article written by Nathan Primeau
Many thanks to Julia T. Lye for providing such insightful answers.
Julia T. Lye is a writer and lover of stories living and working in Ottawa, Ontario, and is a self-proclaimed geek. Her published stories, ranging from fantasy to science fiction and the macabre, have been featured in numerous collections and anthologies. When Julia isn’t writing, she can be found drawing and illustrating characters from her stories, Dungeons and Dragons, movies, and TV shows.
She has recently publisher her debut fantasy novel Anelisha Knight In the Yarns of Gods with publisher DeeBee Books. The publisher has the following description for the book:
“If she hadn’t discovered a world of magic following her car accident, Anelisha might have lived a comfortable life like anyone else. But she can’t undo the past. Now she’s trapped in the controversial history of another world, where the powerful beings who imbued her with magic expect her to fight on their side of an age-old war. There is much to learn in this mystical, dangerous realm, but first and foremost, Anelisha must determine why she was chosen, and then overcome her deep-rooted fears before it’s too late.
On the list of things she would rather be doing, anything would suffice. But Anelisha isn’t the only one to fray the Yarns of Gods…”
I had the pleasure of asking Julia questions about her writing process and her new book. Below you’ll see our conversation:
Hi, Julia. Thanks so much for agreeing to an interview with me for OAR’s blog. I’ve put together some questions about your debut novel Anelisha Knight In the Yarns of Gods and just your writing process in general. Hopefully the questions I ask you are at least a little interesting and provide some insight into you as a writer and how you choose to write.
To start, I’d like to know which book was the first that really made your jaw drop?
That’s a fantastic question. I did a lot of reading as a kid, but it might surprise you to know I didn’t read fiction until a teacher forced me to pick up a Magic Treehouse book for a book report. I had trouble pulling my nose out of any and every book after that, but the first book that really struck me had to be Janet Lee Carey’s Dragon’s Keep. It remains a book that I return to whenever I’m looking for a short little romp with dragons.
Any favourite books that you think don’t get enough respect? I could definitely name a couple.
I can never find a copy of Dragon’s Keep in bookstores nowadays, so I’d say that’s at the top of my list. But Paul Hoffman’s The Left Hand of God, P.C. Cast’s Divine by Mistake, Patricia C. Wrede’s Dealing with Dragons, L.J. Smith’s Night World series, and David-Clement Davies’ Fell all come to mind.
Did any of these books have some sort of influence on how you read and write?
I feel like everything I read inevitably influences how I write in big or small ways. Even books that leave me feeling unsatisfied are a source of inspiration for me as I consider how I would’ve worked the story or characters differently. Those little pieces of inspiration lead to bigger ideas in my own storytelling.
Do you spend a lot of time writing? Do you set a certain amount of time per day to write? I have some writing colleagues that choose word counts as well. I find that I struggle to find writing motivation sometimes and it can be kind of exhausting to force myself into it.
I would say I probably spend more time writing than sleeping, as the length of The Yarns of Gods might imply. For as scatterbrained as I can sometimes be, I have a one-track mind that always loops back to my books. If I’m struggling with a scene, I free write until I find my rhythm, then go back and edit the slop out of my freewriting afterwards. If that doesn’t work, I sit down with the outline and try to figure out why my brain isn’t happy with this scene. Part of writing, for me, is keeping myself entertained. So, if a scene starts to feel hopeless, I’ll give myself a break by seeking out something to inspire me related to the tone I’m in the effort of writing. Is it epic? Then I marathon the Lord of the Rings extended editions. Is it thrilling suspense? Mad Max: Fury Road. Humour? Pirates of the Caribbean. Or is it just my own writing? For that, I binge-read a favourite book. And if all else fails, I go for a long jog.
How do you go about picking names for characters and locations? I’d be lying if I said I didn’t use a name generator here and there to spark some creativity.
Names are the bane of my existence. All my characters have had different names at different times in the process that led to Anelisha Knight In the Yarns of Gods. Mostly, I visit baby naming sites for what are essentially placeholder names until I happen upon a better fit for a character. I want names to help the reader suspect a character’s personality even before I introduce their mannerisms. I also like to make things sound nice, phonetically. But of course, that only makes the process of naming even harder. In terms of location names, I always want something memorable and meaningful toward the kind of place I’m naming, but I tend to settle for almost-gibberish. It’s fantasy, so for the most part, I can get away with it.
Would you give up anything to be a better writer? I guess if I had to, I could try sleeping in less and working early.
If I gave up any more sleep, I’d probably enter an ethereal state and start writing in tongues. I think I have a pretty good balance where I am right now, between writing and everything else. If anything, I feel like going out more, seeing more and doing more besides just writing might be my best bet to becoming a better writer. But who has time for that?
If we can, I’d like to move into the process of writing and putting together the first book in your trilogy. Where did the idea for this book start? (Depending on how you answer that question, maybe answer this question as well: Have there been plenty of other ideas for books that are half-finished or just sitting around?)
The idea for Anelisha Knight In the Yarns of Gods began pretty whimsically on my 12th birthday. There was no plan for it besides the idea to take myself on a ride. I had just received a 320-page journal from my aunt and uncle, and I figured I might as well start writing, right then and there. I sat down at the dining room table and just went off while the rest of my family continued celebrating my birthday in the other room. Looking back on that night, it’s kind of hilarious to me. I was addicted to writing Anelisha’s story and I never really stopped. She was the first protagonist in an entire universe built around her world, spawning two other completed series (written in journals, of course) and several complete outlines for books to come. Maybe in a few decades, I’ll have mapped out the entire rise and fall of magic in the universe Anelisha Knight inhabits.
How long did this book take for you? From conception to your first full manuscript.
I began the first full manuscript on October 24, 2009 and completed it in February of 2010. Kids really have all the time in the world, at least kids like I was, with no off switch. The re-written edition that is now Anelisha Knight In the Yarn of Gods took me almost my entire university career, from 2015 to 2018, but that might be because I put more thought into this one.
Did you include characters or plot points in your book that had some influence from your real life? My name is used for a character in a fantasy series from DAW books and I think I want that on my tombstone.
Lucky, the only Julia I’ve encountered in fiction was in George Orwell’s 1984. It’s interesting, when I first wrote my book at age 12, I found myself writing a lot about school and the social dynamics that surrounded me, but upon rewriting the book, my life as a university student shone through where my childhood experiences once were. On top of that, one of the characters featured in books 2 and 3 of the Anelisha Knight trilogy is based on my best friend from middle school who I’m still close with to this day, although I’ve given her a different name in my books.
Were there any scenes that were really hard to write? Maybe from concept to prose, or even just emotionally.
Emotionally speaking, I always wince whenever I hurt my characters, but that never stops me putting them through hell and back. I’ve shed many tears for Anelisha Knight and caught myself ugly crying over my journal as I wrote book 3. Ah, good times. I figure, if I’m not crying then why would my readers? But in terms of putting concepts into prose, it’s rare for me to find difficulty getting behind Anelisha’s eyes, having written her since I was 12. I know how she would react to something better than I know how I would. The only hard concepts to put into words are those that relate to getting her out of the messes I’m always throwing her into.
We appeared in what I think was the first DeeBee Books anthology together. What was that experience like compared to the one you had with David on this book?
The writing process for my short story in The Stranger Side of Tomorrow was more rushed but pushed me to write concisely as I so often fail to. Considering the deadline wasn’t just for me, but for all of us in the anthology, I really pushed myself to meet it. I was extremely grateful to find the deadlines more permissive when it came to Anelisha Knight In the Yarns of Gods. That allowed me to do my best work with a longer piece.
Did you learn anything from the process? Has it had any sort of influence over your writing process?
I think, in a way, it made my writing process easier because I now feel as though I’m always moving toward a tangible goal. Each new tidbit of news regarding the success of Anelisha Knight In the Yarns of Gods excites me toward finishing the second book, and in turn, I work through any problems knowing I’ve done it before, and it’ll be worthwhile in the end.
Did you do some research for this book? Whether it was some historical stuff or just work done by other fantasy writers.
I’ve been absorbing information like a sponge for this series for so long, I can’t even differentiate how many of the random facts in my head relate to this trilogy or were a result of schooling. I think the main reason I retained anything from high school was because I convinced myself it would come in handy in my writing, and then found some way to justify the delusion.
Did you have to cut anything out of the book that you really wanted to be in it?
Initially, the book contained too many characters to keep track of and everyone had an animal companion. Coincidentally, everyone’s first name started with ‘A’ because I didn’t realize the baby names list I was using was alphabetical. Anelisha Knight In the Yarns of Gods has gone through so many changes from the original manuscript, titled The Accident, that the final product is almost unrecognizable and for all the best reasons. I can only imagine there are some scenes left on the cutting room floor that really held my interest back then, but for the sake of coherency in the final product, I only sprinkled little hints of these in for flavour.
Did you keep reader’s needs in mind for this book?
Besides keeping myself entertained, my main concern was addressing the reader’s needs. If any scene or section of the book felt as though it was dragging, I asked myself if, as a reader, I would lose interest, and I fixed it accordingly. The point of this book is to be entertained, as with most if not all fantasy books. I just want my readers to have fun and feel emotions, and I get to tell a meaningful story about a girl, her friends, and the fate of a magical civilization in the process.
I’ve kind of been on the other side of the “don’t judge a book by its cover” argument, especially after working in a book store for so long. I have to say that I really love the cover design for your book, and I got a peek at the original concept you had on Facebook. What was it like working on the cover? Did DeeBee do most of the work and submit you concepts, or were you kind of involved throughout most of the process?
I had a concept in mind for the cover but worried I couldn’t do it justice. My doodle acted as a frame of reference for illustrators that DeeBee got in contact with, and I was happy to let DeeBee carry out the interaction from there. In the end, DeeBee allowed me to choose from a handful of designs and made sure I was happy with the result. It all turned out even better than I could’ve hoped.
Have you read any reviews for the book yet? I saw some really kind words being said about the book on Goodreads.
I’ve read a few reviews, some that were sent directly to my family from friends of theirs and some online. The feedback has been incredibly encouraging. I feel like I’ve been riding a high since the publication. I guess it’s nice to feel like I’m no longer just writing into a void. Or maybe it’s like the void is just now talking back. The void is nicer than I expected.
I know that you’ve signed a contract to write two more books that follow Anelisha Knight. What does your plan moving forward with those books look like?
Like the original manuscript, books 2 and 3 have been “finished” for a few years now, but they’re currently receiving the same re-vamping that came with the final draft of the first book. The plan moving forward mainly consists of my own endurance, but having completed the process of publishing book 1, I’m confident in my ability to do so with book 2 and book 3 moving forward. Anelisha Knight’s journey through this trilogy is full of hardships which test her character along the road to overcoming her enemies. It doesn’t get any easier after the events of book 1, as a matter of fact, things only get harder. She’ll find she needs to ground herself in an identity emerging from these trying times, and even then, she’ll dread that it isn’t enough.
Anelisha Knight In the Yarns of Gods is available for purchase through Amazon right now. If you’d like to know more about Julia, you can read about her writing journey at http://www.julialye.com and engage with her via social media. Julia is a graduate of Carleton University.
Socials Tag: @juliatlye