JA Andrews is the author of the Keeper Chronicles and Keeper Origins series, as well as several shorter works taking place in the same world. Today marks the release of Phoenix Rising, the third and final book in the Keeper Origins series, and we’re delighted that she took some time to answer a few questions for us.
First of all, please tell us a little about yourself. I hear you live in a secret cabin deep in the mountains?
I do! My husband and I always dreamed of building a house in the mountains, so a few years ago we bought 20 acres in the Montana Rockies, and we’re in the long process of building a home here. It’s semi-off grid (We’re on solar power, but we do have DSL for the internet, so…modern sort of off grid…) and the nearest city is thirty miles away. We love it.
Not a lot of people know this, but God actually started creating the world in western Montana and put all the most beautiful things here, then ran out of enthusiasm and just made the rest of the world passably beautiful.
You published your first novel, A Threat of Shadows, in 2016, and I’ve seen you mention you had no idea what you were doing at the time. Even so, it’s a really solid story. Do you have a background in writing/storytelling in some other way? Bonus: what would you do differently if you were to write the same book now?
I have no background in writing at all, aside from general courses in high school and college. My bachelor’s degree is in Aerospace Engineering, where my professors were excited that I understood basic punctuation compared to my sciencey fellow students.
I did always enjoy writing, but never imagined it to be a viable career. Seven years later, I’m still a little surprised it’s a viable career. A Threat of Shadows did take me years and years to write, with a lot of study about story structure and writing in the process. The first chapter of that book was written at least twenty times. That is not an exaggeration.
For the bonus question, I would trim down the number of characters. There are extraneous people that add almost nothing to the plot, but at the time they were there so I just left them in and kept writing. And the prose. I’d clean up the prose, but I try to keep my fingers off it and just move along with my career.
The world of the Keepers is at first glance a fairly standard fantasy world, but there are twists and tweaks that set it apart. Can you tell us a little about the world building process? Where did you start and what did you focus on? How did you come up with the ideas for the magic? Are there any other important races/creatures that you’ve not yet shown in the books?
My goal, when I started writing, was to capture the sort of wonder I’d felt when I read fantasy stories when I was younger. I grew up on the classic fantasy of the 80’s and 90’s, so Brooks, Eddings, obviously Tolkien, Weis and Hickman, Feist. So, when I think of fantasy, I do think of the standard fantasy world with elves and dwarves. That can get a bit worn out, though, so I wanted to see if I could breathe life back into these tropes. Could I make dwarves that were refreshingly dwarvish? And elves so elvish that I loved them again, instead of being slightly bored by them?
So you will definitely find classic races and tropes all over the place in my writing, and hopefully when you find them, they’ve managed to encompass what made us all love those tropes in the first place.
As far as the magic, if we go back to the whole engineering degree idea, the simplest form of magic seemed to me to be a manipulation of energy. As with energy in the real world, when you do magical things in my books, a lot of energy ends up wasted. Turned to heat, mostly, and frittering away. So I try to base most of my magic on the transferring of energy. Except I take some liberties with people who can read other’s minds or emotions.
I don’t have any other important races or creatures in my mind that we haven’t met yet, but I would imagine we’ll stumble across some in the future.
Phoenix Rising is the last part in the Keeper Origins series (right?). At the end of the first book already, it seemed like there was a lot going on, and I wasn’t sure how you’d manage to tie up all the loose ends in just two more books. It must have been a challenge to keep it all together? Do you have a favorite thing that you just can’t wait to hear your readers react to?
It is the last book in the Keeper Origins series. And…it was a lot to wrap up. Book 2 did nothing but add more complexity, so I kicked myself the whole way through Book 3 at all the many, many threads I had to tie. Phoenix Rising did end up 240,000 words, which is 60,000 longer than either of the other books. So, the answer is, essentially, I wrote a really long book.
Some old friends show up in this series that I’m very excited for readers to run into!
One thing I’ve noticed about your stories is that the antagonists aren’t the stereotypical dark evil overlords. Rather, they’re people with their own needs and issues and priorities, trying to do what they think is right. Can you talk a little about that?
The thing I find interesting about writing is delving into what causes someone to make the decisions they do. It’s what drives the main character’s narrative, and it’s what drives the villain’s story too. Although much of the villain’s influence is in their back story.
Very few people in the world are just evil, mustache-twirling villains. Instead, at least when they start on paths that lead to hurting other people, they start from a place that we could all understand. So when I have a villain who is hurting a lot of people, I’m bored by them if I don’t know why they’re doing it. What is pushing them to do something that other people would find so reprehensible? If that’s not something I can understand, at least in how they started on that path, the villain doesn’t feel real to me. And I have a very hard time writing characters who don’t feel fleshed out.
Do you have ideas for other stories you want to tell in this world, or will you start exploring new horizons after this? I assume you’ll keep writing?
I will be in this world for…ever? At least I have no intention of leaving it, and have enough story ideas to fill the rest of my life. I also don’t have the problem that a lot of authors do where they have dozens of worlds in their heads they want to write. I have one world and one magic system, and I enjoy it too much to wander.
My next trilogy will be about a bookish female Keeper and an exuberant female elf who have adventures. I want a female version of a buddy cop story, and am really excited to have a series that focuses on a lifelong friendship.
And a few quick questions:
What is your favorite…
…book, in recent times?
Symphony of Stars, which was book 3 in Barbara Kloss’s excellent Gods of Men series. Highly recommend the entire trilogy!
…game, in recent times?
I don’t game! 🙈 My husband does, and I sometimes sit and write while he wanders worlds and battles monsters.
I thought this was a hard question, but I realized I do have an answer: Story Trumps Everything. There are a lot of writing rules, and almost none of them are set in stone, but what readers want is an amazing story. Provide that, and no one will care how many adverbs you used to tell it.
…advice for someone who wants to publish their own book?
Join the indie community! I’ve never met such a generous group of people.
…source of inspiration?
I’m inspired every time I read or watch a really great story, one that has the wonder I like to read about. Like the movie Stardust. A good story is always inspiring.
…way to clear your mind when everything becomes a bit much?
A drive in a quiet car through the mountains, or a walk in the woods. Or just looking at the sky. The real key is SILENCE, though. Silence actually is golden.
Do you have any last words?
Thanks for having me! This was a lot of fun!
Books by JA Andrews
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