Saturday, February 22, 2014

An Interview with Author A.M. Justice

  I have been positively dying to ask author A.M. Justice interview questions ever since I read her book, Blade of Amber. Finally, one day, A.M. Justice asked me if I could possibly do an interview. I was beyond thrilled! So now, without further ado, my interview with author A.M. Justice.

The Literary Connoisseur: Hello, Ms Justice! Thank you so much for joining us over at The Literary Connoisseur and answering a few questions about your writing, your books, and your career as an author. If you're ready, let's begin. How did the story of Blade of Amber first come to you?

A.M. Justice: When I was in high school I wrote a science fiction adventure in which a group of space Nazis kidnap a teenage girl from Earth. That B-movie premise evolved into Blade of Amber. A lot of elements went into it to make it the alloy it is. First, it’s an adventure story about a girl who is very much like me; Vic carries both my strengths and my flaws. She doesn’t suffer fools but she’s easily intimidated by really charismatic people. Second, it’s scifi-fantasy premise is modeled after similar blends such as Anne McCaffrey’s Pern series, which I read and reread when Blade was gestating. I like when fantasies explain how the humans came to live in whichever strange world they occupy—whenever I read pure fantasies, I always wonder, is this supposed to be on Earth? When? Where? If not on Earth, how did the people get to this place? For my book, I wanted to give readers a backstory to explain how the people came to live on a world with giant insects and people with extraordinary powers. Third, in college I became fascinated with the vengeance culture of the ancient Norse, so I wanted to explore the idea of revenge and the damage it does. Finally, I have always loved fairy tales, and I wanted to do a take on Rapunzel, which is a favorite. All those things were smelted together and thrown on the forge to become Blade of Amber and its sequel, A Wizard’s Lot.

The Literary Connoisseur: Who would you say is the target audience for the Woern Chronicles books?

A.M. Justice:The primary target is young women who enjoy stories that challenge the norms of fantasy and romance. It’s also targeted at the outcasts, women who might have led the debate team or played for the chess club but were snickered at by the cheerleaders and prom queens. It’s a story for the young woman who sits alone while her friends are slow dancing with their boyfriends while she wishes the cutest guy in school or at work would fall for her because she’s smart and interesting and complex. It’s also a story for any woman who likes female protagonists to solve their own problems.

It turns out, I’ve gotten great feedback from women of all ages and backgrounds, and it’s always a pleasure to hear nice things. But I’ve also received good reviews from men, and that means the world to me. I worked really hard on the action sequences as well as the chapters from the male characters’ points of view, and it’s nice to know I succeeded in writing believable men as well as women.

The Literary Connoisseur: Your stories all recently came out in paperback. How exciting! How does it feel to hold your work in your hands and see your name under the title?

A.M. Justice: I’m a huge fan of digital books, so I didn’t expect to be excited when I saw the proof copies of the physical books. However, my heartbeat sped up and I was blinking back tears when I opened the package for the first time. Seeing a printed book, whether you released it yourself or it’s published by someone else, is spectacular.

The print versions of Blade of Amber and A Wizard’s Lot are not yet publicly available. I worked in publishing for many years, and I want the interior design of the physical books to look as professional as I can make it. (This was true of the digital versions as well!) I should be able to finish up the layout tweaks this week and then I’ll issue the announcement!

The Literary Connoisseur: What is your absolute favorite thing about being an author?

A.M. Justice: I love escaping into other worlds and playing with the people who live only in my head. I love how the subconscious takes over and surprises you with unexpected plot twists, or even helps you out by giving the character an apple to eat on page 10, when on page 210 the seeds from that apple will sprouted into a gorgeous tree, laden with blossoms and fragrant with new possibilities. Many times as authors we work backward and will hand our main character that necessary apple in the second or third draft, but sometimes the subconscious has run on ahead, all the way down the road, and it knows what you need.

I also love it when it gets hard and you’ve written your characters into a box canyon and you are despairing of the whole thing because it’s a nightmare and you’ll never fix it, and then your mind suddenly finds the key and you suddenly know how to turn your mistakes into assets. That’s one of the most rewarding feelings in the world.

The Literary Connoisseur: Vic is an incredibly strong and independent female character... How important do you think it is to have such a strong female lead in literature nowadays?

A.M. Justice: In December the Mary Sue published excerpts from a BBC radio interview with Neil Gaiman in which he talked about Joss Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Gaiman pointed out that Buffy wasn’t strong because she kicked butt, but because she acted independently, without waiting for rescue, or approval, from a man. Moreover, Buffy was only one of many strong women on that show (or all of Whedon’s work; I’m not sure he’s ever written a weak female character). The strong, independent woman may seem like a new phenomenon in literature, but I grew up reading books written decades or even centuries ago featuring women who held their own with men, from The Witch of Blackbird Pond (the first novel I ever read) to Island of the Blue Dolphins, to Pride and Prejudice and Middlemarch. When I was young, Little Women was a favorite; one thing I admired about it was that each March daughter exhibits her own version of strength. There’s Beth’s selfless courage, Amy’s sassiness, Meg’s forbearance, and of course Jo’s ambition to rise above the limitations society puts on her. 

To answer your question directly, I think it’s vitally important to reinforce the expectations and ambitions of young women by writing stories in which women are the heroes, not the heroines. By this I mean female characters need to be the drivers of their own stories; they need to get themselves out of jams, whether it’s hand to hand combat with the villain or saving an ailing corporation from financial doom. I have nothing against traditional heroines—one of my favorite characters in literature is Rebecca from Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe. Rebecca is a courageous woman with a strong sense of honor, but she is the quintessential damsel in distress. She sits in a tower, waiting for the hero to show up and rescue her. The resistance she offers the villain is passive and ladylike: she fends off Brian’s advances not by grabbing his sword and attacking but by threatening to kill herself by jumping out a castle window. 

Lisbeth Salander, in contrast, is a traditional hero (or antihero, in her case) as she rides around her motorcycle, exacting revenge and rescuing middle aged journalists. Hermione Granger is a hero because she’s an equal partner to Harry and she makes vital contributions in the war against Voldemort.  But Cannie Shapiro is a hero too, because she deals with the challenges in her life on her own, without waiting for a man to show up and make it all better. 

I think women become more attractive to the genuine Prince Charmings of the world, when the women can stand on their own and solve their own problems. Early in Blade of Amber, Vic has her wallflower moments, but the men in the book are drawn to her because she’s clever and courageous. In the end, Vic discovers she needs someone to help her heal from the emotional damage she’s suffered, but that need doesn’t make her weak, it makes her human.

The Literary Connoisseur: Are you currently working on any new projects?

A.M. Justice: Scion of Sovereigns, Book Three of The Woern Chronicles, is in the hands of some beta readers while I work on line editing it; I hope to release it before the end of the year. I’ve started Book Four of The Woern Chronicles, but I don’t have a clear sense of where that one is going, so I’ve put it on the back burner to simmer while I finish a historical novel I began a while back. The working title is Galileo’s Doctor, and it’s about a young woman who passes as a man in late Renaissance Italy so she can go to university and study medicine.

The Literary Connoisseur: What is your opinion on Indie publishing?

A.M. Justice: The indie route was the right choice for The Woern Chronicles, but I plan to seek a traditional publishing contract for Galileo’s Doctor. I originally followed the traditional route for Blade of Amber, but the book is long and the story unusual, which together made it a hard sell. There are a thousand tales of authors whose rejections spurred them to try harder; it didn’t work out that way for me. I had resigned myself to writing “just for me,” but then a friend convinced me the indie route was feasible. Figuring I had nothing to lose, I went for it, and I’m so glad I did. I’ve loved having total control over the production and the process. I’ve loved learning from all the mistakes I’ve made, and planning how I’ll do better next time. It’s exciting when something positive happens, and those little bread crumbs have been enough to keep me going toward the next challenge. Those are my favorite aspects of being an indie author.

However, like so many writers, I find the marketing to be a real challenge. Screaming “look at my book!” as loud as you can, you’re still one voice among hundreds of thousands. I’m still looking for the golden compass that will open the gateways to all the worlds where my potential readers live. However, everything written about traditional publishing these days suggests that the traditionally published authors aren’t getting a lot more support than I am, especially if they’re new authors. I know one person whose first novel was published by a major house and, while they did send her on a book tour to half a dozen cities, they provided no promotional support for the tour and she read excerpts to empty rooms. It would be easy to shrug off her experience as that of someone who wasn’t really worthy of fame and fortune, but her book blew my mind, it was so good (and I’m a harsh critic; the title is A Thrall’s Tale, by Judith Lindberg). In any case, Judith and her publisher never found the audience for that book, and it didn’t do well.

Nevertheless, a traditionally published book conveys status to an author. That someone gave you an advance for your work, or even just covered the cost of printing and distribution, means someone else believes in you. In the eyes of readers and especially other authors, having a traditionally published book turns a writer from a hobbyist into a professional. I was so excited to open the box full of Four Doors Open today, because those glossy covers mean someone thinks my work belonged between them. The publisher, JaCol Publishing, is a very small press, but size doesn’t matter when you have that endorsement. This is especially so because the editor of the collection is a well-regarded author himself and a powerhouse of an editor (I’ve never seen a better editor).

The Literary Connoisseur: Who is your favorite character in Blade of Amber and why? Do you favor one book over the other?

A.M. Justice: My favorite character is and has always been Geram. From the moment he stumbled into my life, juggling his gear, I’ve looked forward to working with him every time he takes center stage with a POV chapter. There’s a part of me in all my characters; Geram embodies my sensible, no-nonsense, pragmatic side, but he also has a dry and ironic sense of humor that helps him through the worst of times. He finds a way to draw strength as well as knowledge from regret, which is something I try to do. (I think he’s better at it than I am.)

Of course, the series wouldn’t exist without the principals—Vic and Ashel—and this troubled pair occupy most of my thoughts. As fond as I am of Geram, Ashel is my beloved. I love the dark anger and doubt he hides from the world with that glorious smile of his. In A Wizard’s Lot, he chooses a path he would never have imagined when he was at the pinnacle of his fame. Sending him down that road was one of the most rewarding experiences of my writing career.

As for Vic, she and I grew up together, and she’s changed as I’ve changed over the years. I originally thought her story would end with A Wizard’s Lot, and I had no intention of writing another word about Knownearth. Then, when I decided to go the indie route and was rereading the two books to get them ready for publication, I started to wonder what Vic would be doing “now.” I set Galileo’s Doctor on the backburner and started writing Scion of Sovereigns. At first it was more for fun than anything else. Set two decades after the end of Wizard, I put Vic in a domestic situation akin to mine. She is no longer a young warrior; she’s a middle-aged mother juggling work and social and family commitments, just like me. Of course, one key difference is that Vic is a wizard.

As for whether I favor one book over another, like the characters, each book has its strengths and weaknesses. From a narrative perspective, Blade is a more straightforward story, but I love the underpinnings: the forge metaphor and the topsy-turvy mashup of Rapunzel that lies below the surface. Wizard’s metaphorical content is not as pervasive as Blade’s, but the story has multiple interwoven plots carried by a half dozen POV characters. Wizard was a lot harder to write because of those intersecting narrative threads, but that made it a more satisfying book to write (and I hope a more satisfying one to read).

The Literary Connoisseur: Earnk is a very complex character...and his complexity is exactly what I adore about him. Without any spoilers, what will we see from Earnk in the future?

A.M. Justice: I love Earnk too, and through him and his relationship with his father, I got to examine and come to understand some dynamics within my own family. (I’m happy to report that Lornk is not based on anyone I know. His sociopathic behavior comes entirely from my imagination.) What does the future hold for Earnk? He will continue to struggle to find the balance between duty and desire, and that’s all I can say without entering into spoiler territory.

The Literary Connoisseur: Tell us a bit about your latest piece of work, Four Doors Open.

A.M. Justice: Four Doors Open is a collection of personal essays written by four women author. You could think of it as the four of us opening the doors on our lives and minds and letting readers have a peek inside. Two of us took an autobiographical approach, and two took a more poetic and emotional approach, but all of us have insights into love and hate, sorrow and joy, family, friends, enemies, and everything in between. In my pieces, I talk a lot about regret and trying to overcome one’s mistakes and do better the next time. I finish with a piece about my wedding, which took place in New York the Saturday after the 9/11 attacks, and about how no matter what goes wrong in your own life, there are always bigger things in the world.

The Literary Connoisseur: Thank you so much for stopping by and doing this interview for your fans! Have a lovely day, and please continue writing! 

A.M. Justice's books 
(which I've rated five-stars):



For more on A.M. Justice and her writing-

check out her website here!

her Facebook page here!

her Amazon page here!

and Goodreads page here!

1 comment:

  1. Great interview. Interesting to hear about A.M. Justice's creative process and the books that influenced her. The first two books of the Woern Chronicles are a fantastic read--I'm on my second reading of them now, which says a lot. I reserve second readings for only a few favorites that can be counted on one hand.