Fri 16 Sep 2011
by Gay Degani
In Every Day Fiction‘s top story for August, “Flowers for Clockwork Street,” the author, Jennifer R. Fierro, created a love story which played out against the fantasy world where earls and barons ruled the streets. Flash Fiction Chronicles interviewed Jennifer to find out how her story came about.
FFC: Jennifer, your story, “Flowers for Clockwork Street,” pulled me in the “World of Streets” right away and you held me to the end. All three elements I look for in a story are present in your piece, clear, lyrical language, strong structure, and unique content. Can you tell us a little about how this story came to be?
Jennifer: I think it came to be—like a lot of my writing—by accident. Or rather, it seemed like it wrote itself with a phrase. Whenever I start writing I never have a solid idea of plot, but rather I have a phrase or a character or a vision of a scene, and then the story sort of…happens. With this story, I had an idea of a painter who painted things on his canvas that would then appear in the sky. When the girl entered his shop, I originally had the thought she would be someone evil or nefarious, but when I had to identify her, the phrase “Daughter of the Earl of Clockwork Street” fell out on the page.
As soon as I wrote that phrase, the rest of the story just clicked into place. I thought to myself, “If there’s an Earl of Clockwork Street,” then that indicates that there are other streets with different themes and different nobility. The streets, perhaps, are even kingdoms where one street could war against another. Wouldn’t that be cool!”
It was then I realized this was meant to be a love story with two people from different streets. With this setting, I realized I would have tension; I would have an antagonist, something for the characters to overcome. This gave the love story a purpose. It was fascinating for me, as the writer, to see just how important setting became in this story and how it unfolded. I’m excited to write another story, maybe even something novel length, in the World of Streets because it absolutely fascinates me.
FFC: I’m excited when I find myself believing in an author’s created “world.” How do you go about creating a place that both unique and seemingly authentic?
Jennifer: Oh goodness. That’s hard because I don’t really consider myself a world-builder, at least, not on a grand scale. I have one writer friend who is fantastic at it and I admire her abilities to an insane degree. I guess, for me, I have to start small. I choose one thing and build out from there. Perhaps a building or a city.
I’m working on a novel-length work now where I started with the thought of a city where the people wear jeweled animal masks to hide their faces. I didn’t know why they wore the masks; I didn’t know what the city looked like, but it was something that fascinated me, and seemed wondrous and interesting and enchanting. With that as my foundation I kept (or at least I hope I did) that sense and feel as I built and as my characters moved through the city and through another city and through the marsh near the city.
Each detail built on the other in a certain way, so I guess the answer to the first part of the question—how I create something that’s unique—is that I like to imagine things, places, worlds that are wondrous to me. Places I would like to explore. Places that make me think, “what’s around that corner? What’s in that hidden knell?” Sometimes I leave those questions unanswered and it makes the place even more alluring.
As for authentic, I think there’s always an element of logic. If you follow an idea to logical ends, it comes off as authentic. Especially if some of those ideas are grounded in what we see in the world around us. For example, the idea of an Earl or a Duke ruling an area is one rooted in history. I think, too, the world you create can’t be isolated from your characters. Setting and characters are one; they interact together in time and space.
FFC: What other stories have you written in the fantasy genre? What other genres do you like to work in?
Jennifer: EDF published another one of my stories, “Autumn in the Shenandoah,” back in April. I also have a folder with a couple of shorts I need to find a good home for. Honestly, the past few years have been taken up with my graduate degree, and I wasn’t able to think about submissions. As for genres, I stick to fantasy. I’ve tried others, but they don’t hold my interest or my imagination as much.
FFC: From your bio, I see you teach college level science. What part does this experience play in your writing?
Jennifer: It’s both a positive and a negative. Being a scientist in general lends particularly well to writing in that, with science, you have to be able to analyze something and figure out all the evidence, and then present that evidence to make someone believe what you’re saying. This is especially true in my field of geology where I’m telling stories of the earth, and I have to recreate whole environments from nothing, but pebbles and sand, and then make undergraduate students, who may know nothing about science, understand and be interested in the story of the earth. That’s what writing is too, in a way. I’m trying to create something that people will believe, like, and be interested in, but if I don’t present my story in an appropriate way, it can fall flat on its face.
The negative side of all this is that writing for the sciences is very different from writing creatively, so much so that I get all muddled if my worlds overlap too much. In fact, when I was writing my thesis, I had to stop writing creatively because my thesis was becoming, in the words of my committee, “too informal and not science-y enough.” Now, though, since I have no science writing to do, I can focus back on the creative.
FFC: Many of our readers write speculative fiction. What advice do you have for those who are just starting to write?
Jennifer: Read. Read, read, read. Read everything and figure out what you like and what you don’t like. More importantly, figure out why you do or do not love something. And don’t be afraid of your imagination.
FFC: I’m curious about who you read, what writers you admire. Can you share some of your favorites with us?
Jennifer: I think a clear one is, of course, Patricia A. McKillip. I admire her and respect her, and I remember when I first read her work, I felt as if I had found a kindred spirit. While I like epic fantasy and more traditional fantasy, it’s not what I like to write. I like to write things that are a little different, enchanting and beautiful, and so, when I was younger, I felt a little insecure that what I wrote was a little different from the things I read. Then my mother gave me “The Riddlemaster of Hed,” and I thought, “Aha! Here’s someone like me. It’s okay to write like I do.” That book remains my favorite book to this day.
P.C. Hodgell is another writer I love. Her character, Jamethiel Knorth is such a fantastic example of a strong female character, whose strength lies in her character and not any martial ability or snarky dialogue. As for Ms. Hodgell’s world-building…well, I could gush about her talents for hours.
Tad Williams is great. He makes his characters so human and so relatable. I’ve never read a Tad Williams book I didn’t like.
And also George MacDonald. I admire him greatly. When I first read his Phantastes, I was blown away. I can see how he inspired writers like C.S. Lewis.
FFC: Thanks, Jennifer, for taking the time to answer my questions. It has been a delight getting to know you better.