"Live a good life, and in the end, it’s not the years in the life, it’s the life in the years."

Wenatchee author has aspirations, attitude and at last — Asperfell

By on April 27, 2020 in Arts with 0 Comments
Jamie Thomas and her daughter Jocelyn take a break from at-home schooling, and at-home writing, in the yard of their Wenatchee home. Jamie holds a copy of her well-reviewed debut novel. Photo by Brian Thomas

By Susan Lagsdin

Wenatchee teacher and author Jamie Thomas is a world-builder. 

When she writes fiction, she first envisions the setting, not one on our present earth but one made of her imagination, a retreat from reality that is sometimes terrifying, occasionally idyllic, always unusual.

That’s her claim to fame in Asperfell

Available since February, this gothic fantasy is Jamie’s first published novel, and her editor and her readers enjoy the place (a vast mysterious prison complex for magicians), the premise and the plot so much that she’s contracted to complete a trilogy over the next two years. 

With a reading preference for Jane Austen, Victorian poetry, fantasy fiction, and gothic romance and horror novels, as well as a family affinity for Irish legends, Jamie is in her natural element as she crafts her books. She said, “My natural writing voice is really 19th century classical, kind of old-fashioned.”

She’d been encouraged in her writing as a teen, and over the years had attempted a few other novels. “I have some starts in my files,” she said. “But Asperfell was exactly the story I wanted to write, when I wanted to write it.”

A reading of her first draft got an encouraging thumbs-up.

Jamie, at 38 a certified novice at researching publishing possibilities, was picked up in January 2019 by a bold young company, Uproar, through a Twitter plot-pitching session. The next months were a blur of constant structural re-writes.

“My editor, Rick, is so good,” she said. “He praised me for airtight plotting, and he then worked hard on improving continuity and pace; I know he’s read the whole book 12 times.” 

(Some gee whiz stats: her first draft was 120,000 words and grew to 133,000. The second and third books will be about 140,000 words each. This article is 805 words.)

Without her knowledge, Rick had submitted the newly minted novel to Publisher’s Weekly, the gold standard in the book marketing industry, and it achieved a coveted star review (“a novel of outstanding quality”). 

She remembers, “I was teaching a class when I got his phone call, and at the break I had to go have a little private happy cry over that one.”

Jamie says it’s her methodical approach to plotting and an ability to see the big picture of the Asperfell world that made the development of a trilogy a natural choice. “I always outline first; I don’t leave a ton to chance,” she said.

The inequities she sees in contemporary society first propelled her to write. 

“The idea of this series was kicking around for months,” she said of the theme and her main character, Briony. “Using what you have to fight tyranny and injustice. Women finding the power in their own voices.”

Voice is important to Jamie. It means standing up for her own strong convictions. It means using language that creates a tonal world in fiction. 

And, ironically, voice was what she assumed would be her sustaining art form.

Vocal performance was Jamie’s foremost ambition growing up in Wenatchee, and she left town to earn music degrees from the University of Montana and the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. An opera career dimmed with the addition of marriage, money jobs, career jobs, a baby, the realities of daily life.

And that’s actually good news — after a Chelan P.U.D. job opened up for her husband Brian in 2016, the couple were happy to move back to Wenatchee, still her parents’ home. That’s when a chance opportunity to substitute teach lead Jamie to a new life-sustaining passion: “I loved being in the classroom with kids so much that I went back for a master’s degree in teaching English,” she said.

Jamie admitted, “My parents begged me to major in English, but being 17 and a prima donna I refused to listen. It took 20 years — sorry Mom and Dad — but I ended up right where I belonged, doing exactly what I was supposed to be doing.”

Jamie doesn’t downplay the stresses of juggling full time teaching in the Orondo School District and writing novels. She realizes there’s a sweet spot in an author’s career where producing and staying in the public eye is paramount, but she’s fully prepared to continue doing both. She declared, “My middle school students are wonderful — I’d never want to give them up.” 

She’ll continue to grab a few hours to write at night and on the weekends, creating and fine-tuning her alternate worlds. “I’m usually exhausted and not in an ideal headspace, so I write very slowly.”

But some days, she said, “When something I envision and meticulously plan is executed perfectly on the page… everything weaves together seamlessly. It’s such a joy to read, and an even greater joy to write.”

For more about the world of Asperfell and where to find it, go to www.thatjamiethomas.com.

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