Monday, June 17, 2013

Author Interview: J.M. Ney-Grimm

After a rousing first interview with the great Stuart Jaffe, the Author Interview series makes its triumphant return!

Today's victim guest? J.M. Ney-Grimm, who writes in an amazingly rich, lush, green, Norse-based world filled with trolls and fantasy, or as I like to call it, "New Zealand whenever Peter Jackson visits."

I had a chance to catch up with J.M. via email in between her luxurious jaunts with her family to the beach. Enjoy!

Thanks for dropping by, J.M.! It's always nice to be able to point to somebody and say, "See–this person's done a LOT nerdier stuff than I have!", especially since there are so few people with such credentials! Explain a little bit about your experience designing a number of fantasy-based games.

Too true! What could be more nerdly than working for a game company? Must plead guilty! I was with Iron Crown Enterprises between 1984 and 2000. I did a little bit of everything: painted maps, wrote adventures, edited the Narnia chose-your-own-peril and then the Middle-earth role playing games. The grandest fun was art directing the Middle-Earth Collectible Card Game. Sixteen-hundred paintings by more than fifty of the most talented fantasy artists in the world. (John Howe, Rob Alexander, Ted Nasmith, Liz Danforth, and many more.) An acquaintance once compared it to competing in the Olympics. What a ride!

I also understand that you are an avid Settler of Catan. This one's a multi-parter: first, do you let your kids win? Or do you ruthlessly hoard resources from them to dash their hopes of victory (hey, it's a tough world out there...)? Second, any general tips? Are you more of a D-card drawer, or a city-builder for points?

Evil laughter. The first half-dozen games? Let them win to build their affection for the game and assure myself opponents. Then pull the ruthless card. Tips? Ask my daughter; she’s the one who wins all the time. (See genius remark, below. I suspect she lets me win sometimes, just to make sure I’ll keep playing.) My strategy: city-builder all the way.

Most of my friends with kids have a tough enough time denying that one child is the favorite. You perhaps have the opposite problem: your kids are twins, so they're probably a lot alike...right? Or are they?

Got it in one. A boy and a girl who are alike in being…spirited! (Parental euphemism for strong-willed, scarily intelligent, and complete darlings.) My husband and I lost the battle to rule our roost the instant they were born!

When did you first realize that you wanted to be a writer? Who were some of your early writing influencers?

1969. What a year: the moon landing, my own encounter with The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis, followed by reading A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle. That’s when my hero worship of writers began. I never dared aspire to the profession, until (willy, nilly) Kellor grabbed my imagination with such vigor in 2007 that I had to write his story (and Lorelin’s) in Troll-magic. Of course, I’d written plenty (a good 2 million words or so) before then. I just didn’t call myself a writer. Strange, that. About halfway through Troll-magic, I tried the phrase, “I’m a writer,” and liked the sound of it. My strongest influences (and favorite authors): Robin McKinley (Beauty), Susan Cooper (The Dark is Rising), Diana Wynne Jones (Deep Secret), and Lois McMaster Bujold (The Curse of Chalion).

In reading your book, Troll-magic, I was stunned by some of the jaw-dropping  pictures you paint for the reader. You also have a background in design; does your brain function in a more visual manner? I know mine does to the extent that I think in "films" a lot of the time, trying to frame scenes in my head. Just curious if you do the same when writing.

Now, this is a weird thing: I’m beyond visual while living my life. Every sunset, every tree, every scene of beauty seizes me and astonishes me. But when I’m writing, emotion dominates my awareness. I become my point-of-view character, feeling what he or she feels, communicating what he or she perceives to be important.

That said, Troll-magic is a very visual novel. The landscapes of Silmaren enchant me, and the incredible interior of Kellor’s magical palace makes me want to live there!

Not only are you extremely proficient in writing vivid fantasy scenes, but you also marvel at the physical world around us, perhaps pondering how a bunch of apes on a rock hurtling through space can ever truly profess to know what's going on in a universe of infinite size based on our very narrow measurements of a tiny portion of the visible light and matter around us. That said, why is physics so damned interesting?

Brian Greene. It’s all his fault! I’ll read anything he writes, but his first two books (The Elegant Universe and The Fabric of the Cosmos) are marvelous. Okay, that answer’s cheating; Greene may have converted me to loving physics, but surely the field has merit beyond his authorly persuasion! My father studied physics in college, and I stand with him: who wouldn’t want to know the ultimate explanations for the universe around us? A piece of physics-related trivia: I derived the foundations of the “magic” in Troll-magic by extrapolating from superstring theory. Is my novel really science-fiction? You could maybe make the case, but…no. Grin!

Back to Troll-magic: Lorelin is an interesting protagonist, equal parts Katniss Everdeen and Belle from Beauty and the Beast. Was there any real-life inspiration for Lorelin? More generally, how do you come up with such "jump off the page" characters?

Lorelin is her own self. Strongly so, although I’m flattered that you compare her to Katniss and Belle. I tried to change her appearance, which struck me as clich├ęd. Surely hazel eyes and a different hair color would be more interesting. But she stubbornly went back to being blond and blue-eyed, despite my best efforts. Her personality was just as forcefully hers: unconventional, strong-willed but kind, and worshipping at music’s altar. I felt no desire to change her nature, only to render her with truth.

How did I do it? Diving into memory and feeling. When I saw red with rage, when fear shocked me motionless, when sudden loss hollowed me, when delight fizzed through me, when joy enraptured me—I lived all those moments and more in bringing my characters to life.

Troll-magic also has some elements of eastern philosophy, including the idea of energy radices and herbal remedies. Though they absolutely work, how did you decide to merge two cultures separated by thousands of miles for your story?

It is a weird juxtaposition, isn’t it? A Norse folk tale married to the disciplines of the far east. The merge evolved when I pondered trolls, the impishly malicious Scandinavian type, not the muscular Middle-Earth type. What were they really? How did they come to exist? I combined those questions with my own study and practice of yoga to produce the entire magic system for my North-lands. Even for fantasy authors, “write what you know” comes into play!

Rapid fire time! Favorite vacation spot?

Beach. Any beach. So long as there is sand and ocean. (Not, so very not, John Varley’s “steel beach.”) I could wish I were “between luxurious jaunts with my family to the beach!" Just one such jaunt this summer. Grin!

Vacation spot that you haven't been to yet, but really want to visit?

Hmm. Japan? Been there, done that. (Fabulous place.) England? Italy? Hawaii? Ditto, ditto, ditto. Dominica? Yes, definitely. Dominica, that amazing nature island in the Caribbean. And Sweden after that. (My visit to the real world North-lands at age 2 doesn’t count!)

PC or Mac?

Love graphic design too much for it to be anything but Mac.

Leno, Letterman, Kimmel, or Stewart/Colbert?

None of the above. ::shy smile:: My husband is the man in my life who makes me laugh.

Finally, favorite movie of all time?

The Two Towers (director’s cut). Arwen’s reverie of her future is sublime.

Thanks J.M.! If you have any questions for her, please feel free to leave them in the comments. And don't forget to check out J.M.'s other books on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, and Smashwords, as well as her blog.

D.J. Gelner is a fiction and freelance writer from St. Louis, Missouri. Check out his books, available at his Amazon Author Page and on Nook, iBooks, and Kobo. Follow him on twitter (@djgelner) or facebook (here). E-mail him at


  1. Hey good interview! Good questions, D.J. :)

    I got a real sense of your personality from this, J.M. That was cool. And I had no idea that Troll Magic included Eastern philosophy - you really do research for your books!

    I like Settlers, too! Great game. :)

    1. Thanks, Mira! You wouldn't believe how many tomes on herbal remedies I read to get Helaina's studies right! Settlers, are you a city builder or a development card drawer, or do you pursue a nifty strategy all your own?

    2. Thanks Mira! It's easy when you have folks answering like J.M. and Stuart who provide great responses--I just feel like I'm teeing it up for them!


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