Today I am interviewing Dan Jolley, author of the new superhero-noir, urban fantasy novel, Gray Widow’s Walk, first book of the Gray Widow trilogy.
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DJ: Hey Dan! Thanks for stopping by to do this interview!
For readers who aren’t familiar with you, could you tell us a little about yourself?
Dan Jolley: Sure thing – I’m a giant nerd who’s been lucky enough and persistent enough to be able to make a living coming up with the kinds of stories I loved reading as a kid. I started writing professionally before I got out of college, beginning with comic books, and since then I’ve branched out into YA novels, kids’ books, and video games.
I grew up in a tiny town in northwest Georgia and, as fate would have it, returned to that town after being gone for about twenty years. I don’t know that I’ll stay here for good, but it’s nice to be around family again, and you can’t beat the cost of living.
DJ: What is Gray Widow’s Walk about?
Dan Jolley: It’s the story of Janey Sinclair, a young woman who mysteriously gained the ability to teleport from one patch of darkness to another. Janey’s life has been a series of cruel, unfair tragedies, and for a while she dealt with her grief and guilt by living more or less like a hermit. But her anger gets the better of her, and rather than try to work through it by going to therapy, she steals a prototype suit of body armor and starts forcibly enacting justice on the streets of Atlanta, trying to set right the injustices she’s suffered herself. She even gives the citizenry a new law—the Gray Widow’s Law: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you…OR ELSE.”
But soon after she goes public, Janey learns that the cause of her teleportation ability may be something much more far-reaching than she’d suspected…and things get even more complicated when she meets someone who might, for the first time in years, be able to break through the fortress-like emotional walls she’s put up.
DJ: What were some of your influences for Gray Widow’s Walk and the Gray Widow trilogy?
Dan Jolley: Well, I started working on this book years ago, but thanks to Marvel’s recent Netflix series, I think I can accurately describe it as Daredevil meets Red Sonja. Also, though Gray Widow’s Walk definitely has a lot of superhero tropes in it, I’m just as influenced by science-fiction novels and movies. Larry Niven’s Ringworld books, and his Tales of Known Space, have had a huge effect on me, and for Gray Widow in particular I’d say I was inspired by John Steakley’s excellent military science-fiction novel Armor.
DJ: Could you briefly tell us a little about your main characters? Do they have any cool quirks or habits, or any reason why readers with sympathize with them?
Dan Jolley: Janey Sinclair is twenty-seven and, thanks to a horrible event that happened to her and her father, never got around to graduating high school. She didn’t actually need the diploma to make a living, though, because she’s an immensely talented artist, and her paintings regularly sell in the mid-five figure range—not only because of her creative vision, but also because a small portion of the power that grants her the ability to teleport seeps into the paint as she’s creating each work. The effect this has is that each painting replicates in those who view it some of the emotional state Janey was in while she was painting it. And because of that, she has dozens of paintings stored away, never to be displayed, because they would end up giving people severe emotional trauma and recurring nightmares. (Janey feels a little guilty about never getting her GED, but not enough to go back and earn one.)
Janey is also what her potential love interest, Tim Kapoor, refers to as a “future of humanity” person. Her family tree is widely varied; Janey is equal parts German, Seminole, African-American, and Filipino. That lineage, combined with growing up with a traveling stage-magician father, led to Janey feeling as if she never had anywhere she truly belonged. And that, in turn, led to the solitary life that meeting Tim threatens to disrupt.
DJ: What is the universe of the Gray Widow trilogy like?
Dan Jolley: The Gray Widow Trilogy takes place in Atlanta, Georgia, in modern-day America, 2016. That presents its own problems – technology is changing so fast, some of the things I mention in the book will probably seem terribly dated in just a few years — but I wanted to set this story right here, right now, in the world as we know it. In a lot of ways that’s just as challenging as inventing someplace like Narnia or Middle Earth, because if you get a detail of the real world wrong, it’s super-easy for readers to notice and call you on it. (And they should call you on it.)
DJ: What was your favorite part about writing Gray Widow’s Walk?
Dan Jolley: I always know how a book is going to end when I start writing it. I map everything out in my head, and then outline relentlessly. So to me, getting to that finish line is the most enjoyable part. I tend to think of writing a book like going on a long, enjoyable road trip, with destinations marked along the way. The journey is a lot of fun, but I love most of all reaching my destination, and when I’m getting really close to it, I actually start physically typing faster and harder, just beating the hell out of the keyboard, because I’m so excited to get to that finish line.
DJ: What do you think readers will be talking about most once they finish it?
Dan Jolley: There’s always a pretty big measure of wish-fulfillment in what I write, or at least there’s supposed to be. If I’ve done my job there is. People who’ve already read it have told me that Janey is a very relatable character, so I hope readers—particularly female readers—will be thinking something along the lines of, “Janey kicks the kind of ass I’d like to kick.” Maybe they’ll be talking about that, too.
DJ: What was your goal when you began writing the Gray Widow trilogy? Gray Widow’s Walk is only the first book of three, so the series is obviously not complete yet, but is there a particular message or meaning you are hoping to get across to readers when the story is finally told?
Dan Jolley: I read a couple of years ago, in a document about “the Pixar method of storytelling,” that you should write your story first, then figure out what it’s really about, and THEN go back and rewrite to make everything line up with its true meaning. I didn’t believe that at first, but once I was done with Gray Widow’s Walk, I realized there were a couple of points I wanted to get out there, and I did go back and adjust accordingly. The first one is actually summed up on the back of the book: “The only thing you can truly control in this world is yourself.” It’s about free will, and personal accountability, and the dangers of trying to impose one’s will on other people. The second one never gets directly stated, but—again, if I’ve done my job right—the whole book should be a pretty staunch condemnation of gun violence and the gun culture in this country. That’s not a message I want to beat people over the head with, because that wouldn’t be writing fiction, that would be preaching. But it’s a message I hope the book conveys.
DJ: Gray Widow’s Walk is part superhero novel; you have a very awesome cover done by John Nadeau (who did some great and impressive work with his Dark Horse Star Wars comics) with Janey looking like she is going to kick some ass; and you mention “She hones her fighting skills, steals a prototype suit of military body armor.” I feel safe in assuming you wrote a few fight scenes – here and there. 😉
What do you think makes readers enjoy your fight scenes so much? What do you think makes a good fight scene?
Dan Jolley: Any good scene of any kind is going to evoke emotion, and much like watching a thrilling fight in the ring or in the Octagon in real life, a good fight scene will get the reader’s adrenaline pumping and make you truly, viscerally invested in the outcome of the fight. I’ve always been pretty good at writing fight scenes, and to further that, a few years ago I decided to start studying martial arts, with the aim of learning more and varied techniques that I could describe on the page. I eventually spent time studying kung fu, aikido, tae kwon do, hapkido, and kumdo. Now, don’t get me wrong, I proved to be a TERRIBLE martial artist, and never got much past yellow belt in anything. But what that time allowed me to do was hang out with the people who were insanely good at the different disciplines, and listen to their stories, and watch them work. I think it was effective. Just recently a friend of mine was reading Gray Widow’s Walk, and after one of the early fight scenes, he said, “You described the guy’s broken arm bones grinding together! That made me not want to have arms anymore.” I considered that a win.
DJ: When I read, I love to collect quotes – whether it be because they’re funny, foodie, or have a personal meaning to me. Do you have any favorite quotes from the Gray Widow trilogy that you can share with us?
Dan Jolley: Probably my favorite comes from Tim Kapoor, talking to himself after he’s met Janey and, I would say this is a fair description, fallen under her spell: “So, this is what the inside of the rabbit hole looks like.”
DJ: Now that the Gray Widow’s Walk is released, what is next for you?
Dan Jolley: Well, fellow writer Shawn deLoache and illustrator Marlin Shoop and I are currently working on a series of YA graphic novels from Dark Horse Comics called LARP! (That stands for Live Action Role Playing.) The first volume is out now, and we’re just about finished with Volume 2. But on the novel front, a pretty major next step happens on October 18 of this year, when my Middle Grade urban fantasy series, Five Elements, debuts from HarperCollins. I’m hoping for some pretty big things from both of those projects.
DJ: Where can readers find out more about you?
Website & Blog: www.danjolley.com
DJ: Is there anything else you would like add?
Dan Jolley: There’s a truly awesome mobile game debuting next month which I wrote the story and dialogue for, but I can’t say anything else about that yet. Check back with me on Twitter or on my website and I’ll make a big announcement.
DJ: Thank you so much for taking time out of your day to answer my questions!
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*** Gray Widow’s Walk is available TODAY!!! ***
Buy the Book:
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About the Book:
“The only thing in this world you can truly control is yourself.”
Janey Sinclair’s ability to teleport has always been a mystery to her. She tried for years to ignore it, but when tragedy shatters her life, Janey’s anger consumes her. She hones her fighting skills, steals a prototype suit of military body armor, and takes to the streets of Atlanta, venting her rage as the masked vigilante dubbed “the Gray Widow” by the press.
But Janey’s power, and her willingness to use it, plunges her into a conflict on a much grander scale than she had anticipated.
Soon she encounters Simon Grove, a bloodthirsty runaway with a shapeshifting ability gone horribly wrong…
Garrison Vessler, an ex-FBI agent and current private defense contractor, who holds some of the answers Janey’s been searching for…
And Tim Kapoor, the first person in years with a chance of breaking through Janey’s emotional shell—if she’ll let him.
But as Janey’s vigilantism gains worldwide attention, and her showdown with Simon Grove draws ever closer, the reason for her augmented abilities—hers and all the others like her—begins to reveal itself. Because, high above the Earth, other eyes are watching. And they have far-reaching plans…
Gray Widow’s Walk is book one of the Gray Widow Trilogy, to be followed by Gray Widow’s Web and Gray Widow’s War.
Dan Jolley started writing professionally at age nineteen. Beginning in comic books, he has since branched out into original novels, licensed-property novels, children’s books, and video games. His twenty-five-year career includes the YA sci-fi/espionage trilogy Alex Unlimited; the award-winning comic book mini-series Obergeist; the Eisner Award-nominated comic book mini-series JSA: The Liberty Files; and the Transformers video games War for Cybertron and Fall of Cybertron. Dan was co-writer of the world-wide-bestselling zombie/parkour game Dying Light, and lead writer of the Oculus Rift game Chronos. Dan lives somewhere in the northwest Georgia foothills with his wife Tracy and a handful of largely inert cats. Gray Widow’s Walk is his first adult novel.
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