My special guest today is Jodi McAlister! Jodi is an Australian author and academic. I first met Jodi briefly at a Continuum convention in Melbourne a couple of years back, then more recently we toured together for the Supanova Adelaide and Brisbane events. She’s just released the final book in her Valentine trilogy, so it was the perfect time to invite her onto the blog to introduce her to you!
So, Jodi, how did you come to be a writer? Was it always something you were interested in or did you fall into it?
I’ve always wanted to be a writer. For as long as I can remember, my dream was to see my name on the spine of a book. I started writing at the age of six – I wrote an Enid Blyton mystery knockoff which was two pages long and had twenty chapters – and I’m not sure I’ve ever really stopped. I’m not sure I would know how to stop, to be honest!
What were your favourite books/films/shows growing up? What kick-started your creativity?
The book that has most shaped who I am as a writer is Obernewtyn by Isobelle Carmody. I picked it up when I was nine years old and it blew my mind and changed my life. I still re-read it regularly, and it makes me so so happy. But it wasn’t my only influence. I’ve already mentioned my childhood love of Enid Blyton, but there was definitely a very intense Babysitters Club phase (which definitely made me think about the ways in which female friendships can be messy and complicated!) as well. I also gravitated a lot towards fantasy, particularly fantasy which began in the real world: I loved Susan Cooper, for instance, and Labyrinth is one of my all-time favourite films.
You’ve just released the final novel in your Valentine trilogy – described as Sarah J. Maas meets Holly Black with an OzYA twist. Can you tell us a little bit about each book in this paranormal romance series and what inspired you to write it?
The setting came first with these books. I was thinking a lot about the woods in fairy tales, and how they’re full of danger but also magic and possibility. Then I was thinking about the way the bush is portrayed in Australian literature – Picnic at Hanging Rock is a great example – and how much overlap there is, and from there, the series sprang.
In this series, four kids are all born on the same Valentine’s Day in a small town. Because it’s such a small town, this is kind of a local joke. But when they’re all seventeen, they start going missing in creepy, supernatural ways: and our heroine Pearl, who’s one of these kids, has to work what’s happening, before it happens to her.
Her love interest, Finn, is another one of these kids, and I really liked writing their relationship, because it’s an enemies-to-lovers narrative, and they’re always a lot of fun. But another thing I also wanted to do was give Pearl other relationships which had the same narrative weight – in particular, with her best friend Phil.
One of the things I tell my creative writing students who want to write fantasy is that you can’t let the trappings of fantasy – the magic, the dragons, the fairies, etc – do all the work for you: your books have to be about something. This is something I thought about a lot when I wrote my series. If I’m going to break it down book by book, Valentine is about desire (not just sexual desire, but that frustrated teenage yearning for things you can’t always name and don’t know how to get), Ironheart is about rage (especially female rage), and Misrule is about ambition (and smashing the patriarchy).
By day you’re also an academic, whose work focuses on the history of love, sex, women and girls, popular culture and fiction. Can you tell us a little bit about this side of your career?
My two careers have a really interesting relationship – nominally, they’re separate, but they also reinforce each other. They’re kind of like a double helix: two things spiralling around each other, which are also one thing.
My PhD (which I wrote at the same time as I wrote Valentine – when I couldn’t stand looking at my research any more, I’d write about Pearl) was on representations of female virginity loss in popular culture. That got me very interested in how we represent romantic love, so the majority of my research is now on popular culture about love: romance novels, soap opera, The Bachelor/ette. I’m a literary historian (my PhD is joint English/History), so I often take that kind of historical lens, looking at how representations have developed over time, but my favourite thing to do is take that right up to the modern day: to understand how where we’ve been, romantically speaking, affects where we are.
You also blog recaps of romance based tv shows (The Bachelor, Bold and The Beautiful), which are pretty popular on Twitter. Can you tell us a little bit about this; why you decided to do this, your experience, what you’ve learned during the process, etc?
Initially I decided to do this because I was a poor graduate student and I was being paid, but I loved it so much. I don’t write quite so much about The Bold and the Beautiful any more: I got to the point where I was monetising literally everything I loved, and I needed one thing that was just for me. (And I do love it, very deeply: I got invited to visit the set once, and it was the greatest thing that ever happened to me in my life.)
I still write reams about The Bachelor/ette, though: both scholarly and for the romance review website Book Thingo, where I write recaps. Engaging with this on such a granular level has really made me aware of the different cultures of romance all around in the world, even in cultures we think are relatively homogenous, such as Australia and the US. And it’s also made me very aware of how we construct love stories, because sometimes they just don’t do it right.
(I know I have two careers, but I’ll make time to be a consultant for you, Bachie. Call me.)
Ha! So if you weren’t a writer, what would your dream job be? Do you have a secret passion that we don’t know about?
Academic. Obviously. I’m already a two-career person!
…but my secret passion (which is probably not so secret now, because I tweet about it a lot) is women’s professional wrestling. I don’t think I could ever do it, but god, I wish someone would let me write it, because oh! what I could do with an all-lady soap operatic narrative like that…
Side Note: I just finished Season 1 of GLOW and loved it!
What’s the one piece of advice you wish someone had told you when starting your writing career? What do you know now, that you wished you knew then?
To be a writer, you have to write. Talking about how you’ll write one day isn’t going to get you anywhere: you need to actually sit down and do it. There’s no shortcuts, no hacks.
We have this idea that writing should be like magic – and sometimes it is, sure – but it’s also work, and we need to value it as such: meaning we need to take the time to do it, actually do it, and then understand that we’ve worked hard and reward ourselves accordingly.
Good advice! What can we expect from you next?
I’ve just finished drafting another manuscript, which hopefully someone will want to publish! It’s quite different to the Valentine series – it’s contemporary, rather than fantasy, and it’s set in a community theatre rather than a small town full of terrifying fairies – but I had a lot of fun writing it. I grew up in community theatre, and oh, do I have some stories to tell…
Readers, if you’d like to know more about Jodi, follow these links:
And if you’d like to check out Jodi’s books, you can do so here: