First Cup of Coffee – May 19, 2022

Good morning, everyone! This is Jeffe Kennedy author of epic fantasy romance I’m here with my first cup of coffee.


Lovely morning here in Santa Fe today on Thursday May nineteenth yes I was just wondering if I titled the podcast correctly because I always titled with the date and um. Fortunately I did ah so um, lots going on here tonight. We kick off the events for nebula conference mentoring happens this evening. Everything is in place. Everything’s come together I believe um, yeah, events tomorrow. How’s the book coming along. They say who they ask? Jeffe it’s coming. It’s coming. Um I have got of 83600 words and um, so I’ve got like None to go. Um, doable. See how much time I have for that out loud proof. Fortunately I do write pretty clean. So if I have to upload a penultimate version I could do that and fix the commas after.

Knowing that I’m not going to have it proofed I have been paying more attention to like instead of punting on Lay Lilade I’ve been actually checking. Although I think I have it right now the one that I don’t. Get is each other and one another and I’m not sure anybody actually cares.

Other than the grammarians. So theoretically I can finish it right now. Things are an other disaster and I don’t know how they’re going to get themselves out of it. Ah, but there’s a possibility that the book will just end with them all dying and then they all died I mean I can understand why Shakespeare did that sometimes it’s like yeah and then they all died. So what she’s here. In fact, I well I’ve said this before but I think that the people who go for the tragic ending instead of trying to figure out how to make a romance end happily when they think that they’re being so terribly clever and like oh I’m going to write a romance except it ends tragically. Like actually the tragic ending is the easy ending. It’s um, super easy to have everybody die or everything not work out. It’s much more difficult to figure out how the fuck are they going to get themselves out of this situation. So I guess we’ll find out won’t we um, there’s a panel I want to see tomorrow at None my time. The none sequence of panels for the conference. But then I will um, actually there’s 2 at None but they’ll all be recorded so I can watch them later as well. It’s fun to watch stuff in person because of the chat role and everything you could talk to people and I see my peony is about to bloom. Oh. It’s so pretty glowing pink. So so yeah, quite a lot going on the next couple of days. Did you guys see I might link to it the trailer for the nebula award ceremony. Amazing, amazing people worked on that and it just gives me a shiver of delight because I can’t take any credit for the actual work. But you guys you have no idea what I went through to get that to happen the way that it happened. And I don’t feel like I can talk about it necessarily but Neil Gayman me I got him there other people helped me many thanks to the people that helped me and connected me. Um.

But for for reasons that are too arcane and absurd to explain and besides which it would be impolilitic I had to fight to have Neil Gaiman be our toast master in the way that he is. And it’s gonna be awesome and I’m just so happy. So happy without it turned out so that’s often I find the role of people in leadership. Um, which sounds kind of funny for me to say in leadership. But you know is that if you’re doing it right? You step back and and you don’t trumpet your credit like I’m doing right now but you know it’s it’s the other people who do the actual work but sometimes that work of being the one. Determined to have a thing happen and fighting for it and fighting people who don’t want it to happen that just takes a lot sometimes and it’s work. That’s not always noticed by people which is fine. Um, but it is an interesting thing to me. To show. You guys have my nebula nails. Oh here’s a little Ray of sunshine if you’re on video I am got. There’s sort of a deep blue purple with gold sparkleys nebula nails um, anyone else was I going to say on that. Oh on the the leadership thing. Ah so I had 1 funny. You guys know that if you’ve been listening to me for a very very long time because I don’t think I’ve brought it up recently that I think that as human beings. 1 of the things we have to combat is ego is the overweening ego the dominating ego. Um, and that’s partly my taoist perspective ah taoists are very much. Um. Anti-ego. You can’t be None with the dow if you are filled with ego and I think ego drives a whole lot of negative behavior. So I work very hard not to be egotistical. Not to let my ego take over and it’s funny in some ways because it’s this balance between not letting the ego run everything but also taking credit for stuff so quite a long time ago.

My very favorite professor from college professor David Hadas who was the one who is the non-practicing orthodox jew if you get that joke my religious studies professor amazing man. Huge influence on me and. He was he was dying. He got colon cancer and he decided and this was very true to who he was that he would not get radiation or chemotherapy. He had the surgery but he didn’t want. To have any of the other treatment because he wanted to spend his last days in the classroom um to doing what he loved best what he was so good at and so oh I’m gonna get over for clem talking to about him. So. I organized a thing where we had a kind of a memorial service for him while he was still alive and I worked with my University Washington University in St Louis and a bunch of my old friends. And we worked with the alumni office and contacted as many people as possible who had been as students. You know they gave us the records and I emailed everybody. It was early days of email you know and invited people to come and say nice things about him and. It was a really cool thing to do and the university dedicated this um one of the salons. One of the I don’t know teaching halls to him they put that put his name on it and it was just we all went back to St Louis it was really lovely weekend. It was funny because like some people that I emailed. Got so mad about me emailing them almost. Everyone was nice but a few people were like take me off of this mailing list. It’s like did you even read the email dip shit anyway, early days of email it would probably be harder to do now only illegitimate spammers or. Don’t to email people anymore. So ah, this one gal did um I don’t even remember she was a reporter and she was doing an article I don’t think it was for the student newspaper. It might have been for the St Louis Post dispatch I don’t remember what paper. But anyway she called me up ah to interview me about the event and so we talked about what was going on and everything and she was asking me about me and she said um, she said well I understand that you organized this event and I said well um.

A great many people worked on this event and she said oh okay and then there was like no mention of me in the article at all. It was like I very effectively erased myself which was actually fine. Because I wanted it to be about him and I’d said that to her several times you know that this is to celebrate professor Hadas. Um, but at the same time I was like oh note to self about giving away all credit. Um, you know it’s ah. Because people people will let you do it? So I don’t really remember how I got off on that whole thing. Oh just like leadership credit stuff and that sort of thing. Um, yeah, a lot of things with nebula conference and ceremony were things that I that I masterminded. Or such intermotion. But everybody else did all the work and they were fabulous and everybody will be very glad to have the work done with because it’s been a lot and then next year we will be doing the hybrid conference. Ah, that’ll be exciting moment. Back in person. So ah, the other thing I wanted to talk about is this funny thing about people not being aware of of the order of things of the precedence of naming and the reason this came up was um. My friend posted a picture of purple Columbine blooming in her garden and None of her family members who lives across the country said oh I love those purple and white flowers and I messaged my friend and. Because it made me laugh and I I said it made me laugh that she called the columbine purple and white flowers. So and I totally get this as a regional thing you know like that people on the East Coast may have never seen Columbine but I’m a Colorado girl by births or not by birth exactly but certainly by a nativity. Ah, my mother was born there stepfather was born there I grew up there hometown of Denver Columbine is the State Flower Purple Columbine ah and so it was funny to me that somebody would not. Recognize the flower and big I mean maybe just it’s so pervasive here. But also you know it’s like people who know nothing about the your american west right? and it is a pretty flower.

So and she replied back and said yes that um, when she and her son were skiing that there was a trail called Columbine and her son who’s a teenager said. It’s really sad that they named a trail after that town where all of those kids died. So this is the perspective partly of youth and partly of people who’ve grown up in a digital world that they’re not aware of the order of history. So in case, you don’t. Follow that whole thing probably most of you do, but he was referring to the massacre at Columbine high school which took place in Denver it was not a town but Columbine high school Columbine high school of course named for the state flower of Colorado and. Lots of mountains around here have Columbine this are that because it’s a flower that grows everywhere here right? I have none of yellow columbine in my garden blooming right now I should take a picture and of None of them put it on the show notes. Because the peony is not ready for full viewing anyway. So it’s just it’s it’s just a really funny thing and I’ve noticed it happen a lot and I can’t think of the books but like when people pick an older property. And say oh and ah I don’t think this was the exact one but um, like the one that I pulled out in the example for her was wizard of oz like when people complained that the wizard of oz rips off Harry Potter or some of these older fantasy works Rip off Harry Potter and it’s funny because when I none read Harry Potter I thought it was incredibly derivative of previous fantasy works. But once something becomes very large. It supersedes everything else and and there’s also the wherever someone none encounters. Ah, piece of information a story a name then that becomes none in their mind regardless of precedent. It’s a funny thing. And this was making me think too which is just sort of a sideline but I was ah thinking about how someone had asked me a long time ago. Um, and it was someone who was young and they were asking me about your song.

By Elton John and Bernie Toppin and they said why do you think he says um, but then again, no in the song. Why why would he do that and I said well it’s it’s meant to Reflect you know they’re like why why wouldn’t he just change that the song if he if he changed his mind and I said well it’s meant to be like this conversational tone and it’s meant to transmit his sense of of uncertainty and insecurity by having that in the lyrics and they said no I don’t think that’s it I think he just. Made the mistake and didn’t change it. It was like no I don’t think that’s what happened, but for some reason that song’s already that conversation’s always stuck with me and I was thinking about Jim Croce’s song. Where he says I’ll have to say I love you and a song and it starts out with I know it’s kind of late I hope I didn’t wake you? Um, there’s I didn’t look up the date on this one I well let me go back. I was wondering which of those came none and the answer is is Elton John and Bernie Taupin that song was 1970 Jim Crowie’s was 1973 um, lot of names I’m gonna have to fix in the transcript. Sorry if I don’t get them all and then there’s. Ah, what can I think of the band. Um I’m leaving on a jet plane has a similar thing. We’re addressing the person and the song where they say um, don’t now have to look.

It’s not letting me pause funny that song was written by John Denver I didn’t realize that I was thinking of someone else singing it. Maybe you guys will remember because I’m not gonna keep researching it. But anyway, ah. He says the same sort of thing in there as in um I hate to wake you up to say goodbye and what year was that oh Peter Paul and Mary that’s who I was thinking of um, singing it. Okay, hold on.

Okay, so that was 1966 which I should remember because that’s the year I was born. So anyway, this person who I can’t even remember who they are I want to go back and expand on the explanation and say that this was part of a songwriting trend. In the apparently late sixty s through the early 70 s of having kind of having lyrics that were more conversational and directed to a particular person we could probably do a whole essay on this and if you want to take that up. For your ah thesis. You’re welcome to do so so I’m going to go on my way and get some stuff done. Wish me luck. Um, if I kill off all the characters will you forgive me? Ah, ah. All right? Um I hope you all have a fabulous Thursday and I will talk to you tomorrow I’ll do my podcast tomorrow. What the hell it’s only it’s only time you all take care bye bye.

The Best Title That Never Was

Our topic at the SFF Seven this week concerns the reality of having to change names. We’re asking the crew if they’ve ever had to change the name(s) of a character or place in a book after we’d drafted it? Who is the character who will forever go by their “unpublished” name in our minds?

For me, it wasn’t a character. But I will tell you about the title I wish I hadn’t changed. 

Naming Fantasy Characters, Places, and Things

The upside of me not being in San Diego on June 1 is that my event at Mysterious Galaxy will be available to all of you via Zoom! Would love if you all joined in!

Our topic at the SFF Seven this week is Names: What’s your favorite source/method for naming your characters, places, etc? Come on over to learn my secrets.

The Importance of Claiming our Names

Yesterday evening I did a podcast interview over the phone, as part of the promotions St. Martins Press has set up for me for THE ORCHID THRONE. This was a gal I hadn’t interacted with before. In fact, a LOT of early readers and reviewers picking up this book – or winning it from a Goodreads giveaway – are totally new to my books, which is super cool. This gal hadn’t read fantasy romance before and she was all excited by the combination, which was really wonderful to hear. Amazing to me that so many people are discovering this sweet spot between epic fantasy and female-driven, swoon-worthy Romance. Also, pretty kickass to know the subgenre is still on the rise.

Anyway, one of the first questions she asked me – before she started recording – was how to pronounce my name. This came as no surprise as it’s usually the first question anyone new asks me. For the record, it’s Jeff-ee, or Jeffy, whichever makes more sense in your head. (But not Jiffy like the peanut butter and not jefe, which is pronounced heff-AY and is Spanish for boss. Yes, I have a lot of these conversations.) It’s short for Jennifer, and is a nickname my dad made up when I was a baby. No, he didn’t want a boy and he liked the name Jennifer. He also died when I was three, so my nickname is a gift from him that I’ve carried all my life.

As you can see, I have a lot of conversations about my name – and I try to remind myself that though I’ve heard all these questions and jokes a hundred times, for the person I’m talking to, it’s brand new to them. Also, talking about my name is a good ice-breaker, so for the most part I don’t mind.

Still, it’s amazing to me how many people feel it’s fine to advise me about my name or make jokes about it. I avoid telling people it’s short for Jennifer, not because it’s a secret (obviously I’m talking publicly about it here), but because some people will insist on calling me Jennifer once they find out. Even after I tell them only the IRS and telemarketers call me that and if you yell it across a bar, I’ll assume you mean one of the ten-thousand OTHER Jennifers and I won’t respond. Some people have very seriously told me that I shouldn’t use a “made up” name. I remember my graduate adviser refusing to call me Jeffe, because he thought it sounded too much like Buffy and I needed to be more serious than that.

It occurred to me much later what a red flag that was of so many, many things.

What’s key here is, I identify with the name “Jeffe.” It’s been my byline all along (with the exception of those very serious scientific papers) and it’s what I respond to. I realize there’s a bit of a bump in people assimilating the unfamiliar, but I’m willing to work with people on that. I’ve come to realize that it’s not unreasonable to ask people to put that effort in also.

The other night we were having drinks with my folks and the topic of pronouns came up. They’re from an older generation, so they’re understandably taken aback by the “new” pronouns. “When did this become a thing?” they asked. I explained that I knew it seemed weird to them, but that I’d had to learn too. I wear a She/Her/Hers button on my conference lanyards to help normalize that pronouns shouldn’t be assumed. I’m fortunate to present as female and that the assumed pronouns match my appearance. But this isn’t true for everyone and it makes it harder for people who are exceptions if only they designate pronouns.

It comes down to that we all have this basic right of human dignity, which includes being called by the names and pronouns we choose for ourselves. Having these many conversations over the course of my life about my unusual nickname – and the occasional obstinate responses – is a minor irritation. But it makes me aware of how much more difficult it must be for someone with a greater stake in the issue, and perhaps less privilege and confidence.

I recall when Quvenzhané Wallis was up for an Academy Award, the press did not handle it well. From this terrific article on the topic:

They might have addressed her with a respectful ‘Miss. Wallis.’ Or politely asked how to pronounce her first name. Or best of all, they might have done the research ahead of time to learn how she preferred to be addressed. Instead she was called ‘Q,’ ‘little Q,’ ‘Miss Q.’ An AP reporter even decided “I’m just going to call you Annie,” to which Wallis replied “My name is not Annie. It’s Quvenzhane.”

I’m struck by this observation in the article:

Names given to some black children are mocked as being ‘made up’ or not ‘real’ names. White folks will substitute them for names that are more familiar to our own culture.

I understand this very well, having the “not real” accusation hurled at me about my name, along with the stubborn refusal to use it and the fall back to something more culturally familiar. And that’s being a white girl in a culture predominantly peopled by folks like me.

Then there’s this great talk by Uzo Aduba on wanting to change her name as a child because no one could pronounce Uzoamaka. (Shout out to and Chelsea Mueller for knowing exactly what I was trying to recall there!) Her mother told her if people could learn to pronounce Tchaikovsky, Michelangelo, and Dostoevsky, they could learn to pronounce Uzoamaka.

Her talk is especially stirring because she finishes with the advice, “So, do not ever erase those identifiers that are held in you… It is yours, and it was given to you at birth, and it is yours to own.”

I wish now that I’d insisted my graduate adviser use the name *I* wanted, not the one he approved of.



One In a Dozen, Maybe?

Facebook has all these silly quizzes. Some sillier than others. All great for wasting time in amusing ways. Terrific displacement activity.

So, this morning, while I was “deciding what to blog about,” which translates as sucking on Starbucks and screwing around on the ‘net, I took a quiz on how common my name is.

There are approximately 171,636 people with the last name Kennedy. This Surname ranks the 130 most common in the United States. There are an estimated 87,363 Females with the last name “Kennedy”. However, the first name Jeffe was not found in our database meaning that you are pretty unique. It is estimated that there are less than 5 people with your exact name in the United States.

Heh. “Pretty unique.” As opposed to “very unique” or “more or less unique.” The thing is, my friend Marin Untiedt got a definitive three women with her name.

No, I didn’t try plugging in Jennifer Kennedy. I don’t want to know. Which is part of the reason I never use Jennifer.

It feels like a constant battle though, trying to use “Jeffe.” People get confused, which they don’t like. I used to introduce myself as Jennifer first and then convert people to Jeffe, but many refuse the converstion and then I don’t know who they’re talking to. So I’ve gone to just introducing myself as Jeffe and forging through the first difficult exchange, which consists of repeating my name back and forth.

[Me] – Hi, I’m Jeffe
[Them] – Confused look
[Me] – Jeffe Kennedy
[Them] – Jeff?
[Me] – Jeff-E. Like Jeff, with an eeee on the end
[Them] – variety of responses at this point:
Like on Family Circus?
Like the peanut butter?
Isn’t that a man’s name?
Jackie Kennedy?
Is that short for something else?

Inevitably if I ‘fess up to that last question that Jeffe is short for Jennifer, they’ll gratefully run for the familiar and use Jennifer. It’s almost pathological. Interestingly, people not from the US are much more flexible about it and will assimilate “Jeffe” without a blink. So I know it’s not that hard.

The other thing I’ve learned is to give people a reason for it. If I explain that my dad made up the nickname and that he died when I was three, that I feel like this is a piece of him that I can carry around with me, they soften and agree. If I say there are ten million Jennifers out there, they act like I’m uppity, trying for a different call signal.

When I was in high school, this group of girls who didn’t like me decided to call one of their own Jennifers by my nickname. I’m not sure how long it lasted and I don’t think that Jennifer liked it very much. Or maybe she was just mortified by the strange and competitive maneuver. But I remember my shock when these girls, who never spoke to me, called out “Jeffe!” and turned out to be calling to this other girl. The cluster of them turned to see my reaction, avidly watching for my humiliation? Horror? Tears, perhaps? Instead I learned that they thought I had some power in my name. They wanted to show me they could take it away.

I suppose we all want our names, like ourselves, to be “pretty unique.” We’re willing to concede that absolutely unique may be asking for too much, but we all want to be that individual, beautiful snowflake.

But really, that kind of thing comes from inside. Which no one can take away.