A few months ago I was contacted by an author with the request to read his book. I'm very glad I accepted, since his debut novel is one heck of an adventure. Here is the interview with the author of the epic novel Birthrights, J. Kyle McNeal.
What inspired the storyline of “Birthrights” and its title?
The true inspiration for the series is the ending of book 4. I didn’t want to write yet another adventure where all the characters miraculously survive—where they save the day, good triumphs over evil, and everyone lives happily ever after. I wanted to write an ending as nuanced as the characters. I can’t wait to write the end I’m planning.
Why two characters with completely different lives and perspectives?
I’ve used multiple POV’s in the book in order to give a broad feel for the peoples and cultures. Having the two main protagonists in Birthrights come from varying backgrounds enables me to show the world of the Lost Land from different perspectives. I actually wanted to include a third main POV, but had to cut her from Birthrights. Kakati, however, appears in Broken Oaths (Book 2) as an important character.
How do you develop your characters? Are they based on people you know or do they come straight from your imagination?
The characters are all totally from my imagination.
What real-life inspirations did you draw from to build the world of “Birthrights”?
While the ending of the series has remained constant throughout my travels, the paths the characters must tread to reach that ending has changed dramatically from the story I started two decades ago while in college. I’ve visited more than 40 countries, absorbing cultures and religions from each. Although none of the peoples and religions in the Lost Land are based directly on another culture, I’ve tried to make them believable by incorporating the aspects I’ve witnessed during my travels.
What inspired you to create the villain(s) of the story?
Although some of my favorite classics (here’s to you, Tolkien) pit obviously good against obviously evil, I most enjoy reading books where the characters’ classifications are murky. Tyrion, from George RR Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series, is one of my all-time favorites. He’s horrible and heroic.
Although I’ve not attempted the same degree of change as Martin did with Tyrion, I’ve tried to create villains with a backstory that makes their actions sensible—even justifiable.
What is the message you wanted your readers to grasp? Do you feel it got through?
First and foremost, I wanted to tell a story readers would enjoy. However, the concept that each person’s and each culture’s “truth” depends upon perspective is woven throughout the story. As far as whether that message has been received, I’ll have to defer this answer to my readers.
If you could be part of your book as a character, who would you be and why.
None of the characters in Birthrights have a particularly easy time of it in this first book. I wouldn’t raise my hand to volunteer to be any of them. If I had to choose, though, I’d be Quint. His privileged background gives him a broader perspective that Whym must learn after growing up in RatsNet.
When did you realize you wanted to become an author?
I’ve wanted to write since an early age. In fact, I started writing this 4-book series more than 20 years ago. Three years ago, when I returned to the US after a decade working in China, I determined to make my dream a reality by writing full-time.
What was your first reaction and thought when you learned your book was been published?
It was truly an overwhelming experience to hold Birthrights in my hands. I spent two years writing full-time to reach that point, so it marked the realization of a long-held dream.
Do you have a writing quirk? If yes, what is it?
I often speak out loud to myself as I write, particularly dialogue. And when I’m not articulating the words, I tend to almost hum them.
What are your future projects?
I’m currently finishing up edits on Broken Oaths, book 2 of the Revisions to the Truth series, to be released June 1, 2018.
I’m also querying Judges by Jij, a YA Paranormal Suspense novel.
In the future, I have two more books to finish the series, and I hope to squeeze in a middle-grade book—with dragons—for my daughter.
This is my second author interview and I'm very grateful that I got to know this author a bit better and understand the person that created this amazing moving novel.
Thank you Ronan for the great opportunity and your honest answers!
What brought you to write this book?
A lot of ingredients went into the pot. One was reading Horace Walpole’s assertion that the world is comic to those who think and tragic to those who feel. Initially, I wanted to tell a tragic story from a comedic perspective, with Jimmy as a feeler and his twin as a thinker. Once I began to write it, the tragic and comedic elements quickly became entwined and inseparable.
What inspired you to create these characters?
While none of the characters have real counterparts, all of them are informed by what I’ve observed in the people I’ve known. Every character was inspired differently. I designed Grace’s life to be a series of traps, with no solutions – as I was writing about her, that felt increasingly cruel but I tried to see it through without flinching. There’s a line in Timothy Findley’s The Wars about how it’s impossible to dislike a man who frequently blushes, and that provided the starting point for Eamon. I wouldn’t have given Art the back story he had if I hadn’t read George Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia. A big part of the fun of writing a novel is imagining characters with contrasting personalities and then putting them in a room together and seeing what sparks fly.
Which passage or scene inspires you the most?
For me, the most important section of the book is the final chapter. The situation is a dark one, and traumas have accumulated for Jimmy, but his twin is earnestly making an argument for seizing life anyway.
If you could give Jimmy a piece of advice in the beginning of the book, what would it be?
I would urge him to be a better communicator with his loved ones. Deep regrets tend to come more from leaving something unsaid rather than from having said the wrong thing. Also, whenever possible, it’s wise to steer clear of dangerous dogs and gangsters.
What did you learn by writing this novel?
The more I wrote about Jimmy, the more I wished that he would treat himself better. This somehow helped me to turn a corner in my own life and I learned how to be kinder to myself than I had been before I wrote the book. Through the good fortune I’ve had in getting Jimmy Dice out into the world, I’ve learned that I wasn’t delusional during all the years I spent thinking I could be a published writer one day, which is good to know.
What motivated you to become a writer?
When I was nineteen, my closest friend died and I was broken up about it. I wrote down every memory I had of our time together and this unlocked something in me. I became determined to write a novel I could dedicate to her and, by publishing Jimmy Dice, I’ve been able to do that. Now, my primary motivation to keep writing is my absolute love of it. I’ve been incredibly lucky with the support I’ve had from others and that’s motivating too: I feel indebted to anyone who has believed in me and I want to prove them right by writing the best books that I’m capable of.
When you’re writing what objects do you always have close by?
A mug of black coffee. My phone – I keep it in flight mode so I won’t be distracted and I set my alarm to take a break after a block of three hours and fifteen minutes, although I’ll push past that if the writing is going well. A stack of four poker chips – having them to fidget with helps me to concentrate.
What are your Top 3 books and why did you choose them?
I’ll cheat here and say The Complete Works of Margaret Atwood, T.C.W. of E.L. Doctorow, and T.C.W. of Marilynne Robinson. None of these writers have had their books collected in a single volume, but I could solve this problem with a supply of glue and duct-tape. Atwood, Doctorow, and Robinson, in their own distinct ways, are daring, smart, and funny, and they each make me care when I read their books.
If you could spend a day with a fictional character who would it be?
I believe in facing my fears so I’ll go with Pennywise from Stephen King’s It. Actually, that’s a terrible idea. Instead, I’ll choose Rachel from Daphne du Maurier’s My Cousin Rachel – I suspect that this story would be very different if told from her point of view and I’d like to hear that.
What advice can you give to aspiring authors?
I think there are four key factors in building a career: talent, work ethic, luck, and originality. These are interrelated, i.e. you’ll find that the harder you work, the luckier you’ll get. Having a strong work ethic has to be a given, but don’t worry too much about luck or talent. Talent is overrated – it’s only what you start off with and it’s not fixed in place. Originality is everything that makes you a little different to other writers. You don’t need to have led an unusual life, but it’s important to figure out what’s off-kilter about how you see the world and embrace that in your writing. If you can get your sense of humour on the page, you’re on the right track.
You published your debut novel. What’s next?
Write and publish ten more novels, take a short holiday, write and publish another ten novels, short holiday, and so on.
I got the opportunity to interview the author of the novel The Carver in order to get to know the man behind the pages and the inspiration. I want to thank Janelle Leonard, Marketing and Publicity Corddinator at Blaze Publishing for reaching out and allowing to get to know the author better!
What inspired you to create this storyline?
Some of the research I did in grad school tied back to the stories of Peter Pan and Pinocchio. I was fascinated not only by the similarities between the two characters, but by how much that research humanized them and their struggles. There was this moment where I realized these characters could be anybody, so I had lots of impractical questions that I started daydreaming about: What if these characters grew up? What if they had kids--what would those kids be like? What if one of these characters was your neighbor, or the lady on the subway, or your dad? It started there, and then I couldn't stop it! It spiraled into The Carver. Thank you grad school!
Which messages do you want to send to your readers with this novel?
I want them to close the book feeling a sense of wonder about the world around them and a deeper appreciation for family in whatever way they choose to define that. To me, the bonds between Rosana, Enzo, and Pietro make up a sort of "chosen family," even if they're almost forced to take this journey together. Rosana never met her father, for example, so part of the fun is letting her form special bonds with these new characters who randomly show up in her life. Pietro sort of becomes like everybody's surrogate uncle, and there are some brotherly moments between Enzo and Liam. For me, those bonds were the beauty of bringing these characters together.
What was your favourite chapter/scene to write? Why?
I loved writing the scene on top of the Empire State Building! It's the first big turning point where several characters and storylines intertwine. When the main characters finally met, that's when I knew I'd reached the point of no return in writing this story. It was also a blast to write the courtyard battle toward the end of the book!
What was the hardest chapter/scene to write? Why?
For some reason, I had trouble with the pages that come right after Enzo's father disappears. I had to rewrite those quite a few times because I couldn't get the pacing right or get Enzo to react with enough realism. It was a moment that pushed me because I had to let my mind slip into a darker place than I'm used to writing about.
Who is your favourite character in the novel?
Ahhh the dreaded question! Well, I'll say that every character has good days and bad days. There are a few that really grew on me as the trilogy progressed, like Enzo and Rosana. But I've been very pleased to see that Pietro and Hansel have been fan favorites especially in the first book, because I have huge soft spots for them. Pietro because he's probably the most like me, and Hansel because his plight is understandable. You'd also be right to hate him a little because of what he's done to these characters, but you'd also be 100% correct to feel some love for him because if you were in his place, it'd be hard to imagine acting any differently.
What inspired the book cover?
It was important to me that the cover capture the meeting of two different worlds--the one we know and the one the fairytales are made of! New York and the Woodlands are the hubs of each world, and the mirror ties the whole thing together. The awesome thing is that my editor and I had the same ideas and were very much on the same page with the cover!
What was one of the most surprising things you discovered while writing this book?
I guess I was most surprised when I actually sat down and read the original stories before I got to work on this. Peter Pan was always one of my favorite characters, but the J.M. Barrie novel has some dark undertones I didn't expect to find. It's funny because people who know me well are often surprised by the darker scenes in The Carver. I'm normally kind of a goof, but the darkness of the original stories spilled into my writing. That's what I wanted though--a story about light vs. dark that could be faithful to the source material while also putting my own spin on it.
Could you describe the most mundane details about your writing process: how many hours to do spend writing? Do you use paper for your drafts or a computer? How do you research for references?
The number of hours really vary from week to week! Because I also work full-time and it involves a heavy commitment to weekend and evening availability, I never really know how much free time I'm going to have from week to week so I set writing objectives as opposed to hour goals. On Sunday night, I might say, "I need to write 4-5K new words by next Sunday night," or "I need to revise chapters 1-10 by next Wednesday," or "I need to refine ALL of this character's dialogue by this deadline." I don't tend to write drafts on paper often, but you should see the post-its galore on my desk and the notebooks I fill with idea webs, character notes, plot points, scribbles, etc! Those notebooks go everywhere with me. References usually start with Google, but I follow a trail as long as I need until I feel good about the credibility!
Does the book have any hidden secrets or meanings that are meant for few people to discover?
Hmmm, I didn't write the book with any hidden meanings in mind--at least not intentionally! I'll be curious to see if anybody finds something one day ;) there are little Easter eggs here and there that mostly tie back to my own life or shout out to things I love. I had to mention Charlottesville and Arizona, for example, which are two places I've called home.
Which authors influenced you the most in your life?
Oooh, many!!! From childhood, J.K. Rowling, Rick Riordan, and J.R.R. Tolkien. I have this battered copy of The Hobbit I used to take everywhere when I was in elementary school. More recently though, I've developed a lot of love for Sabaa Tahir, V.E. Schwab, and Pierce Brown!
What is your favourite under-appreciated novel?
The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto by Mitch Albom, which I finished in a day. I say it's underappreciated because I haven't actually met anybody else who's read it. I think of it as Forrest Gump for music lovers, which I suppose is a very specific niche in the market, but it's beautifully written and I just happen to be a Forrest Gump/music lover! It almost has a bit of a fairytale vibe too, so it hits me in all the right places!
You will find here interviews with authors that I had the pleasure of getting to know after reviewing their books!