Friday, April 15, 2011

An Interview with Author J. Andrew Jansen

It's Friday. It's interview #24. It's up-and-coming novelist and critique partner extraordinaire J. Andrew Jansen! Take a moment and check out his blog HERE, where he talks about his own writing journey. He's got some really interesting posts that outline his current editing process. He's writing a super fantasy novel that I've been lucky to be part of in the critiquing process.

Welcome to Unwritten again, Andrew! Kick off your shoes and sit a spell. Tell us about what you do when you're not writing  or thinking about writing.

By day I am a mild-mannered industrial programmer.  If you've ever watched shows like "How It's Made", I write the software that controls the machines that makes things in factories.  I have software making everything from Honda Odyssey minivans to Twinkies to Yoplait Yogurt.  I get to see things that very few others do.  Earlier this week I was standing next to a 2800 degree F oven filled with molten glass.  I really love that aspect of my job, and will be sad to see it go when I am a multi-millionaire published author.

I'm also the father of four kids ranging from 19 to 11, arranged boy, girl, boy, girl.  I recently celebrated my 16th wedding anniversary.  Needless to say, all of this keeps my days filled.  I do make a point of blocking out 2 hours a day from 9pm to 11pm to do my writing, however.  I can't imagine anything getting done on my story if I didn't, and recommend making that commitment to anyone who is serious about writing.  My creative time is while I am driving, which gives me my material for when I sit down to write.

The "About Me" section of your blog describes a line that spawned your current story. Want to tell us about it and how it evolved from there?

Ha.  Keep in mind that when this happened, I was not a writer, didn't write anything, didn't even really read for fun anymore, because I am always having to do research on equipment I am working on.  In that mindset, here is the story.

I woke one morning with a phrase stuck in my head.  "Llaewyn stopped running.  He knew he was going to die."  I thought nothing of it as I had never met this Llaewyn guy, and went about my day.  The next morning, it was there again.  And again.  And again.  Finally, I wrote it down, thinking that surely it would leave me alone after that.  No such luck.  Google documents will not give me a date, but it does tell me that I first sat down three years ago and wrote out 934 words about an elf, Llaewyn, being hunted down and killed by an orc named Gelrog to recover a magical stone.  The two characters remain in the story today, but nothing of that scene remains.  In fact, Llaewyn and Gelrog don't even meet directly.

Thus began a long and winding journey through many iterations of story lines.  I have plenty of stuff written that just doesn't fit the current plot.  All of it has been a learning process, though very little has been, or will be, shared.  When I joined Critique Circle, my skill level rose exponentially, because I met people that were willing to tell me very pointedly what I was doing wrong.  As an added bonus, I have started reading fiction again.  My shiny new kindle gets about $25 to $30 per month of new content.

What is the tentative title of your novel right now? And can you tell us about the editing process you're employing with it?

My current working title is "The Priestess, the Protector".  My editing process was fairly unfocused at first, mostly consisting of fixing things pointed out by critique partners.  Then I read "Story Engineering" by Larry Brooks. It laid out a road map of how stories flow, where plot points belong, how scenes work, and so on.  I have been using a slightly modified version of his checklist for each scene as I edit my story.  It takes longer to do, but I think the quality that comes out of it is much higher.  I have a link to the book on my blog.  My latest entry in my "How I Edit" series is here:
and contains links to the other installments.  

I've seen a few of your other projects. Can you tell us anything about them?

I have two other pieces that I am currently claiming to be short stories.  One is called Elfling, and is set in the same story world as TPtP, although it takes place roughly 50-ish years prior.  One of the running jokes in fantasy fiction is that you never see young / child elves.  I decided to run with that and explain the secrecy of infant elves couched in the story of a father's effort to protect his newborn daughter from enemies inside their society who would separate them, then from enemies both real and imagined as he tries to keep her safe to adulthood.

The other is called The Host (which has to change, as I think I just saw a movie trailer with that name).  It goes in a completely different direction and is set in a more modern time frame and in our world.  An alien craft lands and takes over the mind and body of a teenage boy.  While the alien adapts to it's new host, it looks for a way to contact the fleet and call down the invasion.  The boy's younger brother learns what is happening though, and he and a friend work to stop the alien from contacting home.  

Both are fairly early in the writing cycle.  I have put them to the side for now as I finish editing TPtP.

What / who do you like to read?

Long, long, LONG ago, when I was young, I was heavily influenced by Terry Brooks.  I read the Shannara series back when there was only three (Sword, Elfstones, and Wishsong).  David Eddings was also a favorite with the Belgariad.  Katherine Kurtz with Camber of Culdi and Stephen Donaldson with Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever.  Those four authors firmly established my love of fantasy. Asimov was also big, and got me interested in science fiction.  Finally, Stephen King's early work fascinated (still does, actually) me with his ability to look inside a persons mind and find those dark corners and passages, then pull them out.  I have often said that a lot of his work is more about chronicling a characters descent into insanity then it is about gore.  His newer work I am less excited about. 

Here it comes to save the day...the random question's on its way! If you could be the villain in any film or book, who would you be and why?

A villain.  That's hard, because the primary requirement for me would be that the villain doesn't end up dead at the end of the story!  I guess following that logic, I will pick Randall Flagg.  The dude has some SERIOUS mojo going on, and always manages to slip away in the end.  Plus it has been fun watching King pull that character together across several story lines, adding bits and pieces to him as he goes.

Finally, Mr. Jansen, would you share a short excerpt of one of your stories?

I think you have read enough of my stuff to know I don't do short very well.  Nonetheless, I will share the first half of the opening scene of "The Priestess, the Protector".

       Mirian stepped up to the altar.  The blood-spattered bowl in the center held just a few fresh drops.  Disappointing.  With that small a sacrifice, it's no wonder the others aren't better healers.  High Priest Vaktril's brown eyes brooded at her from across the altar.  Beside him, Prophet Neijen, his face solemn, held a small knife out to her.  Without changing his expression, he winked.
       A smile tugged at the corners of her mouth for an instant before she caught herself.  Vaktril's lips vanished as he pressed them together harder.  Behind her, the crowd of villagers and temple workers shifted in their seats, creating a constant murmur of creaking wood and muttering voices.
       Mirian reached across the altar and accepted the knife. A bone handle balanced the thin metal blade extending three inches from the end. The blade was more of a flattened needle than a knife, thin and narrow, designed to perform this one task only. Mirian held the blade in the flame of the Candle of Purity on the altar, letting it lick around the steel. With the knife purified, she rested the tip against the palm of her right hand. She closed her eyes and tilted her head back. Her stomach danced with exhilaration. A surge of energy coursed through her, the goddess blessing her.  The pungent smell of incense filled her nose.  Her pulse raced.  Her grip tightened.  A deep breath.
       She plunged the knife through her hand.  

Thanks for coming by, Andrew. I'll be the first in line to buy your novel!

Thanks for having me over, it's been a blast. Do you have any more coffee?

Do I have any more coffee?? That's kinda like asking Bob Barker if I should spay my dog. :)


  1. Nice interview! Always a pleasure to see two people I like getting together and discussing stuff I like ;) Heh! keep it up peeps!

  2. Yay, I'm famous! Can I quit my day job now?



  3. Great interview. I love it when an author takes the time to really answer the questions. Thank you, Mysti and Andrew.

    Ellie Garratt

  4. I'd keep it for a while J. At least until I reach 100 followers :)

  5. Great interview Mysti and Andrew. Wow, another programming geek and Asimov fan too! I love the idea of writing software with such clear practical real-world outcomes too. That must be immensely satisfying.


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