Tuesday, March 6, 2012

VBTC Pit Stop - J.A. Beard is Chatting about The Emerald City

Today we have not only a great person, but a great author too. J.A. Beard is the author of a Young Adult Fantasy, The Emerald City. Welcome J.A., we're so happy to have you!

BK: Please tell us a little about yourself...

I'm happily married with two children. I'm a bit of a restless soul, so I've lived several places and tried my hand at difference careers including computer programming and a stint in the USAF. Currently, though, I'm in a PhD program for microbiology. So, when I'm not writing or with my family, I'm in a lab. 

BK: Please tell us a little about your book...

Here’s my little blurb:
When her parents die, teenager Gail Dorjee retreats into an angry, sarcastic shell. She hopes it will ease her pain, but all it gets her is a one-way trip from Kansas to a Seattle boarding school, the elite Osland Academy.

As soon as she arrives, Gail clashes with Diana, the leader of the school's most powerful clique. The Winged make Gail's life hell until she find allies: her airhead roommate; a cowardly fellow victim of the Winged; and, bit by bit, Diana's boyfriend--the seemingly heartless Nick.

Gail soon has bigger problems than Diana. One of her teachers hates her. Glasses shatter and fountains erupt around her. She can't swear no matter how hard she tries. An unseen force is keeping her on campus. And worst of all, she uncovers a plot that will give one person a precious gift at the cost of thousands of lives. Now Gail and her friends must stop the plot--not just to save lives, but to win a brain, the nerve, a heart and a home in this modern urban fantasy take on The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

BK: What inspired you to pen this particular novel?

I like musicals. A couple years back, the Broadway touring production of Wicked rolled into town. Now, for those unfamiliar with it, it's an adaptation of a book by Gregory Maguire. His story is a revisionist retelling of The Wizard of Oz from the point of view of the Wicked Witch of the West. Although it adds some details and changes character perceptions, it's still firmly set in L. Frank Baum's Oz.

After watching Wicked, I became inspired. I wanted to write some sort of Oz story, but writing something directly set in Oz didn't really appeal to me. I'd been on a reading streak of YA paranormal/urban fantasies at the time, so the idea of adapting Oz to a more modern YA setting seemed like a good plan. After all, Dorothy wasn’t an adult when she traveled to Oz.

I'm originally from the Pacific Northwest, so I immediately thought of setting the story in Seattle, as it has had the nickname "The Emerald City" for a while now.

Given that my immediate inspiration for this story was a musical, some of that also made it into my story. Obviously, I don't have a sound track or anything, but a character with a beautiful singing voice plays a key role in the plot.

BK: When did you first consider yourself a writer?

The first time I completed a novella years ago. That’s what started the writing “addiction” I now have. Whether or not I consider myself a “good” writer is still an open question. I certainly am nowhere near the level of the writers I admire. Writing is like any other skill in that it takes continual practice and refinement. With the release of my novel though, I now feel that my skill level is at the point where I can produce something others might be interested in reading.

BK: How do you keep your story flowing?

I’m a big believer in getting ink on the page (or pixels on the screen) and refining later. To this end, I don’t edit myself on my first draft. This means I produce a lot of garbage, but it also ensures I keep writing. Whether or not this creates more editing work in the long-run, I can’t say.

BK: Do you ever run into writer's block, and if so, what do you do to get past it?

I’ve never had writer’s block. If anything, my problem is the opposite. I have too many ideas at times, and it takes me some effort to focus on one project.

BK: What is your writing process like? Do you have any quirks, or must-haves to write?

Like I said, I force myself to write to completion and then I edit, edit, edit, and edit some more. Sometimes this results in some rather major changes. The Emerald City was originally told in third-person. I rewrote the entire thing in first person with many added scenes, emphasis changes, et cetera.

I have no special must-haves. Really, the only thing I typically want is just for the television or radio to be off. I don’t mind my kids puttering about near me though and don’t require total quiet.

Perhaps my only real quirk is that I don’t like writing anything but discrete chapter blocks. Doing otherwise messes up my flow. So, that means, typically, I do need a dedicated block of hours and can’t just dash off a few hundred words here and as the muse strikes me or whatever.

BK: Where do you hope your books/writing will be in the future?

Well, everyone can always stand to improve. I like to think I’m pretty decent at spinning a tale, and I’ve been working on my writing for years, but that doesn’t mean think I’ve mastered the skill. Mainly, though, I hope to get out several books that readers enjoy. I mostly write because I enjoy telling stories. I have no great desire to be analyzed in a century as part of the great literary canon or whatever. I just want people to pick up my stories and enjoy themselves.

BK: What do you hope readers will take away from your books?

First and foremost, I’d hope they enjoy the read. Sure, my stories tend to include some interesting themes (The Emerald City explores grief and social connections for example), but I’m writing fiction primarily to entertain.

I also hope that they find my characters interesting and well-developed. Some are likable; some are not, but I hope they are all interesting.

BK: What is one piece of advice you received that you carry with you in your writing?

Write what you’d want to read.

BK: What is one piece of advice you would give to new and aspiring writers?

Write what you’d want to read. Authors are bombarded on all sides with all these messages about macro-publishing trends and popular genres. When you write a novel, you’re committing a huge amount of time to a project. In the end, you can’t control publishing trends or the vague winds of fortune that may make one book breakout to massive success versus another. All you can control is your story.

If you don’t like what you’re producing, your contempt or boredom will come through in the manuscript to the readers, and you’ll spend months and years causing yourself pain for no good reason.

BK: Are you currently working on any new projects? What can we expect from you in the future?

With the aid of my editor, I'm finishing up edits on two other projects scheduled for release in the next few months, A Woman of Proper Accomplishments and Mind Crafter.

A Woman of Proper Accomplishments is a slightly alt-history (sorry Americans, we lost the Revolution in this timeline) sweet Regency paranormal romance.

Mind Crafter is a fantasy story focused around a young telepath drawn into a dangerous conspiracy involving a religious cult.

Though I'm working on the sequels to the above, I'm also working on a historical thriller planned for release in the fall. This story will be set in Heian era of Japanese history.

I'm "cheating" a bit in that I have several novels I'm releasing this year, but most of those manuscripts were completed previously and just in need of some editing.

Most of next year will probably be taken up with sequels to the above works, but I also am sketching out some rough ideas for a cozy mystery series as well.

BK: Where can readers find you?

I’m all over the net:
First, there is my blog at www.jabeard.com or riftwatcher.blogspot.com

J.A. Beard is a restless soul married to an equally restless soul. His two children are too young yet to discuss whether or not they are restless souls. When he hasn’t been writing, studying history, or making excuses for not writing, he’s tried his hand at several careers including intelligence analysis, programming, and research science. Though he likes to declare himself the Pie Master, he’s yet to prove his worth in the brutal baking show-downs of Celebration, Florida.

In this loose re-imagining of the Wizard of Oz, Kansas teen Gail Dorjee has tried to escape from the pain of her parents' death by retreating into a hard shell of anger and sarcasm. 

When her aunt and uncle ship her off to an elite Seattle boarding school, Osland Academy, she spends her first day making enemies, including the school's most powerful clique, the Winged, and their leader, the ruthless Diana.

Social war and the school's uptight teachers are only mild annoyances. Mysterious phone outages, bizarre behavioral blocks, and strange incidents suggest Osland is focused on something much more sinister than education.

Now Gail has to survive at Osland with a pretty pathetic assortment of potential allies: her airhead roommate, a cowardly victim of the Winged, and Diana's cold but handsome boyfriend, Nick.

Follow J.A.'s Tour HERE.

Thank you so much for taking time to chat with me today. It's been a pleasure having you and I wish you much success in the future.


J.A. Beard said...

Thanks for having me.

Jennifer said...

Love the interview...super interesting and can't wait to get a chance to read your book!!

J.A. Beard said...

Thanks, Jennifer.