Today we interview the writing duo, Frog and Esther Jones, authors of Grace Under Fire. The best way to tell you about the book is just to share the blurb:
Grace Moore doesn’t think her life can get any more complicated. After all, she’s already an operative for an organization of underground magic-users known as the Grove.
Hated by the public and hunted by police because of their magic, Grace knows she’ll be imprisoned or executed if anyone on the outside discovers her real job. With her impulsive nature and zany fashion sense, she has her hands full just keeping under the radar. And that’s before something mysteriously kills all the members at the organization’s Spokane headquarters.
Chosen, in her opinion, as an expendable way for her superiors to save face with other Grove branches, Grace sets out to find who or what could kill a group of people even more talented than herself. She’d much rather be home, eating a steaming plate of four star Phad Thai, with a dusty tome of rune descriptions open in front of her. Instead she’s in over her head, and alone on scene of the most public hit against the Grove system in generations.
If Grace has any chance of completing her mission and living through this, she must team up with Robert Lorents– a powerfully talented, but untrained and untrusting, foster kid with a genius for trouble. That’s assuming, of course, that she can convince Robert she’s not evil, evade the police investigation, and come up with a plan before she and Robert become the next victims.
And now, on to the interview!
PYN: What genre would you call Grace Under Fire?
Frog: It’s an urban fantasy. Don’t get it twisted up, though; there’s a difference between “urban fantasy” and “paranormal romance.” We’ve got two main characters, one male and one female, but the relationship between the two is master-and-student, not lovers. Robert would really like to have a romance novel written about him, but it hasn’t happened to date. He keeps trying, though. So it is a book that involves the paranormal in an otherwise everyday setting, but there’s a weird expectation of romance that comes along with that. We’re paranormal, but we’re not romance, even if my main character would prefer it otherwise.
We’ve been called YA, and I’m hesitant to self-apply the label. When writing Robert and his best friend Jake, for instance, I wrote dialogue that was pretty accurate to how teenage boys speak with one another. This is to say that the dialogue is filthy. Book Two actually contains a sex scene, though it’s not one meant to arouse anyone’s passion for anything; it’s far more accurate with regard to what losing one’s virginity actually feels like, which is to say awkward and ultimately embarrassing for all involved. We kill off characters, we don’t pull punches on the dialogue, and we try to present an accurate portrayal of the inside of a teenage boy’s head, which is in no way a clean place. So I’m hesitant to call us YA, but I’ve seen the label applied to us.
PYN: Why did you decide to write paranormal?
Frog: Both Esther and I have been long-time fantasy geeks. Magic just makes everything a little more interesting, so we added it. But we kept the setting modern in order to write what we know best, which is the city in which we live. There’s a scene that occurs about a third of the way in where our characters are flung together for the first time while being chased by a demon. We actually went to the Spokane Valley Mall, along with our Proofreading Pandabear, and walked around, figuring out exactly what our characters would do at any point. That scene is written based on the location, and not the other way around. It added a depth to our story, and we didn’t have to create an entire world to do it.
Not that we didn’t create an entire world. We did. It just shows up later.
PYN: What makes this book unique or different?
Frog: Two authors!
No, really. That’s the answer. The Gift of Grace series is narrated from the perspective of two separate characters. Grace is the savvy, wisecracking, experienced summoner who’s been busting her hump her whole life to make up for a lack of natural talent. Robert is a teenage kid raised apart from summoners in the foster system. Both of these narrators write in the first person.
Now, that’s not entirely unique, but what’s neat about the way we do it is this: you actually are reading two distinct voices. Esther’s style of writing and mine are very different, and our reviewers have mentioned that they can crack the book and identify who’s talking just by the writing style. It feels like you really are reading the story as told by two different people, because you are reading the story as told by two different people. It gives Grace and Robert an added dimension you just don’t get elsewhere.
Frog: Awesome; I wouldn’t have it any other way.
When Esther first started talking to other authors about our collaboration, the other authors immediately told her our marriage was doomed. It’s not, though; we write so much better as a team than we ever did individually. Before we draft anything, we sit down with a general outline for about 1/3 of the book. We think of the book in three acts, really, and we outline and write one act at a time. When we’re outlining, it’s all talking. What would Grace do, what would Robert do, from whose perspective should we see what event, etc. The story has to flow naturally between the two characters, so there’s a lot of talking between us before we ever sit at the keyboard.
When we’re writing, Esther and I have divided up characters into different jurisdictions. If we have a character on our side of the line, we get final say on what that character would do. Obviously, I have Robert and Esther has Grace, but beyond that we’ve divided up the secondary characters as well. For instance, Amy is Grace’s buddy from the Seattle side of the mountains. Esther has the final say on Amy’s actions. That doesn’t mean I can’t write Amy, or present my case why I think Amy would do a certain thing. But if Esther tells me Amy wouldn’t do something, my job is to change it. All our characters have been divvied up this way, and by deciding who has the final say over what before we get into fights about which character does what, we make those fights pretty easy to resolve.
The magic system, the characters, the legality of magic (or, rather, illegality), the Grove system – all of this was generated and fleshed out by Esther and I talking with one another. The whole is greater than the sum of the two parts.
PYN: What’s coming up next?
Frog: Coup de Grace is book two! We’re in the final editing process right now, having made several passes at it already, and it’s just about ready to send off to the publisher. I’d expect to see it come out late this year.
Coup de Grace is going to be a little harder-edged than Grace Under Fire was. Grace Under Fire is intended to be an introduction into the world and the characters; Coup de Grace lets us use those characters to explore some harder themes. Grace has to be a politician (which she is terrible at), and Robert has to be a son (likewise). It puts a lot more stress on the characters, with bigger results. Besides, there’s a task from Grace Under Fire that Robert leaves undone, and it’s been eating at him hard.
About the Authors:
Frog was born at a very young age in a small town in Eastern Washington, where he still managed to grow up nerdy despite all social pressure to the contrary. Oh, sure; he bucked hay and rode truck with the good ol’ boys, but he also played a fair amount of D&D when he could. An Eagle Scout and a jazz saxophone amateur, Frog came out of his childhood a little twisted, just perfect for an artist.
At Eastern Washington University, whilst wearing a fedora and a trench coat and carrying a cane, he met Esther, fell in love, and graduated with a couple of worthless degrees. Frog then went on to the grand University of Idaho Law School, wherein he passed with honors.
Frog now practices in Northeast Washington, and writes from his home in Spokane. He has hand-constructed a Roman onager, which sits in his garage.
As it is Frog writing this, Esther is the most wonderful lady, ever. Of all time. She hails originally from Renton, Washington, and met Frog at Eastern Washington University. They were married ten years before figuring out they should write together.