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Thursday, September 5, 2019

Interview with J. A. Andrews (Interviewed by Justine Bergman)



Official Author Website
Order Pursuit of Shadows HERE (US) and HERE (UK)
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Pursuit of Shadows

AUTHOR INFORMATION: JA Andrews is a writer, wife, mother, and unemployed rocket scientist. She doesn't regret the rocket science degree, but finds it generally inapplicable in daily life. Except for the rare occurrence of her being able to definitively state, "That's not rocket science." She does, however, love the stars.

She is eternally grateful to CS Lewis for showing her the luminous world of Narnia. She wishes Jane Austen had lived 200 years later so they could be pen pals. She is furious at JK Rowling for introducing her to house elves, then not providing her a way to actually employ one. And she is constantly jealous of her future-self who, she is sure, has everything figured out.

She spends an inordinate amount of time at home, with her family, who she adores, and lives near the Rocky Mountains of Montana, where she can see more stars than she ever imagined.
Thanks so much for joining us, JA. Care to tell us a little bit about yourself?
JA: First, the J is for Janice. I know that’s basically impossible to find out through Facebook, so I’ll talk to someone for months before I realize they don’t even know my name. One of the perils of using initials that I never envisioned.

Also, I didn’t realize some readers would think I was a man. I didn’t even realize that female authors used initials because of the unfortunate truth that there are readers who only want to read male authors. (Are you beginning to see how much I didn’t realize when I started out?) I just figured many of my favorite authors used initials, so I would too.

Anyway, I’m married and have three kids who I stay home with and homeschool. I’m less organized than that makes me sound, and undoubtedly less driven. My kids are 13, 10, and 8, and they’re three of the most interesting people on the planet, so it’s fun to be around them.

I’m also inspired to write partly because they love stories so much, so I write books that I’m happy for them to read, which keeps the rating of my books PG at the most. They’re not written for children, but there’s nothing in them I would worry about them reading.

Your bio mentions your educational/professional achievements. I can definitely see the parallels between rockets and dragons, and stars and magic, but I need to know...how does a rocket scientist end up writing books involving surly dwarves and ancient sorcery?
JA: Mostly by happenstance.

I never, ever, ever considered writing as a career. I know most authors have wanted to write since they were tiny, but I loved math and science and figured engineering was the way to go.

My degree is in aerospace engineering, which was really fun, but looking back I realize it was fun because in space, the rules are different. A spaceship doesn’t fly the same way a plane does. The forces on it, while they all have the same name as ones on earth (gravity, heat transfer, radiation), act very differently outside of strong gravitational fields and an atmosphere. And so engineering something to go into space is almost like obeying different laws, or bending them a bit. Or creating something to go in a fantasy world.

I have never worked in aerospace engineering. Shockingly, there isn’t a huge need for rocket scientists. But I did work in engineering until my oldest son was born, and was thoroughly bored.

My husband was out of town for an extended period years ago in the dark ages before Skype. I’m not even sure we had cell phones. We did have email, so I’d write him a new scene from a story every night. My only goal was to give him something interesting to read, and end on a cliff hanger to torture him.

Those scenes eventually (many years later) became the opening chapters of A Threat of Shadows, which is the first book in my Keeper Chronicles.

What’s a day of writing like in the shoes of JA? Do you have any quirks, routines, or rituals?
JA: I sneak out of bed early, before anyone else is awake (this is not hard in a homeschool house where no one has a set "get to the bus!" time.) I brew coffee and creep down to the basement so I can’t even hear when the rest wake up.

Then I turn on brain.fm to help me focus and try to write. Usually I’m typing a chapter based on notes from the shower the day before. I have waterproof paper because I was tired of losing all my good shower ideas down the drain. I’m not kidding. They’re called AquaNotes and they’re amazing. Best plotting tool ever.

I write until about 9, while people get up and get themselves breakfast and cause mayhem upstairs where I can’t hear them.

By that point, my writing productivity is shot. Any other bits of free time throughout the day are spent on marketing or plotting in my head or chatting with other authors on Facebook.

What comes first, the plot or the characters?
JA: The characters, always. They usually show up talking. Some of them don’t shut up.

Why SPFBO?
JA: The first time (2017) because, why not? The second time because the first was so much fun and I’d met so many great people. And this third time because it’s becoming a habit.

I love the authors and bloggers I’ve met through SPFBO. And in general the tone is so encouraging and supportive. It’s a fantastic competition. Mark Lawrence is a genius for thinking it up, and a hero for keeping it going. And the bloggers are amazing. The amount of time you guys donate to the competition is unbelievable, and we’re all so grateful.



Can you share with us something about Pursuit of Shadows that isn’t in the blurb?
JA: A lot of the book takes place as Will, the main character, travels with a semi-nomadic clan across wide grasslands.

It’s not a coincidence that I started writing it when we moved from the mountains, which I love, to the grasslands, which I’m less enamored with.

I’m pretty sure my lack of enthusiasm for grasslands came through in the book.

I even made a character named Rass, who’s a little girl who loves the grass, just to try to balance out my negativity, lol. Then Rass got a life of her own and became this amazing character. So maybe grass has some redeeming qualities.

Give us an idea of how Pursuit of Shadows came to fruition. What kind of research was involved? Did you already have an idea in mind when writing A Threat of Shadows? Did you initially intend to divert from the story and characters established in book one?
JA: I didn’t even intend to publish book 1, A Threat of Shadows, originally. It was just a fun project to screw around with. When I realized indie publishing was a thing, and was semi-viable, I figured I’d try. I decided, randomly, that it would be book 1 in a series called the Keeper Chronicles with no concrete idea of what that meant.

I then proceeded to finish up the storyline of that main character, Alaric, so neatly that I had nothing left to write about him.

When I discovered A Threat of Shadows was selling a little, I figured I had to come up with a plot for book 2. Picking Will, the Keeper missing from book 1, was the obvious choice. It took a lot of writing/editing/throwing away tens of thousands of words/rewriting/editing/rewriting before the plot became what it is now.

Do you have a favorite character you’ve written? If so, who? What about them makes them extra special?
JA: I am really fond of Sora. She’s a ranger who’s fiercely independent, a bit of an outsider, and she is thoroughly unimpressed with Will. Seeing as Will is used to having people like him, or reading them well enough to know how to change how they feel about him. Sora, though, he can’t read. Her distance and lack of emotions is terrifying to him, and it was really fun to write.

I absolutely ADORE the character illustrations peppered throughout the book. What made you decide to include these? And can we get a shoutout to the artist?
JA: I republished a second edition of my first book several years after I initially published it so I could put in all the things I had wanted added in at first, but couldn’t afford. A map, a short story, and illustrations. They were drawn by Wojtek Depczynski and I love how they came out.

Of course, since I’d done it in book 1, I needed to keep it going. Wojtek is also the artist who designed the cover for my box set. He’s amazing.

Is The Keeper Chronicles complete, or do you plan on revisiting this world in the future?
JA: The trilogy is complete (plus a standalone related short novel) but I will definitely be back to these characters. There are too many stories left unwritten about them.

I have some dwarves that are demanding more of my time, and a pair of Keepers who are twins. And a little grass elf.

Why did you choose the self-publishing route with The Keeper Chronicles?
JA: Because I never dreamed of being an author, I never had the draw to be traditionally published. The entire process, once I looked into it, was so long and so uncertain that I knew I’d never go through with it.

But as I read about people like Lindsay Buroker who were indies, and as I read their books and realized they were similar enough to my writing that there might actually be a market for stories like this, I thought I’d try. I didn’t know what I was doing when I first published A Threat of Shadows, but it chugged along in an encouraging enough manner that I just kept going.

I also thought, when starting out, that indie publishing would mean Independent. As in Alone. It has been such a thrill to find out that the indie community is this vibrant place where authors help each other generously and continuously. Some of the authors I’ve met have become really close friends, and everything that’s ever gone well with my writing career has been thanks to collaboration with other authors.

At this point, I find it doubtful that a traditional publisher would be silly enough to offer me the sort of deal that I would give up the indie route for.

Are there any particular authors or books that have captured your imagination and inspired you throughout your writing career?
JA: The first series I fell in love with was The Belgariad by David Eddings which I read in the 80’s. I had never read anything that swept me away so fully into a new world. I went on to read many more fantasy books, but the best ones always did that.

Writing can be a stressful pursuit. Do you have any tips for aspiring authors?
JA: Find other authors you can talk to. It helps so much. And reassures you you’re not crazy. Or at least that you’re the same kind of crazy as other authors.

Ok, let’s see what kind of person you truly are. (No explanations necessary!)
JA: If you knew how unopinionated I am on almost every topic, you’d laugh at asking me all this. But, here goes...
Coffee or Tea?
Coffeeeeee

Winter or Summer?
Oooh…I love snow, and I hate hot, which makes me lean toward winter. But I love the mountains in the summertime too. So mild summer, or winter. See? Opinions are hard.

Physical books or Ebooks?
I’d pick physical book always, except ebooks are so dang convenient. So…both?

Mountains or Oceans?
Mountains

Beer or Wine?
Wine. Or Beer.

Books or Movies?
Books, although I do love a good movie.

Cowboys or Aliens?
Can we go both and say Firefly? Do they count as aliens? I’m saying yes.

Pie or Cake?
What? No. Ice Cream.

Rural or Urban?
Rural, by a country mile.

Work Hard or Play Hard?
Neither? Work some, play some, sleep a bit.

Well, I had a firm opinion on 4 of those. That’s not too bad.

Thank you again for taking the time to chat with us, JA. Do you have anything coming up in the future that you’d like the world to know about?
JA: I’m currently writing a new trilogy set several hundred years earlier that tells the story of the first queen of the land, and the very first Keepers. My main character, Sable, is based loosely off of the Empress Theodora from the Byzantine empire, and so far I’m having a lot of fun writing it.


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