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An Interview with Jennifer Marie Brissett

Jennifer Marie Brissett’s short stories can be found in The Future Fire, Lightspeed Magazine, Motherboard VICE, Uncanny Magazine, Morpheus Tales, APB: Artists against Police Brutality and other publications. Her debut novel, Elysium, received the Philip K. Dick Award Special Citation and has been a finalist for the Locus Award for Best First Novel and the Tiptree Award

In Elysium, you use a spiral narrative and there’s a number of motifs, such as an owl and an elk, that the characters encounter again and again. It’s remarkable because even though the characters are in different situations and with different names, as a reader, you never get lost. They always feel so familiar. And yet there’s clearly some strong influences. So, what’s your approach to making something familiar new? How much do you think about that in regards to developing character, story arc, etc.?

Elysium is based on the story of the Roman Emperor Hadrian and his lover Antinous who drowned in the river Nile. I used the spiral narrative as a means to convey Hadrian’s continuing spiral of love and loss. After Antinous died Hadrian fell into such grief that there were those around him that feared for his sanity. I blended a lot of imperial Roman motifs into the book like the Vestal Virgins. The idea of flight, or rather a boy flying, actually came from Hadrian naming a constellation after Antinous. It was almost as if he allowed his fallen lover to soar into the heavens.

Your work, Elysium, is obviously character-driven, focusing on a connection “spread over space and time”. Are stories eternal? Should they be?

The people we love live for as long as they are remembered. And they are remembered in the stories we of them. Stories shift and change with each retelling, and over the course of time, they become myth more that memory.

Have you always written sci-fi? Why sci-fi? What were your influences and how did you get started?

I began writing seriously in my mid- to late- 30s. I started writing because I was a bit depressed I guess. I owned a bookstore that I had to close and went from seeing people everyday to being alone all of the time. The words started to come to me at night. And honestly I have no idea why they came out as speculative fiction. The stories just seemed to work that way. Like the only way my stories could sing is if they had a little magic in them. Toni Morrison has been a heavy influence on me, as well as Gloria Naylor. There are lots of other writers, but they are my deepest roots.

I was thrilled to learn that you have two novels coming out from Tor. Tell us what readers can expect.

My next book is called Eleusis and it is a stand-alone sequel to Elysium. It is the story of what happened to the people who survived the holocaust of Earth and went on to live on another world. Told in a braided narrative structure, weaving back and forth between differing points of view and over a span of time. It follows the fate of two missing children: a girl and a boy. The girl is named Cora and she has been taken from her village and forced to become a “war wife” in a rebel army fighting in the countryside. Her life becomes a living hell as she and the others with her are marched into a land of everlasting night. Years later, a pair of detectives in the city search for a boy, the other missing child. They are determined to find him in an increasing mystery that only deepens as the girl, now a young woman, secretly emerges from her time in captivity armed with new dark abilities.

Where can readers go to learn more about your work?

You can go to my website at www.jennbrissett.com

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