Today, we continue our author interview series by speaking to Jeanie Grey, the author of the Awakening trilogy of feminist erotica. This stop is part of Jeanie’s month-long blog tour, which you can find out more about here.
“I think it’s good to have weakness and vulnerability.“
We speak to author Jeanie Grey
It’s a saturday afternoon in sunny High Wycombe, and I’m settling in to the first weekend at our new house and catching up with Jeanie Grey on Skype. It’s immediately clear that she loves what she does – “I read a lot of paranormal YA books when I was younger,” she tells us. “And a lot of them ended up being about vampires. At the time, I found vampires to be very sexy – there was something appealing about that because they’re always really good-looking and really rich and practically invulnerable.”
“I think my favourite vampire series is Christopher Pike’s The Last Vampire,” she reveals. “It has a female protagonist and she’s very human in a lot of ways, like my vampires are.” In many ways, it mirrors Grey’s own work, and her strong female protagonists like Lilly from Awakening. “I think it’s really important for my work to contain strong female characters,” she explains. “And they don’t have to be strong in the traditional sense.”
“I think it’s good to have weakness and vulnerability,” Jeannie says. “And you can actually prove your strength by being vulnerable, which is one of the main themes of this series. In general, I don’t think that there’s a dearth of strong female characters, but I do think that we still have a lot of the traditional ideas about what it means to be a woman, especially in heterosexual literature.”
In a lot of romance novels, Jeannie explains, “women’s sexuality is passive”, meaning that the woman is “overwhelmed by the man’s sexual energy, and she goes along for the ride but doesn’t have a lot of her own agency. “ That’s something that Jeanie would like to challenge, and she says that she’s “tried to do that a little bit with Lilly”, adding that it’s something she’ll continue to work on in the future. But in general, she says that she thinks that “it depends greatly on what genre you’re looking at and whether it’s a man or a woman writing it.”
One thing that I can relate to is Jeanie’s feeling that her characters occasionally take over. “When I started writing book two,” she explains. “I had an idea that a character from book one was still alive and he was going to be the antagonist in book two. I was having such a hard time writing him in and figuring out when he showed up.”
“It sounds kind of weird,” she says. “But what I ended up doing was asking him, and having a conversation with myself. He told me that he was dead, and that really screwed up my plans – it took me by surprise.”
But it’s not all bad news, as Jeanie explains – “Even though it screwed up my plans in some major ways,” she says, “it also solved a lot of problems. The characters know best in the end, but it is frustrating when you’ve put all of this time and energy in to planning it out and then the characters have some different ideas about how it should go.”
It’s a feeling that I know all too well – in fact, me and Jeanie have a lot in common, because we’re both writers as well as book reviewers. When I suggested that being a writer gives your reviews more credibility, Jeanie tells us that she “hadn’t really thought about it that way.” She says, “I think that what gives me confidence as a book reviewer is my training in English Literature. When I was studying English Lit, I wasn’t writing fiction. I don’t think that you have to be a writer in order to know what you’re talking about and to write reviews, but I do think that being a writer makes me a more compassionate reviewer.”
In many ways, it would seem that you need to be a reader to be a reviewer, and Jeanie agrees – “For me,” she adds, “it’s about context, it’s about knowing what that particular book is doing within the context of the culture and also within the context of other books in its genre.”
As for Jeanie’s work, she’s well aware of where it all fits within the context of culture – one of her goals is to challenge the norms of women’s sexuality, although she adds that “it’s not just women’s sexuality, it’s men’s sexuality too.” She says, “I consider myself to be a contemporary feminist which means equality for all and not just women.”
“In traditional romance,” Jeanie continues, “whether it’s paranormal, historical or contemporary, the guys are all broad-shouldered and chiseled with strong jaw lines and cut abs, although there’s starting to be a slightly wider range of ‘acceptable body types’ for women, probably because women are the ones normally writing romance. There’s a sort of niche devoted to B.B.W. (big, beautiful women) and women who aren’t fit and thin, who are curvy and more of the Marilyn Monroe and Mae West type.”
“The book I’m working on right now has that kind of heroine in it,” she says. “But what I wanted to do for the guy was to have him not fit that body type, so he’s got a little bit of extra padding around the middle.” A bit like me, then!
It’s interesting because when we interviewed Marius Gabriel, he told us about how he wrote romance novels under a female pseudonym because the readers didn’t want to read a romance book that was written by a man. Jeanie tells us that she “just ran across a male romance writer on Twitter”, adding “I haven’t had a chance to check out his work yet but because he’s a man I’m instantly more interested because I haven’t read a lot of romance written by men.”
But the romance that Jeanie reads isn’t the happy-go-lucky romance of a Mills and Boone novel – she says that her work is only suitable for ages 18+ “because in our culture there are some ideas about things that children should and should not be exposed to and explicit sex is one of them. It’s interesting because I got in to romance novels when I was nine or ten – I found my grandma’s stash of Harlequins, and I don’t feel traumatised as a result. But that’s the culture.”
Jeanie’s interview is actually one of the stops on her blog tour, which sees her appearing all over the web on different book bloggers‘ sites by providing books for reviews, guest posts and interview opportunities. “This is the third company that I’ve toured with,” she says. “And I’m really pleased – I’m with Fire and Ice book tours, which is run by Shelly Ice, and I’m really pleased with the service.”
“This one is a month long and it’s the longest one I’ve ever done,” she continues. “And as a result it’s also the most expensive, but so far I haven’t had a single missed stop and props to the bloggers – the guest posts have been interesting. One of the things about the tour is that you don’t want the same excerpts and book info on every blog, because that’s boring and there’s no reason for people to follow it. Each week there’s a good mix of things, and I’m really excited about this interview because I don’t know anybody else that’s done an audio interview before, so I was really excited when you offered this to me.”
And, like every other author we’ve spoken to, Jeanie’s a keen reader, too. “I’ve been reading a lot of free romance lately just to see what it’s like,” she says. “The last book that I read was called At Any Price – it’s a contemporary romance and it’s new adult, based on a 22-year-old woman who’s a gaming geek. That caught my attention right away because that’s different – it just doesn’t happen.”
That said, it does contain some conventional elements – “the hero, her love interest, is tall, dark and handsome with chiseled abs and boat loads of money. But because she’s such an ‘unlikely heroine’, it was really interesting to me. The author did a really good job on the sexual tension, which is always something that I’m trying to learn how to do better, and there’s an interesting morality question because it’s about a 22-year-old woman who’s decided to sell her virginity in order to pay for her mom’s medical bills. There’s this moral question about prostitution, which isn’t how she sees it in the beginning – she actually sees it as a feminist statement and because I’m a self-proclaimed feminist, that was really interesting to me.”
As for Jeanie, she’s not done yet – “I’m working on a contemporary romance called At First Blush,” she tells us. “And I expect to be done with it this year. Then I’m working on a historical pirate romance that takes place in the Caribbean, and I have all of these erotica short story ideas. At First Blush is about a romance novelist who writes under a pseudonym and works as a high school teacher by day, and she’s on tour with her book and she runs in to an old flame. The book that she’s touring with was written about her romance with this man, so it puts her in an interesting position when they go out for dinner.” Sounds like a killer concept, and I look forward to reading it!
Jeanie Grey is the author of the Awakening trilogy of feminist erotica. This stop is part of Jeanie’s month-long blog tour, which you can find out more about here – alternatively, you can follow her on Facebook and Twitter.
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