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Jen Castleberry Burns Through Traditional Gender Roles


“Jen Castleberry is a fresh new voice in young adult/new adult fiction. A Wild and Unremarkable Thing will appeal to established fans of fantasy and should garner new fans as well, with its deft subversion of gender tropes and traditional roles. Both male and female readers alike will find a great deal to love in Cody/Cayda as she struggles with her identity and the destiny that she must fulfill.” – Amy Martin, author of the In Your Dreams series

[ph] What was the inspiration behind A Wild and Unremarkable Thing?

[jc] I find that I’m always writing stories about sisters, or about friendship that feels like sisterhood. I’m one of three girls, and that bond resonates so powerfully with me; it continually inspires me, no matter what other commentary I endeavor to make. At its core, AWAUT is about three sisters who would sacrifice everything for one another.

[ph] What other themes, beyond sisterhood, do you explore in A Wild and Unremarkable Thing?

[jc] The duality of self-identity is a big one. The idea that who we are is an amassment of nature and circumstance. What we see of Penn is a person profoundly influenced by his experience as Xerxes. Likewise, Cayda discovers that the disguise she’s been wearing for fifteen years has become a real part of her, something she can’t just shuck off when its relevancy expires.

[ph] You take a lot of liberties with classic mythology in A Wild and Unremarkable Thing. Why?

[jc] I’ve always been attracted to the reimagining of classic concepts and figures. When I was little, I had an enormous volume of Grimm’s Fairy Tales, and I used to love to read the original stories that have since been adapted and readapted with jarring disregard. I think it’s always fun to reexperience time-honored constructs in new ways. The idea of an underworld, a hell, that is devoid of hellfire, kept occurring to me. I liked merging Hades and Charon, taking creative liberties with the Styx. From the start, I knew I wanted Penn to be this very grey-area character, someone balancing the normalization of death with this profound appreciation for life. A Death God whose mission is to gain mortality. This is not the Underworld I’m used to, and I think that’s what made it so interesting to write.

[ph] In AWAUT, Penn mentions that all of the gods are serving unique contracts. Does this mean we’ll see more from this series?

[jc] Good catch! Right now, I’m very happy with AWAUT as a standalone. I think the story wraps well, but I’ll admit it: I love these characters and this world. I made sure to leave the possibility of future installments open, just in case I ever want to return to Kitsa. For now, though, nothing is in the works.

[ph] Do you have a favorite character?

[jc] Fares! I love them all, but Fares was by far the most amusing to write. He’s so funny. One of my betas called him the “scoundrel you want to hate, but can’t.”

[ph] Have you always wanted to be an author?

[jc] Always, always, always. I remember being in elementary school, reading books on the bleachers during recess, and laying by my nightlight at night writing stories, which is probably why I have such terrible eyesight now. (Upside, glasses are much cuter now than they used to be.)

[ph] How do you combat writer’s block?

[jc] Having a plan of action is a biggie. A good outline can save me hours of staring (and swearing) at a screen. A change of scenery can be a powerful thing, too. Sometimes, knowing the content of a scene isn’t enough. If my creativity is sapped and all my words are dry, just going outside, or driving to the nearest coffee shop, can get my brain moving again. A lot of times, I find that my writer’s block is the product of trying to force a passage that just doesn’t work. Starting over from scratch, even if it means deleting days’ worth of work, has sometimes been the best (and scariest) decision to make.

[ph] What does a typical day of writing consist of?

[jc] For me, I start early. I tend to be at my creative-best first thing in the morning. I might spend about five hours writing/reheating my coffee, then head to the bookshop or the park and put in another five. Ten solid hours of writing is typical for me, and I try to clock that four or five days a week if my schedule allows. Some days go longer if I’m really flying. Even on my “off days,” I try to write something, be it a bit of planning, a blog post, a journal entry.

[ph] If you hadn’t become an author, what profession would you have chosen?

[jc] My background is in Animal Welfare. I’ve worked as a Care Technician in an animal shelter and also as a Veterinary Assistant in a clinic which catered to shelter animals. I think I will always reap a real sense of fulfillment from that sort of work.

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