If you’ve met Jeffe Kennedy in person at a convention, you might know her as the woman with all the fabulous hats. If you’ve read her books, you know she specializes in devastatingly sexy romance and top-knotch writing.
I’m completely hooked on Jeffe’s fantasy romance series, A Covenant of Thorns. It’s sexy, unusual and full of multifaceted characters. I loved the first book (Rogue’s Pawn), and when Rogue’s Possession came out in early October, I snatched it up and read it in a matter of days. I invited Jeffe to Paranormal Unbound to chat about the series, and we ended up talking about everything from what makes a good villain to how a biology background helps make for excellent world building. Read on!
AJ: Thanks for chatting with us today! First, why don’t you tell us a little bit about your modern fantasy series, A Covenant of Thorns.
Jeffe: A scientist turned sorceress finds herself in the land of the fae, where the ruthless and seductive Rogue is determined to control and possess her. She must master the rules of this whimsical and terrifying place, learn how to use her own powers to serve as a tool in a war she doesn’t understand, and not only determine why Rogue wants to sire her firstborn child, but the fate of all firstborn children in Faerie.
AJ: I know firsthand that this is a great series—sexy, mysterious, and unique. The idea of a mortal trapped in the Faerie realm isn’t new, but you managed to give the story a fresh feel. Did you pull from any particular myths or research sources as you were writing?
Jeffe: I did a bit of research – mostly searching out the very oldest fairy tales I could lay hands on. I found some in a great used bookstore in Inverness. Fairy tales are adapted from old oral histories, of course, but from the Victorian era on, the published versions tended to clean them up. There’s also been a lot of Christianizing of them over time, and I looked for stories with less of that influence. Otherwise, I’ve had a lifelong fascination for fairy tales, so I drew on the vast conglomeration of them in my head.
AJ: Fascinating! Can you tell us a little about how the old tales differ from the stories we’re used to hearing? Are they darker?
Jeffe: MUCH darker! In many ways the older fae stories portray them as what we think of as demonic today. They’re terribly cruel, in a capricious way. There’s nothing cute or sweet about them, and the humans do NOT win in the end.
AJ: Not so many happy endings, then.
Jeffe: Exactly. The HEAs were really introduced later, partly to clean them up for children and partly to show Christianity triumphing over them. Kind of fascinating, really
AJ: You certainly give your fairy villains a healthy dose of cruelty and capriciousness. Titania makes me want to read with the lights on! What do you think makes for a good villain besides the scary factor?
Jeffe: I think a good villain has to believe totally in their objective. They have to have the same – or greater – passion for their purpose than anyone else in the story, until the hero and heroine get up to snuff
I also like unpredictability in a villain – partly because they do operate outside of normal bounds. Finally, a villain needs to be powerful in a believable way. Not the thing like in movies, where they SHOULD be dead but keep getting up again, but so dangerous that they are difficult to defeat. Almost like a force of nature.
All the fae are unpredictable to some extent — or I hope they are — because they don’t follow familiar rules of behavior. They are an alien race to me.
AJ: That’s another thing I love about this series. The world building isn’t just about the creatures and the magic, it’s also about the unique cultural mores that drive so much of the plot. Part of the joy of reading the series is uncovering the mystery of the fae culture. How do you decide how much of that culture to reveal as you tell the story?
Jeffe: Oh, thank you! I’m so glad that comes through.
I’m a biologist by training, so I really wanted to create a believable “ecosystem” that does not follow the rules of our own world. I don’t really decide. I’m a write-for-discovery kind of writer, so I discover the world as Gwynn (my heroine) does. I have an underlying sense of it, but most stuff I’m finding out in pretty much the same order as the reader does!
For book 3, I’m being a bit more deliberate about it, now that I know more and have in mind what the final big reveals should be.
AJ: I’m a biologist myself, and I’m always fascinated to find other scientists who are published in genre fiction. Do you use your background in biology in any other aspects of your writing?
Jeffe: Well, Gwynn, my heroine, is a scientist and that very much influences her character and how she sees the world. We both take refuge in the structure provided by scientific discipline – working by operating hypotheses and organizing observations. It’s a way of distancing emotional and subjective experience from logic, to better assess situations and make decisions.
I also believe that an understanding of the natural world and its laws provides a foundation for building/understanding new worlds. Maybe a deeper appreciation for the reality that cause and effect are not the straight-line relationships that other disciplines, like physics, might make them out to be.
AJ: Absolutely. I think when you’re trained to seek out order and causation in the real world, it informs how you build the fictional ones.
Jeffe: Yes! Also, biology in particular teaches an appreciation for complex systems.
AJ: Oh, absolutely. Biologists are used to grappling with a lot of complexity — we’re used to being confronted with the fact that we don’t understand everything. 🙂
Part of what makes Rogue (your hero) so fascinating is that I’m never sure exactly what he’s up to. I *want* to trust him, but, like Gwynn, I’m never 100% sure that I can. You told us unpredictability helps make a good villain — do you think it makes a good hero, too?
Jeffe: Well, he’s kind of an anti-hero, isn’t he? He’s not noble or selfless by any stretch. That’s kind of what Gwynn brings to the equation. Rogue doesn’t want to be responsible for anyone else, but she insists on it.
I think the unpredictability makes him fascinating. In many ways, Rogue is plagued by the fear that he can’t trust Gwynn either. She is his Achille’s Heel. But also his path to his ultimate triumph. These books are very much about the nature of power and control for me. Both Gwynn and Rogue prefer to be in control, are both unwilling to have anyone else wield power over them.
AJ: That theme of control is a great metaphor for falling in love.
Jeffe: isn’t it? I’m glad that comes through. Falling in love is really the ultimate loss of control.
AJ: It definitely is. And I love the way paranormal fiction gives writers the ability to externalize the terrifying intangibles of life.
You’ve given us some sneaky teasers about Book 3. Will it be the last in the Covenant of Thorns series, or are there more to come?
Jeffe: Funny you should ask – I just pinged my agent a couple of days ago and said “what if I don’t want this to be the last book in the series? She came back with a list of options, which is great, because I don’t think I’m ready to leave this world yet.
AJ: I’m so glad there might be more books in the series! Do you have any other projects in the works you can share with us?
Jeffe: Oh, yes! My modern retelling of Phantom of the Opera comes out as an e-serial starting in January. There are six episodes in all, called Master of the Opera. And then in June, I have book 1 in a new fantasy trilogy coming out. It’s called Mark of the Tala, the first in the Twelve Kingdoms series. It’s a different world than Covenant of Thorns. The series follows the three daughters of the High King, and each book focuses on a different princess. MARK is about the middle princess.
AJ: Ah, the curse of the middle child…
Jeffe: Exactly! The book is a lot about that — lots of themes of invisibility and finding your real self.
AJ: Love it! I’m looking forward to reading it. Thanks for taking the time to chat with us today!
Well, Unbounders, have you read any truly scary villains lately? Fallen for any anti-heroes? Share your latest off-beat paranormal obsessions in the comments.