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Thursday, January 20, 2011

Interview with K.A. Stewart (Interview by Mihir Wanchoo)

Visit K.A. Stewart's Blog Here

K.A. Stewart is the author of the novel A Devil in the Details: A Jesse James Dawson Novel. Mihir Wanchoo was able to conduct an email interview with this debut author.

A big thank you goes out to K.A. Stwart for taking the time to stop by Fantasy Book Critic.


Thank you for taking the time to interview with us, you made your fiction debut with "A Devil in the Details: A Jesse James Dawson" this year and will be following it up with two more titles in the same series. Before we talk about the books though, can you tell us a bit more about yourself including why you chose to be a wordsmith & what do you do currently besides writing.

I like to think that writing chose me. I have been writing as long as I can remember, and I don't think I could stop if I tried. If I'd never been published, I'd still be writing, and one day they'd have found these boxes and boxes of unpublished stuff in my attic or something.

Aside from writing, I'm a fanatic reader (I don't know any writer who isn't). I also play video games, mostly World of Warcraft. (For the Horde!) Most of my other free time is spent with my daughter, hauling her to various karate functions that she participates in.

What was the precise spark of inspiration which lead to the creation of Jesse & the J.J. Dawson series?

I lay this solely at my husband's feet, and I can tell you the exact moment that the whole thing was born. On May 20th, 2007 (our wedding anniversary), we were having a rare lunch sans kiddo, and my husband was lamenting the fact that so much urban fantasy was straying into the paranormal romance area with the kick-ass heroines and the romance sub-plots, which really didn't interest him.

So I asked him, "What kind of hero would you like to see?" And we spent the next two hours hashing out Jesse and his world, the mechanics, the characters, everything. It was probably the best two hours of my writing life. About two months after that, I'd finished the first draft and it all kinda went from there.

Who are your literary idols and while growing up what books did you read which made you such an avid reader?

Idols…wow… Well, I always say that I want to be Jim Butcher when I grow up. I'm envious of his ability to walk easily through both the urban fantasy and fantasy genres, which is what I've always wanted to do. I think I could also put Anne Bishop in there, and Stacia Kane, for their exquisite world-building abilities. (Stacia's gonna be so embarrassed when she finds out I said that)

Growing up, I know that my love of fantasy started when I read The Hobbit when I was in the first grade. That pretty much set my feet on the road of all things unreal. The other thing that really influenced me as a child was a comic book, of all things. ElfQuest was and still is one of the things that really shaped how I looked at fiction. The world building was always amazing, the characters, even the supporting ones, were always so well fleshed out. For a very lonely child, to have these fictional characters as my "friends" made me want to be able to deliver the same experience for other people.

Your book has small nuggets of information in regards to Samurai culture, swords & other minutiae, which are authentic and make for fascinating reading. How do you go about your research & what makes you decide what to keep and what to not.

For the JJD series, with the bushido and swords in particular, all of the research materials were things we already had. My husband is the bushido expert in the family, and I really just raided his collection of texts to find the information that I needed. Any time I wasn't sure what Jesse's reaction to a certain situation should be, I'd reference those books, trying to find any advice on the subject. (And trust me; the samurai had advice for EVERYthing.)

As for the swords I describe, those are all actual blades that we own, made by a couple of local guys. I went to them to ask the particulars about how the swords are made, what stresses they can take, things like that.

Mostly, research on any new subject is a combination of what I can find in books (currently researching alchemy for a future project), the internet, and people I happen to know. My best friend is a doctor, she double checks all my medical stuff. My webmaster vets my computer stuff. The internet, while not always reliable, can usually point you in the right direction.

And deciding what to keep, that's a rough one. Sometimes, I have to rely on my editor to let me know when I've slipped from "neat addition to the story" into "lecture on Japanese culture" mode. It happens. Ultimately, I have to remind myself that folks aren't reading the JJD series to become well-versed in bushido and samurai culture. They're reading it to watch Jesse kick some demon butt.

Could you elaborate on the journey you underwent from first when the idea for the book germinated to ultimately finding a publisher for it, what were your initial thoughts when Roc signed you for writing it and what do you think the publisher saw in your book proposal?

Well, my journey started in May of '07, like I said. I think I really finished the first draft of Devil (then called Third Strike) around October of that year, and then I revised it multiple times until February of '08. That's when I started sending out queries. I actually got really good responses to my query, had a lot of requests for fulls and partials. In…late August of '08, I sent a query to Chris Lotts of the Ralph Vicinanza Agency, and within a week he'd asked for a full. We emailed back and forth several times after that, and by September 5th, I'd signed with him.

Chris had some great revision ideas for the book, and I did another two passes of edits for him. At the end of February of '09, we went out on submission, and on March 16th I got the call that we'd sold to Roc.

At that point, part of me was still afraid this was some elaborate practical joke. I am still amazed that people are interested in reading my "little story". I told my husband that I'd been prepared for rejection and the long hard road… I had no idea what to do with success.

I think what caught my editor's eye was precisely the thing that my husband was asking for when he told me all about the kind of hero he wanted to see. First off, it's a male protagonist, doing guy stuff, and kicking butt. Second, Jesse is unique in that he is happily married, a father, and he's trying to make his domestic life as normal as possible, all the while doing these extraordinary things. I think that's what makes these books stand out in the boom genre of urban fantasy.

When you first began writing "A Devil in the Details" did you plan it to be the first book in the series or was it a standalone in which you saw further possibilities?

Devil was always supposed to be the first in a series, in my mind. From that first brainstorming session with my husband, we had an entire series arc laid out. There are events that need to happen to Jesse, changes he needs to go through, and it's going to take multiple books for that to play out.

Speaking of this series, you are contracted for 3 books. How many volumes do you think will be required for Jesse's saga? how far along are you in the next book, and is there anything you can tell us about book two and/or three?

The second book is currently with my editor (currently titled A SHOT IN THE DARK), and I'm waiting on my edit notes for that. Book 3, still untitled, exists in outline form at the moment, and I'm still tweaking that.

Theoretically, I could finish the series in six books. The first four books will stand as I have them in my head. The last two books will always be the last two books. However, between four and what is currently five, I think I have some wiggle room to add more stories, if they're willing to let me.

And things to tell you… Well, I can tell you that in book 2, we'll see zombies and paintball. And in book 3, we'll get "Jesse goes to Hollywood".

What was the reason/s for you choosing Kansas City as the primary setting for the books?

Two reasons, actually. One, I live in Kansas City, so describing a city I know well is simply easier. Two, it's an obscure homage to Jim Butcher, who wanted to set the Dresden Files in KC, but wasn't allowed to.

What do you do when you aren't writing, what hobbies and proclivities engage you & could you enumerate them?

Well, like I said, I play video games, namely World of Warcraft. I'm part of a heavy RP (role-playing) guild there, and I do a lot of writing for them, just as a fun way for me to relax from my "professional" writing.

I read a lot. Mostly urban fantasy and fantasy, but occasionally I stray out of my comfort genres, usually because a friend has recommended something.

I have a weird obsession with obscure musical instruments, so you'll often hear me playing a fife, or a dulcimer around the house. My most recent acquisition was an Irish tin whistle, and I can't wait to start working on learning that.

I also attend our local Ren Fest pretty religiously when it's in season. I have a thing for costumes, I admit. (man, I am such a girl!) Once upon a time, I was a very good archer, a recurve bow being my weapon of choice. I also practice with thrown weapons (knives and hatchets) but I'm very out of practice.

And sometimes, I just decide to learn a new foreign language, for giggles. I speak Spanish, Swedish, some Gaelic and a smattering of other things.

I'm kind of a dork, when you lay it all out like this.

You by your admission are a huge Jim Butcher fan, could you tell us more about your fascination with his writing & the effect he's had on yours as well, also how was it to meet him?

A big part of my fascination with Jim's writing is how fleshed out he makes his characters, even the ones who are theoretically not that important. He's nearly killed a couple supporting characters in recent books, and one of them almost had me in tears.

And what I love is that he makes the transition from urban fantasy and a first-person writing style, to a fantasy with a third-person writing style, so easily. This is everything I ever wanted to do. I have a zillion worlds in my head, a zillion characters, and I want to be able to get them all on paper someday.

Meeting him… First off, Jim is a great guy. He's funny, he's smart, and he truly takes the time to pay attention to every single rabid fan that he can. That said, I'm pretty sure he just knows me as "that girl who keeps showing up with the "I stalk Jim Butcher" button" at his signings. But really, he's also showed me the kind of author I want to be, as he relates to his fans. He's approachable, he's always smiling, he never gets impatient. He answers the same questions every single signing with the same smile, even though he's heard it eleventy-billion times, and everybody comes away feeling like he's kinda their friend. That's the kind of person I want to be.

While you have been contracted for a trilogy, I feel there is much potential for further installments in this series. Do you have any ideas you'd like to explore if the publisher becomes interested in more titles? If so, could you discuss them?

In my head, at least, the first four books are set. The ending of book four, however, is going to largely depend on how many books they want to see me write in the series. I can't say much about that one without giving away too much of Book 3, but I can say that things will get much worse for Jesse before they get better, both in his real life, and his demon-hunting life. There's only so much stress people can take before they break.

This is a general phenomenon I have noted in Urban Fantasy, that mostly female authors write about Female protagonists,, there are a few Male protagonists however they are still in the minority, what made you decide to go along this route?

Precisely for that reason. My husband was lamenting the lack of male protagonists, and so I wrote one for him. And that's not to say that there aren't any male protagonists out there. The Dresden Files series being the one most people mention. Rob Thurman's Cal Leandros series, Simon R Green's Nightside series, Anton Strout's Simon Canderous series… All great series with males in the lead. Harry Connolly's Twenty Palaces series… Mario Acevedo's Felix Gomez series… I could go on. But I thought there was room for one more, and Jesse seems to be fitting in well with the rest of the guys.

On your blog you mention a couple of other books [Muse, Avarice] which you seem to be writing currently as well, could you tell us about them & if they are close to publication as well??

Ah, Avarice… My poor little abandoned pirate princess epic fantasy. Right now, this one is trunked. Someday, I want to go back to it, and fix the fatal flaws. I think what it boiled down to was that I simply wasn't a good enough writer to do what I wanted to, with that one. Maybe in a few years, I'll be good enough to try again.

Muse, on the other hand… Oh, this one I'm excited about. Steampunk, Greek gods, a city of eternal night… It's awesome. Right now, this one's on hold because my agent has read through it and given me some REALLY great revision ideas for it. It's going to involve a pretty massive rewrite, but when it's done, it's just…there are no words for the awesomeness. (I can say that about my own stuff, right?) Since my winter/spring will be spent writing Book 3, I think the Muse rewrite will probably be next summer/fall's project.

You had a very nice and detailed take on writing a series of books & the what and what-not to do in it, how much of that have you utilized in writing your own series & which series currently/past(in your opinion) best encapsulates what you have posted?

Well, I try to utilize it all in my own series, of course. Especially when I start dreaming up new ones. (I've got two on a back burner that I'd like to get to, someday.) I try very hard to think the entire series out ahead of time, or at least the first three books. If I can't make a coherent plot out of that much, then I start to think maybe it would be better as a one-shot stand-alone. (The alchemy project I'm currently researching will be like that.) I don't think anything's worse than trying to stretch something out that just shouldn't be.

There are a lot of great series out there (Dresden Files, Mercy Thompson, Codex Alera, Downside Ghosts, just to name a few) that I think encompass what I'm talking about. In fact, it would almost be easier to point out the series that I think fail at it, then to detail all the ones that get it right. (I won't, by the way. That's just mean, and would really just be my own opinion) But all of those series take some of the things I talked about and put them to good use, despite the fact that they're all very different.

What I'd really like people to take away from that blog series that I wrote is that there is no right way to do it, but there is a way to do your own personal series to the best of your ability.

You have this very concise essay about having a normal "everyman" as the hero of you book, you have written a very compelling character as well so what basically propels you to do such horrid things to him ;) and in the end what do you think makes Jesse J. Dawson do the things which most of us wouldn't?

Well, I do what I do to Jesse because at heart, all writers are sadists. True story! I think part of it is that we wonder what we would do in those amazingly bizarre situations, and so it's easier (and safer) to throw that at a fictional character than to run out and be super-heroes ourselves.

One of my beta readers wrote an essay a few years ago about Jesse Dawson, the Five-Minute Man, that I think addresses some of this phenomenon very well.

I think Jesse does what he does for the same reason that firefighters run toward a fire, and police officers run toward the man with the guy. Because someone has to!

What other ideas/books would you like to write about in the future & lastly any other comment you would like to leave us with?

Well, we've already talked about Muse. Avarice will come about someday, in some incarnation or other.

I've got the first draft of a fantasy western sitting on my hard drive right now. It's got a plot hole the size of the Grand Canyon in it, but if I can fix that, it'll be a great start to a new series. And hey, there's a jackalope! How can you go wrong with a jackalope?

I also have another urban fantasy series sitting there, where the main character is a supernatural firefighter. I'm really excited about that one and the world I've built there. It's got a lot more magic and supernatural stuff than the JJD series. Hopefully, I can polish it up and send it to the agent soon.

For Nanowrimo this year, I'll be working on a one-shot that I'm tentatively titling "The Pugilist and the Alchemist". Not quite sure if it'll develop into something that I'll actually try to get published someday, but I have hopes.

Strangely, I do Nanowrimo in order to relax. It's my month away from my "real" writing, but when December starts, I'll be diving into Book 3.


Jan O'Hara (Tartitude) said...

I loved the book, love Jesse, but I especially love Ms. Stewart's confidence in this interview. Can't wait to read SHOT IN THE DARK!

Other Lisa said...

Really great interview--I especially enjoyed the account of how the character of Jesse came about!

Bastard said...

Nice interview, wasn't aware of two planned releases this year, so looking forward to them. Really enjoyed the first one.


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