WE TALKED WITH JESSE NOLAN BAILEY WHO RECENTLY DEBUTED WITH THE DARING FANTASY NOVEL “THE JEALOUSY OF JALICE“ THAT FOLLOWS THREE WOMEN ON A QUEST THAT DEMANDS EACH FACE THEIR DEEPEST FEARS AND INNER DEMONS.
Alex Khlopenko: In a genre cursed by conservatism, a novel about women in servitude to a tyrant rising against his oppression couldn’t be timelier. How are you processing everything that is happening in the world and how much of it found its way into the story?
Jesse Nolan Bailey: My stories are certainly influenced by external circumstances, as well as aspects of my personal life and outlook. The Jealousy of Jalice may be filled with demons and monsters, and set in a made-up world, but it’s characters and their emotions are inspired by my own ponderings. I use writing as a method of processing the world around me.
Sometimes themes creep up subconsciously too. My initial concepts for this book didn’t necessarily revolve around women overthrowing a tyrant, and yet as the plot evolved, the story moved in that direction. To be frank, I think that particular plot line formulated after the 2016 USA Election and the events that have ensued since then in the political sphere, such as the MeToo movement. Morality and ethics are passionate subjects of mine, so of course my story is going to examine the relevant events occurring in our lifetimes.
Above all, my goal with storytelling is to blend fantastical elements with deep rooted questions on the human experience.
AK: As Haruki Murakami showed us time and time again, even the best of male writers embarrasses themselves with the way they write women. How did you avoid those pitfalls without resorting to clichés to present Annilasia, Jalice, and Delilee?
JNB: I think the first thing to realize is, as a male writer, I’m never going to quite get it perfect when it comes to representation of women in my stories. That particular human experience isn’t mine, so I can only explore it through a sort of outsider point of view. For me though, this heightened my sensitivity to my characters and how I wrote them. Anytime I am exploring a view point and experience that isn’t directly taken from my own life, I question my perspective and my motivations for every aspect of that character/scenario…and then re-examine it all over again.
The key is to not write in a bubble or vacuum. If the experience isn’t yours, do the research. Get opinions and input from those that would relate to those experiences or characters. The moment you think you have a handle on something like that is probably the moment you devalue those who you’re trying to represent with those characters/experiences.
Another important approach is to then treat these characters as actual humans, and realize that cliches exist because people generalize some specific trait of a person. For example, Jalice lives a pampered, sheltered life, as opposed to Annilasia who’s warrior experience makes her jaded and harsh. Already these sound cliche: the spoiled princess and the emotionally cut off warrior. Some might even postulate that the spoiled princess is an antiquated trope. My goal was to challenge all of that.
For the princess character, she isn’t any less just because she doesn’t know how to wield a sword. In fact, she faces off against the emotional trauma of her past, which some might argue takes just as much bravery to do as slaying a dragon. And for the jaded warrior, she isn’t able to save the day with a blade everytime. Her rash decisions and narrow focus end up costing her greatly, and she isn’t equipped to overcome her own internal flaws.
AK: There’s a definite motive of gaslighting and memory tempering (in one form or the other) as a method of oppression in the story – not only interpersonal, but communal, too. What inspired you to address it?
JNB: Memories and how they function have always fascinated me. I have trouble recalling mine in great detail personally. My childhood memories and experiences are foggy in my mind. What I find especially interesting though is that despite how much memories play a huge part in our everyday thoughts and decisions, they are also unreliable. It turns out that we actually add false details and change facts within our own memories without even realizing it. That creates all kinds of interesting topics and scenarios, and I liked exploring that in my book.
So although it’s done through magic and spells within the story, the inspiration for that revolves around how we in real life approach our memories and how our minds react to life-altering events. We seem to trust our memories as perfect narratives, and yet they aren’t. That has certain complex implications. Our minds even have the ability to block traumatic experiences from easy recollection as a sort of protective measure.
As for how I delve into that in the story, I think it’s a couple different methods. The communal aspect tries to examine how the collective hive mind is influenced by subliminal external messaging, and how that could influence people to act a certain way. On the interpersonal level, I wanted to explore what the process might look like for someone to face a traumatic experience of their past by slowly recalling things that had been locked away in their mind. Yet all of this is further complicated by the fact that external forces with malicious intent caused these scenarios.
AK: It takes courage not to simplify and explain everything in a too-long and unnecessary prologue or epilogue, especially for a book with high density of in-world terms and break-neck speed of the plot. Especially in self-publishing. Did you trust your reader right away or you had some reservations about it?
JNB: I made a conscious intention not to info dump. I’ve heard people complain about it a lot, so those complaints were at the forefront of my mind as I wrote this story. I’ve also heard plenty of grumblings about the use of prologues and epilogues, so I quickly decided against those. The challenge, as you pointed out, was how much to trust the reader. I had to present them with information as the characters came across it, and not always explain everything in full, so I had to do so at intervals rather than all at once or in mass amounts. This influenced the plot to a degree. Characters couldn’t interact with every aspect of the world around them right away at the risk of overwhelming the reader.
Despite this intention, I indeed had reservations about if I’d executed this well enough. To an extent, I think I did. Plenty of reviews have praised the absence of info dumping in this story. Yet, there will inevitably be some readers who find it jarring. In the end, if info dumping is avoided, then it comes down to the author’s ability to introduce concepts without confusing the reader in the process, as well as the reader’s willingness to explore a world with this method.
AK: A lot of imagery in the “The Jealousy of Jalice” crosses into the uncanny and surreal, which are more often found in horror works and New Weird. Was it a conscious decision to experiment or the story dictated the rules?
JNB: In early concepts and drafts, this story fit neatly in the epic fantasy genre with a medieval-type setting. This quickly changed in later versions, as I wanted something that broke away from the typical. It was another risk though. Readers are marketed with cookie-cutter genre labels, so when a reader sees ‘fantasy’, they’re expecting certain settings, plots, elements, and characters. When diverging from that, especially into lesser-known fantasy subgenres or trying to genrebend, readers might be left unsure if they’ll enjoy a book labeled as something as vague as grimdark or dark fantasy.
I kept this mind, but eventually the story just felt more genuine with those horror and surreal aspects. The surrealism crept in alongside the exploration of things like memories and spiritualism, and the horror could be blamed partially on my growing enthusiasm for the paranormal horror genre in general.
AK: Fantasy is slowly embracing intertextuality and mixing with other genres – the abovementioned horror and weird elements in “The Jealousy of Jalice” are another evidence. What inspired you to take this direction in the novel? Do you think it is the future of the genre?
JNB: This story explores themes like betrayal, trauma, unrequited love, and consequences to one’s actions. I felt these themes should be mirrored in the worldbuilding. The characters face off against inner demons that to some extent are manifested in the horrific world around them, almost as if the character’s thoughts and decisions have the power to reflect back at them in the physical and spiritual realms.
As for the future of the genre, I do think it’s slowly shifting towards genrebending. But this a very slow process in my opinion. Most of the mainstream fantasy I see still clings to the formulaic setting and elements rooted in its genesis. Nothing inherently wrong with this, but readers reward authors who brave new territory within a genre, especially these days. It’s precarious though, because too much divergence alienates the reader. They still require familiarity within the expectations they have for a genre.
AK: As a follow up – do you think fantasy readers are ready for more non-Eurocentric stories? More experimental stuff? Do you think self-pub can lead the way, since there are no marketers and corporate accountant?
JNB: I think readers constantly crave something new. The Eurocentric stories still prevail today and are still quite popular, but I’ve seen a trend towards other approaches to this genre. I also predict that a continual promotion of diverse voices within the genre will evolve it. Eurocentric stories notoriously lean towards a confined type of cast and setting, and there are plenty of readers who don’t identify with that and want something more from the genre. Fantasy can offer more than just the Eurocentric version–we just have to allow those other voices within the community to be heard, and right now, that’s an uphill battle. The diverse voices that could breath new life into the genre are often oppressed and marginalized.
As for self-publishing, it certainly can lead the way, but it has its own limitations. I still see plenty of readers who are skeptical of the quality of self-published books, and who would rather purchase a book from an established, trad-backed author. So the self-published books that brave the new terrains within fantasy easily go unnoticed. The pros with this approach, as you mentioned, are that there are no gatekeepers to the content within the story, so indie authors have the freedom to introduce these fresh concepts without reproach.
AK: What are you working on now? When can we expect the next installment in “A Disaster of Dokojin” series?
JNB: I’m currently working on a novella that I hope to have completed and available before the end of the year. It’s not related in any way to ‘A Disaster of Dokojin’, and will be a stand alone. It will, however, feature more genre-blending elements while firmly rooted in the fantasy genre again.
As for the sequel to The Jealousy of Jalice, I’m not putting a date on that yet. That’s too much self-pressure that will inevitably sabotage the end result of the product. One luxury of being an indie author is that I set my own timetable. Rest assured, I’m aware that readers these days expect quick production from their authors, but I am not going to lead my fans on either. I instead humbly request my readers be patient. For now, just know I’ve got it outlined, and I’ve already initiated the first draft.