Interviewed by Elvira Sanchez Kisser
Jill Williamson, award-winning author of several young adult books including the Blood of Kings trilogy, Replication, the Mission League series, and the Safe Lands trilogy. She also enjoys working with teenagers and gives writing workshops at libraries, schools, camps, and churches. And she was kind of enough to be interviewed for our newsletter.
Can you tell us a little about your latest dystopian series, Safe Lands?
Sure! The people who live in the Safe Lands are dying of a plague. Their scientists need uninfected people to study if they’re going to find a way to survive. So Safe Lands enforcers raid the village of Glenrock and take the survivors captive. The series follows three of those captive brothers. Levi wants to get his people—and his fiancé—out of the Safe Lands and back to life as normal. Mason would like to help find a cure for the thin plague, which would solve the problem for good. And Omar thinks life in the Safe Lands is so much better than what he had in Glenrock. The series follows each brother as they strive to succeed in their goals and become drawn into the plight of the Safe Lands people.
Your final book in the Safe Lands series, Rebels, has just been released, how do you feel and do you think you will revisit this world again?
It always feels good to finish a series and hear that my readers are satisfied. The only way I might revisit this world would be to publish the prequel, which takes place in current day and follows the story of the three brothers’ grandfather when he was a teenager. That book is called Thirst, and I’ve written about half of it. So I might have to finish it someday.
While you were writing, did you ever feel as if you were one of the characters?
I always feel as if I am every point-of-view character as I’m writing the book. I think that helps me really get into their heads. Sort of like acting. I need to know what it feels like to be each of those people if I’m going to portray them well in print.
Where do you seek inspiration for your stories?
For me, ideas are everywhere! I just look around me. One way is finding the right “What if?” question. Sometimes an idea will just pop into my head, like the idea for Replication. I was riding in a car on our way to pick apples. We passed farm after farm and I thought, “What if there was a farm that grew people? Clones. They could call it Jason Farms!” And I was ready to start writing!
Another thing I like to do is combine two unrelated things. For my Blood of Kings trilogy, I was on a walk with my son and we came upon a house that had burned down. There was a tree in the yard that was half charred and half leafy green. I thought it was the coolest image. I ran home and Photoshopped it. I knew I wanted to write a story about that tree. But on its own that wasn’t good enough. So I eventually combined the tree, or the idea of a land half-cursed in darkness, with telepathy. And that was enough to get me going.
What books/authors have most influenced your writing?
J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series were the books that made me want to be a writer. I was so taken in by her story-world building … I wanted to do something similar. And world building is one of my favorite aspects of writing speculative fiction. I also love Tolkien, Peretti, and Jane Austen, though I don’t know how much Jane’s work has influenced my own.
Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
Getting that first draft written is always my biggest challenge. I love editing. I love going back in and adding details and perfecting my world and planting clues. But I can’t do any of that until I write the first draft. And that sometimes takes me a while, especially on the first book in a new series when I am creating a world and haven’t got it all figured out yet.
On your website, you state that you are a Whovian. Which doctor is your favorite, and what do you like most about him?
The Tenth Doctor is my favorite. I love David Tennant. I love his voice, his crazy hair, that long coat, his pinstripes, his glasses, his sneakers. I think the fact that he became an actor with the goal of one day playing the Doctor makes him the very best at it. He just IS the Doctor to me.
Do you have any advice to librarians on how to inspire teens interested in writing?
Encourage them to finish their first draft. So many new writers get stuck rewriting, trying to perfect their beginning. And they’ll spend years writing and never finish a book. Give them permission to write horrible first drafts. That’s what I do. Because I know that I will fix it later. And I also know that I can’t fix it until I have something to fix. I can’t paint my pottery until I create the pot! Writers learn so much from finishing a book. It’s something they must do.
Give them books like Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Browne and King, Writing for Dummies by Randy Ingermanson, or anything by James Scott Bell. I learned so much from writing-craft books, and those are some of my favorites.
And you can also send them to check out the www.GoTeenWriters.com blog. We blog five days a week for teen writers. There they can connect with a community of other teen writers, find critique partners, and enter contests that will continually encourage them.
So you are a Photoshop addict, did you have any influence in your cover designs and do they meet your expectations? If you didn’t what would you have liked to see on your book covers?
I have been so blessed in my book covers. I think they’re all beautiful. I did have some influence. Each publisher asked me to fill out a form on which I was able to describe my characters and scenes from the books. But the publishers and graphic artists took that information and came up with their own ideas. I love my covers. The only one I designed myself is the cover of Storyworld First. I did that myself because I was in a hurry to have it ready before Salt Lake Comic Con, and I couldn’t find a designer to work on such short notice.
I think all my life experiences help my writing because they made me who I am. Specifically, though, the fashion industry taught me about cutthroat business, about being the little guy, about being under-appreciated. It also taught me that sometimes our dreams aren’t what we hoped they’d be, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t chase them anyway. It also taught me that I should always respect my dream, whatever it is. I did that for fashion. I studied and worked hard for almost ten years. It was a fascinating time in my life, and I’m so glad I went for it.
When I first started writing, I’d forgotten that. I thought, How hard could it be to write a book? I figured anyone could do it. But I was wrong. When I first started writing, I hadn’t respected the dream at all, and it showed! When it hit me, I pretty much put myself back to school. I spend the next four years honing my craft, writing, writing, writing. I read every writing craft book I could get my hands on. I went to more conferences. I learned everything I could. And it made a huge difference.
Can you give us your top 5 current YA author recommendations?
Brandon Sanderson. Anything by him is brilliant, but his YA series is called Steelheart.
I love Megan Whalen Turner’s books, The Thief, The Queen of Attolia, The King of Attolia.
I adore Shannon Dittemore’s Angel Eyes trilogy.
Then I’ll have to say Suzanne Collins and her Hunger Games and J. K. Rowling and her Harry Potter books, of which only the last four were YA. Both those series were so perfectly executed that I marvel each time I read them.
Can you share a little about what you are currently working on with us?
Yes! I’m writing an epic fantasy trilogy tentatively called The Kinsman Chronicles. The first book, King’s Folly, will come out in September 2015.
Here is the log line for book one: In a fantasy world, a grieving prince struggles to solve his beloved’s murder—a mystery that uncovers a conspiracy of apocalyptic proportions.
This series takes place on the same planet as my Blood of Kings series. These are some of Achan’s ancestors, so the story happens long before Achan was born. I hope my readers will enjoy it!
Thank you for taking the time for this interview for the Oregon Young Adult Network Review.
Thanks so much for talking with me! Come find me online at www.JillWilliamson.com, and we’ll talk more.