Welcome to the four hundred and fifty-sixth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, biographers, agents, publishers and more. Today’s is with multi-genre author AJ Race. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further.
Morgen: Hello, AJ. Please tell us something about yourself, where you’re based, and how you came to be a writer.
AJ: Hi, my name is A.J. Race I live in Henderson, Nevada and I started writing when I was twelve years old. I was actually not an avid reader growing up until I hit the fourth grade and read Holes and the Harry Potter series for the first time, I think that’s when I really knew that I wanted to be a writer.
Morgen: How wonderful. In my teens I read every Stephen King book as it came out yet still didn’t twig that someone could be a writer for a living, or certainly that I wanted to be. What genre do you generally write and have you considered other genres?
AJ: I don’t really like to think of myself as a genre author, I’ve technically written in almost every genre the only ones I really would never touch are historical and non-fiction, everything else is pretty much up for grabs.
Morgen: I’m pretty much the same. History was my worst subject at school although I do write non-fiction articles… but about writing. What have you had published to-date? Do you write under a pseudonym?
AJ: In February I published my first novel in the Secrets of Witches Trilogy: Bridge of Memories, and I guess technically I write under a pseudonym, my legal name is Andrew, A.J. are just my initials so… I’m not sure if that counts.
AJ: Loads… I haven’t actually counted but since I was twelve years old I must have had at least a couple hundred on various projects. At first I took them hard, but as I got used to them I got over it easier and easier, it never really stops hurting, but generally I took those rejections and just wrote another version of the book, I’ve always strived to perfect my craft.
Morgen: Good plan but how harsh to receive rejections as a twelve-year-old. Do you have an agent? Do you think they’re vital to an author’s success?
AJ: Actually agents are where I’ve had most of my rejections from… so currently no. As to whether or not they’re vital I guess it depends on the author, if you want to get published by a traditional big name publisher and are a no-name they’re incredibly vital… If not, I guess it’s sort of a personal preference.
Morgen: I think you’re right. Are your books available as eBooks? Do you read eBooks or is it paper all the way?
AJ: When I decided to self publish I wanted to make sure that my book would be available in as many outlets as possible that included ebook. Currently it’s available through Amazon Kindle, Barnes and Noble Nook and on Smashwords.com with more to come. Originally I wasn’t really sure how I felt about ebooks, especially from a writer standpoint, a lot of writer friends of mine are very strict about paper all the way, but I think it’s progress and ebooks have the ability to change the book world as we know it so I want to be open to that.
Morgen: They do, and they are. Only this week I heard that Amazon are now selling more eBooks than pBooks. How much of the marketing do you do for your published works or indeed for yourself as a ‘brand’?
AJ: It’s difficult for me, like I think a lot of writers without publishing houses because we don’t have the major overhead so a lot of my advertising has been on my blog www.cultofracewood.com on my Facebook page, www.facebook.com/CultofRacewood and of course through Twitter @Racewood, I recently got business cards with QR codes to my books which I’ve been giving out as much as I can. I’m starting to do a little bit more focused marketing, such as interviews like this one and trying to get my book reviewed by more people… It’s really all about word of mouth right now, spreading the Cult of Racewood brand.
Morgen: I’ve not got my head around QR codes yet but I love technology so that’s a great idea for when I run out of my current cards. Do you have a favourite of your books or characters? If any of your books were made into films, who would you have as the leading actor/s?
AJ: I always have favorite characters, I know a lot of authors probably say they don’t, but I think they’re lying… For me my favorite character is named Madam Schemptra, she’s the villain of the story but I’ve always had a weak spot for villains so… I guess that’s part of the reason, plus she’s loads of fun to write for me.
Oh god… Um… You know I’ve thought about what actor I’d like to play what character in almost every book I’ve written but I can’t think off the top of my head who I’d want to be in this particular movie, I absolutely love Meryl Streep so if she could be a character in my movie I think that would be beyond amazing.
Morgen: She’s one of the most versatile isn’t she, so maybe she could play them all. What are you working on at the moment / next?
AJ: Currently I just finished the sequel to Bridge of Memories, so I’m working on editing that at the moment.
Morgen: Do you manage to write every day? Do you ever suffer from writer’s block?
AJ: I try to write everyday but between classes in college and just every day things that go on, you don’t always get the opportunity to write every single day.
I don’t seem to get writer’s block too often, (of course now that I’ve said that I’ll probably get it more), and even when I do it’s usually like a few hours at best.
Morgen: I guess you just need a change of scene. I find I don’t have the time to get stuck, but then I write more flash fiction than anything else so it’s easier… plus having to put it on my blog at 5pm every day helps. Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
AJ: It’s a little bit of both… When I first started I got an idea and ran with it, but as I get older I have to write things down, it’s kind of sad to say that at twenty my memory isn’t what it used to be but the simple fact is, with twenty ideas running in and out of your head at once it’s difficult to keep track so I generally make notes, with various plot points, it’s never anything serious and it can change at the drop of a hat anyway so I don’t worry too much about it.
Morgen: I’m sure almost every writer has lost something that was their best idea ever at some stage just because they didn’t write it down. I know I have a few times so every jacket and bag I own has a small notebook in it. Do you have a method for creating your characters, their names and what do you think makes them believable?
AJ: In my experience characters present themselves as needed, but names are a different story altogether. Actually a lot of the names of characters in Bridge of Memories did come to me within the first draft or so years and years ago, but some of them I did have to use a character naming book by Writer’s Digest.
I think what makes them believable is their three dimensionality, the fact that they speak to you and everything they do is already there you just have to translate that into a story. Most authors will tell you we don’t have control over our characters and that to me is the mark of a good writer and a good character.
Morgen: I didn’t know there was a Writer’s Digest character naming book – what a great idea. Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
AJ: I do a lot of editing not because the story isn’t fully formed but because I’m OCD about my story, there’s always things that I feel need to be changed and need to be polished, it’s just how I’ve always been about my books and no matter how good I think my writing is on the first draft I don’t believe many authors, if any can write a book perfectly the first time out.
Morgen: I doubt it either. It’s very easy to spot something to change whenever you go back to a piece – eventually you have to let it go. Do you have to do much research?
AJ: It really depends on the book. In the sequel to Bridge of Memories I have to do a great deal more research because of some of the settings are places I’ve never been to and I’d like to make it sound as though I have.
Morgen: Vital if a reader lives there or knows it well – and inevitably there’ll be an expert on something happy enough to tell you where you went wrong. What point of view do you find most to your liking: first person or third person? Have you ever tried second person?
AJ: I generally will write in whatever point of view the story calls for, first person, for me is more limiting in a lot of ways unless it’s first person omniscient but if the story really called for it I would do it.
I actually have tried second person once, it was kind of strange, and definitely not something I think I could make a whole book out of.
Morgen: It’s my favourite p.o.v. but I wouldn’t recommend a whole book in it either. Jay McInerney wrote a novel, albeit a short one, and I’ve never got all the way through it. Second person can be a very dark point of view, and I love dark, but it is grittier than Medano Beach (according to one of the trip advisor.com’s user reviews anyway). Do you have pieces of work that you think will never see light of day?
AJ: It’s kind of hard to answer just for the fact that for a long time I wasn’t sure Secrets of Witches would ever end up seeing the light of day because I’d changed it so much and I always had this sort of love / hate relationship with the story, so there are certainly versions of the same story that will never see the light of day but as for an entire idea… I’m not sure.
Morgen: Maybe it’ll marinate nicely. What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life? Has anything surprised you?
AJ: Favorite aspect of writing… I think the actual creation part, when ideas are just flowing through your head and everything sounds like gold. It’s the reason I think a lot of us became writers, cause there’s an odd rush from creating, making entire worlds out of nothing is exciting. My least favorite aspect of course is the editing part. The part where you have to look at what you thought was gold and realize that it was crap, not unsalvageable crap (although it often feels like it) and do your best to fix it.
My stories always manage to surprise me, and that’s another thing I really really enjoy, when your writing a novel and you know what’s going to happen or what’s supposed to happen and then something else you didn’t expect comes in and just changes everything.
Morgen: I’m with you on all those. What advice would you give aspiring writers?
AJ: Know what you’re getting yourself into first and foremost. I think a lot of people see the success stories like J.K. Rowling and Amanda Hocking and the like, and they don’t bother to realize what went into that success, the hard work, the unending dedication. The second piece of advice I could give is to never give up, if you really really want this, you’ll get there. It may not happen as fast as you would want it too (believe me I’m not a patient person so I have to tell myself this sometimes) but it will happen.
Morgen: Absolutely – as they say, a successful author is one who didn’t give up. If you could invite three people from any era to dinner, who would you choose and what would you cook (or hide the takeaway containers)?
AJ: Oh that’s a tough one… I definitely would have to say J.K. Rowling because she’s always been an idol of mine as an author, as she is I think for many authors, then of course Harvey Milk because he was a huge LGBT activist whom I deeply admire and respect and I think I’d also want to invite Jesus just to ask him what he thought of the way a lot of Christians portray him and his views and the Bible.
Morgen: A really interesting mixture. I’m still yet to see the film ‘Milk’ but have heard really good things about it. Is there a word, phrase or quote you like?
AJ: My all time favorite quote is from Madonna, “I’m tough, I’m ambitious and I know exactly what I want. If that makes me a bitch then so be it.” It’s really a quote that I live by.
Morgen: I love it. What do you do when you’re not writing?
AJ: I try to read where I can and recently I started taking up knitting again so hopefully I’ll have some sort of blanket or something between editing the second book and actually writing the third.
Morgen: Knitting’s become really popular over the last few years, especially with film stars apparently, but then they have plenty of time to kill on set. My mum’s a really good knitter (although I don’t think she’s knitted since I was young) but I’m hopeless. I tried twice but… I love car boot sales and when you can get a jumper for 25p (about $0.35 – I bought two for 50p; purple and cream Marks & Spencer polo-necks) there’s little incentive to even buy the wool (at 50p a ball from a charity shop if you’re lucky). Are you on any forums or networking sites? If so, how valuable do you find them?
AJ: I actually am sort of just getting into some forums, I found your website through a CreateSpace marketing forum which was wonderful.
Morgen: Ooh, did you? I’ve not been on there. That’s fantastic! (made my day)
Morgen: Just don’t lose too many hours that way (easily done). What do you think the future holds for a writer?
AJ: There’s been some question over the years as to whether or not writers will still be around in the future because movies and television are so popular, but I think ebooks and the great success of Pottermore by J.K. Rowling really proves that writers will be around for a long time to come. People will always want to read, they just want books to move into the 21st century like phones and everything else, and books are starting to change, but I think until we see ebooks that have a greater range of functionality and interactivity they probably won’t excel as far as they could.
Morgen: I mentioned earlier that I love technology so I’m really embracing eBooks (especially as they give me opportunities I wouldn’t have probably had otherwise) and just when you think technology can only go so far, someone comes up with something else… especially wonderful when it seems like such a simple idea. Where can we find out about you and your work?
AJ: You can find out more about me and my books at my website www.cultofracewood.com. I have links to all of my books and social networking sites.
Morgen: Excellent. Thank you, AJ.
I then invited AJ to include a synopsis of his book…
After the mysterious murder of the Queen of the Witches, Christopher Rosewood finds himself the first King in almost five hundred years while his boyfriend finds himself trapped in the Palace with nothing to do and decides to go in search of adventure. Deep within the Palace lies secrets the royals have spent almost twenty years trying to protect, secrets that if revealed could unhinge the very monarchy itself. Even with the former Queen’s diary, there are still many questions left unanswered, and the greatest one of all remains: Who killed the Queen?
A high-strung, type-A personality, LGBT rights activist and twenty year old multi genre author, A.J. Race first found his love of books and writing with the Harry Potter series in 2001 after the first film came out in the fall of that same year. Growing up A.J. had not been much of a reader, in fact the first chapter book he’d ever read was at the behest of his fourth grade teacher, and it was in his fourth grade year that he really found a love for reading. In 2002 he wrote a short story that at the time he had been convinced was an entire novel, and sent it off to a major publisher. This was his first experience with rejection. Over the course of the next nine years A.J. experienced many rejections in his writing career. Then at the tail end of 2011 A.J. rejoined NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) and in a matter of 30 days re-wrote one of his original novels: Bridge of Memories. In December of that year, one of his good friends offered to design for him a hand drawn cover while his former creative writing teacher offered to edit his book for him. On February 12, 2012 the first novel in the Secrets of Witches Trilogy Bridge of Memories was released to the public. AJ’s website is www.cultofracewood.com.
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