I’ll choose something sort of random and say that the first story I wrote was an adventure story about Neopets (online pets) when I was about 7. When I look back at it, I’m surprised at how much I wrote. I never finished it, and I don’t think I had a plan of where it was going, but it was a neat story in any case. I also used to write a lot in a journal, and I really like reading my entries now. They’re so fun to read!
Your first novel has just come out. How did you come to write it?
When I first started writing Aizai the Forgotten, I hadn’t intended for it to be a novel. It started with me just speculating about a lost world that had come into existence and then had vanished, so I decided to write about it. I added a boy who had read about this world and was trying to discover what it was and if he could get to it. I was also trying to discover what Aizai was, but after a while, I figured it out, and plotted it out more to finish it.
I didn’t have any plans for the series before I started writing Aizai the Forgotten, but as I progressed through the story, I realized that there was a lot more that I could cover for a larger series, both with the main character, Wolfdon, and other characters. So I am planning to follow Wolfdon and a few other characters for a few books and then progress to other times and places (not necessarily on Earth) with other characters. They’ll still be related though in the larger series The Soul Wanderers though.
I hear that some writers create a ‘series bible.’ Did you do this, and if not, how are you keeping track of the series elements from one book to the next?
I really should have a series bible! What I do have is a haphazard mess of papers and tabs in notebooks that refer to different things to do with the series, though I do have some folders for theory, characters, or plot, so I try to put the papers into the right folders. Somehow, working out alright, but since I don’t do any plotting or writing on the computer (except for typing up my story and then editing), the paper organization gets a bit crazy. It’s all fun though!
Are you a plotter, a pantser, or somewhere in between?
I’m a mix of both. I do planning mostly on the go. I write a bit, plot a bit, then write more, and plot more… Though even with some planning at the onset, I modify things a lot as I write. I make up new plans and don’t fit in some of my original ones because the events and the characters lead me elsewhere. I get a lot of inspiration as I’m writing, so I can’t really plan everything at the start anyway. For short stories though, I try to plan them more so they don’t all turn into novels. Since short stories usually only cover one main topic anyway, I find it isn’t too difficult to plan before writing, even if the details get filled in as I write it.
What is the best writing advice you ever got? The worst?
I get a lot of good advice from the author David Farland’s “Kick in the Pants” newsletter. One especially good one was about adding plot twists and unique elements to your writing. What a writer should ask themselves is “What couldn’t possibly happen?” You’ll have to stretch your imagination to answer this, and in doing so, you might find a surprising direction to turn your story to.
As for the worst writing advice, I’ll choose a quote that wasn’t actually given to me, but it is about writing all the same. Oscar Wilde said, “There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written, or badly written. That is all.” Normally, I love Oscar Wilde, especially his book The Picture of Dorian Gray, but this quote really annoyed me because books greatly affect people’s personality and outlook on life, and so there is a moral responsibility a writer has to their readers. That’s not to say that the protagonist has to be perfect, but if a novel portrays bad things in a good light or does not exemplify good qualities, the author has failed in an important part with their connection to the reader. Whether Oscar Wilde would like it or not, I found his book Dorian Gray a moral book, not because Dorian was moral, but because his degradation exemplifies the consequences of a luxurious and immoral lifestyle, both on himself and the world around him.
What was the most difficult thing for you about writing your novel?
Finding the time to write. It isn’t “difficult” in the sense that something like plotting or crafting characters is, but when you’re busy with a lot of other things, it’s sometimes hard to have the mental energy to write. When I am at school during the year, I don’t write that much, so get most writing done in the summer. But I do try to write during the year, even if it is just a page a day, because then I still progress, and I always have fun when I do it anyway.
What are you working on now?
I’m writing the sequel to Aizai, which takes up where the first book left off. In the sequel, there is an extra point of view character, and it takes place in different time periods (the seventeenth century in Spain as well as the twelfth century in Scotland). This involves much more research, but since it is fantasy, most of my books are only loosely historical, so I make up a lot of things myself.
What do you want readers to take away from your books?
I don’t plan any particular themes or messages I want readers to take, because I find that these just emerge with the telling of the story. But I do hope that readers gain a sense of hope and inspiration from my stories. I always include magic as a key element, and I make it so that it arises naturally in ways that are in accord with many philosophical and esoteric traditions, so that in a sense, it is possible, and I hope that readers will be more interested in philosophy and the deeper parts of fantasy literature. I think that fantasy has a lot to offer about life and noble qualities, which is something Tolkien talked about in his lovely essay “On Fairy- Stories”.
How much research did you do for your book, and how did you go about it?
Like I said above, I do research more sporadically when it is needed. Depending on what I’m looking for, I might just look online (such as with historical clothing) or get a book from the library (such as with Medieval monasteries, or certain topics in philosophy). For this, I just take notes on things that would be useful or photocopy certain pages. Right now, I’m reading The Philosophy of Ancient Britain for research for my next novel, which is something I would want to read anyway, but it is also useful for things that I’ll incorporate with Druids in my book. Though since I write fantasy, I make up a lot of things myself, so my research is usually just for general historical things such as how people lived in certain times.
Where can readers find you one the web?
(you could just put my website link if you want)
Where can readers buy your book?
Any last words?
For writers out there: find what you really love to write and write that, because that’s the best story for you to tell.
And thanks for interviewing me on your blog!
Mary-Jean Harris writes fantasy and historical fiction, both novels and short stories. Some of her short stories have been published in anthologies and websites, including the upcoming Tesseracts 18 anthology, Polar Expressions Publishing, and Black Lantern Publishing. Two of her short stories have been honourable mentions in the Writers of the Future contest in 2013 and 2014. Mary-Jean is currently a student at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada, studying theoretical physics with a minor in philosophy. She has an adorable poodle and a rabbit, and has travelled to England, Scotland, and Peru and hopes to travel to many other interesting places.
Blurb for book:
With an otherworldly horse borrowed from an astrologer, and armed with a strange magical device, seventeen-year-old Wolfdon Pellegrin sets off through seventeenth-century France and Spain to fulfill his dream of finding the forgotten realm of Aizai.
One obscure book, by the philosopher Paulo de la Costa Santamiguero, has given him a lead to start his journey—go to the northern coast of Spain, where a portal to Aizai supposedly exists.
Though death and danger loom ever near, nothing can dim the longing for Aizai kindling within Wolfdon’s heart. Yet even as he strives to discover the mysterious realm’s secrets and fate, a frightening truth becomes clear—one that may cost Wolfdon everything, including the future.
“I must be off,” Wolfdon said, deciding that he would try to find these Philosophers and anyone else who knew about Aizai or Paulo.
Fredrick then took Wolfdon’s arm and whispered, “I suppose you have a proper Wert?”
Wolfdon shook his head, having never heard of a “Wert” before. Fredrick released him and took a thick rod from a strap on his belt. At first glance, it might have been a flattened pickaxe. The rod was made of what appeared to be petrified wood, for it was hued with a pleasant entwinement of red, green, rose, and orange, and the bronze head had two blades that curved down the sides of the rod like the drooping ears of a hound so that the top was smooth and harmless. Mysterious runic writing was etched where the rod met the head.
Seeing Wolfdon’s puzzled expression, Fredrick smiled and said, “This is a spare, fortunately for you.”
“What does it do?” Wolfdon asked.
“That is for the bearer to determine. A Wert is what we make of it—its power will shift accordingly. Ay! Rub that skeptical face away! The best men carry a Wert at all times, even Queen Anne Sophie of Norway.