Interview with Jill Bartelt

What do you read for pleasure?
I'm most drawn to books with strong and memorable characters that I keep thinking about even after I set the book down. Some long-time favorites are "The Time Traveler's Wife" by Audrey Niffenegger; "Cyrano de Bergerac" by Edmond Rostand; the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling; "The Name of the Rose" by Umberto Eco; "La Guerre, yes sir!" by Roch Carrier, and "Little Women" by Louisa May Alcott. If a book can make me laugh, I appreciate it all the more. I don't read much straight-up humor writing, but I like when even the most serious work has moments of humor or wryness. That's how life is. I also love reading nonfiction, in particular about nature or travel. My current books are "The End of Night: Searching for Natural Darkness in an Age of Artificial Light" by Paul Bogard and "This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs the Climate" by Naomi Klein. Works in translation fascinate me, too--I began reading Harry Potter in French rather than English and have since read all of the books in both languages. It's been fun to compare how certain words, phrases, concepts, and even names change from one language to the other. Some of the plays on words don't translate easily, while others are improved--translating the Sorting Hat as the Choixpeau was a stroke of genius! One note on reading in general--every time I read a book, an article, or whatever, I find something to help my own writing, no matter how different the styles or subject matter.
What's your writing process? Do you outline?
No. I probably should. My writing process is a jumble. I start wherever I feel moved to start, often somewhere in the middle of the story, and fill in the details and connections later. One difficulty this method poses is tracing changes. If I change something late in the story, it has a ripple effect in the beginning (and vice versa). I do much of my composing on the computer, but often thoughts will come to me when I have no computer access, so I'll jot them down on anything available--cereal boxes, old envelopes, my hand. In life, I'm a vegetarian; in writing I'm an omnivore. A scavenger. Some of my best ideas on wording or connections have come to me while I'm walking and have nothing to write with, so I turn them into songs to memorize them until I can write them down. Also, I'm always on the lookout for anything--some stylistic device, some tidbit of knowledge--that might inform my writing.
What inspires you to write?
My sources of inspiration are diverse and scattered. I've been inspired by the sight of falling red oak leaves; by overhead photos of thousands of beluga whales; by the aurora borealis; by certain wistful music intervals. My two "Trojan Peace" novels owe much to the music of Loreena McKennitt and Connie Dover, as well as to photos taken from the Hubble Space Telescope. While these things might have little to do with the subject matter of my writing, they put me in a certain mood and inspire certain emotions.
What are the greatest joys of writing, for you?
When I finally nail down wording for a passage that never seemed right. When a scene comes to mind and flows out through my keyboard (this is rare, but delightful when it happens!). When a character takes an unexpected turn. When disparate pieces of the story somehow converge to fit together.
What motivated you to become an indie author?
The more I looked into indie publishing, I liked how much control an author has over her own work. My husband is an artist, and from the early days of working on my novels, I wanted him to create the cover images. As an indie author/publisher, I was able to make that choice. I also appreciate the print-on-demand and ebook models, as they're less wasteful of resources than traditional printings. Finally, indie publishing has forced me to master new computer skills--which is a headache in the moment but extremely useful in the long run.
What's one thing you wish someone would have told you before you started writing?
Just one? There are many, but I'll narrow it down to two. First, I wish I would have known about typical word counts for books. Four years ago, I had a moment of horror when I realized that my "book" of 360,000 words was actually 3-4 books, lengthwise, and that I would have to split it into pieces if it was ever to be published. I hated the idea--in my eyes, it was and always will be one very long book. Still, I understood the pragmatics and tried splitting it several different ways (which involved much editing and re-editing!). None of them suited me until I settled on the current form: two volumes ("The Trojan Peace: First Light" and "The Trojan Peace: Half-Light"), each of which is internally divided into two main parts. This is a compromise between providing stopping points and structure to the reader while cutting the original work into as few pieces as possible. The volumes' lengths of about 170,000 and 190,000 words are still quite long, which is one of many reasons I opted for indie publishing. The other thing I wish someone would have told me about before I started writing is Microsoft Styles. This feature is incredibly useful for formatting...but I didn't know about it until my book was more or less complete, and I had to "retrofit" many parts of my manuscript. This was a tedious process and I would much rather have set it up correctly from the beginning.
Why did you write the two "Trojan Peace" novels?
I had to. The two main characters, Andromache and Hector, captured my mind somewhere in the mid-2000's. I'd recently read Jean Racine's play "Andromaque" (1667), and the Iraq War was going on...and on...and on. This confluence of factors made me think a lot about war; the effects of war on families; the psychology of people engaged in warfare; trauma and healing; what drives people to fight. Andromache and Hector come from the legend of the Trojan War. They are, along with Hector's family, the very emblem of all the travesties war can inflict on people. They also have a unique relationship, different from anything else I've encountered in the stories of antiquity. I couldn't stop thinking about what their life might have been like in gentler times, before the siege of Troy. By 2008, I was so occupied by these thoughts that I began writing them down, then organizing them into a narrative. Eight years and 360,000 words later...
Why should someone spend time reading the two "Trojan Peace" books?
If they're seeking endless scenes of violence, destruction, or Olympian gods, they shouldn't. My books are set before the well-known events of the Trojan War legend, and they have no supernatural elements. Taken as a whole, "The Trojan Peace" is a long ode to healing, compassion, empathy, appreciation for the natural world, and the deep joys of everyday life (all in the setting of ancient Troy, of course!). The characters are entirely human, which means that they're flawed. I let them develop in the ways that they demanded, in the time that they needed; I let them be true to themselves. For some, their whole nature isn't apparent until the end of the second book. There are moments of sorrow and tragedy in "The Trojan Peace," but also moments of humor and happiness. My books diverge from the Trojan War legend in ways both large and small. For me, taking a well-known story and adapting it with my own additions, interpretations, and twists was an exhilarating process. I learned much about the history and natural history of Anatolia (modern-day Turkey; the land of ancient Troy). I hope that readers will come away feeling something for the characters--and also for the human issues that transcend time and space.
When you're not writing, how do you spend your time?
My favorite activities are hiking (with my husband and our dog), traveling, and taking photographs. These things recharge my batteries and inspire me in my writing. Like many people, I need to feel awe to be complete; this feeling hits me when I'm up in the mountains, beneath a truly dark night sky, or amidst the silent ruins of an ancient city. Also, I love any activity that allows me to interact with animals. Two summers ago, my husband and I went kayaking in Churchill, Manitoba, Canada, a place where thousands of wild beluga whales congregate. The experience of being out on the water with those whales filled my heart with a joy beyond words.
What inspires you to get out of bed each day?
Starting at 4:00 a.m., I have a little "me" time each day. The house is quiet--I can just sit on the couch beside my little dog and spend a magical hour writing or reading. Once 5:00 rolls around, it's time to get ready for work. I don't feel centered on those days when I sleep past the 4:00 alarm.
Where did you grow up, and how did that influence your writing?
I moved around a lot. I loved getting to know different parts of the country, and I'm still a wanderer at heart. Perhaps that explains why my writing method is jumbled! But I wouldn't have it any other way.
How do you approach cover design?
My husband, Marc Nelson, is an artist (a painter). We work together on all stages of cover design except the actual creation of the image, which is his work alone. I confer with him on ideas for the image and then we collaborate on the final touches, like adding text.
What is your e-reading device of choice?
I have an older model Kindle that I love and that I will keep forever if possible because I'm deeply troubled by the issue of e-waste. As long as it works, I won't replace it.
Describe your desk.
I have two "desks." One is an old green futon covered in white dog hair. The other is old grey carpeting similarly covered in dog hair.
What are you working on next?
I have three short stories in the hopper. I'm returning to legendary characters, of a sort. An author called Marie de France wrote a collection of short narratives called "lais"; it's one of the most famous works of medieval French literature. My short stories are adaptations of three of her lais. Her work serves as an inspiration, a point of origin, from which my stories diverge (sometimes widely). One of my greatest concerns in life is ecology/the environment, and my versions of the stories ended up reflecting this.
Published 2017-01-14.
Smashwords Interviews are created by the profiled author, publisher or reader.

Books by This Author

The Trojan Peace: Half-Light
Price: $5.99 USD. Words: 190,940. Language: English. Published: January 14, 2017. Categories: Fiction » Historical » Ancient, Fiction » Historical » General
This is the companion novel and conclusion to "The Trojan Peace: First Light." Andromache is a very different person than she was when she first came to Troy. Her life is full and happy. But as her connection to Hector deepens, and as the clouds of war gather on the horizon, she finds her peace threatened on all sides. Still, she must somehow find the courage to live, to love...and to laugh.
The Trojan Peace: First Light
Price: $5.99 USD. Words: 179,410. Language: English. Published: January 14, 2017. Categories: Fiction » Historical » Ancient, Fiction » Historical » General
High in the citadel of wind-swept Troy, Andromache finds herself on the brink of a nightmare…or perhaps at the dawn of a new life. A traumatized refugee, alone in the world, she must face many fears when she is brought to the home of a leading Trojan family: Hecuba, Priam, Cassandra, Paris, and Hector. This novel is set in the ancient world and is inspired by the legends of the Trojan War.