Hello! As a SPFBO 8 author (whose entree was incidentally cut early in the Blog-Off) I am doing a Spotlight series for any authors who have books in the 8th annual Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off, no matter when their book was cut or how far they make it. Today’s Spotlight is for Jean Gill, who has … guess what … done bee-keeping.
Yes, I’m sure you’re already guessing that might tie into her SPFBO 8 entree, since it is named, after all, Queen of the Warrior Bees.
One misfit girl and 50,000 bees. Together they must change the world. As the Mages of the Citadel fight amongst themselves and prepare for war against the Forest, Mielitta, a despised servant, has her own battle to face. Bastien and Jannlou, the boys who terrorised her as a child, have grown into their status as Mages and she cannot escape them forever.
In desperation, she flees to the forbidden Forest and its dangerous attractions. Her scent angers thousands of bees and, although she survives their attack, she has changed. A strange bee symbol glows on her thigh and her senses are altered. She learns that her connection with bees enables her to summon their aid and gives her the power to shift shape.
This new-found bond works both ways and the bees need Mielitta’s help as the rift widens between Forest and Citadel. Can one girl and a colony of bees reunite Man and Nature, or is the split irreversible?
Block Nature out and she’ll force a way in.
Doesn’t that sound intriguing?
So, onto the Questions!
As a Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off (SPFBO) Entrant, you’re not just independently as opposed to traditionally published, but self-published. Can you start by explaining a bit about why you chose that route and how it’s been for you?
I’ve been published every-which-way except bestselling since my first book (poetry) came out with a small press in 1988. Another small press took up my first novel in 2001 but I never found the publisher of my dreams who wanted all my work and would accept my changes in genre. With each book, I started the dreary process of querying all over again… and years went by. I had a drawer full of rejections but I threw them away last year. I saw kindle self-publishing arrive in the USA but wasn’t eligible as I live in France. The moment I could self-publish, I did and I’ve never looked back since 2012. I love my little publishing empire and have twenty-five books to my name.
At first I tried to do everything myself to save money but soon I became more professional. I now have a trademarked publishing imprint, The 13th Sign, and work with my professional partners: cover designer Jessica Bell, editor Lorna Fergusson of Fictionfire, and brilliant audiobook narrators. I still do my own formatting and marketing / advertising and I only publish my own books so I’m very much a self-publisher and proud of it but I’d say I was Indie in the sense that I employ some specialists.
I do NOT earn enough royalties to live on but I fight against other people’s numerical definitions of success. It becomes an addiction – if you are amazon’s #2 author, you want to be #1. If you are #1 you want to stay #1 forever and feel a failure if you drop to #2.
I have the freedom to write the books I want to write; to take whatever time I choose to make them the best they can possibly be; I have readers who love my work and I’m having fun. Also, my publisher loves me, whatever crazy things I write 😊 I’ve been lucky enough to win some awards along the way, which is also encouraging.
I’m also a photographer and earn an income from my photos so the creative flexibility of my self-publishing lets me choose how I want to live, with the financial stability of two pensions from our years working as teachers – and I cared passionately about my career in education. It wasn’t just a ‘day job’. There are advantages to being sixty-six and my only regret is that I couldn’t have lived 10,000 different lives. I’d have had adventures in all of them.
That sounds awesome! And you mentioned something that I feel like a lot of non-indies, and even non-self-publishing people don’t realize: one reason to be self-published is actually a self-motivated desire for excellency, the urge to whatever defines personal perfection that drives a true artist, that Traditional publishing can hinder in so many ways. It’s not because we’re not good enough, but sometimes because we don’t want to compromise on our idea of ‘good enough/perfect’, lol.
Why did you enter the SPFBO contest? A number of people have related that they find it pretty stressful. How do you feel about it so far? Or has it not affected you much?
My great writer-friend, Kristin Gleeson, told me about SPFBO and I thought it would be a good idea to submit Queen of the Warrior Bees and see if I could get a blog review. My best-known genre is medieval historical fiction, my bestseller is actually a dog book and I’ve not found many readers for my YA fantasy trilogy so hanging out in a fantasy network sounded fun.
Kristin and I have both side-stepped into fantasy over the last three years so we share any tips on finding readers and we both enjoy networking with fellow-authors. We are also both big readers so finding new books and talking about them was part of the attraction.
I am really sorry that fellow authors are finding the SPFBO process stressful ☹ I think the bloggers have an impossible task and I’m in awe of the professional way they’ve approached SPFBO but it’s hard for us authors placed with the more reticent blogs to wait and wonder! And a bad review hurts. I was excited and relieved to get a good review, as that was my big hope from the contest – a validation, even though in my head I KNOW it’s just one reviewer’s reaction. But publication is a tough business and there are no writers, however successful in their numbers, who don’t feel the pain of bad reviews and ‘failure’. We all go through this and the self-doubts can be crippling. I bet I’ve had more rejections and ‘near-misses’ from trad publishers over my writing career than any other writer in SPFBO 😊 and now I’m glad. That route would have put me in a gilded cage.
I think it’s important to find supportive writer-friends who combine cheerleading and a shoulder to cry on, with constructive criticism for new books. Kristin and I ‘met’ ten years ago on Authonomy, Harper Collins’ dog-eat-dog competitive platform for new writers and we saw other authors fall prey to the sharks. The little friendship group we formed then keeps me sane-ish 😊 and we’ve met up in ‘the real world’ to talk books and life. The SPFBO group on Discord offers that friendly support and shared experience. Whatever any of us do in the contest, we all had the courage to put our book up there and we’ve ‘met’ each other.
The bottom line is that I’ve bought some of the books that have been cut or not yet judged in the contest and the winners of the first three SPFBO contests are ones I’d run away from 😊 so all publicity is good publicity for our books.
I think you’ll be relieved to hear that I think there’s less drama and stress surrounding this SPFBO than there have been in the past (I hear there was a lot before my first experience last year). But some people can’t seem not to stress … and I agree with you! I’d run away from a number of the winners, too, and can I let you in on a secret (it’s not a secret now)? I think there’s only one FINALIST so far that has caught my attention. But I have a lot of semi-finalist or first-round-of-cuts loves.
Book titles. Why did you choose the title you did for your book? Take this wherever you want; an analysis of how it fits your book (if that’s not a spoiler you’d rather not share); the inspiration for your title; how the title makes you feel. As short or as in-depth as you like.
I HATE thinking of a title until I’ve finished the book but I want the cover before then… so I compromise and try to fix a title halfway through completing a novel. If titles come to me while I write I add them to the list and usually one hooks me in. I browse poetry quotations. Nowadays I try to come up with series title, book title, subtitle and tagline that all work together. The final step is to check that the title fits genre and isn’t leading to somebody else’s big bestseller, by looking it up on amazon. I know titles aren’t copyright (though a character name could be trademarked) but I do try to be different. I’ve just looked up my ideas list 😊
Queen of the Warrior Bees could have been
The Anger of Bees
The Rage of Bees – Rage & Bee are erotica writers ☹
Honey Licked off Thorns
For the good of the Bee Hive
The Pleasure of Bees
Bees burned with sweetness – Pablo Neruda
You never can tell with bees A.A.Milne
Alive with bees
Humming birds and warrior bees
Flight of the Bee Queen
Song of the warrior bees
Queen of the Warrior Bees
Song of the Angry Forest
Stings and honey traps
Marked by bees
The bee-loud glade
Alive with bees
That’s a lot of possible titles!
I won’t ask for your favourite scene since I know some people don’t have those (wink wink), but can you share a scene you really like and you just can’t believe how awesome it is every time you go back to re-read it, that you don’t consider to be a spoiler? Alternately, you can share something about a character you really like. Or both, if you want.
When Mielitta (human girl) is called into the beehive as a queen bee to help a colony that has lost its queen. As a beekeeper, I’ve often wanted to go into a hive and say, ‘What’s wrong? What can I do to help?’ and I can’t believe how real the experience of being a bee is in the scenes in the novel where Mielitta is a bee. I am now part bee.
Oh, that sounds so awesome!
And I will mention one character from Book 2 of the trilogy. Arven is an androgynous teenager raised in isolation by his eccentric grandmother, who channels his magecraft through weapons that others despise and underestimate – knitting-needles and the fabric he creates. You will never see knitting the same way after reading Book 2 and Book 3 of Natural Forces 😊
Same sort of thing as with the last question, except this time what about a quote? One to five lines or so, but this isn’t math. You don’t need to count the periods (or question marks, exclamation points, or other sentence-enders).
‘The freak’s clumsiness was legendary. Bastien himself had created that legend and Mielitta wore her reputation like a porcupine shirt, prickles inside.’
That sounds … OUCH!
What would you like to share? Take this in any direction you consider to be related to your book and your writing. As long as a guest post, as short as a few sentences, whatever you like. 😀
Queen of the Warrior Bees was inspired by two events. After two years’ beekeeping I became over-confident and made a series of mistakes one day. As I work alone, what followed could have been much worse. I didn’t realise that a cloud of enraged bees had followed me a hundred metres. When I took off the helmet of my protective suit to get one bee out, they all attacked my head. When Mielitta is attacked by bees in the Forest, that is based entirely on my experience. I must have had about fifty stings, all on the head because the bees took against a metallic snood I was wearing over my hair (yes, the snood is in the novel too).
My head on fire, I must have been in shock as I went back up the hillside and closed down the beehive carefully, then came down into the house to have a shower, pull out bee stings and have a think. I’d even said a polite good morning to my stepdaughters who were visiting, as I didn’t want to spoil their day. My think led to me telling my husband and saying I ought to go to the chemist. By the time we reached the chemist I was coming out in rashes and shaking. The chemist sent us to the doctor who jabbed me with his last dose of epinephrine. An afternoon in bed brought me through the weird hot/ cold shaking and I had time to muse on my mistakes before I went back to visit the bees – more carefully!
My writer-friend (Babs) B A Morton said I should write it up as a superhero story where the attack gave bee superpowers to the hero. This idea lodged in my mind but didn’t come to fruition until I grew very angry: the second event.
There was a debate on facebook about the virtues of fake grass and I learned to my horror that more and more people were replacing messy, scruffy grass with artificial, even in rural Wales, my other home, although I’ve lived in France twenty years now. My poor bees! And so the Citadel was born, the sterile environment some people want, with Mielitta and her bees fighting for Nature.
Incidentally, although I did not gain superpowers (or if I did, I’m not telling) for a month after the bee attack, I had NO aches and pains of any kind – and I usually have creaky joints. That’s a fairly extreme treatment though so I’m not tempted to try it again 😊 I’m not allergic to bee-stings but the sheer quantity of poison caused a severe reaction. I’ve talked since to a friend who is allergic and the moral was clear to both of us. Never underestimate honeybees!
What a story! And – it’s horrible the sterilization so many people seem to be for. As if there’s not beauty in the cycle of nature. Sometimes, I think they’ve never been alive themselves, since it’s like they want to turn the whole world into a tomb! Poor bees 🙂 I love the premise of your novels!
Jean Gill is an award-winning Welsh writer and photographer living in the south of France with two scruffy dogs, a beehive named ‘Endeavour’, a Nikon D750 and a man. For many years, she taught English and was the first woman to be a secondary headteacher in Wales. She is mother or stepmother to five children so life was hectic. Join Jean’s special readers’ group at jeangill.com for private news and a free exclusive copy of How White is My Valley, the humorous true story of how Jean became
a beekeeper in Provence;
a photographer with her first solo exhibition coming up in October 2022;
and nearly became a dog trainer.
You can find Jean on: