Today we have fantasy author R.J. Anderson with us. R.J. (Rebecca) is a preacher’s daughter, a church pianist and women’s Bible study leader, and a UK-bestselling, Nebula award-nominated author of eight fantasy and SF novels for older children and teens. She lives with her husband and three sons in Stratford, Ontario, Canada.
1) When did you realize you wanted to become a writer?
I started writing stories when I was eight years old, purely for fun and without any thought of anyone ever reading them but me. By the time I was twelve, however, I started thinking, “Hey, wouldn’t it be cool if I could write stuff that other people wanted to read?” I immediately began working on my first fantasy novel, and though it was many years before I had anything good enough to interest an editor, I never looked back.
2) Tell us a little about your books.
Nearly everything I’ve written is contemporary fantasy/SF – meaning that the stories take place in our own modern world or one very like it, rather than in some fairytale fantasy realm or high-tech future. But there are extraordinary beings or powers living secretly among us, and in discovering them, my characters also discover extraordinary truths about themselves.
My debut novel Knife, which became a UK bestseller back in 2009 and is now being reprinted in the US by Enclave, is the story of a fierce young faery hunter fighting to save her dying people and restore their lost magic. For Knife, it’s humans who are extraordinary and fascinating, and her encounter with the young Paul McCormick changes everything she’s always believed.
3) What are some of the strongest influences on your writing?
C.S. Lewis and George MacDonald were two of my earliest and biggest influences. But I also learned a lot about fantasy writing from Ursula LeGuin’s A Wizard of Earthsea, Patricia McKillip’s Riddle-Master trilogy, and Robin McKinley’s Beauty, among others.
4) How do you write? What’s a normal writing day like for you?
I write slowly, painstakingly, with lots of rewriting and thinking as I go. First drafts are the hardest and my least favorite part of the process; for me, it’s revision where all the magic happens. I set myself a word count goal for the month – usually 20-25K – and if I write 1000 words or more on any given day, I reward myself with a big shiny sticker on the calendar.
These days I usually start mid-morning and write for an hour, take a break to do chores or other non-computer tasks, write for another hour, take another break, write for a third hour and quit. If I’m behind schedule I may slip in an extra hour of writing in the evening, but ideally I try to finish by 4 pm. I also take Sundays off.
5) Who are your books aimed at? What are some of the challenges of writing for your audience?
So far all of my books have been written for the general rather than the specifically Christian market, but with Christian moral and spiritual truths firmly at the core. I want to encourage fellow believers who are looking for good stories, but I also want to represent Biblical truth in a way that will make it more understandable and appealing to readers who don’t believe. I think sermonizing and philosophizing make for very bad fiction, so I try to avoid preachiness or blatant allegory; but it’s a tricky balancing act between offering recognizably Christian content for those who are looking for it, and not confusing or needlessly alienating readers who don’t have the same spiritual background.
6) What were some of the challenges for you writing your book?
With Knife the first draft came relatively quickly, as I was in Bible school at the time and had three eager beta-readers begging me for the next chapter. I sent off the manuscript to my dream publisher, and was thrilled when an editor told me she really liked it. But she wasn’t able to persuade the rest of her editorial team to take on the book, and I didn’t know enough about revision to put their criticisms to good use. It took me nearly fifteen more years, a detailed revision letter from an editor friend, and two complete rewrites of the story – same characters, same basic setting and plot, but totally different execution – before Knife was finally published.
7) What can you tell us about any future releases you have planned?
I’m looking forward to the Enclave reprints of Rebel (Fall 2015) and Arrow (Spring 2016), books 2 and 3 in the Knife series. I also have a magical mystery called A Pocket Full of Murder coming September 2015 from Atheneum Books for Young Children, which Kirkus Reviews has kindly called “Great fun… thoroughly enjoyable,” and which I think readers of my Enclave books will also enjoy.
8) Star Wars or Star Trek?
Both, please! But especially Doctor Who.
9) Do you have a particular drink or food you consume when you write?
Gallons of hot tea, mostly. I’m particularly fond of a blend known as Canadian Blueberry Black.
10) Do you listen to music while you write? If so, what are some examples?
It depends on what kind of writing I’m doing – sometimes I can enjoy music in the background, sometimes it’s too distracting. Recently I’ve been enjoying the music of Josh Garrels, Aqualung and Owl City, all of whom are fellow Christians. But when I am really struggling to write and need something familiar and soothing, I put on “Spirit of Eden” by Talk Talk, my favorite album of all time.
Thank you, R.J., for joining us today. Knife is available for pre-order and is scheduled to release July 21st
Here is where you can find R.J. Anderson online: