Welcome to Barren Island Books, the author interview series that’s in no way related to a popular music-based radio programme. You know the rules by now: my guests are exiled to a remote island with only five books for company, selected from the categories I give them. It’s up to them to make sure they choose wisely, because they’re going to be stuck with those books for a long, long time …
My interviewee this week is Jennifer Fisch-Ferguson, author of the Warriors of Luna novels Enter the Moon and Howl at the Moon. When she’s not being banished to a desert island, Jennifer can be found at warriorsofluna.com.
Jennifer, thanks for joining us tonight (I notice the moon is full …) First of all, could you please tell us a little bit about yourself – just so we know who it is we’re sending into exile. Illogical fears, unusual birthmarks, whether you’d rather wrestle a bear or punch a shark, that kind of thing.
About me – always the most terrifying question to answer. I do have an unusual birthmark – it’s shaped like an amoeba – the unusual thing is that both of my kids have the same birthmark in the same place – a genetic “mine” stamp! I would definitely rather punch a shark than wrestle a bear (see Howl at the Moon …) Other than that, I am a college prof (yes, the cool one), a mom to two amazing kids and staff to two demanding cats – who are not at all grateful for my ministrations. I have a lovely husband who brings coffee to me each morning prior to conversation – thus some 18 years of marriage successfully managed. I’m a musician. I love to cook and bake but am my own worst critic! I have been a book reviewer. Sour Patch Kids are my downfall – I cannot keep them in my office because I would eat too many, so I keep them across the house so I have to make an effort to get them. I have a sense of humor – my kids think I am odd, my students think I am slightly unhinged and I think I am freaking hilarious. I’m sure there are more things, but who remembers them all …
And what about your own work? What are the inspirations behind it? What would make someone else choose it to accompany them into exile?
I love strong women and wanted one that was relatable. I wanted sassy and smart, but vulnerable and silly. The inspiration was I love werewolves and after much research (see many, many movies and books) I didn’t like how they were written. So I wrote what I wanted to see and then pushed what was comfortable. It’s a read that takes you up and makes you want to shake the main character and leaves you with a smile. I was told that I moved someone to tears but she didn’t say if it was laughter or sobbing … I really do write stories I want to read and characters I want to either love or hate. One of my fun things in writing is making the details count. Why a certain name? Why a certain tree type? Because they all matter to the bigger plot/story line. Again I love when other authors leave the little bread crumb trails – so I try to do it too! Why take it into exile? Because you need the excitement to accompany your days and add a bit of spice to your nights.
Now let’s move on to the books you’re going to take to the island with you. First up, it’s your favourite childhood book – perhaps the one that got you interested in reading in the first place, or the one you read over and over when you were young. Which will you choose, and why?
My first book was Curious George and I slapped my older brother over the head with it for telling me I was reading it wrong. I was making my own story from the pictures I saw. However, I would definitely bring along The Legend of Africania by Dorothy Robinson – it taught me to be happy with who I am. It’s a great origin myth and really sparked my little 3-year-old brain into thinking and realizing I needed to be able to read by myself. Thus began my early adventures into reading and writing.
Next, the book that made the greatest impact on your life. This could be one that inspired you to become a writer, or one that made you look at the world in a whole new way – maybe even one that resulted in real-life romance or adventure.
Octavia Butler – Parable of the Sower. I was about 9 and at my godparents’ (who are huge readers and always let me read rather than do other things!) and I saw this beautiful African American face on the cover and I had to know what was in it. And then it was Science Fiction – my favorite genre – and I was hooked. I’m sure some of the meaning went over my head at that point, but I have re-read it enough that I’m sure I’ve got it by now. It made me want to explore all the what-ifs, it reassured me that there were characters of color, like me, being written and made me want to write my own. It was just eye opening all around for me.
Brilliant! Just shows how profound an impact the right book can have on our lives. For your third book – and you’re probably going to need this one, all alone on a remote island – I’d like you to choose your greatest comfort read. You know, the one you turn to when you’re sad or ill or just need a little pick-me-up.
All About Love: New Visions from bell hooks – okay, this is hefty reading. The kind that you sit up at 2 in the morning and are stunned by the revelation that has been made. But being able to read about love – the dark, gritty, emotional part – and look at how we have been made to view it and what it does to us as people … I’m sure it sounds odd as a comfort read for those who haven’t read it. But being able to connect to self, being able to realize that society constructs are only that? Yeah – it brings me back to a notion of who and what I am and how love affects me. It helps reconnect me to what is important and how I am important – so for me, a definite comfort read.
Fourthly, it’s your unexpected treasure: a book you didn’t expect to like but did, maybe one outside your usual genre or that you picked up with low expectations but were pleasantly surprised …
New Moon by Midori Snyder – I bought it as part of a grab bag at a library book sale. I wasn’t sure about it (or the other two books in the series, for that matter), but it intrigued me from the second page and I loved it. No surprise that it centers around women – in various depictions of strength, and how they were taking on an equally strong woman. I think I was surprised – because I didn’t care for the ending of the trilogy, it was very predictable because the author had written herself into a corner. But that first book made me really excited to read and the tension was great.
And, of course, it has an appropriately lunar theme :-) Finally, I’d like you to choose your instant classic – the book you think most deserves to be read and reread by future generations. It’s up to you whether this book is already considered a classic or is something more obscure.
I would love to say an anthology or some large tome so I could have a variety during my days on my lonely island. Okay – Kindred by Octavia Butler – I know I am using the same author twice, but this should show you what kind of impact she had on my life. This will fall into the more obscure category – though it has picked up a bit of steam in the academic world. It deals with a ton of issues and – just when you think you have figured stuff out – slaps you in the eye with the profound or makes you question the way you thought you knew things. I really do think a good book should make you experience a lot of emotion – especially uncomfortable – it means you are engaged and thinking.
Absolutely. And Kindred sounds amazing – so much so that I've gone ahead and bought a copy off the back of this interview! Anyway, we’ll get those five books packaged up ready for your journey. Since we’re not completely heartless here at Barren Island Books, we’ll also let you take one song/piece of music, one film and one other item of your choice into exile with you …
Can I have an iPod of music instead of one choice? No? Okay then, music: Splendid by Dirk Ehlert.
One film: The Fifth Element. I hated the movie in the theater, although it might have been the company I was with. However, when it came out on DVD and I watched it – with good company – I loved the little quirks and jokes. I am assuming there will be a DVD player and I won’t just have to look at the DVD case with fond memories?
Other item of choice: a cheese cloth bag. I write fantasy, which means I can imagine little wriggly creatures in the island water that will be consumed in a haze of thirst and infest my brain and make me dance naked through the jungle or throw coconuts at large beasts waiting to eat me … so a cheese cloth bag to filter them out of my drinking water.
That is probably the most practical extra item anyone has ever chosen on Barren Island Books :-) Now, before we whisk you away, you have one last decision to make: where you want your remote island to be located. You can choose anywhere you like for your exile, in this world or another.
Aruba-esque. I like the warm and swimming – and did I mention warm?
That’s it, then – you’re ready to go. Thank you for joining us, and enjoy your trip!
You can watch the trailers for Jennifer's books below.