A local author talks shop about fantasy writing
Local author Jacqueline Church Simonds has always loved and admired storytelling. She remembers climbing up orange trees as a child in Phoenix and hanging out in the branches all day long, making up stories. She dropped out of college at 18 and didn't attend again until her mid-30s.
She wrote her first book—Captain Mary, Buccaneer—as part of her senior thesis in college. She couldn’t get a single publisher to look at it, so she decided to self-publish—something she would later become an expert at. She even wrote a book on frequently asked questions about self-publishing.
With her knowledge of the publishing and distribution businesses, Simonds opened and operated her own book distribution business. It lasted nine years. After it closed, she decided to try writing another book.
Dreams come true
Simonds knew she still wanted to write, but she just didn’t know what to write about. As she tried to fall asleep one night, she began to tell herself a story to keep her mind occupied and help her drift off. This was a regular practice for her. She calls it “dream starters.”
As she lied there, she imagined a story about the mythical wizard Merlin and a woman who was the lover of King Arthur. Words and ideas rushed out of her brain in a way that she hadn’t experienced in years. She decided to start writing immediately and created a frame narrative—or a story within a story—by making a futuristic Britain 1,500 years after King Arthur’s time. At that point, she knew she had created an idea for a new book, The Midsummer Wife.
“It’s about a woman who is the head of the secret order that has been told that it has to protect the heirs to King Arthur and Merlin,” said Simonds. “What [the characters] don’t know is they’re all the direct reincarnations of those people, and since they’re all there, Morgaine is there challenging them, and they must defeat her to save Britain.”
Simonds said she has always been drawn to King Arthur, especially Disney films about him. She added modern twists to classic characters, an experience she said was really enjoyable. “When I started out, Ron, who is King Arthur [reincarnated] wasn’t black, and I thought ’Well, how can you have a goddess who cares about the universe if everybody’s white?’”
The main character of the book, Ava, is the high priestess sent by the secret order to protect the heirs of King Arthur and Merlin. Throughout the book, Ava suffers from debilitating anxiety attacks and agoraphobia, yet she continues her journey no matter what in order to understand the world around her and the powers within her while also protecting King Arthur and Merlin, who have been reincarnated through generations.
According to Simonds, Ava’s panic attacks were influenced by Simonds’s own family members who also suffer from severe panic attacks. She said she wanted to write a book that her family could relate to, and she wanted to develop a character who keeps going even if she may be a complete train wreck.
Pinning it together
One thing Simonds said she wanted was characters with depth. She said she originally started writing the book with a new-adult audience in mind. The story initially had a happily-ever-after ending, and Simonds thought it was way too shallow.
She re-wrote the book 20 times, introducing darker themes like Ava’s anxiety disorder and nuclear attacks.
“You have to have an inciting incident, so it has to be bad enough to really wreck Britain,” she said. Despite all of the tragedy in British history, like the recent terrorist attacks, or the London Blitz during World War II, the incident had to be severe enough to be worse than anything Britain has seen before in order for Ava to be sent by the secret order.
Simonds said she created a storyboard for The Midsummer Wife with the help of Pinterest. It’s composed of images that appeared in her mind when she imagined characters, houses, cars and other things to help her visualize different parts of the story. She said she would start out with a rough outline of the book, and different scenes would organically grow together as she wrote it. While writing, Simonds said she would listen to music by Irish singer/songwriter Enya to help her get into the right head space.
After many iterations, The Midsummer Wife ends on a cliffhanger.
Simonds recently sent the second book in the series—The Priestess of Camelot— off to her publisher. She said it was quite difficult for her to write because it’s a more dystopian story, something that’s less her style. The third book in the series, Heirs of Camelot, series will be a quest.
Despite Simonds’s knowledge of self-publishing, she still wanted the help of another publisher with this series. She said The Midsummer Wife was rejected 73 times. Simonds suspects it’s because she had a hard time deciding on which genre to classify her book in because it has elements of science fiction, romance and Celtic culture. Eventually, she contracted with a small press called Strange Fictions Press.
When it comes to writing, she said she doesn’t ever force herself to write a certain number of words at a time. She waits until she’s in a creative flow and jumps on a moment like that to cultivate the ideas she has, something that worked with The Midsummer Wife.