In this week’s episode, Marissa chats with S. Jae-Jones about THE GUARDIANS OF DAWN: ZHARA, her latest young adult fantasy, the first in a new series, pitched as Sailor Moon meets The Lunar Chronicles (!). Also discussed: how marketing can have a huge influence on a book’s genre and placement, reminding yourself of why you decided to seek out publication in the first place when publishing gets frustrating, the joy in sharing stories and connecting with readers, writing fairytale retellings within a context of a larger, overarching series, determining magic systems, inserting Easter eggs for fans, and so much more!The Happy Writer at Bookshop.org
Find out more and follow The Happy Writer on social media: https://www.marissameyer.com/podcast/
[00:10] Marissa: Hello, and welcome to the Happy Writer. This is a podcast that aims to bring readers more books to enjoy and to help authors find more joy in their writing. I am your host, Marissa Meyer, broadcasting for the first time from my brand new office in my brand new house. Well, not really a new house, it's kind of an old house, but it's new to us and I'm excited to be here. The move has been going well, I guess, I don't know. I haven't had to move into a house in my adult life and everyone told me to prepare myself for chaos and stress and they were not joking. So it has been an ordeal. But we are pretty much moved in and really enjoying the new place and I'm excited to be doing my very first podcast episode in the new office today. So one thing that's making me happy, I'm not going to talk about the house because that's predictable. Actually, the thing that is making me happy is that yesterday we took the girls to the beach because it was kind of like extremely low tides. And the local zoo and aquarium had experts that were there at the beach and they were talking to kids about all the creatures that they were finding and helping them find things. And we've gone at low tide and we've of course seen a million crabs. You always see a gazillion crabs and there's like the usual suspects, the clams and the barnacles and sometimes you see a jellyfish and that's all cool. But yesterday we also saw a whole bunch of anemones. We saw a ton of starfish and these really weird looking seaworm things. We saw a snail, like a sea snail that was the size of a dinner plate. It was enormous. And the biggest highlight, one of the biggest highlights ever for me. We saw a live wild octopus. It was so cool. It was maybe like a foot across if it had it had its tentacles all stretched out. It was red, it was gorgeous. It kept trying to hide under the kelp because of course everyone's crowding around it and all the kids are kind of trying to touch it and all the adults are like, no, leave it alone. I was every bit as infatuated as the children were. I think they are such cool animals and I have only ever seen them in aquariums before. So it was amazing and I loved it and it was a very successful trip to the beach yesterday. I am, of course also so happy to be talking to today's guest. She is an artist, an adrenaline junkie and the New York Times bestselling author of the Winter Song Duology, the first book in her newest series, Jarra Guardians of dawn came out last week. Please welcome SJ Jones.
[03:08] JJ: Hi everyone.
[03:10] Marissa: Hello. Hello. It's JJ. You go by JJ, right?
[03:13] JJ: I do go by JJ, yes.
[03:15] Marissa: Well, it is lovely to meet you and to have you on the podcast. Today the day we're recording. This is your launch day, so congratulations. Thank you.
[03:26] JJ: And, I mean, I can commiserate with the chaos, right? Because you said you just moved, and there's a lot of chaos going on for me a little bit before launch day. Just trying to get everything in order, trying to get everything I need to get done, plus trying to get my words in for my deadline. All that is happening. But yeah. Oh, I wanted to mention one thing about moving. So you said you've never moved in your adult life.
[03:53] Marissa: Yeah. So I went from my parents house to my college dorms to living in my cousin's basement or garage, and then I moved into a house with four roommates that we shared. And then I met my boyfriend, who became my husband. And so I moved from my one room into his house, and we've just lived there together for almost 20 years. So this is the first time that I have had to move, like, an entire household.
[04:23] JJ: Yeah, it's a lot. I've done that over my entire life. I have moved 36 times.
[04:30] Marissa: What? Yeah. Why? How does that happen?
[04:38] JJ: Well, my parents just continually my mom, I used to joke, has this habit of just shopping for another house. She just wants something nicer, something better. But it did sort of average about every couple of years. Not that we moved cities or towns, per se. We just moved to different either apartments or townhouses or houses, sort of within the same sort of general Los Angeles area, which is where I grew up. So I moved a lot as a child and then as an I went moved across country to New York City from La. To go to college. Then I met my then boyfriend, now husband, and he is a doctor. So then we moved from the New York City area down to the south, and then he did his fellowship up in Pittsburgh. So we've moved quite a few times.
[05:31] Marissa: Do you feel settled now, or are you like, no, the next move is coming any day.
[05:36] JJ: The next move is coming any day. I know it. But by now, I am an expert at moving. You could have asked me.
[05:42] Marissa: I had no idea I had this resource at my fingertips.
[05:46] JJ: But I'm sure you're familiar with the Mariet Kondo method.
[05:50] Marissa: Oh, yes.
[05:51] JJ: Oh, my God. I did that before one of my moves, and it was the best thing I've ever done in my life because now you know where everything is, in addition to having gotten rid of all the extraneous stuff. So I won't lie, as stressful as moving is, using it as an excuse to essentially purge things out of my life is also kind of great.
[06:13] Marissa: Oh, it's no, I it's funny, because in our last episode with Jessica Brody, which is a few weeks ago, we talked about that because I was, like, neck deep in trying to purge and had this huge garage sale at that time, and it's like I myself am something of a minimalist. I don't like a lot of stuff. I'm constantly purging my items. But trying to get the family involved can be really difficult. And then there's always the nooks and crannies, the attics, the random shelves in the garage, the cabinets in the utility room that you haven't opened in ten years. And to have to go through those things was eye opening for everyone. Just, like, the sheer amount of stuff that we had that didn't even where did this even come from? How long has it been here?
[07:02] JJ: Yeah, the amount of surface area that you sort of discover your house has is actually kind of amazing.
[07:11] Marissa: So true. No, it has been an experience, and we're still going through it. The property that we bought, we're actually moving in with two sets of in laws. So my mother in law is going to live in the downstairs apartment. Then my father in law and his wife are moving into this separate cottage, this adu on that property. So it's really moving three households. And so we're done. But the other the in laws are still going through all of their stuff and working to move. And so it's like, every time I feel like there's light at the end of the tunnel, it's like, oh, but we still have this person's entire garage and this person's entire shed. Yeah.
[07:57] JJ: I won't lie, my parents like to hoard things as well. Not quite as bad. But you will be unpacking for years to come.
[08:06] Marissa: Okay. I don't want to be I do not want to be unpacking for years to come. This is my like, they want to do whatever they want to do, but I have deadlines in mind for when I want to be done with this and feel like the house is ours now. And I don't just want to be living in someone else's house with my stuff in it.
[08:24] JJ: Yeah.
[08:25] Marissa: It is not an experience that I want to duplicate 36 times in my life. I think that we're here for a while.
[08:33] JJ: I hope that's good. I don't recommend 36 times.
[08:36] Marissa: No, definitely. Okay, let's talk about you and your marvelous book. Full disclosure, I got to read an early copy of this book, like, a year ago. They were really ahead of things for blurbs. Usually people are like, here's a book. Will you blurb it in two weeks? Which does not usually happen. Your publisher or maybe you were really on top of things. And so I got to read it almost a full year ago, and it is one of those books that has stuck with me. I still think about it. Here we are a year later, and it's not the most recommended book that I've talked about this year. It's definitely right at the top, and I just really loved it, and I'm so excited to get to talk to you about it.
[09:24] JJ: Oh, I'm so flattered.
[09:26] Marissa: I didn't realize you were recommending it.
[09:28] JJ: So early, but thank you.
[09:30] Marissa: I have no, and I remember talking about it right after I read it and being like, but it's not out until next August. Sorry, everyone, but go add it on. Goodreads. Yeah. No, it's fabulous, and I'm so glad that it is finally out so that other people can enjoy it, too. The first thing that I want to ask you, that we ask all of our guests, I want to hear your origin story. How did you become a writer? And spoiler alert I feel like I heard somewhere that Sailor Moon was involved.
[10:03] JJ: Is that right? Yes.
[10:04] Marissa: Okay, so we share that we have that in common.
[10:08] JJ: We actually have a slightly deeper connection than that because I used to read your Sailor Moon fan fiction.
[10:14] Marissa: No.
[10:15] JJ: Yes.
[10:16] Marissa: Old school. That's hilarious.
[10:20] JJ: So in many ways, Marissa, you actually.
[10:22] Marissa: Inspired me to be a writer. I love this. Yeah.
[10:30] JJ: It's come full circle for me, to be completely honest.
[10:34] Marissa: That was, like, 20 years ago.
[10:37] JJ: Yeah, it was about 20 years ago for me, too. Well, as far as origin stories go, it's almost two parts to this question, right? Because there is sort of the question of how did I become a writer? And then there's the other question of why did I want to become a writer? So the first question is actually somewhat easier to answer. I have always loved to read and write, obviously, and post college, I was actually an editor at one of the Big Five publishing houses. Oh, yeah. So I worked in publishing for a couple of years, and then one of my 36 moves came up, and I moved to the south. And their publishing as an industry, as I'm sure you know, Marissa, doesn't exactly exist outside of New York City, or at least the capacity that I was in at the time. Not a lot of publishing houses exist in an editorial capacity outside of New York in that way. So I moved to the south with my then boyfriend and now husband, but I was like, Well, I don't really know what to do with all this creative energy and time, but I might as well write. That's kind of my thought process. Now, I have always written stories and fan fiction, but I've always sort of created stories ever since I was a child. I was an only child for the first ten and a half years of my life, so I didn't have a lot of siblings to play with or anything like that. But I did have a lot of stuffed animals. I had a lot of stuffed animals with a lot of personality and backstory and sad Victorian orphan names. Yeah. They were like Henrietta and Dina and Oliver.
[12:26] Marissa: Right.
[12:28] JJ: But I used to come up with a lot of these sort of make believe scenarios for them to sort of act out and play. And eventually they got so complicated and I couldn't keep them straight that I had to start writing them down. So to some extent, I think I've always been telling stories. So that's kind of where I started writing, was mostly to play, to keep myself company, to play, to amuse myself. So then all those years later, when I'm finally out of New York City with my boyfriend and trying to find a way to amuse myself, what do I do? I write something and try to amuse myself. So I wrote Winter Song as a oh, gosh. It was Nanorimo in 2015. I wrote it as a nanorimo book, and thus far, it has been the only nano rhymo I have ever won. I try every year and I fail every year. But that one year Winter Song was.
[13:34] Marissa: The only year it was meant to be.
[13:37] JJ: Yes, it was. So I wrote that for NaNoWriMo. And then I believe I actually queried your agent Jill. Jill Grinberg. And Jill got back to me and said, oh, I really love this book. And I actually think this is really more my assistant's taste. Caitlin. So. Caitlin Detweiler, who is my agent and a lovely person. Wonderful agent. Cannot speak more highly of her. Also a fantastic writer.
[14:10] Marissa: Also was, like, literally just on this podcast with her husband, talking about their new book. Yes. If you're hearing about Caitlin for the first time, go. Listen. She's lovely in every.
[14:23] JJ: So we connected. Don't do this, kids. I actually queried about. So I started Winter Song for Nanorimo. I hit 50,000 words. End of nanorimo. So technically, one. But the book wasn't done. I tend to write a little bit long. So I continued writing all the way through the end of the year and finished a first draft of Winter Song in 59 days. And then about two weeks later is when I queried.
[14:57] Marissa: Don't do this.
[14:58] JJ: Don't do this. Yeah, but about two weeks after I finished the book, I queried. And that was when I connected with Caitlin. And then I signed with Caitlin.
[15:10] Marissa: Oh, my mean I have to ask. How much revision did you go through with Caitlin? Or was that first draft good enough to go out to editors?
[15:23] JJ: Oh, no. It was not good enough to go to Editors for sure. It was a pretty significant revision with Caitlin because the first draft of Winter Song, the ending was a hot mess. And I knew it. But I also knew that the shape of the story was right. Having worked as an editor before, I can kind of tell, having read a lot of pre published books or books that were yet to be published, that needed editing, what is workable and what isn't, in terms of story, in terms of characterization and worldbuilding and all sorts of things like that. And even though I knew the ending of Wintersong needed a lot of work. All the pieces were in place that made it feel like complete story, which is the only real reason I felt okay, querying the book. Because if it had that shape to it, I would have actually worked on it on my own. But Caitlin and I worked on we probably worked on edits for maybe three or four months, during which point it ballooned to like, 135,000 words.
[16:30] Marissa: Wow.
[16:31] JJ: And then I cut it back down to, I think, 125,000 words. And right around then is when Caitlin was like, I think we can go out on Submission with this. So that was probably the summer of 2016. No, not 2015. It'd be 2015 because yeah. So I got my date slightly wrong. I finished Winter Song in nanorimo. 2014, I believe. I'm trying to get all the what.
[17:00] Marissa: Is I don't know, but like, approximately eight months later, you had a book deal or we're on Submission at least.
[17:09] JJ: Yes, I was on Submission approximately, I'd say, six months after I signed with an agent. But actually selling the book took another six months or so.
[17:21] Marissa: Okay.
[17:22] JJ: Yeah. So the first draft of Winter Song was actually a bit on the cusp of adult and Ya, the character was a little bit older. She was about 19. The content was a little spicier, as we say. So we initially actually went out with Winter Song as an adult title.
[17:44] Marissa: Oh, interesting.
[17:45] JJ: Yeah. And part of that was Caitlin really wanted to preserve the adult content quite literally as much as possible. She was really attached to them. And so we went out with Adult and we had a lot of pretty good responses from editors, like, oh, we really loved this, but a lot of people in house don't know if it's Ya or not, which was a lot of the feedback, what we were kind of getting. Because adult and children's functions differently. Adult tends to be a little bit more stratified in terms of genres. It's romance or it's science fiction fantasy, or it's less so now because I believe nowadays things like romanticy exist and things like that. But this is back in 2015, it was a little bit more rigid in terms of categorization. So a lot of the adult publishers kind of didn't know what to do with it. But about six months after we went on sub, we got an offer from my editor, and she was sort of the only one who sort of had a real vision for this book. And we accepted the offer and we worked on it with the complete and utter intention, actually, of publishing Winter Song as an adult title.
[19:04] Marissa: How interesting. So at what point did that change?
[19:07] JJ: I would say probably about so my editor and I worked on the book. We got the word count down. We really tightened it up and we really shaped it. What I felt was really tight. And then marketing kind of came back and said, you know, this is really great, but we think we can break this out in Ya more effectively than we could in adult marketing.
[19:31] Marissa: They always have opinions on do, you.
[19:34] JJ: Know, and sometimes they're mean I can't really fault them for their gut instinct on this one either.
[19:42] Marissa: It was, like, right there. It sounds like it was kind of straddling that line the entire time.
[19:46] JJ: Yeah. But that did mean that I had to go back and do kind of one last editing pass. First of all, the spicier content had to be edited for a more Ya lens, which was a very interesting experience, actually, because it's not necessarily a matter of explicitness that differentiates between adult sexual content and sexual content that is in books for teenagers. It is the lens with which sex is viewed.
[20:18] Marissa: Interesting.
[20:20] JJ: Yeah. Because when you're a teenager, everything is newer. Right. Everything is new. Everything's a new experience. You're trying things for the first time, or you're hesitant or you're unsure. And that was not the lens with which it had been initially written. So I had to go back and sort of figure out how to change that lens and to make it flow better with the text again. And so we did kind of one last pass for Winter Song, pushed it off a season and then launched it again as a teen title. So that is actually how I came to be an author.
[21:03] Marissa: Okay. And then you also mentioned the why. So.
[21:12] JJ: This is a question I struggle with a lot because I think it's a question we don't often ask ourselves, which is, why do we want to be published? And there are no right or wrong answers for this, obviously. I think validation is always a good answer.
[21:31] Marissa: Yeah, that was the first word that popped into my head.
[21:34] JJ: Yeah. I still think about this because I think the very first time I wrote something that I shared with people that were not me was back in the third grade. We had sort of these journaling prompts that we had to do for homework in the third grade. Every Wednesday, Miss Patch, the third grade teacher, would sort of write out whatever the journal prompt was, and then we had to go home, write and bring it back, turn our journals in, and she would read them. And occasionally she would ask any of us if we wanted to read our journal entries aloud. And I remember this prompt so distinctly because it was one day you go to bed and wake up the next morning, and if you were a boy, you wake up as a girl, or if you were a girl, you wake up as a boy and what would life be like for you? So normally, I think the assignment is, like, you just write one or two pages on it. I wrote this, like, 30 page short story where I actually gender swapped everybody that I knew. So everybody was a different gender than what they'd been born as or what they were presenting as. And when my teacher had asked me or asked for volunteers to read their journal entries out loud and I actually raised my hand for the first time and I remember this so distinctly because I was reading it aloud and everybody was laughing and not in a mean way, but they were laughing at all the right parts. I guess I'll put it that way. All the parts that I intended to be funny, they were laughing at. And I really loved this sort of sensation of being able to share this sense of play with other people. And so when I think about why I'm a writer or why I pursue publication, because, as you know, coming from a fan fiction background, you don't necessarily have to be published to be a writer. You can write for yourself, and you're still a writer. So why do I pursue publication? And I think about this all the time because I think somewhere in the back of my head is that eight year old girl in third grade class, mispatch's third grade class, who's reading her short story aloud and making all of her classmates laugh. Yeah, I think that's the reason I'm a writer.
[23:54] Marissa: Yeah, no, it is. I mean, that's such a great story, and I love that you remember it in such detail. And I'm weirdly proud of eight year old you. That is so brave to stand up and not just read a short little journal entry, but actually put out your whole story like that. I mean, it's always brave for any writer to share their work, but at that age, that's really impressive. But there is something so special. And I remember when I first started writing fan fiction and started getting feedback for the first time and all of the nice comments and the people who would talk about this really brightened my day, or this is so funny, or this story made me swoon or whatever. And it all just fed into that inspiration and that desire to keep creating and keep sharing and wanting to be part of the community and wanting to bring stories that people were going to enjoy as much as some of the stories and the books. That had really meant something to me. And that really is a really special part of what we do. Yeah.
[25:05] JJ: I think every time I get lost in how complicated or sometimes how frustrating publishing can be, I have to ask myself again, why did I pursue this in the first place? And I think having a good grasp of that answer of Why? And I think you talk about it, you touch on it. It's that connection that you feel with other people when you're sharing stories. You're brightening their day or you're making them laugh or sometimes even cry, depending on what you've written. It's that sense of connection I think, that we keep searching for as writers. So I try very hard not to forget that, especially when you're under deadline.
[25:53] Marissa: Or the book isn't going well, or the marketing people are telling you to do one thing.
[25:59] JJ: Yes. And all the sort of administrative nonsense that sometimes can come with this job. All the parts that are actually not the fun part of being a writer.
[26:08] Marissa: No. And I love that you also, early in your story, touched on how so many of us come to writing long before we share anything. It's for ourselves. It's to amuse ourselves, entertain ourselves, to express ourselves. And I think for me, trying to strike that balance of focusing on stories that just bring me a lot of joy, like stories that I'm excited to sit down and work on and explore. And then also that love of sharing it and the love of connecting with readers. If you can kind of hold those two things in your mind and in your heart and try your best to ignore all the rest of it, that's what makes a happy writer. That's kind of what this, I agree, is all about. Yeah. Okay. I don't know how long we've been talking. We have to talk about your new book, though.
[27:04] JJ: Oh, yeah, that's right.
[27:07] Marissa: Would you please tell listeners, what is Guardians of Dawn Jara about?
[27:13] JJ: So, Guardians of Dawn Jara is the first book in a new fantasy series set in a fantasy East Asia featuring elemental magic and magical girls. Jara is the opener of the series. So Jinjara is a magician in a world where magic, for justifiable reasons, probably has been banned about 20 years before. So she has a stepsister that she needs to take care of and a stepmother she's trying to please and just sort of trying to go about her day without being caught as a magician. And then one day she meets this sort of easily flustered young man in the marketplace with a rather special book that sort of leads her into this whole other world of sort of underground, magical liberation societies and monsters, demons. So imagine a shojo anime or manga, but in book form, which is how I like to pitch Guardians of dawn to people.
[28:22] Marissa: And there's also a little bit of fairy tale vibe to it.
[28:27] JJ: Yes. So it is actually pitched not to suck up to you again, Marissa, but we did pitch it as Sailor Moon meets The Lunar Chronicles because each of the books in this series is based on inspired by a different fairy tale. So this first book is Cinderella, and.
[28:50] Marissa: I think was the second one because there was an epilogue at the end of the book. Is the second one going to be Beauty and the Beast?
[28:59] JJ: Yes, it is.
[29:00] Marissa: Exciting. No, I had to mention that because, of course, a lot of people who listen to this podcast do enjoy and love The Lunar Chronicles. And so we had to point it out that this is another series that follows this similar format where every book is based on a different fairy tale, but has one continuous overarching storyline, which was so much fun for me to write and for me to figure out. How am I going to connect all of these different fairy tales? How have you gone about it? How have you been thinking about combining the fairy tales but within the context of this much larger series that you're planning?
[29:41] JJ: If I had known how complicated this would be, I might have done it differently.
[29:46] Marissa: The trick is to make it look easy, right?
[29:51] JJ: So the fairy tales, I knew what the fairy tales for each girl would be beforehand, so that did help. And I picked the fairy tales based on the romance tropes, essentially because Cinderella is to me, kind of a meat cute, sort of slow burn story. And Beauty and the Beast is appearances can be deceiving, or rather, appearances don't matter when it comes to a love story. It's like a slow burn wondering if I should give away the other two. I was going to say, are you.
[30:28] Marissa: Allowed are you allowed to tell us what else is coming?
[30:32] JJ: I'll stick to the first two for now because it's pretty clear, but essentially there'll be four because there are four Guardians of dawn. They're each Elementals, so the first one, Jar, is Guardian of Fire, and the next one would be a different element and so on and so forth. Yeah. So I picked the fairy tale based on the romance first, as in I knew what romantic storyline I wanted to tell and then I had to sort of sit down and figure out what the overarching story was, which I knew that as well going into the series. When I pitched it, I knew it was kind of going to be sort of a bigger, high fantasy story about sort of order versus chaos bringing balance to the world. Very similar to Avatar The Last Airbender, which is one of my favorite TV shows of all time. So I knew the macro story. So then I had to kind of sit down with each fairy tale and then with each book I thought, okay, like an anime, there's probably going to be a different monster, quote unquote, in each story and a different demon. And so I sort of built the story in that way because as the story goes forward, the stakes get higher. But it's like a video game, right? You've got to defeat one boss and then the next boss and the next boss, and you got to build up the bosses so you get to the biggest boss. So that's how I did it. But again, I'm sitting here working on book two being like, why do I have so much lore? I have to convey in a way that's not info, dumpy and boring? Why did I do. This to myself.
[32:22] Marissa: Well, okay. So that brings me to a question because you've mentioned Sailor Moon, you've mentioned Avatar. This is a series largely based on elemental magic, which of course has been done a million times. Lots of superheroes are based on the four elements. It's a really popular thing in fantasy, literature and media. So what were some of the struggles for taking this really common thing and trying to make it feel new and different?
[32:56] JJ: So part of that was trying to figure out why elemental magic is special in this world. Because I always talk about magic. Sometimes with my friends who also write fantasy, I tend to think of magic. You can write about magic and fantasy in two different ways. You can write about magic, where magic is essentially science. It's a form of science, I believe. In the Grisha series by Lee Bardugo, the magic is essentially referred to as the small science, right?
[33:31] Marissa: Yeah.
[33:32] JJ: And then there is chaos magic or dream magic is what I call it, where the magic is maybe a bit more figurative or metaphorical and doesn't really adhere to logic because that's not the point of the magic. The magic is almost an extension of whatever the emotions are of a character and Winter song and shadow song. The magic was very much like dream magic or chaos magic, where it was very closely tied in with the emotional and mental state of my characters. Whereas the ordinary magic of Guardians of Dawn I knew was essentially going to be science magic. So if that is the case, then why is elemental magic special? Is the question I had to ask myself. So I had to sit here and that was another thing I had to do, was I was like, okay, well, if magic in this world is essentially science, anything that breaks the rules of science technically should not exist. So then what are the powers these girls can have that would break the laws of nature? And how would I tie that in with whatever element that they are a part of. So for this first one, jara's power is the power of transformation. As in fundamentally changing the essence of one thing into something else, which we can't do. Alchemy does not exist in our world, right? We can't change a base metal into gold, but Jar can. And in my mind I was like, well, that is tied to fire because fire does transform things. Fire can transform things from water to steam or air or can turn earth into metal or things like that. So that was my thought process about if I just gave my girls regular elemental powers, well, that's not very different. Anyone else could really do that. So then how would I make that quote special and sparkly and different?
[35:38] Marissa: No, that's such a fascinating way of thinking about it and it makes me really curious to find out what you're doing with the next three characters, the next three elements.
[35:50] JJ: I did have to sit down and figure out all of those things before, which is very unusual for me because I am not somebody who plans very well.
[36:01] Marissa: You would never tell. Listening to you talk, it sounds like you're a thinker and a planner.
[36:07] JJ: Oh, gosh, I wish I were. I have a general idea. I guess the specifics may not be necessarily all there. When I start to write a story, I have a general idea of the shape that I want a book to be or an idea. But all the details will change. Every time I've written a draft of my book, all my books, the drafts have been entirely different from the previous version of it.
[36:34] Marissa: Okay. How many drafts do you go through?
[36:38] JJ: It depends on the book. Actually, Winter Song, we went through, I believe it was four drafts. For Shadow song was actually less. It was maybe two or three. And for Jar was 14.
[36:53] Marissa: Oh, my gosh. Rewritten every time.
[36:57] JJ: Every time.
[36:59] Marissa: How many years did this take you?
[37:01] JJ: Oh, it took me five years between.
[37:05] Marissa: I was trying to do the math. I'm like, I feel like there's been a long time between Shadowsong and this release.
[37:12] JJ: Yes. Because well, I pitched this book kind of as Shadowsong came out in 2018, and I wanted it to be very different from my first two books, which were very dark, very angsty, and I was kind of sick of that at that point. And I was like, I just want to write something fun. So I pitched it to my editor and just said, I want to write this fun, magical girl series. The very basic bones of what I told you, that every girl was going to be a different element in a fairy tale and fights a different demon. That was always in the DNA of the pitch to my editor. How everything comes about the magic system, the plot, even elements of the romance. Nothing was the same. Everything was entirely overhauled about 14 times. And I actually counted up all the words I wrote on genre, and it's over 800,000 words.
[38:11] Marissa: Oh, my gosh. Do you feel like now that you've tackled book one, do you have the expectation that the rest of the series will go a little bit smoother? Because I feel like the first book in a series is so much about figuring out the world, figuring out the magic system, the history, the politics, the overarching plot, that once those things are kind of set in stone, and I can't keep fiddling with them because the book is out and published, and that's what it is. Now, then all of those questions are answered. And now you just need to write.
[38:44] JJ: The rest of the story.
[38:45] Marissa: Do you kind of feel that way?
[38:46] JJ: Yeah, to some extent. I know now. Kind of like the engines in motion, right. So all those things have been set up, and now it's on the track and it's going. I don't have to frantically run ahead of the train trying to lay down the track as it's going. So that has been easier. I think what has been difficult was trying to parse out all of the information, like when to reveal this aspect of the magic and when to hold back and all that sort of stuff is so much work in a very different way than I've ever written before. That was a learning experience. But you know what they say that every book, they say if you've been doing something for 10,000 hours, you should be a master of it. But I feel like that doesn't actually apply to writing books because every book is a different book. So even though I finished one book, it really only taught me how to write the book I just finished. It taught me nothing about how to write the next book.
[39:46] Marissa: I'm going to.
[39:48] JJ: Starting all over again.
[39:50] Marissa: You do learn and you do grow. And I like to think that we do get better with every book that we write, or at least maybe learn some tips and tricks to make the next one a little bit easier, a little bit smoother. But it is so true. Every book is its own beast, and every book requires new tips and tricks and new strategies and yeah, I don't imagine I will ever reach a point where I can just sit down and write a book perfectly the first time. It's just not how it works.
[40:20] JJ: No, it isn't. It's the dream, but it isn't.
[40:22] Marissa: Yeah, I know. Well, I love that you mentioned that you went into this series with this intention of making it fun and joyful and bright, and I don't remember exactly what words you used, but it is so spot on because the whole time I was reading it. Like, yes, there's drama, there's conflict, there's suspense, there's demon monsters and all this, but it is such a happy book. It just made me happy. And it really just has a vibrancy that you don't always see in the fantasy realm. And I loved it. I think you absolutely nailed that.
[41:02] JJ: Oh, thank you. I wrote to bring myself joy first, so it's nice to hear that other people are getting joy out of reading.
[41:14] Marissa: Obviously, it is a book that sort of feels like it was written for me, I will admit. Like the magic girl, the Sailor Moon references, the fairy tale there's the sweetest romance. Like Han, our prince character is so darling and I just adore him. So it is a book that I connected to really strongly. Okay, I've got two short questions before we move on to our bonus round. Well, maybe like one question and then just a comment, I guess. I'm not sure. In the story, there is this kind of this book, this side element subplot, in which the characters are all obsessed with this really popular romance novel titled the maiden who was loved by death. And it's such a great title, and I love how the characters are all just like, infatuated with finding out what's going to happen in this book series. Is there any part of you that thinks that it could be a spin off or do you have any plans to, I don't know, turn it into a comic book or something? I just think it'd be so fun to do something with it.
[42:24] JJ: Oh, I'm going to reveal a secret to you. The quotes from the maiden who was loved by death are actually quotes from Wintersong.
[42:32] Marissa: No.
[42:33] JJ: Yeah.
[42:34] Marissa: I did not know. I what a brilliant cross marketing strategy.
[42:44] JJ: I actually thought about because I myself love the kind of like hades and persephone, like the maiden who was loved by death, death and the maiden as tropes, all those sorts of things. I love those sorts of things. And I just thought initially when I was writing it, it'd be fun to have my characters also enjoy those sorts of things. And then I realized as I was writing quotes for the maiden who was loved by death, I was like, I kind of did this already. Why does this feel so familiar? So I actually went back and was like, you know, it would be kind of fun if people have read my previous books if they recognize some of the quotes that I stuck in there. So the maiden who was loved by death is actually wintersong, and the author of the book in universe, jehyun is actually my Korean name. So that's my little self insert into my own series.
[43:43] Marissa: I don't know how you just made me love this book even more. That is so clever. And as a writer with previous books, I love this so much and it's such a fun way to tie the two together. That's so brilliant. I love that. Okay, and then we have to spend a second talking about the tan brothers.
[44:08] JJ: Yes.
[44:10] Marissa: So my mom is an enormous BTS fan, and I was so giddy to tell her about this book and then tell her, but it doesn't come out for a year sorry, mom. To get a finished copy and loan it to her because I was telling her and you can pick out the person. Okay. You tell who tell people who are the bangtan brothers?
[44:33] JJ: So the bangtan brothers are a fictionalized inspiration. They've been inspired by a very real life band called BTS, or in Korean, yes, pangkan sonyan dan. So it's not a very subtle nod because their Korean name is pangkan Sonyeon dun. But it was part of the things that brought me joy, right. Because I was writing this. A large part of jar was written during the pandemic, actually. And of course during the pandemic, we all needed that spot of dopamine, just crumb of serotonin to get us through. And for me, that was basically binging all of BTS's content. So naturally, that being one of the things that brought me so much joy. I was like, well, I have to pay homage to them and really let them know how much joy that they brought to me, even though they probably will never read it. But for me, yeah, I did it for me, sure.
[45:37] Marissa: And for their fans, I mean, obviously there's going to be a lot of crossover in the fandoms. And I know it made me giddy. And I can just imagine my mom and we're going to be talking about it because I remember when I was reading it, you give little hints about their personalities. And I'm trying to figure out, okay, I'm pretty sure this one's J. Hope. I'm pretty sure this one's. And so I can't wait to go over it with my mom and she's just going to think it's the coolest thing.
[46:10] JJ: Yes. So they do show up in book two as well. And there are definitely Easter eggs for army and a lot of in army being the name of BTS's fandom, if you are a member of army, you will pretty much find them right away, I think.
[46:26] Marissa: Yeah. Well, I love it. Again, this book brought me a lot of joy and I can't wait for people to get their hands on it. Yay. Okay, are you ready for a bonus round?
[46:39] JJ: Yes, go ahead.
[46:41] Marissa: What book makes you OOH?
[46:45] JJ: So I just finished for a different podcast, rereading the Confessions of Georgia Nicholson series by Louise Renison. These were ya, published, I think late 90s, early two thousand s. And they're sort of like Bridget Jones's Diary for the teenage set. They are so funny and just laugh out loud hilarious. And I haven't read them in like 20 years, but revisiting them was just a delight.
[47:17] Marissa: I have never read them.
[47:19] JJ: Oh, I highly recommend them if you like sort of light hearted funny books, sort of in the vein of genre. Although it's not fantasy. It's just the diary of a teenage girl. I highly recommend them. The first book in the series is called Angus Thongs and Full frontal snogging.
[47:38] Marissa: You know what, actually, I have read that book now that you say that title. How could a person forget that title?
[47:44] JJ: It's so good. The whole rest of the series also gets funnier to me every single time. And there are things that Georgia says that I still use. Like there's a scene where she puts on false eyelashes and she calls them her boy no. So anytime I put on a makeup look and I'm putting on false eyelashes, I'm just like, got to put on my boy entrancer.
[48:08] Marissa: Right?
[48:11] JJ: All right.
[48:12] Marissa: You mentioned being on deadline a while back. What can you tell us about what you're working on next?
[48:19] JJ: So, as you know, the fairy tale is Beauty and the Beast. I think that's pretty obvious at the end of the epilogue. It's not exactly a spoiler, but it is a tiny spoiler. But I don't think people will mind. The monster of this book of book two is zombies.
[48:43] Marissa: Oh, cool.
[48:44] JJ: Yeah. So, having a little fun. I like actually enjoy reading and writing horror as well. So indulging in that side of me has also been quite a bit of fun.
[48:53] Marissa: Yeah. And lastly, where can people find you?
[48:58] JJ: You can find me pretty much anywhere. There is a social media platform under the handle Sjjones. That's Sjaejones. And my website is Sjjones.com.
[49:10] Marissa: Awesome. JJ, thank you so much for joining me.
[49:13] JJ: Thank you so much for having me.
[49:16] Marissa: Readers, be sure to check out Guardians of dawn jara. It is out now. And of course, we encourage you to support your local indie bookstore if you can. If you don't have a local indie, you can check out our affiliate email@example.com slash shop slash Marissa Meyer. And don't forget to check out our merchandise. We are on Etsy, Instagram and tpublic, and you can find all the links for those in our Instagram profile. T public just sent me an announcement about an hour before I started this recording that there's going to be some sales happening during the month of August. So keep your eye out for those as well. Next week, speaking of horror, I am going to be talking with Kate Alice Marshall about her incredibly creepy ya horror Venero. If you're enjoying these conversations, please subscribe and follow us on Instagram at Marissa Meyer, author and at Happy Writer Podcast. Until next time, stay inspired, keep writing and whatever life throws at you today, I do hope that now you're feeling.
[50:19] JJ: A little bit happier.