WBBT Interview: Opening up New Worlds with R.J. Anderson

R.J. AndersonWhen I first read FAERY REBELS: SPELL HUNTER by Canadian writer R.J. Anderson, I was expecting the typical faery story. Instead, I found a whole new world to explore. What a joy!

R.J. Anderson, known to her friends and family as Rebecca, wrote a wonderful, imaginative series which will engage MG readers. Rebecca takes age-old  myths of powerful faeries and makes them work to find their strengths, while the weak are capable of far more than we ever would give them credit for in real life. Doesn’t this sound like a story you’d like to read?

Oddly enough, we need to wait for Rebecca’s faery books. R.J. Anderson is a bestselling fantasy author in the UK. Rebecca’s debut book, KNIFE ( aka FAERY REBELS: SPELL HUNTER in the US), was a nominee for the 2010 Carnegie Medal of Literature. It hardly seems fair we need to wait for these books to make their way to the United States. Currently, FAERY REBELS: SPELL HUNTER (Book 1) and WAYFARER (Book 2) are available in the US. Book 3, ARROW, will be released in the UK  January 2011, with no set US release date. Sigh.

Lest you think all Rebecca writes is about faeries, just wait. ULTRAVIOLET, her YA paranormal thriller, will be out next year (Orchard Books UK, Carolrhoda Lab US, Summer/Fall of 2011). This is a far cry from the faery world…

Curious about the author behind these worlds? Please welcome R.J. Anderson…

HWM: When did you realize you wanted to write children’s (MG/YA)books?
R.J. Anderson: I was reading adult books by the time I was twelve, and found a lot to enjoy in those “grown-up” SF, fantasy, historical and mystery novels. But even so it seemed like the books I kept coming back to again and again were those I’d discovered in my childhood and early teens. So when a smart editor friend suggested that I stop trying to sell my debut novel as an adult fantasy and start pitching it to children’s editors instead, it didn’t take me long to realize that she was right. Once I looked at what was happening in the MG and YA genres post-Harry Potter, I discovered a huge range of creative possibilities there — a lot more so in some respects than the adult fantasy & SF market. And I realized that writing for young, passionate readers like my own childhood self was the greatest joy and privilege I could wish for.

HWM: How long did it take before you signed with your agent and how did you know he/she was the right one?
R.J. Anderson: I completed my first novel-length manuscript in 1989, and my second (which became my debut) in 1993. During that time and in the years that followed I sent out feelers to one or two agents, but was really trying to get the attention of an editor first. Fortunately one of those editors (the smart editor friend I mentioned above) was kind enough to refer me to an agent she knew, and that agent — who liked my book but didn’t love it enough to represent — referred me to another agent, Josh Adams of Adams Literary, who loved my book and contacted me promptly to offer representation. I had a few fulls out with other agents at the time, but once I’d looked into Adams Literary’s reputation and talked to Josh on the phone, I felt confident and at peace that he was an agent who not only loved my writing but would be a good fit for my personality and career path. And I was absolutely right about that — three years later, I still couldn’t ask for a better agent than Josh.

HWM: Do you write full-time or do you have a real world job?
R.J. Anderson: As a fantasy author, I avoid the real world as much as possible! No, seriously, I’m a mother of three young boys, which keeps me pretty busy in itself — but when they’re at school or otherwise occupied, I write.

HWM: When do you know you have the right endings for your books?
R.J. Anderson: Endings have never really been a problem for me. Usually when I start a book I have a fairly clear idea of where I want my characters to end up, it’s just a case of figuring out how to get them there. So it’s middles that I find more of a challenge.



HWM: Which character is most like you?
R.J. Anderson: I think Knife in SPELL HUNTER (aka KNIFE in UK) is in some ways an exaggerated version of what I as a teenager imagined myself to be — independent and determined and not particularly interested in the things that interested other girls my age. I was never athletic, though, and certainly not a fighter! But now that I’m older, I think that Rhosmari, the heroine of my forthcoming novel, ARROW (UK), is the one with whom I identify the most — although she and I are very different in a lot of ways, too.

HWM: Who was the toughest character to write about?
R.J. Anderson: It took me a long time to get a handle on Linden (the heroine of WAYFARER–aka REBEL in UK) because she’s a personality type that is very different from my own — emotional and spontaneous and physically demonstrative. I wanted her to be different from Knife, in many ways sweeter and more childlike, but I didn’t want her to be a lightweight either, because she had some pretty serious challenges to face and overcome. Now that the book’s out, I find that some readers find Linden sympathetic and likeable, while others compare her to Knife and find her lacking. I suppose that’s the danger of switching protagonists mid-series, but obviously I haven’t been too daunted as I’m about to do it again!

HWM: Do you outline or free form?
R.J. Anderson: I’ve worked both ways, but I do find that I can’t outline too thoroughly or follow the outline too closely or I get bored and frustrated. Also, I write slowly and revise as I go, which enables me to think carefully about the narrative decisions I make and how those affect what’s come before and what will follow after. So I’d say I’m a “pantser”, but a cautious one.

HWM: What is your writing process or ritual?
R.J. Anderson: I’ve tried all manner of different methods and techniques, some of which worked for me in the past but don’t work now, and some of which never really worked. Every book seems to demand its own approach and discipline. But I do generally try to write a certain number of hours each day when I’m on a deadline, and sometimes that involves reaching a particular word count and sometimes it doesn’t, but I always have a monthly word target in mind that I’m trying to meet and that usually keeps me on track. I budget in a little extra time for sick days and unexpected mishaps, but I also know that if I slack off one day then I’m going to have to make up that work somehow.

I used to write in silence, or as near to it as I could get — but more recently I’ve discovered that putting on my headphones and playing familiar music helps to distract my ruthless Inner Critic and enable me to get more words down. Other than that and a nice cup of tea, I don’t really have any other rituals.



HWM: What project(s) are you working on now?
R.J. Anderson: I’m getting ready to start my editorial revisions on two different books — ARROW, the third in my MG faery series, and ULTRAVIOLET, a paranormal YA thriller. Both will be published in 2011.

HWM: My sister is in a wheelchair. I was beyond thrilled that you created such a strong character in Paul, no matter his disability, AND you showed he was lovable. Was this a hard sell to a publisher? What was the general response from your readers?
R.J. Anderson: Thank you so much! That means a great deal to me. One of my chief motivations in creating Paul was that I was so frustrated by seeing characters with disabilities who were treated as pitiable or sickly or (at best) the brainy sidekick to the hero, as though it wasn’t possible for such a person to be physically dynamic and/or romantically attractive. I wondered if anyone would object to Paul’s being in a wheelchair, but I’m happy to say that nobody in the publishing industry blinked twice about it, and most readers have been very positive about it as well. I’ve had a couple of people say that they think SPELL HUNTER (aka KNIFE in UK) should have ended differently for Paul (trying to avoid spoilers here!) but I’ve had far more people say that they were relieved that I didn’t go the obvious route.



HWM: Do you think it makes a difference whether your books have different titles in the US and UK?
R.J. Anderson: It’s hard to say. I do think it causes confusion when the book gets a great review on a UK blog under one title and then US readers go looking for it and can’t find it, or vice versa. So I’ve always tried to make sure that in interviews and on my website, I mention both titles together. But I understand that different international titles are very common, and that each market has to appeal to its own readership.

HWM: What has been the biggest surprise of your writing career?
R.J. Anderson: KNIFE (known here as FAERY REBELS: SPELL HUNTER) was published in the UK and Ireland, a Twitter acquaintance sent me a picture of a window display in a chain bookstore in Dublin, featuring that week’s top five children’s bestsellers. #1 and #2 were TWILIGHT books. #4 was a HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL tie-in. #3… was KNIFE. I thought it must be some kind of fluke or elaborate prank, but when the sequel REBEL came out a year later, it was actually embargoed in Ireland until the release date. Embargoed! You’d think I was J.K. Rowling or something! So by then I had to believe that my books really were bestsellers on the other side of the pond… but even now it seems so surreal. Because I don’t get to see any of that here in Canada.

HWM: Are there any other genres you’d like to try writing?
R.J. Anderson: I’ve had an idea for a historical — actually a twist on the Robin Hood legend — knocking around in my brain for some years now, and also a contemporary mystery. But right now I’m pretty content with fantasy and SF. We’ll see!

HWM: What was the best writing advice anyone ever gave you?
R.J. Anderson: It came from Patricia C. Wrede, who when asked about the “proper” way to write a book likes to quote Kipling: “There are nine and sixty ways of constructing tribal lays, / And every single one of them is right!” Unfortunately I had to learn the hard way how true that is, by trying a lot of “foolproof” writing methods that didn’t work for me, nearly killed the book I was working on, and ended up making me very unhappy. It wasn’t until I learned to relax and trust my own natural process that I rediscovered the joy of writing again and was able to finish that particular book.



Other Places to Find R.J. Anderson:

Go here for highlights and shiny links for more Winter Blog Blast Tour interviews. Enjoy!

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