JAE: THE DEEP NATURE OF HER WRITING
The first book by Jae I ever read was ‘Second Nature’. The next one was ‘True Nature’. I was surprised when she told me she wasn’t a supernatural writer, even though I knew she had a twisted sense of humour. So I asked her a few questions to dig deeper into the depths of her shape-shifter stories.
1) You are a writer of slow-burn romance, but in 2009, you wandered into supernatural territory and penned two novels (Second Nature, and True Nature in 2013), one novella (Manhattan Moon in 2012) and some short stories (Natural Family Disasters in 2013), and you promised more. What triggered your inspiration?
First of all, I don’t like to pigeonhole myself into writing just one genre. All of them are romances at their core, but I write across all subgenres of romance. Backwards to Oregon and Shaken to the Core are historical romances, for example. Conflict of Interest and Next of Kin are romantic suspense novels. Second Nature and True Nature are paranormal romances and very plot-driven, so I think they appeal to readers who don’t usually enjoy romances too.
The inspiration for Second Nature, the first book in my shape-shifter series, came when a friend of mine who’s a big fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer convinced me to watch a few episodes. One was the episode in which Oz becomes a werewolf, and personally, I didn’t find the werewolf all that convincing. My friend challenged me to do better. Since I grew up with cats and am more familiar with them, I set out to write a novel about a shape-shifter who’s a liger—a hybrid between a tiger and a lion.
2) Your supernatural characters are shape-shifters, not werewolves. Actually, while some of them shift into wolves, others shift into tigers; there are also the lions, the coyotes, the panthers, and the bears. Anything else? What else can you tell us about them?
The shape-shifters are not human and have never been. They aren’t turned into shape-shifters by a disease, a bite, or magic; they are born as shape-shifters. They form their own species, which they call “versipellis” (Latin for “turn-skin”), and there are several subspecies. Each subspecies can turn into an animal form that resembles a predator such as tiger, lion, wolf, cougar, bear, jaguar, fox, coyote, or bobcat.
They have their own language, based on Tocharian, and their own religion, which involves dream seers.
They nearly became extinct during the Middle Ages, so now they try to blend in and live a secret existence among humans.
3) In Second Nature, the main human character lives with three cats, a few miles away from a pride of lion shape-shifters. Why the choice of felines? Did you research all these animals?
As I said, I’m much more familiar with cats than with canines, so I chose a feline character for my first book. Also, werewolves and wolf-shifters are more common in paranormal fiction and urban fantasy, and I wanted something a little more original. Since Griffin, the shifter main character, is a liger—a tiger/lion hybrid—I did a lot of research into both types of felines.
Tigers and lions are very different from each other. While tigers are solitary, lions live in prides, which consist of grandmothers, mothers, daughters, and nieces. The females are all related and usually stay in the pride for life, while the males—often several that form a coalition—are outsiders. I based the family structures of my shape-shifters on these differences.
Ligers like Griffin often have a mix of traits, which often brings her into conflict with one group or the other…and even with herself.
4) In True Nature, you shift your focus from felines to canines. The main shape-shifter is a wolf. You chose an omega. Why an omega?
In most paranormal romances that pair a human with a werewolf or wolf-shifter, it’s usually the wolf that is the dominant alpha character while the human character is more submissive. I wanted to give this dynamic a new twist, so I made Rue, the human, a confident business woman who immediately takes charge of any situation, while Kelsey, the wolf-shifter, is an omega—a born diplomat who would rather follow than lead.
5) In your shape-shifter society, hybrids are rare and are sort of outcast. There is Griffin the liger, and Rufus the half-wolf half-coyote. What is the position of hybrids in your shape-shifter society, and what do they stand for?
Relationships between the subspecies are taboo, and shifters with a mixed heritage are outcasts in the Wrasa society, partly because most of them are sterile, and the Wrasa are fighting for the survival of their species so childlessness is not acceptable to them.
The Wrasa’s treatment of hybrids is a metaphor for how homosexual people have been treated—and sometimes still are—in our own society.
6) In Manhattan Moon, a coyote-shifter dates a human. It’s a taboo thing in the shape-shifter society. What are the risks? What is the parallel with our society?
Relationships between Wrasa and humans are equally taboo as relationships between shifters of different subspecies, mostly because the shape-shifters don’t trust humans and any closer relationship might lead to the discovery of their secret existence. I mean, it would be pretty hard to hide the fact from your spouse that you turn into a 400-pound liger when you get angry or scared.
During the course of the series, that taboo is slowly starting to change, and I think there’s a similar development in our own society. People are starting to understand that “love is love” and are becoming more accepting of relationships that are different from their own. Or maybe they are starting to understand that it’s not that different after all.
7) The coyote-shifter in Manhattan Moon has a hormonal handicap. Could you explain the mutaline and how it works?
I based my shape-shifters on science and biology, not on magic. Shifters have adrenal glands that produce adrenaline in fight-or-flight situations, just like humans. But they also have a hormone humans don’t have: mutaline, which is triggered by a certain level of adrenaline. Mutaline stimulates cell reproduction and extends tissues—basically, it causes them to shift from human into animal form. It’s an evolutionary switch that protects them from danger. They can also shift shape by will—at least most of them can.
For Shelby, shifting into her coyote form isn’t effortless at all. Her endocrine glands produce a lower level of mutaline, so she hasn’t managed to shift shape in more than two years. On the one hand, her shifting disability enables her to do her high-stress job as an emergency psychiatrist. But on the other hand, it makes her an outsider in her pack and in Wrasa society. Other shape-shifters either pity her or look down on her.
8) Which one of your characters/shape-shifters do you prefer and why?
It’s really hard to pick just one, but if I have to, I guess my choice would be Griffin. There’s something very charming about a feline shifter and her background as a hybrid makes her a very complex character.
9) You live in Germany, your first language is German, but you write your novels in English and later translate some of them into German. When it comes to supernatural and your shape-shifter society, what are the difficulties with the vocabulary?
So far, I have only translated the novella, Manhattan Moon, into German, but I can already tell that translating paranormal/urban fantasy is a bit more challenging than translating contemporary romances. I’m very familiar with the terms used in English-language paranormal fiction, and I also did all of my research and my world-building in English. Once I translate the novels next year, I’ll have to do some more research to find the most fitting expressions in German. But at least I won’t have to translate all the Wrasa terms such as the names of each subspecies, since they have their own language.
10) What is your next supernatural plan?
I would like to tell the story of Tala Peterson, who was first introduced in True Nature. Tala is a fox-shifter who was raised by wolves, so she had to be tougher and smarter than any wolf to find her place in the pack.
book review: SECOND NATURE by JAE
Writers, be wary: your beta reader could be a shape-shifter in disguise. And when one beta reader discovers that her favourite human author’s new book is about shape-shifters described in great details), she has no choice, but attract the Council’s attention to fantasy writer J.W. Price.
Enters Griffin Westmore, elite soldier and hybrid shape-shifter. As a hybrid, she is an outcast with her own people. From a social point of view, she takes after her tiger-shifter mother, and thus hasn’t seen her lion-shifter father’s pride since her teen years.
Griffin is assigned the mission of discovering J.W. Price’s informant’s identity. If a shape-shifter has revealed the secret existence of the Wrasa, they have broken the First Law (to keep the existence of the Wrasa secret from the humans) and risk execution. Jorie Price lives in Michigan. Nearby Griffin’s lion relatives.
The author of ‘Second Nature’ has taken the time to build Wrasa history, culture, language, hierarchy and politics, giving this novel background and depth. The main characters, Griffin and Jorie, are well developed and relatable with each their own strength. The secondary/supporting characters get their subplots, too, adding extra dimension to the story line.
Is there more to the reclusive writer than appearances? Will the grumpy Griffin follow or defy the Council’s orders? Will Jorie survive the relentless hatred of Griffin’s superior? Will Griffin resolve her differences with the lion-shifter pride? Will there be a happy ending after all the angst, the running, the chasing, the betrayals and the rescues?
Yes, it is a book of suspense and also symbolism. Shape-shifters are outsiders and many of us had the opportunity to feel that way. Hence the kinship I felt with Griffin. ‘Second Nature’ is a worthy read to keep awake at night, unable to let go of the pages, because, damn it, too many chapters end in cliff-hangers!
Wait……. Am I endangering my life by reviewing this novel? This could be considered a breach of the First Law, a potential reason for the Wrasa Council to send an Elite Soldier to eliminate me. I better hurry and review ‘True Nature’.
book review: TRUE NATURE by JAE
There was a time when I was looking for an elusive lesbian werewolf. I eventually found Allison Moon’s ‘Lunatic Fringe’. More recently, I stumbled upon ‘True Nature’ and a lesbian wolf-shifter. Wolf-shifters don’t need the full moon.
In ‘True Nature’, wolf-shifter and omega Kelsey is sent on a secret mission: to rescue deaf, 14-year-old Dany before his Awakening. Dany doesn’t know he is a wolf-shifter. His human adoptive mother, Rue, doesn’t know either. Hired as private teacher by Rue, Kelsey meets Dany and tries to establish a connection. But soon, Dany and Rue have another big argument and the boy runs away to New York where his other human mother lives.
In this novel, the author combines teenage angst, the reality of being deaf, the underground life of New York runaways, within a race against biological clock. Kelsey is the only claustrophobic wolf-shifter in existence and in the crowded subway, Rue gets a glimpse of Kelsey’s furry paw and wolfish eyes. Rue is a strong-willed human and Kelsey has no choice, but reveal what she really is. Getting wind of what’s happening in New York, the Wrasa Council sends Elite Soldiers to deal with the problem. Kelsey and Rue will do anything to save Dany. Will Kelsey defy the Wrasa Council? For Kelsey, it is also a journey of self-discovery.
‘True Nature’ is a suspenseful story with twists and turns, a captivating novel with interesting characters that will keep you awake into the night because you want to know what happens next. And what happens next is likely to surprise you.