Valjeanne Jeffers Interview
Valjeanne Jeffers Interviewed by Derrick Ferguson
Valjeanne Jeffers is a graduate of Spelman College and North Carolina Central University, and a member of the Carolina African American Writer’s Collective. Valjeanne writes poetry (also under the pen name Valjeanne Jeffers-Thompson). Her poems have been published in Revelry 2006, The Ringing Ear: Black Poets Lean South 2007, and Drumvoices Revue Volumes 15 and 16. She was one of the 2007 semifinalists for the Rita Dove Poetry Award and her poetry and fiction have appeared in Pembroke Magazine Volume 39. Her writing has also been published in Griots: A Sword and Soul Anthology, Genesis: An Anthology of Black Science Fiction, Liberated Muse I: How I Freed My Soul, PurpleMag numbers 7, 8 and 9, LuneWing and Specular Mythseed.
Who is Valjeanne Jeffers?
Valjeanne Jeffers: I’m an artist, poet and science fiction author. I’m also a member of the Carolina African American Writer’s Collective (CAAWC) and a graduate of both Spelman College and NCCU.
I’ve written six books. I paint and I’ve had poems and nonfiction published too. During the late ’90s, I wrote my first, and only, nonfiction book, The Story of Eve, a collection of essays in which I analyzed the media’s connection to politics and our behavior. I really had a lot of fun writing it, because I’m something of movie buff. Obviously, this wasn’t my last stop. The Story of Eve was never published as an entire volume, although excerpts have appeared in PurpleMag.
But the absolute love of my life is science fiction.
DF: Where do you live and what do you do to keep yourself in cheese and crackers?
VJ: I live in Alabama. I have an MA in Psychology, and I taught college for a few semesters. I enjoyed teaching—I’ve always loved a good rousing discussion. I mean, let’s face it, what is teaching but engaging your students in dialogue that encourages them to think and question the world around them?
DF: How long have you been writing?
VJ: I’ve been writing since I was nine or ten years old. As a child, I found writing to be a wonderful escape— just like reading, only more interactive. I was also a greedy reader of SF/ fantasy literature.
I rediscovered this love during the ’90s, when I became a lifelong fan of Stephen King. I remember working as secretary (while going to classes at night) and reading books during my lunch hour—in class too whenever things got boring.
Then I stumbled upon Wild Seed by Octavia Butler. Octavia was a revelation! I’d never read science fiction written by a Black person—I didn’t even know People of Color wrote SF! I became obsessed with writing my own novel, creating my own worlds. When I first starting writing science fiction, I found that I was able to escape into my characters’ lives, even when I was just thinking about a plot or scene twist. For me, this is still the most productive and fun part of writing—the ability to slip into my character’s skin.
DF: Why science fiction?
VJ: Science fiction, in my humble opinion, is the most wonderful genre ever created! In what other motif can you create an alternate universe, give your characters preternatural powers, and make a statement about the human condition? You’re only limited by your imagination. As an author, I like having that kind of freedom— the freedom of not being constricted by the laws of our physical universe.
Griots: A Sword and Soul Anthology
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Paperback: 294 pages
Publisher: MVmedia, LLC (August 7, 2011)
Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.6 x 9 inches
Magic. Myth. Warfare. Wonder. Beauty. Bravery. Glamour. Gore. Sorcery. Sensuality. These and many more elements of fantasy await you in the pages of Griots, which brings you the latest stories of the new genre called Sword and Soul. The tales told in Griots are the annals of the Africa that was, as well as Africas that never were, may have been, or should have been. They are the legends of a continent and people emerging from shadows thrust upon them in the past. They are the sagas sung by the modern heirs of the African story-tellers known by many names - including griots. Here, you will meet mighty warriors, seductive sorceresses, ambitious monarchs, and cunning courtesans. Here, you will journey through the vast variety of settings Africa offers, and inspires. Here, you will savor what the writings of the modern-day griots have to offer: journeys through limitless vistas of the imagination, with a touch of color and a taste of soul.
The Switch II: Clockwork
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Paperback: 164 pages
Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (April 15, 2012)
Product Dimensions: 9 x 6 x 0.4 inches
The long awaited sequel to The Switch, includes Books I and II! "As she looked on, the target unzipped his jumpsuit and pushed it down. His blond companion sauntered over to his desk, and slipped off her pants. She straddled him, curling an arm about his neck. With her other hand she unzipped her tunic to bare her plump breasts. Moans of pleasure filled Z100’s apartment…" York is a city of contradictions. Women are hard-pressed for lovers, because lovemaking can be dangerous. The upper city is powered by computers, the underground by steam. And the wealthy don’t work for a living, underdwellers do it for them. But certain underdwellers have a big problem with this arrangement. And so does the time keeper. Welcome to the Revolution… Cover art and design by Quinton Veal
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Paperback: 122 pages
Publisher: Valjeanne Jeffers-Thompson (January 16, 2010)
Product Dimensions: 6 x 9 x 0.3 inches
HER DREAMS ARE TERRIFYING. In the year of our One 3075 Tundra has been at peace for 400 years. There is no racism, poverty or war. Karla is a young Indigo woman working as a successful healer. Yet she is tormented by lucid and erotic dreams. Dreams in which she is: IMMORTAL. Two men emerge from these phantasms: the first a Copper shape shifter and the other a demon more dead than alive. But when this creature appears in her apartment Karla realizes that they share a lust that may one day consume her. HIS DREAMS WILL UNLOCK A MYSTERY. Joseph has always dreamt of becoming an artist, a warrior…and a shape shifter. Now he’s dreaming of a sorceress who commands that he leave his homeland. Together they will journey to the end of time. To a nightmarish world of revolution and magic. But will they save Tundra or perish in it’s destruction?
Immortal 4: Collision of Worlds
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Paperback: 236 pages
Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (April 11, 2012)
Product Dimensions: 9 x 6 x 0.6 inches
The thrilling and seductive conclusion to the Immortal saga! The New World awoke to a roaring wind, light blazed from the mirror—swallowing the planet—a churning, savage vortex. Tundra’s inhabitants cried out, as their flesh bled from their bones like wet clay. The world shuddered. And was still. The Guardians broke the rules. As punishment, Karla and Joseph are transported to a steam powered realm. Tehotep is now ruler of the empire. Karla is his concubine. Vampires roam the streets, feeding at will. Androids enforce a demon’s laws. And there is no way out. Except death. Cover art and design by Quinton Veal.
With science fiction you can use your character’s “powers” to make statements about who they are. You can even manufacture the kind of world you’d like to live in…one that is imagined, but (perhaps) not impossible, such as in the “not-too-distant-future” worlds. After all 40, years ago cell phones and modern computers were science fiction. Two hundred years ago, so were airplanes.
DF: What writers have influenced you?
VJ: There have been so many! In my youth, I read a lot of YA SF/fantasy, pulp fiction and African American literature. I was addicted to the Nancy Drew mystery series and to Marvel comics. I also devoured the works of Zora Neale Hurston, Richard Wright, James Baldwin and Chester Himes. I’m the daughter of two English teachers, so AA literature was required reading in my household. But I didn’t enjoy them any less because of this.
I later came to feel that the magic realism of African American literature (especially the novels of Himes and Wright) had a profound effect upon my evolution as a writer. I mean take Richard Wright’s The Outsider, for instance, in which the protagonist fakes his own death and recreates himself. This is the classic stuff of pulp and science fiction!
As an adult, I credit Stephen King, Dean Kootz, Sarah Zettle and Tad Williams as among my early influences. But during my last five years as a writer, I believe I was most strongly influenced by Octavia Butler, Charles Saunders, Tananarive Due, and Steven Barnes.
Of course I have other favorite authors, who I know have impacted me—folks like Mimi Jean Pamfiloff, Carole McDonnell, Quinton Veal, Ronald Jones, Edward Uzzle, Milton Davis, Joe Bonadonna, Derrick Ferguson and Balogun Ojetade.
DF: When I’m asked to describe your work I always say it’s imaginatively experimental. How would you describe it?
VJ: Thanks for the compliment! I’d say that “imaginatively experimental” is an excellent description. In adding to this, I’d describe my work as loosely fitting into the science fiction genre, with elements of fantasy, erotica and horror.
The alternate worlds I build are in keeping with what is scientifically probable if not yet possible. But there is sorcery too—magic just seems to find its way in my books. Charles Saunders once described my Immortal series, as a world in which science and sorcery co-exist. (I floated around on cloud nine for a month after that review!)
There is horror too, simply because some of the scenes in my novels can be very frightening. But life can be scary, and art imitates life. So there are scenarios that will make the reader’s hair stand up on the back of their necks.
I’ve also been known to write some pretty steamy love scenes. Hence the erotica. I take the attitude that all authors express their connection to love and sexuality differently. There is never a right and wrong approach. James Baldwin, for example, could be graphically sexually in his novels. Octavia Butler, more reserved. Both are brilliant authors, and both are acceptable ways of approaching love and sexuality. I view sex as a part of life. I don’t ignore it. I don’t emphasize it either, so it’s not on every other page.
DF: Tell us about the IMMORTAL series.
VJ: Each novel has time-travel, sorcery and shape shifting woven into the plot. The books are set on the alternate planet Tundra, a world without racism, sexism, poverty or crime. This is the setting of Immortal in the year 3075.
But the setting of 2075, a year which impinges on the present, is just as violent and conflicted as American during the 1960s. In fact, I drew heavily on the ’60s, an era of great conflict but also of great love and sacrifice, when I wrote the Immortal series. And my readers have said that they get a strong “Make Love not War” vibe when reading them.
In the first novel, Immortal, I introduce Karla and Joseph: lovers who’ve been separated by time and space. The inhabitants of Tundra decided that this was the way they wanted it, and fought to make it so. Karla and Joseph are gifted. They are also burdened. Gifted because they are werewolves. Burdened, because it falls upon them to protect Tundra from a powerful evil that has been unleashed upon their world.
Karla and Joseph are not the only protagonists of Immortal. The first novel builds the groundwork for the communes of supernatural beings, good and evil that make their appearance. In the second novel, the reader meets Karla and Joseph’s kindred, who are also the saviors of Tundra. In Immortal III: Stealer of Souls, another key player emerges: Annabelle, a vampire with her own agenda and her own stake in Tundra’s survival.
In Immortal IV: Collision of Worlds, the characters find themselves in a sinister, steam punk realm without their memories. Their death or survival is interwoven with the fate of Tyrol (The Switch II: Clockwork). That’s all I can say giving away too many plot goodies. This is the conclusion to the series. At least, it was supposed to be. However, my readers have told me in no uncertain terms that I can’t end it there. So we’ll see.
DF: In the IMMORTAL series you’re fearless in mixing science fiction with werewolves, vampires and eroticism. When you began the series did you worry that it would be too much for potential readers?
VJ: Most definitely! In the beginning, I felt like I had so much going on, that no one would ever want to read it. But the story is what the story is. When one begins to write, the characters take on lives of their own…these spirits that walk across the page.
I got good feedback from CAAWC. So I pressed on. I started to realize that I had a very unique book and that everything somehow fit together to create a compelling mosaic. I remembered Octavia Butler’s fiction. She was well known for her supernatural “communities.” I thought of The Talisman too, a SF odyssey in which the characters “flip” between realities. Then I knew I had a winner.
DF: Tell us about THE SWITCH series
VJ: The Switch was my first plunge into the steampunk genre. It takes place on the planet Tyrol: a world in which the wealthy live in luxury in the skies, and the poor in a cancerous, steam punk underground. One of the problems with Tyrol, along with the oppression of the poor, is that the society has become so cut-throat that wealthy women cannot take lovers— for fear the men will marry and then murder them to steal their money. So the rich create androids for their own pleasure.
Like my Immortal series, there is a sharp contrast between the privileged and the poor. There are also two lovers, Simone2 and Dumas2, who are central to the plot, and to the liberation of their planet. There is sorcery and there is time travel. But The Switch is also an erotic thriller, with a plenty of sharp turns and twists. I’ve had two fellow writers compare it to Phillip K. Dick’s Blade Runner! Of course, I’m honored by such a comparison!
There is also heavy emphasis on the other characters, such as Z100, an evil agent provocateur, and Lotus, the time keeper. And for anyone who missed reading Book I: The Switch (originally published by Mocha Memoirs Press) not to worry. I’ve condensed both books into The Switch II: Clockwork.
Charles Saunders has just written a fantastic review of The Switch and Immortal IV and I’m really juiced up about it! It’s up on his site http://www.charlessaunderswriter.com/ for anyone who wants to check it out!
DF: What are your future plans for your writing career?
VJ: I’ve just two of my stories published in anthologies, which I’m very excited about! My interracial romance story, Mocha Faeryland was just published in 31 Shots of Mocha (Mocha Memoirs Press). This was the very first fantasy romance story I’d ever written. But I like pushing myself outside my comfort zone. And my sword and soul story, The Sickness, was accepted for publication in Griots II: Sisters of The Spear (MV Media). Griots II should be out in 2013.
I’m also writing a space opera, Colony. If readers are interested, they can read the first chapters at smashwords or my wordpress site. I have a paranormal novel, set in New Orleans, in the works. And I’m working on a film based on one of my stories, Grandmere’s Secret, with Balogun Ojetade. It’s the first time I’ve ever attempted anything like this, and so I’m both anxious and excited about it.
DF: What’s a Day In The Life Of Valjeanne Jeffers like?
VJ: I spend my day writing, editing, reading—not necessarily in that order—and playing with my grandbaby. And I hang out with my guy, Quinton Veal. Quinton writes erotic poetry (Her Black Body I Treasure) and he’s an extraordinarily talented artist too. So we have a really cool relationship.
DF: Anything else we need to know about you?
VJ: I’d like to thank Derrick Ferguson, pulp fiction writer extraordinaire for interviewing me. I had a blast!