RJ Anderson is a Canadian author of one of my favourite books of 2009 – Knife, a story about a fairy who has a lot of attitude. Highly recommend it.
- First of all, what drew you to writing? Is it something you’ve always done?
As a child I read voraciously — books were my main source of entertainment and writers like C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien were my celebrities. After consuming the Narnia books and The Hobbit and all the fairy tales, folklore and mythology I could get my hands on, it seemed only natural to try writing some stories of my own. At eight I wrote and illustrated stories purely for my own pleasure, never even thinking of sharing them with anyone else; but when I turned twelve I decided it was time to try and write a publishable fantasy novel. I didn’t actually complete my first manuscript until I was nineteen (and it was terrible), but I wrote a lot of fan fiction and other stories during my teens that were good writing practice for me.
I think I just have a crazy writer brain, really. Ideas for me were like an itch I had to scratch, and it never occurred to me NOT to write.
- I love the premise of Knife, written from a fairy’s perspective, how did you come up with this story?
I fell in love with the Flower Fairies books when I was very young, but as I got older I got hooked on superhero comics like The X-Men instead. Somehow those two different things got tangled up in my brain, because one day when I was sixteen I drew a savage-looking faery in spandex throwing a dagger and labelled the picture “Knife”. Almost immediately I knew there had to be a story about this character. How did a faery get so tough and dangerous? Who would her enemies be? Gradually the ideas began to accumulate in my brain until I was ready to write Knife’s story.
- Can you tell me a little of how you write, do you whiz through the first draft and then edit, edit, edit, or are you one of the careful ones who edits as they go?
I definitely don’t whiz through the first draft! By the time I’m ready to write I know who the main characters are, and I usually have some idea of how the story begins, how it’s going to end and the major events that have to take place in between. But getting there is a very laborious process for me. I polish every sentence and every paragraph as I write, because I can’t enjoy writing otherwise — I have to feel pleased with what I’ve got on the page before I’m ready to move on. But sometimes it takes me days to get through a single scene, and weeks to finish a chapter, because I’m trying to figure out what’s wrong with it and how to make it right. On the plus side, that means that by the time I get to the end of the book there’s usually not much revision left to do… at least not until my beta-readers or my editor get hold of it!
- What advice would you give to teens who are struggling with writing?
If you don’t enjoy it, don’t do it. But if you’re a real writer, you’ll go on writing even when it’s hard, because you’re just that crazy! I’d also recommend that you seek out the advice and critiques of other writers and smart readers who can help you figure out how to improve your writing. Learning to take criticism well and use it to improve your writing is absolutely crucial for any would-be published author.
- A few other authors have stated they act out scenes as they write to get the actions they’re looking for, have you tried this yourself? I envision strapping on fairy wings and fighting with big stuffed crows might not work, but perhaps other scenes would.
If anybody ever finds a big stuffed crow, let me know because I would totally love one! But no, I don’t act out my scenes. I see them in my mind’s eye and play them out in my imagination as I’m writing, instead.
- Knife is your first novel, and I love love love the cover, did it take long to get published? How did you go from struggling writer to published author?
I got the idea at sixteen, wrote the book at twenty-three, spent the next five years submitting it to various publishers and revising it off and on, and finally gave up in discouragement when a contract didn’t come my way. It wasn’t until an editor friend expressed interest in seeing the novel, and then gave me some specific and detailed feedback about what the story needed to make it work, that I really got serious about trying to get it published again. All told, it was more than fifteen years before Knife finally found a publisher — but I did a lot of other writing during that time, and learned a lot about storytelling in the process, so I don’t feel the time was wasted.
- Now the follow up to Knife, Rebel, is out at the end of the year, can’t wait for it, can you give us a little hint of what is coming in the story?
Rebel takes place some years after the events of Knife, and the heroine is a fifteen-year-old faery named Linden whom some may remember from the first book. She sets out to complete the work Knife started, which is to save the Oakenfolk from extinction and help them get back their magic. But in order to do that, she has to venture into the modern human world, and meet some very scary and dangerous people along the way.
It’s a very different story from Knife — in some ways much bigger in scope — and introduces us to a whole new side of faery life which is quite different from anything we’ve seen before. It can also be read on its own, even if you haven’t read Knife. But the major characters from the first book are back as well, and they definitely play an active and significant role in the story, so I hope it will please my existing fans as well!
Thanks Rebecca for answering my questions. I can’t wait until Rebel hits stores in 2010. Looking forward to learning more about RJ’s faerie world.