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Things have been a little quiet at the library lately. Trudie published a book, and Nils moved to the Netherlands. It’s not all about us, though. Today, we have an interview with short-story writer Jessa Forest.

First of all, could you tell us a little bit about yourself? You write contemporary grimdark fantasy about werewolves, and you’ve been writing for at least a decade, but what else is there?

I feel like I’ve been telling myself stories my whole life and I don’t know what else there is! I spent my 20s writing poetry and when I turned 30, something inside me decided I should try writing fiction. I have a Master’s Degree in Creative Writing from the poetry years and right now I’m back in school for Medical Laboratory Science. I have ADHD and, on top of that, I am very indecisive, so it’s taken me a long time and a lot of experimenting to figure out what I want to do with my life. I definitely have a “writer with a day job” personality. I’m also an amateur bird watcher and I love building and painting Warhammer 40K minis.

You’ve been writing for a while, but looking at Amazon and Goodreads, your stories under your own name are all published recently. What made you decide to start publishing your stories yourself?

The year 2020 was a big eye opener for me, as it was for many people. I had several half-finished and barely started writing projects just sitting on my computer, and I didn’t really know what to do with them. That summer, with the pandemic and quarantine in full swing, I told myself that if I didn’t start taking my fiction seriously and really commit to getting my work out to readers now, I never would. So, I reached out to an editor and writing coach and set to work finishing all my short stories. I chose self-publishing mainly for the freedom to work on my own schedule. I also try to send out at least one story every year to an online magazine or an anthology.

You write short stories, both the Speculative E-Shorts series and the Slaughter Chronicles. Can you tell us a little about what you like about the format?

On a personal level, I like short stories because I can finish them quickly. I have a novel that I’ve been working on for four years now and it’s been a struggle to get it finished. With short stories, I have a limited space and amount of time to convey everything I want to about a character or a theme. I’ve learned—am still learning—to be extremely particular about what details and plot points I employ to tell my story. I’m a firm believer in good writing takes practice and short stories are the most enjoyable way for me to practice.

Regina Slaughter is the main character of the Slaughter Chronicles. She unwillingly became a werewolf at the age of nine. A thing like that is bound to have an impact on a person. Tell us a little about Regina. Who is she, what does she do, what about those pets she ends up keeping?

I am so glad you asked this! Yes, for Regina, the experience of becoming a werewolf was very traumatic, but it was also liberating. She was born into a cult of religious fanatics who also happened to be monster hunters. But Regina was the odd child out and could never quite fit in or go along with her mother’s plans and beliefs. So, in becoming a “monster” she can escape the actual monster that was her mother. But unfortunately, as it happens in dark stories, Regina doesn’t get her happy ending right away. After she escapes her mother, another monster hunting organization captures her and she is given to one of their scientists for experimentation. 

Regina gaining agency and power and then losing it is a recurring theme in her story. What’s important to me is portraying how she adapts to these dangerous situations. Regina is very resilient and she can find the good in things, even if all the things are on fire. 

Now, on to the pet. Who doesn’t love a story about a pet? When Regina finally makes it to a place of relative stability and a family that accepts her, she encounters this little jellyfish-like creature. It clearly does not belong in this reality and is just as lost as Regina was before she found her new home. Regina sees something of herself in this creature and gives it a home. 

When Regina grows up, she becomes a monster hunter herself and grapples with the thought of working for the same people who imprisoned and experimented on her. But that she can still show compassion to her pets and cares deeply about her found family is very telling for her emotional and mental stability.

The Slaughter Chronicles was inspired by a World of Darkness campaign. With role playing games becoming more socially acceptable in recent years, it’s another way that people tell and experience stories. Do you have any thoughts on that, and how has roleplaying impacted your own storytelling?

Through the writing process, we writers get very close with our characters. We know who they are, what they are capable of, and what their limitations are. But going into a role-playing game, you have your character in your head, but if your dice lands on the wrong number, it could be, literally, game over. We know our characters could win that fight or solve that problem, but the dice and the GM/DM have the final say. 

As players, we have to be adaptable and think on our feet. Sometimes it can be frustrating, especially if you roll a one, but story based games can also bring up things you, the writer, might not have thought of. 

I look at role-playing games like a big writing exercise in character development. When I started seriously writing fiction back in 2016, plot ideas came to me easily, but when it came time to make the characters, my plot was like a theater stage filled with cardboard cutouts. Building a character for a role-playing game is more involved than writing combat stats. Develop their personality in order to make their reactions to the challenges and obstacles in the game as realistic as possible.

Reading the descriptions of your stories on Amazon, they’re at first glance dealing with dark and serious themes, but at the same time, there’s a hint of some cheeky humor as well. No darkness without light?

Absolutely! I’m the type of person who will make a joke in a tense situation to relieve the tension (it meets with varying results). I’ve always had a morbid sense of humor, and I use that humor to cope with my anxieties. When I was working as a phlebotomist in a high stress environment, my sort of touchstone was, “Is there blood on the floor?” and if not, I would tell myself everything’s okay and keep going. Yes, it was a low standard for okay and there is nothing funny about blood on the floor in any situation, but things happen. It’s not just about balancing tragedy with comedy. Have you ever had something happen that pisses you off so much it becomes funny? Or those stories your friends tell that always start with, “There is no way I could have made this up.” I feel like it’s those realistic, ridiculous moments that make the darkness more bearable.

And a few quick questions:

What’s your favorite…

…book, in recent times?

Oof! I can’t pick just one! Most recently, I’d have to say it’s Creep by Lou Yardley. Lou’s Venari series is a unique and excellent example of Dark Fantasy Horror.

…game, in recent time?

Warhammer 40K Killteam.

…writing advice?  

Don’t be too critical of yourself. Especially when you’re working on that first draft. Let your inner editor come out during the revision process but, at the beginning, give yourself permission to be messy.

…advice for someone who wants to publish their own book?

Self-publishing can be a lot of fun but it takes time. You have to pick and choose what you are going to prioritize. Like right now, I’m focusing on finishing the first Slaughter Chronicles novel and I am not doing any active marketing for my published stories. This means low sales but I do have more time to write. So, having a clear view of your goals is super important. Also, don’t worry about the publishing stuff until you have a finished draft. You can’t publish if you don’t have anything finished.

…source of inspiration?

I find lots of inspiration in nature and biology. We can learn a lot from bacteria, viruses, even our own blood cells. Look up phagocytosis, if that doesn’t belong in a horror novel, I don’t know what does.

…way to clear your mind when everything becomes a bit much?

That’s a tough question. As a student, caregiver, and writer, I have a lot of those “a bit much” moments. The best thing I can do is get out of myself; help out a friend, do the dishes, something productive that will get my brain off of its hamster wheel. But when the stress gets really bad, building and painting plastic miniatures is my go to.

Do you have any last words? 

Insert shameless self-promotion! My newest story, more of a novella really, The Wish Maker, Speculative E-Shorts number four, is now available for pre-order and will go live next February. I am currently working on the first Slaughter Chronicles novel, which I also hope to publish next Spring/Summer. All of my stories are free as ebooks on Kindle Unlimited. If you’d like to learn more about my stories, sign up for my newsletter. You get a free copy of my poetry collection when you sign up.

Thank you so much for having me on the blog and for giving indie authors a space to talk about writing!

Books by Jessa Forest

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