Interview with JA Andrews (RUNELIGHT)
JA Andrews lives deep in the Rocky Mountains of Montana with her husband and three children. 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.
Welcome back to the Hive, JA Andrews!
Congratulations on the upcoming release of your brand new novel Runelight! Book one of a new trilogy, the Aenigma Lights: what can readers expect?
Hi! Thanks for having me back to the greatest book corner of the internet!
This trilogy, like all my books, takes place in the world of the Keepers (magic wielders/storytellers/historians). This one happens about twenty years after The Keeper Chronicles.
When Venn, a wounded, surly elf, shows up on the hidden doorstep of the Keepers’ Stronghold looking for Keeper Kate, she has nothing but the mysterious puzzle box Kate and her brother Bo have been searching for their whole lives—and news that Bo has disappeared.
Despite mutual distrust, Kate and Venn embark together on a journey to the distant lands that were once the Kalesh Empire—an empire that met a mysterious, violent end—in search of Bo and answers about the odd puzzle box that hums with magical powers.
Kate and Venn travel through dwarven realms, sneak into elven forests, cause upheaval among remote human settlements, and discover unexpected clues in ancient archeological sites as they figure out how to work together to solve an ever-growing set of mysteries and end up building a friendship for the ages.
As the search for Bo becomes increasingly dangerous, hints of a wider, more complicated plot emerges, woven through centuries of history, devastating both individual lives, and the entire vastness of an empire.
Half treasure hunt and half rescue, this is a tale of puzzles, mysteries, and the kinds of friendships that shape the soul.
Runelight is set twenty years on from your previous trilogy; what made you decide to tell Kate’s story?
Deciding which story to tell next is always difficult
The idea for this one came to me when I was reading Michael J. Sullivan’s Riyria books, and enjoying the friendship between Hadrian and Royce, as everyone who’s read those books has.
It occurred to me that I didn’t know any stories that had the same buddy cop feel, but had two women in the main roles. In fact, aside from a handful of movies and tv shows, most of which are decades old, I couldn’t think of any stories where the friendship between two women was the central relationship of the story.
Men even get a word for this. They get “bromance.”
I’ll tell you right now that there is no word for when it’s women – at least one that isn’t awful. I’ve been asking around. A lot. Wanna hear the terrible options? Of course you do.
I’ve even sorted them:
sormance (from sorority)
the super dreadful:
And the hilarious:
She-migos is my personal favorite.
Regardless, I’m stumped by the idea that there’s so little of this in stories, because in real life, women have a lot of close friendships. Friendships that shape their lives.
And so I had to try to write one.
Enter Kate, a Keeper who’s better at research than jumping into action, and Venn, a female elf who’s more than comfortable taking care of herself and anything else that gets in her way.
If I can do the friendship half as well as Sullivan did Royce and Hadrien, I’ll be very pleased.
And what challenges did you face setting this story twenty years on from your previous?
Very few! My last series I foolishly set 400 years in the past, and that gave me all sorts of trouble. It’s hard to make sure your Past World will actually work with the Current World. Setting this story in the future compared to any I’d written before made things much simpler.
Give us an insight into your characters, who else can we expect to meet? Do you have a favourite child?
Among my favorite side characters are a pair of dwarf twins, Tribal and Silas, who have a very loose idea of possession. In fact, they think if you put it down, it’s fair game. I had a ton of fun adding them into the mix.
Tell us a little something about your writing process – do you have a certain method? Do you find music helps? Give us a glimpse into your world!
Music messes with my brain. Listening to anything musical overrides all creative thought, lol. So I write either in silence, or with Brain.fm, which is a site that makes magic brain-focusing soundtracks. I have no idea how it works, but it is fantastic for helping me focus.
Speaking of worlds, what inspires your worldbuilding? Do you have a magic system/s? If so, can you tell us a bit about it?
In a past life, I got an engineering degree, so when I began to develop my magic system, I needed a nerdy system that I could wrap my brain around. So it’s based on energy, and my Keepers can tap into and manipulate that energy. Living things have energy, fires, the sun. etc.. Anywhere that Keepers can find energy, they can move it or direct it or affect it, although often in a limited way.
But like the real word, energy can’t be created or destroyed. So my characters are pretty much bound by the laws of physics, with a few exceptions made for cool stuff like mind reading.
If you were transported into your own fictional world, how do you think you would fare?
Probably okay. My world isn’t one of those with dangers around every turn. There are only a few magical people and only a few magical beasts. There are dragons occasionally, but most people just go about their lives like we do. Which is a really boring answer. 🙂 But instead of just fighting magical dangers, the storytelling I really get into is dealing with the relationships and intrinsically human situations that we can find ourselves in too. Betrayal, insecurities, the fear of being vulnerable. Things like that. So assuming I’m not trying to sneak into a dragon’s lair, I’d probably be all right.
We see such varying opinions from authors when it comes to the time of editing their books. How have you found the editing process? Enjoyable, stressful or satisfying?
I actually love the editing/revision process. When I write my first draft, it’s just skeletal. Or rather, the plot is fully developed, but often the emotional connection is missing. In revisions is where I get to flesh all that out and put in foreshadowing and build the right emotional tension and make sure the payoff at the end is the right one.
Drafting feels like chiselling out the basic form of a sculpture. All the good detail comes during revisions.
We always appreciate a beautiful book cover! How involved in the process were you? Was there a particular aesthetic you hoped the artist would portray?
I love symbol covers so I provided a lot of ideas of what I’d like it to look like, but I have almost no visual imagination. Which means I browse and find covers I like, send them all to the designer, and see what she comes up with. I’m so glad there are people who can do graphic design, because that skill is NOT in my wheelhouse.
Just for fun, how would you pitch your book as a 1-star review?
“Epic fantasy? There was not a single battle. There’s not even a sword! There’s talking and studying old maps and reading journals for clues, and friendship. NEEDS MORE BLOOD.”
Can you tell us anything about any upcoming projects? Or can you tell us a few teasers for your sequel?
Book 2 will pick up about five minutes after the end of book 1, and aside from finishing this trilogy, I have nothing planned for the next year or so.
Who are the most significant women in SFF who have shaped and influenced your work?
I grew up loving the women writers of the 80’s and 90’s. Anne McCaffrey, Margaret Weis, Mercedes Lackey, Jennifer Roberson. It honestly never occurred to me that writing fantasy was a man’s world, because there were so many strong female authors that I loved.
Today, I’m inspired by so many female indie authors merely by how they write and publish and support each other.
- Barbara Kloss and M.L. Spencer write amazing books.
- Elise Kova and Angela Ford have created strong business around their writing.
- Melissa Wright, Sarah K.L. Wilson, Constance Lopez, Rachel Rener…these women and so many more give me encouragement and feedback and inspiration on a daily basis, and I’d have probably quit long ago without their camaraderie.
Who is a great woman in SFF who we should be reading? Any hidden gems?
Not to sound like a broken record, but everyone should be reading Barbara Kloss’s Gods of Men, and M.L. Spencer’s Dragon Mage.
Sarah K.L. Wilson just published a book about paladins called Of Deeds Most Valiant, and it’s my favorite book so far this year.
Finally, what is the one thing you hope readers take away from your writing?
I write to capture the sense of wonder I first had as a kid reading fantasy worlds, and I hope my readers find that in my stories. Along with characters who struggle with the same sorts of things we struggle with.
Thank you so much for joining us for Women in SFF!
Thanks so much for having me! I love the Women in SFF features you all put out every year!