RLM: Besides historical fantasy, you also write poetry. Tell me about your poetry. Confessional? SFF focused?
JLM: I’ve written poetry for as long as I’ve written fiction, which means for most of my life. There were horrid, angst filled poems written in high school, and slightly better angst poetry in college, but I got serious about poetry when I got serious about writing fiction for publication.
I was very fortunate to be invited into a group of poets known amongst ourselves as The Musers. I learned so much from this group, and I owe core members Marcy Rockwell, John Borneman, Marice Trentholf , David Kapasky-Merkle, Mikal Trimm, and Eric Martin a huge debt.
My poetry is all over the map, from semi-literary to science-fiction to fantasy to mythic. While emotion is certainly a part of any poem I write, I’d never call any of them “confessional.” I think of poetry as another form of storytelling.
RLM: Would you mind sharing a piece with us?
JLM: The poem I’m sharing was published in a poetry magazine called Paper Crow. I’ve rewritten it slightly since then.
“A poem for no one at all”
A heartless sun glitters off
war shattered towers,
reflecting memory into my eyes
and scattering shards of daylight,
bright twins of my discontent.
A new planting will see us through winter,
the hope of saving kith and kin what
keeps me walking rows fuzzy green,
singing fragile sprouts strong and high
long after others go to seek their rest.
Discontent is the only face I let the others see.
I’ve no time to bring grief
into the light.
Night is kinder.
Darkness hides how much is broken,
conceals the emptiness in quiet shadows
softens the edges of cloud topped spires,
moonglow letting me pretend there’s life
hanging on in places I can’t touch,
tenuous and fragile.
The firelight reflects off worn faces
and valiant attempts to smile,
a deeper murk beyond the fire’s reach
camouflaging friends and lovers
seeking comfort in another’s touch,
searching for courage to face dawn;
a scrap of strength for impossible things.
None of them are you.
I dream about the old times.
Fox roamed shade dappled woods
and my spirit filled her heart,
misfit girl-child and wicked trickster
ignoring danger until it fell upon us.
And in dreams I can still
see her dodging thorn-trees,
hear breath harsh and rasping,
fleeing from the hunters’ hounds
on legs heavy with fatigue,
and I cry out in my sleep
at the pain of teeth tearing fur.
Another survivor rushes to comfort me,
seeking favor with the witch-girl
widowed much too young,
murmurs his kind words and
brushes away tears with gentle hands.
He isn’t you
he never will be,
but he’s here.
Darkness hides how much of me is broken
conceals my grief and emptiness,
and if I steal a scrap of courage to face dawn
or watch the sun rise over broken towers,
no one will ever know.
Night is much kinder.
At night I can dream of you.
RLM: Describe your daily writing routine.
JLM: I still work a full time retail job and my schedule isn’t the same any two weeks in a row, so “routine” might be the wrong word. I write as much as I can, when I can. Music is a given while writing, but that might be the only set in stone part of the process right now. If I ever get to quit the day job, I imagine I’ll set hours for writing the way you set aside hours for any other job.
Writing is a job. It’s just the best job ever and brings a lot of joy with it.
RLM: Do you conduct a lot of research for your books?
JLM: The Delia and Gabe books involved a metric ton of research. The world today is a totally different place than it was a hundred years ago.
RLM: What is usually involved with your research?
JLM: I researched clothing styles, furniture, historical events, cars, movies, magazines and books, and read contemporary writing. The Library of Congress has digitized tens of thousands of news photographs from the 1910s, many of which include links to the newspaper articles written to accompany them. That gave me a great deal of insight into what was important to people between 1915-1919, the time period covered by the three novels.
And of course The Great War loomed over everything. WWI was grim and no fun at all to read about.
RLM: How long on average does it take you to write a book, from first concept to polished manuscript?
JLM: At times concepts rattle around in the back of my head for years before I’m ready to write the novel. Other novels have fallen into my head fully grown. The fastest I’ve written a novel is five months. Others take a year or a little more, but working full time impacts that timeline and slows me down.
RLM: What drew you to write about turn-of-the-century United States?
JLM: The beginnings of the 20th century, and WWI, have always fascinated me. A friend gave my father a book written in 1917 full of photographs of the Great War when I was about ten, or maybe a bit younger. Those photos, even in black and white, were…horrific. But it began my mild obsession with that time period.
And those years were truly the beginning of what we think of as the modern age. Women won the right to vote and labor unions got their start, cars replaced horse drawn buggies and wagons, empires crumbled and were replaced with other systems of government. WWI was the first “modern war”, fought with modern weapons.
RLM: How about ghosts?
JLM: Spiritualism was going strong in the 1910s and well into the 1920-1930s. Everyone, almost literally, believed in ghosts and communication with spirits. The ghosts and Delia’s abilities grew naturally from that fact.
RLM: Tell me a little about your current work in progress, A Parliament of Queens.
JLM: The book is about three princesses, from three different nations and cultures, who were never expected to rule, and due to tragic and suspicious circumstances—the deaths of their fathers and all their brothers—find themselves on the throne. These three women band together and pool their talents to discover who was behind the murder of their families. A Parliament Of Queens takes place in an art deco world of magic, alchemy and where airships assume the role of airplanes and trains.
RLM: Is there one subject you would never write about as an author?
JLM: Any subject is fair game if you have a good story to tell, you respect the subject matter, and you can do that story justice. Avoiding things that scare you makes for bland books, and keeps you from growing as a writer. It’s pretty much a given that if the idea of writing something scares me, I have to write it.
RLM: What subject do you think has been mishandled by other writers and how do you think you would handle it?
JLM: All writers bring their own vision to their books and stories. It’s not for me to say anyone mishandled a story. Are there aspects of books I think could have been done better? Yes. That includes my own books.
We all do the best we can. We all do our best to improve.
RLM: What has been the toughest criticism given to you as an author?
JLM: I try not to dwell on tough critiques or reviews. Every reader brings their own perspective to a book, and it’s a reality that at least some of those perspectives, or opinions, or life experiences will be at odds with mine. That’s just the way life works.
RLM: What has been the best compliment?
JLM: The best compliment I’ve been given is when a reader takes the time out of her or his day to write and tell me they loved my book. I can’t think of anything better.
RLM: Part of the focus of this interview series is to highlight women SFF writers. In your online journal, you talk about the invisibility of women SFF writers. What do you think are effective ways/strategies for women to combat the sexism/favoritism still rampant in the SFF world?
JLM: The bias toward men is build into the existing system, our culture, and the mindset of a huge number of readers. Men get the lion’s share of promo dollars, the funded appearances, the reviews, the buzz, and the push. Men still dominate award lists. Progress is being made in slow, painful inches, but the problem of women writers being nearly invisible isn’t going away any time soon.
I firmly believe that talking about the issue (or shouting about it at times), and that shining light into dark corners is the only way to bring about meaningful change. Women need to make noise. All women—writers, readers, critics and reviewers—need to talk about and promote women’s writing.
Networking has become a bit of a dirty word, but in this context it’s vital. If you read a SFF book written by a woman, tell people. Talk about the book and the story in social media and in person, point out what you loved or didn’t love about the book. Leave reviews. Discuss women’s stories and why their voices deserve to be heard.
Word of mouth is still THE most powerful marketing tool in existence. Women can make good use of that fact and all of us will benefit.
RLM: Besides the third book in your Delia Martin trilogy, what is on the horizon from you?
JLM: I’m working on finishing A Parliament Of Queens and my agent is working on selling it. I have notes for other books and openings written for some of them, short stories I want to write and novellas.
All I can say for certain at this point is that I’m not finished telling stories.