can make subtle connections and hints – and then I get to see who discovers them. So it wouldn’t be fair to give them away, but… Kaja is someone who readers have “met” before. Kaedrin is, too. Sharp readers will also catch references to Salena and Ursula. Both The Arrows of the Heart and the book after that, which will tie up the arc for both Jenna and The Uncharted Realms (*hint*) will show how all of these interconnections play out. Hlyti is playing a fine game with us!
Lexi: Cheers to Exile of the Seas! Thank you so much for stopping by, Jeffe. Congrats on the release and we’ll be waiting anxiously for the next one!
Thanks so much! And I love hearing that!