The New Fantasy Series Born at Bennington
Fin Goldvale from J. Carson Rose's The Grey Woods (all illustrations by Emily Paul)
Jessica Mileto, better known by her pen name J.Carson Rose, is a New York City real estate agent by day and a fantasy writer by night. This Bennington grad (class of ‘02) published her first novel The Grey Woods in June, and is already hard at work on the second book in a planned six-book series, In the Footsteps of Kings. Mileto weaves together the paths of lords and ladies who share secrets, learn the past of their people, and join forces in the grey woods. The woods are a meeting place between worlds where souls unite after they die and where they come to life before they are born. It is in this world that Lady Atya reveals truths of the past to young Fin Goldvale, turning his reality on its head. By using the spiritual world to witness Lord Madros’s past, Fin begins to understand the madness that has plagued the older man. Fin finds himself caught between Madros’s turmoil and his own growing love for Eamìn of the Majae. It is through his journeys into the grey woods that he begins to grasp how to understand and protect both Eamìn and Madros. The next book in this already intriguing and enchanting series delves deeper into “the battle of Montrose,” where readers learn the fates of Eamìn, Madros, and Fin.
Literary Bennington recently spoke with the author of The Grey Woods about her time at Bennington and the lessons she’s learned in the growing field of Indie Lit. What follows is our profile of a hardworking writer who is determined to follow her muse ...
Mileto can’t remember a time in her life when she wasn’t writing. As a young child she scrawled song lyrics on her school notebooks and dreamed of living the high life as a famous rock star. It wasn’t until she joined the ranks of the creative, artsy, and reflective students at Bennington College that she learned her true passion: fantasy.
“I don’t even read fantasy,” she told us with a laugh. “I don’t like much fantasy. But it knocked in my door …”
She means this literally: the characters in her series first visited in her dreams while she was living in a triple in Swan (“the baddest assed room ever!” she says now). She had been reading about Irish history, and the richly-populated world of the pre-Christian era took hold of Mileto’s imagination. She threw herself into the study of Irish culture and the stories that accompanied it.
“I knew nothing about that part of the world,” she says, “but somehow, before I even knew what I was writing about, I was channeling real aspects of Irish lore into my writing.”
It was around this time that Eamin made her first appearance in Mileto’s dreams. Eamin the Majae is the beautiful, mysterious figure of goodness and purity in Mileto’s first novel, The Grey Woods. Her great love and counterpart, Madros, longs for Eamin from a great distance away, and struggles with his own inner turmoil: should he leave Eamin in this far off land where he knows that she is safe under the guise of another man’s wife? Or should he sweep her away with him and risk the harm that the Lord of the Dream Realm would surely bring down upon her? Madros is angry, sexually charged, and neck deep in a lifetime of war, loss, and pain.
“I identify with Madros,” Mileto admits, and launches into the the tale of her first encounter with a publisher who ultimately turned her novel down. “Fuck you,” she remembers thinking. “I’ll blow your office up!”
Publishers, beware ...
“Like me, Madros is an introvert,” Mileto reflects, “but an explosive one. When we do react, our response is emotional and unpredictable.”
But there are two sides to the coin--both in the novel and in Mileto’s real life. “I strive to be Eamin,” the author admits, “I think we all do. She is patient, moral and honest. We are slaves to our emotions, but if we at least try for what Eamin symbolizes and upholds, then we’re working to be better humans.”
Mileto feels that she is in fact, living a triple life. “There’s me, the core essence of who I am, there’s a real estate identity that I slip into, and then there is the author.”
As a real estate agent, Mileto enjoys the ability to match people with spaces that feel right to them. She highly values the human connection that this occupation brings her and cherishes the lifelong friendships and support that she has picked up along the way. As an author, Mileto sometimes feels a disconnect to her writing.
“My book has nothing to do with my real life,” she chuckles. “I’m merely a conduit through which these ideas pass onto paper to be shared with the world.”
A conduit that can write—that’s for certain. During her career at Bennington College two professors stand out to Mileto as instrumental to her writing career. The first, David Slavitt, taught her 16th Century Poetry Class. “David took the bullshit out of writing,” she remembers fondly. “People cried in that class, I’m not joking, he’d take his red pen and tear your work apart. I loved it. He helped me find underlying meaning in my work.” The second professor, Gladden Schrock, taught playwriting and was a key driver and extractor of Mileto’s inherent theatrical talents.
Mileto’s Bennington plan initially began with a focus in acting. “Improv and comedy—for real, I’m good at it!” But after failing to find the necessary means to pursue this path at Bennington, she began developing her interests in photography and playwriting. After Bennington, Mileto was a professional photographer for many years, before she added fantasy author to her impressive résumé.
“Obviously, though,” she jokes, “being a rock star is still the big plan.”
Mileto is proud to be a self-published author. After The Grey Woods was turned down multiple times by publishers, Mileto--or should we say, King Madros--became fed up. “I’ll do it my goddamned self!” she decided one day. And that was that. The aspiring author determined that it’s not about selling the story, it’s about the entire process: writing it, designing the book and its packaging, then distributing and promoting it through indie lit channels. Ultimately, whether it’s published by a legacy publisher or not, the end product is the same: a book. And readers can find it on her website, through Amazon, and stocked by select fantasy booksellers.
“I do it all myself,” she says. “I advertise, manage my social media and book events all on my own.” She has concludes that writing the book was the easy part—the promoting the book is where things get difficult. However, the author doesn’t seem to be having too much trouble with exposure: The Grey Woods was a big hit at New York City’s Comic Con in October.
To Bennington students today, Mileto says: “Your college days are for networking. This will be important in your later years. Use Bennington as the magnificent resource that it can be.” For any author, she stresses the importance of cultivating a wide and influential circle of friends in which to circulate your writing. She continues her sage advice with advice directed specifically at writers:
“Get together with other people who share your interests. If there isn’t a space for this make it.”
Then, Mileto says, “just write. Write and read other’s writing. But most importantly, write the truth that is in your heart and value the power in storytelling.”