Author Interview: Question Time with S. Jae-Jones, author of Wintersong

Born and raised in sunny Los Angeles, she lived in New York City for 10 years before relocating down to Dixie, where she is comfortably growing fat on grits and barbecue. When not writing, she can be find rock-climbing, skydiving, taking photographs, drawing pictures, and dragging her dog on ridiculously long hikes. More here.


1.       In your biography (I spent a good hour stalking you on your website and now know what that phobia that shall not be named is) you mention that you are an artist. How do you think the artist part of you affects the way you see the world and thus the way you write the world? Do you think that if you were not an artist, your writing style would be very different?

Honestly, I don’t think me being a visual artist affects the way I write, it’s more that I believe writing and visual art are ways I express thoughts or ideas. The process is the same, the medium is different. I don’t think I’m a particularly visual writer either; I don’t necessarily spend a lot of time describing exactly what things look like because that’s not how I perceive the world. I’m more interested in how sight interacts with the other senses: sound, smell, taste, touch. As an artist, I focus more on expression and impression than exact representation or reproduction.

However, I did contribute art to Wintersong: the frontispiece illustration of Liesl and the handlettered part titles are by me.

2.       Music is very important in WinterSong. Do you have a background in music or is it a great passion?

A bit of both, really. I come from a musical family, and I play the piano, flute, and guitar, and occasionally the harp, percussion, and really bad clarinet. My mother likes to tell this story about little JJ: when I was very small, about three years old or so, I used to kneel on the piano bench and pick out the Yankee Doodle tune by ear playing only the black keys. I asked her for piano lessons, but she told me to wait until I was four, when I was big enough to properly reach the keyboard. But the actual bulk of my music training was in voice—the women in my family are prodigious singers.

But most of my passion for music is appreciation. I think music occupies an emotional dimension that writing or visuals do not, and unlike writing or art, I am not a creator of music.

3.       Could you tell us some of the research you did for WinterSong? Are there any particular tidbits you found out that couldn’t be woven into the story?

Don’t ask a Ravenclaw to expand upon her research; you’ll be here all day! All year! I did do a lot of research for the book, particularly music history and writing. I knew music history because I had learned it in school, but what I hadn’t learned was how to write about music, period. One of the best things my art teacher in high school made me do was take college art history courses because it forced me to write about art: about color, composition, expression, and how that all came together into a whole work of art. I’d already learned how to do that for literature, but applying those skills to other mediums was eye-opening.

I also did a lot of research into setting—time and place—but would get distracted by rabbit holes of interesting information, like German typography. Needless to say, my knowledge of Fraktur did not make it into the book.

4.       What are some of the more challenging aspects of retelling a famous story? Correct me if I am wrong but WinterSong is a retelling of Christina Rossetti’s The Goblin’s Market though I have heard people saying it is a retelling of The Labyrinth as well.

Wintersong definitely got its direct inspiration from Labyrinth. I started with the relationship dynamic between the Goblin King and Sarah and sort of built from there. But I pulled from several sources at once when it came to Wintersong. The sister relationship came from Goblin Market, as did the enchanted fruit. I’ve always loved the trope of Death and the Maiden, so some elements of Hades and Persephone are in the book.

I think the most challenging aspect of retelling a famous story isn’t actually in the writing of it, but in managing readers’ expectations. I wrote the retelling of Labyrinth I wanted to read, but that won’t be everyone’s idea of what a retelling should be. And that’s perfectly acceptable; we all bring ourselves to a text.

5.       What are you working on now? Can you tell us anything about your current W.I.P.?

Right now I’m working on the sequel to Wintersong, which picks up Liesl’s story after the ending and examines the consequences of her decisions. I also have a lot of other writing ideas that I’m dabbling in, but nothing concrete enough to speak about.

6.       What books are you most excited to read in 2017?

This is a bit of a cheat since I’ve read them both already, but y’all are in for a treat with Sarah Lemon’s Done Dirt Cheap and Roshani Chokshi’s A Crown of Wishes. I’m also super excited about Angie Thomas’s The Hate U Give, as well as new books from old friends and favorites, Renee Ahdieh, Marie Lu, Leigh Bardugo, et al.