Please welcome Jordanna Max Brodsky to The Qwillery as part of the 2016 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. The Immortals was published on February 16th by Orbit.
TQ: Welcome to The Qwillery. When and why did you start writing?
Jordanna: I started writing seriously due to sheer competitive jealousy. My lovely husband fulfilled his lifelong goal of starring on Broadway a few years ago. The only way to cool my burning envy was to get off my ass and start writing that novel I’d always dreamed about.
TQ: Are you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?
Jordanna: I always start out with a plotter’s intentions and outlines, then wind up flying pants-less three lines in, only to come back to plotting by the end. It’s a bit of a plot-pant tango.
TQ: What is the most challenging thing for you about writing?
Jordanna: Remembering that I’m writing a fantasy, not a James Michener novel! I’ve got a background in history and academia, so I tend to get caught up in factual details. I can spend hours researching the exact layout of a certain New York block before reminding myself: “This is a story about Greek gods in modern Manhattan. Strict accuracy is not my most pressing concern!”
TQ: What has influenced your writing?
Jordanna: I have a wide variety of passions: science fiction, mythology, American history, the outdoors, politics, feminism, and adorable dogs…to name just a few. Perhaps that explains why (to my agent’s chagrin) I tend to create stories that don’t fit neatly into any one genre. The Immortals is a contemporary fantasy, but it also contains elements of noir, historical fiction, action-adventure, bildungsroman, and romance.
TQ: Describe The Immortals in 140 characters or less.
Jordanna: Artemis, the Greek goddess of the hunt, prowls the streets of modern Manhattan, mercilessly punishing men who abuse women.
TQ: Tell us something about The Immortals that is not found in the book description.
Jordanna: Artemis, who now goes by the name Selene DiSilva, has lived in Manhattan since it was a tiny settlement in the 1600s, so she knows the city intimately. The action of the book takes place all over the island, in secret places even many longtime residents never see but that are real locations nonetheless. In some ways, the book is as much a love letter to New York as it is to the Olympians.
TQ: What inspired you to write The Immortals? What appeals to you about writing Contemporary Fantasy?
Jordanna: I’d always wanted to write a book about Greek gods living in the modern day, but it wasn’t until I’d lived in New York for many years that Selene’s character began to take shape. Whether you’re walking in Central Park or sitting on the subway late at night, you’re constantly surrounded by strangers. Visitors often think people in my city are rude or mean, and in my experience that’s simply not true. We may appear a little bit closed off, but our aloofness is a survival strategy: a way to secure a little privacy among a throng of eight and half million people. I think it’s human nature to start imagining what secrets might hide behind all those stern faces.
The very first scene I wrote was a prologue that I later cut from the book. I wrote it in the second person, speaking to the average New Yorker who might spot a silver-eyed woman on the subway and wonder about her story. Then a man who’s attacked a teenage girl in the park finds himself facing this same silver-eyed woman, a six-foot-tall vigilante avenger who’s holding an arrow to his throat and thinks she’s a goddess. As a jaded New Yorker, that sort of confrontation doesn’t actually sound so farfetched. But I started thinking…what would it be like if she really was a goddess after all?
TQ: What sort of research did you do for The Immortals? Do you have a favorite Greek myth?
Jordanna: I had a basic background in mythology before I started, but I still did an immense amount of research. I traveled to Greece and Rome, and I read everything I could, of course, from scholarly treatises on ancient Greek cult practices to every myth I could find about Artemis. My favorite is still one I learned as a kid, about Artemis and Acteon:
Acteon is a young hunter who boasts that he has the best hounds in the land. One day, he stumbles upon Artemis bathing in a forest pool. Even though it’s forbidden to see the chaste goddess naked, he stays to watch. When she catches him spying, she doesn’t scare him off, or beat him up, or even just put him to death. She turns him into a stag. His hunting hounds, seeing the prey in their midst, turn on the stag and rip him limb from limb. That’s the kind of justice Artemis used to mete out in the ancient world—and it’s the kind of justice Selene wishes she could still deliver today.
TQ: Who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why?
Jordanna: Perhaps paradoxically, my male protagonist, the classics professor Theo Schultz, was the easiest for me. He’s an intellectual and a talker, who uses humor as a defense mechanism. His personality popped off the page to me from the beginning.
Selene herself, on the other hand, was always a challenge because she’s nothing like me. She doesn’t let anyone get inside her heart or her head. Her nature as an immortal also made things difficult. On the one hand, I wanted her to kick ass. I wanted her to have super powers and be invulnerable. (How awesome would it be if Artemis could still control the phases of the moon?) But as a fan of superhero movies, I didn’t want to fall into the old trap of creating characters who are so invincible that we don’t worry about them. Or so supernatural that we can’t identify. So Artemis, and my other gods, are not omnipotent or omniscient anymore. They retain some semblance of their old attributes, and they age very slowly, but they’re not invulnerable. Some of them are ready to die; others would do anything to stay immortal. All of them are, to a greater or lesser extent, going just a little bit mad—because that seems the only rational response to having existed for three thousand years.
TQ: Why have you chosen to include or not chosen to include social issues in The Immortals?
Jordanna: I can never resist opining on social issues! It’s a real problem at cocktail parties.
To many people, Artemis is the ultimate feminist role model, so I couldn’t help addressing that in the book. She’s strong, independent, fearless, and determined to assert a woman’s right to live however she chooses. But those traits meant something different in Ancient Greece than they do today. In a patriarchal society, men couldn’t conceive that a hunter and punisher could also be a mother or a wife. Artemis’s only option was celibacy. Because of her background, Selene buys into this dichotomy even today—so in that way, she isn’t really a feminist at all.
In the modern age, we no longer see femininity and ferocity as mutually exclusive. And we certainly don’t think that sex necessarily equates to motherhood or marriage. When she meets Theo, Selene has to explore the necessity of her own virginity and isolation. How much of her behavior is a choice and how much is simply an acceptance of the role that a male-dominated society has thrust upon her? Acknowledging that those questions exist is, to me, a quintessentially feminist endeavor.
TQ: Which question about The Immortals do you wish someone would ask? Ask it and answer it!
Jordanna: Some day someone will ask about the chapter titles. They’re all epithets! And all the ones that refer to Olympians are actually taken from Ancient Greek. Artemis herself has close to three hundred known epithets, or names—more than any other god. They range from the Good Maiden to the Relentless One to She Who Has Bear Paws for Hands. I wanted to include them because each embodies a different, often contradictory aspect of her personality. As human beings, we each have at least that many names, even if we never articulate them. Like the gods, some of these titles are roles or personality traits we’ve chosen for ourselves—others have been thrust upon us. We can’t help identifying with someone like Selene, who struggles to define her identity in terms of both her own sense of self and others’ expectations of her.
TQ: Give us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery quotes from The Immortals.
“This was her city. Her people. They might not kneel at her statue as her acolytes had of old, but they worshiped at the same altar she did. We’re all mystai in the same cult, she realized. Bowing to a city that can be as harsh and as compassionate, as fickle and as stalwart, as any Olympian.”
TQ: What's next?
Jordanna: I’m just finishing up the second book in the Olympus Bound series, which has involved deep diving into all sorts of new fields including obscure Roman religions, geocentric astronomy, and the origins of Christmas. After that, Book Three!
TQ: Thank you for joining us at The Qwillery.
Olympus Bound 1
Orbit, February 16, 2016
Hardcover and eBook, 464 pages
Manhattan has many secrets. Some are older than the city itself.
The city sleeps. Selene DiSilva walks her dog along the banks of the Hudson. She is alone -- just the way she likes it. She doesn't believe in friends, and she doesn't speak to her family. Most of them are simply too dangerous.
In the predawn calm, Selene finds the body of a young woman washed ashore, gruesomely mutilated and wreathed in laurel. Her ancient rage returns. And so does the memory of a promise she made long ago -- when her name was Artemis.
Jordanna Max Brodsky hails from Virginia, where she spent four years at a science and technology high school pretending it was a theater conservatory. She holds a degree in History and Literature from Harvard University. When she's not wandering the forests of Maine, she lives in Manhattan with her husband. She often sees goddesses in Central Park and wishes she were one.