Author Interview - M.J. Fifield - Effigy

Hey, gang! Absolutely stoked to be able to bring you a recent sit-down I did with longtime blog friend and debut author, M.J. Fifield. I've known M.J. to be a passionate fan of fantasy fiction, so I can't wait to see how she has carried over that love into her own work.

She has interesting things to say about the female role in fantasy (both as an author and for characters), and her list of influences might surprise you. Let's get to it!

The survival of a once-mighty kingdom rests in the hands of its young queen, Haleine Coileáin, as it slowly succumbs to an ancient evil fueled by her husband’s cruelty.

A sadistic man with a talent for torture and a taste for murder, he is determined to burn the land and all souls within. Haleine is determined to save her kingdom and, after a chance encounter, joins forces with the leader of the people’s rebellion. She gives him her support, soon followed by her heart.

Loving him is inadvertent but becomes as natural and necessary as breathing. She lies and steals on his behalf, doing anything she can to further their cause. She compromises beliefs held all her life, for what life will exist if evil prevails?

Her journey leads to a deceiving world of magic, monsters, and gods she never believed existed outside of myth. The deeper she goes, the more her soul is stripped away, but she continues on, desperate to see her quest complete. If she can bring her husband to ruin and save her people, any sacrifice is worth the price—even if it means her life.

Author Interview, M.J. Fifield

EJ: Effigy sounds like a massively epic fantasy novel (see what I did there?)--full of swords, sorcery, and all the world building trimmings. However, one big thing jumps out at me: Unlike many fantasy series, a strong female protagonist takes the lead here. What/who was your inspiration for Haleine, and how does tackling the genre from a woman's POV alter the 'typical' fantasy experience? (Or does it?)

MJ: Haleine popped into my head one summer and wouldn't get out until I committed to writing her story. I didn't know a lot about her in those early days, but I knew she was queen and that she would work in a sort-of behind-the-scenes capacity to support a rebellion against her husband. She obviously developed more over time. All along, though, I wanted to write a character who was in a position of power, who was expected to be almost an infallible superhuman figurehead, but was very much human—and a flawed one at that. Whether I was at all successful at this remains to be seen, but that's what I set out to do.

And not to be all 'I am woman; hear me roar' or anything, but I like to think that writing a fantasy from a woman's POV doesn't alter the experience at all.

EJ: Part of writing successfully in the fantasy genre (or any genre, really) is being aware of what's been done before. Who are your writing and reading influences? If one of your favorite authors read Effigy, do you think they'd be surprised by anything?

MJ: I read a lot of novels across a lot of genres, and I admire so many authors out there, but I count Ellen Emerson White and Phillipa Gregory as probably my two biggest reading/writing influences.

Ellen Emerson White wrote a YA series about a girl whose mother is elected president that I first came across when I was in middle school. I re-read that series once a year now because it just taught me so much about voice and characters. It was funny and smart, and I've been obsessed with it since I was 12. Fun fact: Ellen Emerson White and I once had a multi-day online conversation about the awesomeness of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Battlestar Galactica. In doing so, I achieved a life goal I didn't know I had.

Phillipa Gregory is a brilliant historical fiction novelist, and every time I pick up one of her books I'm awed by her ability to weave together language in such a intelligent and moving way. Her novel, Wideacre, is an incredibly crazy story in which you spend the entire time wondering how she could possibly end it in a satisfactory manner, but she does so perfectly. Likewise, her novel, The Boleyn Inheritance, is so gorgeously written and put together that it quite literally took my breath away.

If either of them happened to read Effigy, they would probably be most surprised to find that—given the fact they're my influences—Effigy is a fantasy.

EJ: Effigy was a long time in development--which isn't at all unusual for epic fantasy due to the enormous amount of world building involved. What was your greatest challenge during that time, and is there anything you'd tackle differently now that you've survived the experience?

MJ: I think my greatest challenge was probably figuring out what the story was supposed to be, and how I was supposed to tell it. The characters were in my head a long, long time, and it took me a quite few drafts to really work out the right way to tell their tale. Next time, I plan to plan more ahead of time. That doesn't mean the characters will cooperate, because they very seldom do, but I will have tried, at least.

EJ: What about Effigy would translate really well into a film/movie? What wouldn't? Who would you pick to play your main characters?

MJ: Effigy has a lot of human drama—conversations that are meant to be deep and meaningful, a bit of a love story that leads to a couple of sex scenes—that would translate easily onto the screen. There's one character—a tiny, talking pegasus—who would pose more of a challenge. Call the WETA workshop...perhaps it could be an exciting new challenge for Andy Serkis?

As to whom I would cast as my main characters...If I could get the Cate Blanchett who portrayed Elizabeth I in the 1998 film Elizabeth, I would cast her in a heartbeat because she would be so perfect in so many ways. I also adore Rose Leslie (Ygritte in Game of Thrones). Effigy's male lead is a lot harder to cast. I've never really settled on an actor who I think would fit the role. Past considerees, however, have included Joseph Fiennes (1998's Shakespeare in Love and Elizabeth), and Heath Ledger.

EJ: Last and best question: What are your plans for the The Coileáin Chronicles? And how can we get our hands on Effigy and learn more about you?

MJ: If all goes according to plan (ha!), there will be six books in the Coileáin Chronicles. I'm working on the second book,Second Nature, right now. I'm allergic to spoilers and like to avoid them whenever possible, but I will say that the first three novels cover the three Coileáin sisters. The second three will revolve around the next generation of Coileáins. Or is that too much information? If it is, forget I said anything.

There's currently one planned spin-off—if I can figure out how (and when) to write it. I created a character last November whose only name for the longest time was 'Mercenary Guy.' Mercenary Guy (whose real name is now a well-guarded secret) makes his official debut in Second Nature and is now demanding his own spin-off. Since I like him quite a lot, I'm inclined to give in.

Effigy is currently available in paperback and on Kindle at Amazon and Amazon UK. You can also purchase it on CreateSpace. The EPub version should be available soon. I hope.

About M.J.

Armed with a deep and lasting love of chocolate, purple pens, and medieval weaponry, M.J. Fifield is nothing if not a uniquely supplied insomniac. When she isn’t writing, she’s on the hunt for oversized baked goods or shiny new daggers. M.J. lives with a variety of furry creatures—mostly pets—in New Hampshire.

Where to find M.J.


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  1. I can see you discussing those shows with Ellen.
    Six books? Wow, that's ambitious!
    Congratulations, MJ.

    1. Oh, I was an embarrassing fangirl during that discussion. I mean, I am any time I have a conversation about BtVS or BSG, but when you add one of my personal idols to the mix...yeah. Embarrassing. To say the least.

  2. Great interview. I'm a fan of Phillipa Gregory too. Haven't read the Boleyn Inheritance yet, but I did very much enjoy The Other Boleyn Girl. And I can see a young Cate Blanchett as your female protag. :)

    1. Oh, you should definitely read The Boleyn Inheritance. It's my favorite Phillipa Gregory book.

  3. Great interview and wooooot! I love a good series.

    1. Me too. I love having the opportunity to keep checking in with favorite characters.

  4. Fantastic interview. This series sounds amazing. I love how you describe your protagonist. Have a great weekend!

  5. Great interview and I love your casting choices for your characters. Thanks for the trip down memory lane with Shakespeare in Love & Elizabeth - loved both of those movies.

    Hi, EJ! :)

  6. Fab interview, EJ :)

    MJ rocks. She's clearly a real talent. Thanks so much for the highlight and for sharing her with us today, J.

    And I hope you're well, EJ! We need to catch up. I've been out of town and out of the loop!!!

  7. Everything I've heard about this book makes me love it more and more. A series and a possible spin-off? Yes, please! :D

    I really enjoyed the interview, so thank you E.J. and M.J.!

  8. I enjoyed reading this. Great interview, guys!
    Sorry I'm just getting around to it. *blush*


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