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10 June 2009 @ 12:15 am
Interview with R.J. Anderson  
I'm thrilled and honored to have the opportunity to interview R.J. Anderson, whose debut YA novel from HarperCollins Faery Rebels: Spell Hunter (aka Knife in the U.K., Orchard Books) is on sale now!!!

First, a bit about R.J. Anderson: R.J. (known to her friends as Rebecca) was born in Uganda, raised in Ontario, went to school in New Jersey, and has spent much of her life dreaming of other worlds entirely.

As a child she immersed herself in fairy tales, mythology, and the works of C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien and E. Nesbit; later she discovered more contemporary authors like Ursula LeGuin, Patricia A. McKillip and Robin McKinley, and learned to take as much pleasure from their language as the stories they told.

Now married and a mother of three, Rebecca reads to her sons the classic works of fantasy and science fiction that enlivened her own childhood, and tries to bring a similar sense of humor, adventure, and timeless wonder to the novels she writes for children and young adults. She is proud to be a member of the Debut 2009 MG & YA authors' group, and a fellow member of The Enchanted Inkpot.

Gretchen McNeil: Thank you so much for doing this interview, R.J. I was so excited to get my hands on Faery Rebels after hearing such fabulous things, and it didn't disappoint.

R.J. Anderson: Thank you, Gretchen! I'm excited to be here.

GM: First off, could you tell us a little bit about the process and the inspiration for Faery Rebels?

RJ: I drew my first sketch of Knife in 1986, when I was sixteen years old. I'd always liked small faeries but I didn't like anything cute and sparkly, so I came up with the idea of a faery assassin, and that was how Knife's character started out. I knew right away that I wanted to write a book about her, but it took me a long while to figure out the details, so the novel sat on the back burner of my mind for seven more years before I wrote the first draft in 1993-94.

The first editor I sent it to liked it enough to take it to acquisitions, but when that particular house turned it down and the next publisher I tried gave me a form rejection, I got discouraged and gave up for a while. Every couple of years I'd give it a bit of a polish and send it out again, but then I got married and started having kids, so it didn't seem quite so urgent. In the end I only submitted to three editors and one agent between 1994 and 2002, all firmly on the "adult" side of the F&SF genre -- it never really occurred to me to try the children's/YA market until an editor friend urged me to consider it, and now I can't believe I didn't try that route much earlier!

My inspirations for the book were many, varied, and in some cases downright weird. Everything from the Flower Faeries to Saturday morning cartoons and superhero comics to movies like Labyrinth and Hook, plus all the fantasy authors I loved like C.S. Lewis and George MacDonald and Madeleine L'Engle and Patricia McKillip and Robin McKinley…

As for art influences, they're either named or alluded to in the book: Vermeer is one of my favorites, and I also tipped the hat to Magritte, Albrecht Altdorfer and Caspar David Friedrich, among others. Victorian artist Richard Dadd's crazed paintings of fairies served as inspiration for my fictional Regency painter Alfred Wrenfield.

I wish I could remember why I picked the Regency for the historical period mentioned in the book, but I can't. I think it may have been something as simple as that I'd just discovered Georgette Heyer at the time.

GM: I can practically hear Google browsers filling up with some of these names. But speaking of these different periods leads me into my next question about world building, which I felt was especially strong in Faery Rebels where you mixed elements from traditional faery lore with elements that felt exciting and fresh to me. I assume research plays a big part in your writing?

RJ: I do indeed spend a lot of time on research, though ironically, I don't enjoy that part of the writing process at all – I find it frustrating and often overwhelming because there's just so much to know and so many things I could get wrong. But I can't bear the thought of not doing research and just making things up off the top of my head, either. I want my stories to feel as plausible as I can make them, even the fantastical ones.

GM: Well, if its not your favorite part of the process, I couldn't tell. In fact, I loved seeing bits of your research sewn into the fabric of your very unique world of the Oakenwyld. As a writer, is there a process involved in blending research with imagination?

RJ: Most of my research was done after I'd written the first draft of the novel, and already had the basic plot and character relationships nailed down. So while the research helped to deepen and enrich the story, it didn't actually change the plot much, and I also had a pretty good sense of what details I needed to know for the story and what I didn't.

GM: Wow. So how much of the Oakenwyld world was mapped out before you even began writing the novel?

RJ: Actually, I didn't map anything. When it came time to write the scenes inside the humans' House, I sketched out a floor plan and looked at blueprints and photographs of similar Victorian houses so I could keep the layout straight in my head. But as for the Oak, I just see it and the surrounding area, in my mind's eye as I write.

GM: Okay, Fan Girl moment. I love the concept of the faeries of the Oak being allowed to choose their own common name. One that jumped out at me was Campion, the librarian, because I have a major literary crush on Margery Allingham's Albert Campion. Intentional?

RJ: Absolutely intentional! And not only is it a tribute to Allingham, it's a tribute to Richard Adams (Watership Down) who also wrote a minor character named Campion. It seemed fitting to give the Oak's librarian a plant name that carried a strong connection to books… even if those other characters are male and my Campion is assuredly not.

GM: Okay, that's completely awesome. (*crosses fingers that someone picks up an Albert Campion book because of this interview*)

Next, I'd love to hear what thematic strains you had in mind during the writing process. And how important was it to you it incorporate some more traditionally "adult" themes like depression, suicide, and young motherhood?

RJ: I'm reluctant to talk too much about what I had in mind when I wrote the book, because it seems to me that the book either speaks for itself or it doesn't. But I will say that among other things, I was interested in asking what it really means to be free. I also wanted to talk about what happens when people try to protect other people from unpleasant truths and realities, rather than allowing them to face and deal with them honestly.

As for the "adult" elements you mentioned, I originally wrote this story as an adult fantasy because I feared that I wouldn't be allowed to talk about those things in a story for children, and yet I felt they were too important to gloss over or leave out. I'm very glad to have been proven wrong! I've come to realize that with children's literature it's not the subjects themselves that matter so much as the way they're handled.

GM: The developing relationship between Knife and Paul was one of my favorite parts of the novel. Their dialogue sparkles and snaps and I found myself flying through the pages as their friendship deepened. What where the challenges of writing these two very strong, very stubborn characters?

RJ: It took me longer to get a handle on Knife than on Paul. Paul's emotional journey as he learns to cope with his disability and decide what's most important to him was clear to me from the beginning, but it took me several drafts to figure out what Knife's character arc should be. I knew I wanted to write about a faery who discovers the human world and is totally captivated by it, to subvert the traditional ideas about the faery realm being this dazzling magical place and the human world being dull and predictable by contrast. But it took me a while to figure out just how different the human and faery worlds really were, and in what ways, and how Knife's character might have been shaped by growing up in the Oak as a faery instead of being part of a family unit.

GM: How important was Paul's handicap in your view of his character? And in choosing the love of art that binds them, why painting and drawing?

RJ: I wanted Paul to be vulnerable and isolated in some way, so that his relationship with Knife could progress on a more equal footing and without a lot of interruption by friends and family. And I also badly wanted to write a character with a disability who could take an active role in the story and even be the romantic lead, because when I was a teen I had a crush on the character of Matthew Maddox in Madeleine L'Engle's book A Swiftly Tilting Planet, and I just ached for him being in love with a girl he could never have because he was crippled. (Which doesn't really do the subtleties of L'Engle's book and Matthew's situation justice, but as a teen it seemed just monstrously unfair to me, and I felt the need to somehow make amends.)

As for the creative angle, I used to draw incessantly and loved art class and art history in school, so it seemed natural to make Paul an artist as well – it was familiar ground for me, and avoided the cliché of making him a writer like myself.

GM: Your dual releases in the US and UK really interests me. Other than the cover art, were there any major differences in the versions of the novel?

RJ: There aren't really any significant differences – just words and phrases here and there that differ between British and American usage.

GM: And speaking of the covers, I read online that Brian Froud did the UK cover, how did that come about?

RJ: My UK publisher was looking for a faery image to use on the cover of Knife (as it's called over there), and they came across a piece in his portfolio that seemed to be a perfect fit for the book. So they asked him if they could use it, and he said yes – which has been fantastic for my sales in the UK because a lot of people have picked up Knife solely on the strength of the cover! So now they've commissioned Brian Froud to do the cover art for my second book as well, and I'm extremely happy with that.

GM: Ooooo. Sequel! Sequel! Can you tease it for us pretty please?

RJ: The second book's going to be called Rebel in the UK and Wayfarer in North America. It takes place about 13-14 years after the events of Faery Rebels: Spell Hunter a.k.a. Knife, and the main character is a young faery named Linden whom readers met as a baby in Book One. She has an important mission to carry out on behalf of the Oakenfolk, which involves not only Knife and Paul and others from the first book, but also introduces us to some significant new characters like Paul's young cousin Timothy and a musician named Rob. It's a bigger and more ambitious book than the first one in many ways, and I'm excited to find out what readers will think of it.

GM: And if they're like me, they're desperately excited to get their hands on it! In fact, I might just have to order that UK version online.

Amazing interview, R.J. I hope everyone is madly clicking their mouse buttons reserving library copies or ordering their own copy of Faery Rebels right now. Thank you and I look forward to reading more from you in the very near future.

Gretchen McNeil
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snow_white904 on June 10th, 2009 03:09 pm (UTC)
Wonderful interview! Thanks fr posting, Gretchen, and thanks for participating, R.J.! I really need to check this book out ASAP. I agree with Rachel. The covers are gorgous!