J. J. Fischer’s writing dream began with the anthology of zoo animals she painstakingly wrote and illustrated at age five, to rather limited acclaim. Thankfully, her writing (but not her drawing) has improved since then. She is a clinically-trained psychologist but no, she cannot read your mind. When she isn’t killing defenseless house plants, pretending she can play the piano, eating peanut butter out of the jar, or memorizing funny film quotes, she and her husband David are attempting to prevent their warring pet chickens from forming factions and re-enacting Divergent. Honestly, it’s a miracle she finds the time to write any books.
In this interview, she shares some of her thoughts on her latest novel, Calor.
FF: What inspired the story in your book?
The trilogy is a fantasy transformation of Hans Christian Andersen’s beloved 1843 tale The Nightingale, with echoes of the myths of Hades and Persephone. Thematically, my trilogy is very much influenced by Andersen’s tale, and that’s also where the series title comes from.
But even before I read The Nightingale, I was toying with these ideas about memories and nostalgia. I’m a clinically-trained psychologist originally, and so psychological themes always come into play in my writing. I’m also a huge fan of The Matrix, so I was fascinated by the theories around hyperreality and simulation (Jean Baudrillard’s work, which partially inspired The Matrix) and the idea that we increasingly live in a world where the imitation has superseded the real—that is, we’re content to live in simulated versions of reality rather than reality itself. That concept gave birth to the idea of a post-apocalyptic society where people trade in memories of the world-that-was because they can no longer experience it for themselves, and the story just grew from there.
FF: What can you tell us about the main characters in your book?
Well, they are a rather cool bunch. (Literally. The first book is set in winter in a rather icy world…) The main character is a young woman, Sephone, who can edit peoples’ memories with a single touch of their skin. She’s also able to extract positive memories from donors so they can be consumed/experienced by others, and selectively numb bad memories. She’s tender-hearted and fiery at the same time—I had so much fun writing her story. She also has iridescent white-blonde hair, which is basically my dream hair color. Yes. Really.
The male main character is a young politician, Dorian, whose wife and child were killed by a political rival. At the beginning of the series, he seeks out Sephone because he’s so devastated by his losses that he can’t move on—he wants to forget his family ever existed and that he was ever happy. He has secrets and mystery in abundance, and a pretty cool wolf companion named Jewel who has a magical ability to sense danger.
FF: Which character surprised you the most?
Hands down, Cass. He’s the third main character and, to be honest, he just waltzed himself onto the pages of this story, made me smile with some rather charming, witty lines, and convinced me that he needed to play a big part in the story.
I’m a huge sucker for charm. So, he got his way. Honestly, all his lines wrote themselves.
FF: Why do you think storytelling is such a powerful way to share truth?
C. S. Lewis talked about the “watchful dragons” of our hearts—these gatekeepers we all have that prevent us from accepting truth, because so often it’s in the form of obligation or tradition, or obscured by our own attitudes towards it. And story has this amazing ability to steal past those watchful dragons, to make the familiar strange so that we’re seeing things—and the ultimate Story of the Gospels—in their real potency, as if we were seeing them for the very first time. I like to call it literary jamais vu (the opposite of déjà vu)—the familiar made strange. And the fantasy genre is just so well-suited for that, because if you do your world-building right, there’s a lot of opportunities for strange. In the West where most people have heard of Jesus and Christianity, we writers have this amazing opportunity to present the Gospel in ways that make people really think and feel it, as if they were hearing it for the very first time. And what an amazing calling that is!
FF: What can readers expect from the rest of this series?
A lot of pain and suffering…jokes, jokes. I always write books with happy endings. There are a lot of twists and turns along the way (one of them in particular will make readers want to blow up my letterbox) but I promise that readers will be well-satisfied in the end.
FF: What kind of research did you do for this book?
Well, that’s got to be a trick question, because the whole reason we fantasy authors write fantasy instead of historical fiction or something else is to get out of research.
Okay, that’s not completely possible.
The main research I did for this world was geographical, since my world, Caldera, is very colorful and dramatic—almost a character in its own right. I based Caldera partially off The Isle of Skye and Scotland, so I spent a lot of time watching Skye documentaries and learning about the different habitats and animals. Also, a bit of wolf research, so I could get Jewel exactly right. But mostly staring dreamily at the screen, wishing I could book a trip to Skye. Not exactly possible in the middle of COVID!
FF: What do you want readers to take away after reading your book?
I think of the Gospel—the Bible—as a lot like a diamond that you hold up to the light. Every way you turn it, another face winks at you, revealing this stunning crystalline beauty and stealing your breath away. Good Christian fantasy should shine light on a part of the Gospel in a way that makes you want to reach for the whole gem. And that’s my main aim in writing this story. I want people to see the exquisite beauty of the Gospel, the way that Jesus offers us the real thing in a world of smoke and mirrors—foolish and empty philosophies that do nothing to alleviate our pain. I hope this story makes you yearn for the Author of your soul, the only One who can satisfy your deepest needs and longings.
FF: What are the biggest challenges for you as an author writing in your specific genre?
Christian fantasy is a niche genre—internationally, but especially here in Australia. It’s hard to get published, and sometimes it’s hard to squash those dreams of millions of people reading my books. But I chose not to write for the secular market (at least, at this point in my career) or to write the more marketable Christian romance/historical fiction, and that’s a decision I’m at peace with.
FF: What authors or books have inspired you as an author?
One of the first Christian fiction books I read as a teen was Francine Rivers’ A Voice in the Wind, the first instalment of her Mark of the Lion Trilogy, followed by her best-selling literary statement of faith, Redeeming Love. Sometime after that, I read Catherine Marshall’s Christy on the recommendation of a friend, which profoundly influenced my attitude to suffering. Since then, I’ve been drawn in by the stories of a whole host of Christian authors: Frank E. Peretti, John White, Tamera Alexander, Joanna Davidson Politano, Tracy Higley, Lindsay A. Franklin, Morgan L. Busse, Cathy McCrumb, Sharon Hinck, Nadine Brandes, Kristen Young, and Ashley Bustamante. Their creativity and God-honoring stories just blow me away.
FF: How has your faith or world view impacted the way you tell stories?
Even if a Christian writes for the secular market, their faith will inevitably bleed onto every page. It certainly does for me. My stories are reflections of things I’ve wrestled with in my own life. My twenties haven’t been an easy time, punctuated by acute illness and chronic illness, as well as struggles with mental illness. My husband had cancer and subsequent chemotherapy in 2021. We’ve been through a lot!
But each struggle has played out on the page—one of the many blessings of being a writer. This particular series, beginning with Calor, deals with the question of how we respond to pain—in a world where it is possible to transplant and anaesthetize memories.
What permeates all of my stories is hope. That whatever hard things happen, God is still here, God is for us, and God can redeem our circumstances no matter what. That’s something very different to what mainstream fiction offers. And it is my prayer that wherever you are in the world and whatever you’re going through right now, that these stories will speak to your soul, and encourage you to reach out to the God who loves you and calls you His masterpiece.
The Nightingale Trilogy Series #1
J. J. Fischer
Release Date: December 6, 2022
What if you could edit memories with a single touch?
The world-that-was is gone, lost to everything except living memory…but remembering comes at a terrible price. Sixty-two years after the apocalypse, a new society has emerged from the ashes of the old world where highly valued memories are traded and nostalgia is worth dying—and even killing—for.
Enslaved by a cruel master, Sephone Winter is forced to use her rare ability to manipulate memories to numb the darkest secrets of the ruling aristocracy.
Then Lord Adamo appears, speaking of a powerful relic capable of permanently erasing memories and recovering Sephone’s own lost childhood. But not everything about the young lord is as it seems, and soon Sephone must choose between helping Lord Adamo forget his past or journeying deep into the land of Lethe, where the truth about who she really is might finally be revealed…and a long desired future restored.
The Nightingale Trilogy is a fantasy transformation of Hans Christian Andersen’s beloved 1843 tale The Nightingale, with echoes of the myths of Hades and Persephone.
Buy Calor from the FF Store HERE!
Buy Calor from Amazon HERE!