Sunday, August 12, 2012

Jen McConnel ~ Author, Priestess, and Friend...

A few weeks ago, I hinted at some new and exciting changes coming to Aoibheal's Lair. I am more than pleased my Darlins, to be able to bring the first of many to you today with this entry.

My very dear friend has made some amazing transitions in the past year and I've been fortunate enough to be able to experience some of them as they happen. I met Jen just over 3 years ago at a meeting for Triangle Pagan's Book Club. We hit it off almost immediately and our friendship has grown and developed into more than just a monthly get together at book club. Today, she has accomplished many things, traveled to some exotic destinations and not only written but self published her very first book. A few weeks ago, I was fortunate enough to be able to sit down talk to Jen about her book and the path she has walked...


Hi Jen! And welcome to Aoibheal's Lair.  I’d like to start out with a little about Jen, sort of a mini bio and then have you answer the questions…

Me in a nutshell: I grew up in Michigan, where I alternately thought I was going to be a classical archaeologist, an actress, a teacher, a journalist, or a gypsy. When I was younger, I wanted to write, but somewhere in high school I stopped believing that that would be a viable career path. The words didn’t go away, though, and I’m glad I’ve found my way back. I went to Western Michigan University where I studied English and History, and I started teaching middle school after I graduated. Somewhere in there I met an amazing man, got married, moved to North Carolina, and went back to school online for my MS in Library Science (while still working full-time in a public middle school). That was around the same time that I started writing seriously, and I’m still waiting to see where this journey will lead me.

(If you want to know more, you can follow me on twitter @ProDeaWriter, or follow my blog: jennifermcconnel.wordpress.com)

1. When I first met you, I think you were teaching middle school. How did you go from teaching to not only writing some very cool YA fiction, but to now being a self-published author?

It really was a long time coming. I think the seed was planted three years ago when I hosted author Brian Davis to do a writing workshop with my students. He talked about the leap of faith he took for his writing by quitting his job and making the switch to writing full time. I really wanted to take a similar leap, but it took two more years of teaching all day and writing in the evenings when I got home to find the bravery (or idiocy) needed to make that dream a reality. A year ago, I left teaching full time to write, and it’s been an amazing journey. I’m lucky that I still love teaching, and I have been able to teach part time at the local community college as well as for an online university, but writing has been my primary focus for over a year. It’s great!

2. Can you tell us about the journey that eventually led you to Paganism, and a little about the path you're currently on?

{Laughs} I actually stumbled into Paganism when I was seventeen. I was working in a bookstore that year, and I bought my first tarot deck at the same time that I purchased Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Mists of Avalon. Those two purchases were just impulsive, but it was like coming home. I started to read everything I could get my hands on, and for a long time I ignored the craft aspect of Paganism and focused on scholarship and archetype. My faith has evolved with me, and now more than a decade after I wandered into it, I’m dedicated to Isis and I have discovered that I actually love participating in group rituals (I worked alone for most of my initial explorations, and I still have my individual rituals, but I have come to really appreciate community.) I’m a goddess-centric kitchen and hearth Witch, if that makes any sense.

3. Your works have been published in a few Pagan magazines. Can you tell us how you felt when you saw your first publication?

Oh, my gosh, it was amazing. My first poem to appear in a Pagan magazine was in PanGaia, and I went through the roof when I got the call that it had been accepted. It’s a light, frolicking poem called “Ostara”, and it was so cool to see it in print. I’d been reading SageWoman for years, and it was a long-held dream of mind to appear in one of the BBI Media publications. Since then, I’ve had two non-fiction pieces accepted in SageWoman, which is a dream come true. I’ve also started reviewing books and other media for SageWoman, and I’m so happy to be a part of such an excellent publication.

4. Are you active in your local Pagan community? And do you have any goals you’d like to accomplish in that community?

I wasn’t until we moved to North Carolina, and even then, it took me a few years to plug in. Now I’m thrilled to participate and contribute. Until now, I’ve mostly been a participant rather than a leader, attending a Pagan book club and participating in open circles, but in the fall, I am starting a Goddess-centric group, and I’m really excited to see where that goes. Right now, the plan is to simply gather together to work through the rituals in Patricia Monaghan’s Goddess Path, which will take a while, but after that, anything’s possible. One of my ongoing goals is to find ways to give back and connect on a deeper level with the rich Pagan community, both locally and globally, and I’ve also volunteered to edit an upcoming Queen of Heaven anthology for Bibliotheca Alexandrina (http://neosalexandria.org/bibliotheca-alexandrina/current-titles/). It’s great to be bringing my faith to the forefront and merging it with my writing!

5. Last year you were able to travel to Egypt. Did your experience there change anything about how you look at your spiritual path?

We had the amazing fortune to travel to Egypt weeks before the revolution began, and that trip has shifted my faith in a dramatic way. Before, I was very in-tune to archetypes (often at the expense of the individual deities). But in Egypt, both Isis and Sekhmet made their presences very clear to me, and I started to practice a more intimate form of Paganism. I dedicated to Isis when I returned home (although she’d always been one of the goddesses of my heart) and not a day goes by that I don’t think about my experience in Egypt. If you ever get the chance to go there, do it! I’ve never met people anywhere as kind as every person I met in Egypt, and I’ve never felt as much magic and divine presence as I did at Isis’s temple on the island of Philae. It was a life-changing experience, and I feel so blessed that I was able to go.

6. How did that trip inspire you in your desire to write instead of teach?

You are way too in-tune!! {Laughs}. Actually, before the trip, I had started to toy with the possibility of leaving teaching to write full-time, but I was too scared to make the commitment. After I got home from Egypt, it took a few months, but by that spring, I had decided that I HAD to take this chance. My dedicancy to Isis ran parallel to the major career shift in my life, and everything really has been different since. I loved teaching, don’t get me wrong, and I’m so glad that I can still share my enthusiasm with the students at the community college, but that risk was the best thing I’ve ever done in my life. Things have been hard since, but they’ve felt RIGHT. Again, I’m very thankful to have stumbled upon my path.

7. So, you have your first eBook coming out in September. When is it going to be available?

That depends on formatting. Since I’m still learning the ropes with this book, I can’t really say how long it will take to get the manuscript properly formatted and loaded. Luckily, my sweet husband has offered to help, so that’s one less thing I have to worry about! What I do know is that the book will be available in e-book format through both Amazon and Barnes & Noble (and hopefully Apple at some point, but that’s later down the road). I’m also going to have a paperback copy available through Amazon, for those folks would rather read that way. I love both mediums, and I know that a lot of readers do, too, so I want to make my book available in as many forms as possible. I’m hoping for a late September or early October release date, and I’ll certainly keep you posted.

8. Any chance you can tell us a little about the new book?

I’d love to! The novel is called The Burning of Isobel Key. It’s the story of two women: Isobel, who was burned for witchcraft in seventeenth century Scotland, and Lou, a modern woman in the midst of a crisis. Lou is twenty-six, unemployed, and feels worthless. When she has the chance to travel to Scotland with her best friend, she doesn’t realize that the trip will offer her the chance to change her life. She becomes interested in the stories of the Scottish witch trials (which lasted into the eighteenth century), and Lou finds herself pulled to one victim in particular: Isobel Key. Lou wants to right an ancient wrong, but to do that, she will have to face her very modern demons.

I’ve actually just received the final proofs for the cover, which I’ll be revealing on August 21st. Maybe Vickie will give y’all a sneak peak in a few weeks!

9. Any advice for someone who has a dream like writing and being published but hasn’t quite found the correct path to take?

Make friends who are in the writing community. Real friends, Facebook friends, Twitter and blog friends, just start building community. It’s amazing what you can learn from other people. I was lucky enough to stumble into an amazing group of writers, and their support and knowledge continue to be invaluable as I venture down this road. And be open to change: the publishing industry is in a rapid state of change, and there’s not one right path for everyone (a lot like faith, actually.) Stay persistent, and remember what you love: for me, it’s the storytelling. Everything else is secondary, as long as I keep writing.

And that’s important, too: keep writing. Those wonderful worlds in your head will never come to life until you put pen to paper and pour words onto the page.

OK, my Darlins… there you have the first of the many exciting changes coming to Aoibheal’s Lair. I’ve already gotten confirmation that I’ll be sharing the cover for The Burning of Isobel Key  when it’s revealed on or around August 21st. And after that I’ve got a review of the book for you as well.

Stay tuned my Lovlies… the excitement is just beginning… 

1 comment:

  1. Oh that was fantastic! She seems like a wonderful woman and I can't wait to read her book! Awesome interview!

    ReplyDelete