“Death and the Maiden.” Mozart. “The Sound of Music.” Together, they became a part of the foundation of inspiration for Sarah Jae-Jone’s debut novel Wintersong.
“Inspiration tends to be more of a slow accretion of things,” said Jae-Jones, who goes by JJ. “We mythologize origin stories, but don’t talk about the work it takes to bring all your various sources of inspiration together into a book. We also don’t really talk about the moment we make the decision to actually write.”
Set to release in February 2017, Jae-Jones’ Wintersong has been highly anticipated by many in the book community. Liesl, a young woman who has set aside her dreams of becoming a composer in order to support her family. When Liesl’s sister Käthe is taken to the Underground world by goblins, Liesl follows. In order to free her sister, Liesl must give her own hand in marriage to the Goblin King and figure out how to save her own life.
“I had been working on a retelling of Mozart’s Magic Flute that was dead on the page,” said JJ. But she had started to sketch another story down and began to e-mail her friend and critique partner Marie Lu about it. “What I was really looking for from [Marie Lu] was permission to start writing. To abandon the Magic Flute retelling and work on this shiny new idea. She did, and one afternoon in October, between phone calls, I started writing the book that became Wintersong.”
When the work was submitted, the title was The Goblin King. The working title? “50 Shades of Labyrinth.”
“I like the idea of erotica, but don’t always find them executed to my taste. I think I might write one. I want to write one,” wrote Jae-Jones in her “Wintersong Wednesday: The Origin Story” blog post; if you haven’t gathered already, Wintersong is filled with steamy scenes, as the book was originally an adult title.
“I don’t think trimming down the sex scenes materially affects the story, although I will say that changing Wintersong from adult to YA did require a bit of a rewrite in terms of the context of the sex scenes,” said Jae-Jones. “YA is about firsts, about uncertainty, about navigating your own sexual agency, about coming to a better understanding of your desires and how to achieve them. … I do think Wintersong is a better book for having trimmed down the sex scenes, although I do feel a slight twinge of nostalgia when I think about the initial versions.”
While one major theme is Liesl’s discovery of her sexual desires, another is her love and need to compose music. But Liesl isn’t the only musical one in the novel. Both Liesel’s family and The Goblin King are musical, making music a major component of Wintersong.
Like Liesl, Jae-Jones’ family is pretty musical and music has been a part of her life since she was very young, and thanks to Jae-Jones’ beautiful prose, the music comes off the page, emotionally charging the reader.
“I think there is an inherent relationship between language and musicality: sound and rhythm, rhyme and alliteration,” said Jae-Jones. “At the same time, there is something about music that bypasses language to get at the heart of emotion and imagery on a visceral level, and it’s that visceral reaction that resonates with me.”
And what does Liesl’s music sound like?
“A little strange, a little unpolished, a little atonal, almost like her voice is about to burst from the seams of a structured sonata or symphony.”