One of the best things about getting my novel published? Meeting other authors. I think as you read this powerful interview with Jes Battis, you’ll understand what I mean. What Jes says below is what every young adult needs to hear–and more than once.
I met Jes a few weekends ago in Los Angeles at the Medieval Association of the Pacific’s annual conference. This year I was part of a panel on modernizing medieval works. Sitting alongside me at the table were Kim Zarins, author of Sometimes We Tell the Truth—a modern retelling of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales—and Jes Battis, author of the Parallel Parks and the Occult Special Investigator series. I’ve never felt so comfortable or welcome, or free to speak my heart and mind, as I did with this panel.
I’ve asked Jes to answer the same questions I posed to Peg Cheng last month: What are you doing now? And how did you get from 15 to here?
- Tell us a little about your most recent work or your work in progress.
My current manuscript is called Railtown. It’s a mythological mystery novel set in Vancouver, incorporating elements of the English pagan tradition. I think of it as an adaptation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, focusing on mythological beings that have come down through a fragmentary Old English tradition. The main character is an adjunct lecturer at a local college who finds himself pulled into a supernatural murder investigation, which reveals a dangerous pagan community beneath the city of Vancouver.
- What made you want to write this?
I wanted to explore the echoes of English mythology that are often difficult to translate, because half the fun is filling in the gaps. Norse mythology has translated well to the fantasy genre, but very little has been written about Old English mythology (a wonderful exception being Nicola Griffith’s Hild). One of the characters is based on a line about Valkyries in an Old English charm, and the magic within the novel is often ambiguous, the way it appears in early poetry. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is one of my favorite literary masterpieces, and I’ve always wanted to know more about the origins of the Green Knight, so I decided to tackle him as a character. I also wanted to challenge the idea of Vancouver as a “young” city by exploring its role within British mythology, its location as a port, and its presence on unceded Indigenous territory. Much of the action in the book revolves around water and its possibilities (as well as its status as a contested resource, always under threat of privatization).
- Did you have a specific reader in mind?
Readers who enjoy mythological fantasy and urban fantasy, such as Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, will be receptive to this. Anyone who enjoys a murder mystery with paranormal elements. I’d also love to reach young-adult readers who don’t often see fantasy novels set in Canada.
When I was 15 (more or less)…
- The most memorable thing a teacher said to me (good or bad)
My high-school English teacher said that if I wanted to be a writer, I should take a variety of classes in college—even subjects that I wasn’t personally interested in. This was great advice.
- At school, I hated (a person or subject or space)
Phys-Ed! It’s a torture chamber dressed up as a class.
- I told a lie
I skipped class and lied to my parents about it. They eventually found out, of course.
- The person I was meanest to (and why…)
At 15, I was too busy surviving to really think about being mean in any focused way. I think that sometimes I took my parents for granted, which was a kind of meanness.
- My hidden talent
Memorizing TV dialogue.
- I often worried about
I was (am) socially awkward and had intense anxiety in school. I was always worried about acting “normal” and trying to figure out the intentions of others. I spent a lot of time hiding in bathrooms.
- My biggest crush
I had crushes on boys and girls, but I think my biggest crush at 15 was Chief Medical Officer Julian Bashir from Deep Space Nine.
- The most dangerous thing I did
Do trampolines count? My friends and I used to walk across the railroad tracks to get home from school. I know this sounds like the plot of Stand By Me, but it was just what you did in my town.
- The most courageous thing I did
Talking to strangers.
- If you could give 15-year-old you any advice, what would it be?
You’ll get better at talking to people and this whole ‘life’ thing. Just stick with the people that you trust—the ones who don’t make you worry when you’re around them. Being queer feels like an impossibility right now, but it will eventually become a natural part of your life—something that you think about, write about, and discuss casually with friends and family. What you consider to be your weaknesses—your depression and social anxiety—will eventually make you a good teacher who can reach out to students. These things will also fuel your writing and shape your creative projects. You can’t imagine leaving your town right now, but by the age of 37 you’ll have lived in New York, Vancouver, Montreal, Toronto, and London. You are full of possibilities.
- Did you experience anything during those teen years that has had a lasting, positive influence on your life?
I had some excellent teachers who were able to coax good work out of me. I blundered into lasting friendships and found a community of people who also didn’t quite fit in. The not fitting in turned out to be what made us all interesting.
- List the jobs you’ve had. Which was your favorite? Which was your least favorite?
Photo lab technician at a grocery store
Cashier at a video store (least favorite)
Professor (favorite, but the photo lab tech is a close 2nd)
If you’d like to leave a comment for me or for Jes, I’m testing out a new comment box!