Interview with Fantasy author Justin Lee Anderson
Books R&B was thrilled when Justin agreed to do an interview! with us Before getting to the interview check out the summary of the novel to understand just how unique his work is.
Synopsis of the Novel by Justin Lee Anderson:
The war is over, but something is rotten in the state of Eidyn.
With a ragged peace in place, demons burn farmlands, violent Reivers roam the wilds and plague has spread beyond the Black Meadows. The country is on its knees.
In a society that fears and shuns him, Aranok is the first magically-skilled draoidh to be named King’s Envoy.
Now, charged with restoring an exiled foreign queen to her throne, he leads a group of strangers across the ravaged country. But at every step, a new mystery complicates their mission.
As bodies drop around them, new threats emerge and lies are revealed, can Aranok bring his companions together and uncover the conspiracy that threatens the kingdom?
1. Tell us a little bit about your book-The Lost War: Eidyn Book One
The Lost War is a twisty fantasy road trip mystery. Friends and I have had a very sporadic role-playing group now for about 20 years. For a good five of those, the core group at the time played a group of characters who lasted a long time together - even when we changed systems. When our GM decided he wanted to move to a different kind of world and get us doing something different, I wanted to do something with those characters. I spent a long time thinking about what story I wanted to tell with them.
Later, I had an idea for what I thought was a completely different book, which was a sort of commentary on the state of the world told in a fantasy environment. It all came together when I realized they were actually the same story - and a trilogy!
I used to write a guidebook to Edinburgh in a previous life, and so I knew a lot about the history and mythology of Edinburgh. I decided to do some research on the etymology of the
city’s place names, to find out more about where the area names came from. All of that led to fleshing out the world and the plot that I had in mind, and became the Eidyn series. I like telling stories that surprise readers, because they’re the kind of stories that excite me when I read or watch them. I hate when I know what’s going to happen, so I try to make sure that while I leave hints as to where we’re going, they’re not enough to make anything obvious. Sometimes Chekhov’s gun should just be set dressing. The reactions to The Lost War so far have been fantastic, because people have been really blown away by the ending, but also said that it makes perfect sense, looking back. That’s exactly what I wanted!
2. How was your childhood like and at what part of your life did you decide to be a writer?
My childhood was pretty unusual. Though I was born in Edinburgh, we moved to the US when I was only 3 or 4, because my dad played football (soccer) over there. We bounced around a lot as Dad moved from team to team. There was good and bad about that lifestyle. I saw some amazing places and experienced different culture and met a lot of different people, but at the same time the regular moving around meant that friendships were always transient and fleeting. Back in the days before social media, when you moved as a kid, you just didn’t see your friends again. (I am in touch with some friends from when I was in my teens now, though, thanks to Facebook.) We moved back to Scotland when I was 14, which was when Edinburgh, and Leith in particular, really became ‘home’. The first time I can remember writing a story, I was 9. It was a school assignment and we were supposed to write a story on a page of A4. I think I was the only one to write on both sides, and the teacher had me read it out in class. I loved it! But I never seriously thought about being a writer until much later in life. In my late teens and 20s I thought I wanted to be an actor, and did a lot of theatre, but that fizzled out after I graduated, got married for the first time and bought a house! But I wrote on and off. I think there was always a glass ceiling in my head, that I was convinced I would never break through. Even when I wrote the first 20k words of Carpet Diem and sent it to Neil Gaiman’s (then) agent, and she requested the rest of the book (which I hadn’t written yet - I was such an idiot!) I still didn’t believe I was good enough to get published. It took a lot of belief from other people and validation from several sources - especially my wife, who supported me to write full time and finally finish Carpet Diem - before I actually saw it as a realistic possibility.
One way I look back on my childhood really influencing me is that growing up seeing my dad
make a living doing something he loved made me want to do the same. I never really wanted to work a 9-5 office job, so in some ways, without really trying, Dad inspired me to pursue this career.
3. Was fantasy always your go to place or is it something you developed a liking for over a period?
I was really into the Narnia books from a fairly young age and I always read comics (mostly
DC), but I distinctly remember the day I found Piers Anthony’s A Spell for Chameleon in my school library. I was 12. And I was utterly addicted from then on. I devoured all his Xanth novels, then moved onto the Apprentice Adept series, Incarnations of Immortality, Bio of a
Space Tyrant and, finally, Tarot. I read some others at the same time, like Roger Zelazney’s Amber series and some of Terry Brooks’ Shannara series, but Anthony was my go to.
But I fell out of reading fantasy to a great extent when I did my degree in English. Any time I was reading it was for my degree. And I read some amazing books, but almost never just for pleasure. After that I read a lot more widely, with things like crime thrillers or magic realism (I adore Carlos Ruiz Zafon, for example). I did continue reading a lot of comics and graphic novels after university, and was a massive fan of Neil Gaiman from his Sandman series, so I naturally followed him into his novels. I also got into the likes of Pratchett, Tom Holt and Jasper Fforde, but not any traditional, pseudo-medieval fantasy. Then one day I picked up a book by a guy called Joe Abercrombie, because I liked the cover - and it blew me away. I read everything he had published at that point, and that was me thoroughly back in fantasy again. And I’m here to stay.
4. Who are some of your favorite fantasy authors?
Well, Joe Abercrombie is responsible for getting me back into fantasy, and I’ve long loved Neil Gaiman, so they’re easy. (In fact, I recently gave Joe a copy of The Lost War at a book signing and told him he was largely responsible for it existing!) Otherwise, I have recently discovered and love the likes of Patrick Rothfuss, Anna Stephens, Ed McDonald, Nicholas Eames, RJ Barker and Peter V Brett. And my bookshelves are still groaning with Forde and Holt. I guess Zafon counts as fantasy, too. That’s not even an exhaustive list, it’s just the ones that come easily to mind. I have a huge TBR pile that I cannot wait to get into. I suspect there will be more favourites in there, too.
5. What was the hardest decisions you had to make when you were writing the
What to leave out! I deleted several scenes that I really liked, but which just weren’t crucial to the story. With every scene, I had to ask myself “why is this scene here?” and there were a few where, although I liked the character interactions, they just didn’t serve any real purpose. If I couldn’t see a reason for them being there, then it was a risk of losing the reader’s attention. It’s always hard killing your darlings, but sometimes they just have to go.
6. Are your characters purely imaginary or have there been some derivatives from
Well… as I said, they’re based on characters that we used to roleplay, so there is an element
of the players projected onto each of them, I suppose. But actually, I had to consciously divorce them in my mind at one point, because I was limiting myself in what I could do with the characters because of my associations with their players. There are definitely still elements there, though. Aranok and Allandria were my and my wife’s characters, and our daughter says she clearly sees our relationship in their interactions, which is nice. I would probably say I identify more with Aranok than most, but really, there’s some of me in all of them. My wife is quite pleased that Allandria seems to be a reader favourite so far, though!
7. How do you want your book to influence your readers?
That’s a big question. I sort of answered this the other day in a Facebook post, by coincidence. I think the purpose of writing is to entertain, to provide escapism, to make people think and feel. If I can do those things, I’m delighted. If I can make people see things
in a different way at the same time, even better.
I have pretty strong opinions about the world, and I was actually worried I might have been too heavy handed with some of them in The Lost War. But one of my beta readers told me that one of the things he liked best about the book was that it was just a great story that wasn’t trying to be anything else - so maybe I was too subtle!
8. What is literary success according to you?
Being able to make a living from writing and have people tell you they enjoy what you’ve
done. Those two things are wonderful. The fact that Carpet Diem won an Audie award last
year was beyond anything I could have imagined back when it was first published in 2015.
9. What is your take on well established publishers vs self published?
Self-published authors have to do a lot more work on marketing! I know that sounds flippant, but honestly, it’s true. I’m not dissing authors with traditional publishing deals at all, because they still have to work hard on tours and on social media, but they get to escape the labyrinth of Facebook and amazon advertising that we have to deal with. If I’m honest, that is one of the biggest appeals of a traditional deal for me - having someone else to handle the marketing!
Seriously, I’ve met some self-published authors who are making an absolute fortune, and they’re in control of their careers in a way that maybe traditionally published authors aren’t. But traditional deals still come with a bit more ‘kudos’ and credibility, I think - and a support network. I do know it’s an amazing time to be an author, where publishing yourself is actually a viable option, thanks to the technology we have now.
10. What can we except from you in the future?
I’m currently writing the sequel to Carpet Diem (because I think there are people who might
kill me if I don’t). It’s called I Don’t Like Mundanes. I hope to have that out by the middle of
next year, and I’ll be writing the sequel to The Lost War, which is currently nameless, while Mundanes is at the editor, with the hope of getting it out at the end of next year, followed by the final book in the Eidyn trilogy as soon as possible after that. Once those are done, I have ideas for an urban fantasy thriller with vampires and magic, an urban fantasy mystery with old gods and a futuristic superhero scif-fi political thriller. I’m not sure which one will be next - we’ll see which one shouts the loudest when I get there!
Books R&B hopes the best for Justin with his books!
You can buy the novel here!
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