Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Interview with MJ Heiser

Today I am delighted to bring you my first author interview! My first guinea pig is not only a debut author with a unique publishing story to tell, but a good friend of mine, MJ Heiser.

If, after this interview you can't stand yourself and you simply must know everything there is to know about MJ, please visit her website, her blog, her Facebook fanpage, her author page at, on Twitter, or at Canonbridge's (her publisher) website. You can also learn more about her at JA Souder's blog, where she kicked off her blog tour* last week.

LC: MJ, thank you so much for being my first interviewee. For readers who don't know, let me begin by saying that your debut novel, CORONA, is an adult fantasy novel that combines some of the best of urban and classical fantasy elements to create a unique read. And, if I may say so, it's one of the most beautiful written stories I've had the pleasure to read in a long time.

What was the inspiration for CORONA?

MJ: CORONA actually has pieces inspired by several different traditions, starting with warrior monks (translated into the all-female order of the Travellers) and carrying through into my love of the Chronicles of Narnia, which was a large part of the foundation for Jaenrye. The spark that got the project moving, however, was a documentary I saw on Father Oliver O'Grady, a pedophile priest who was moved from one parish to another in California by the Catholic Church. He was never disciplined, and he evades punishment today. I dragged him into Jaenrye as "Father Rey" to punish him myself. --After all, one of the benefits of writing is the ability to mete out justice as you see fit, right?

LC: No kidding. It's the God complex we all secretly harbor. Now, CORONA has a couple of follow-ups coming out soon. The first is actually a prequel, CANTICLE. The next will be a sequel, CRUCIBLE. Did you always plan on a trilogy, or did the plan develop as you wrote CORONA?

MJ: The prequel demanded itself as I wrote CORONA, but the idea for the trilogy didn't come up until the Epilogue was being written. The prequel is about one of the heroines of the book as a much younger woman, and the sequel was a plot device -- at first. The plot device ended up intriguing me so much I feel the need now to make something of it.

LC: Speaking of the actual writing of CORONA, I know you wrote it in a really short time-span, what kept you going?

MJ: Apart from the fact that parts of the story seemed to have been percolating in the back of my head for decades, what really kept me going was the fact that I was able to translate several of my writing buddies into the book -- and, of course, get their feedback almost instantly whenever I produced another chapter ready for consumption. I didn't want to lose momentum, either internally or externally.

LC: You released CORONA through Canonbridge with a really unique plan. Tell us more about that decision.

MJ: The uniqueness of the plan actually belongs to my cousin, Wilette Youkey, who is also a writer and an excellent graphic artist. She suggested to me that this is a new day and age for the publishing industry; thanks to e-readers, changes are happening fast, and if a writer could only be so bold as to take advantage of those changes, that writer might buy him or herself a real shot at new readers. The suggestion boiled down to opportunity; e-readers allow price points to be set by the author and/or publisher (at least they did at the time), and if you offer a book for free, or as close to free as is feasible, you could draw the attention of people eager to try out this new technology without having to commit to a pricey new bestseller. If enough of those readers like your book, review it, and recommend it to friends -- well, that kind of readership can help get an unknown author and publisher into the big bookstores, like Barnes and Noble. (Even being published through well-established publishers can't guarantee a new writer that part of the dream.)

Admittedly, I didn't want, at first, to make myself or my book the butt of this experiment, but I also know that great successes are often the result of great risk. Besides, I'd only recently encountered Canonbridge, LLC, and acquisitions editor Maggie Stewart-Grant, who was enthusiastic and as much of a maverick as I'd have to be to take the chance. Together we plunged into the deep water. We've been treading that deep water together ever since.

LC: As much as I'm dying to know how the plan is working, I'll leave my purile curiosity at the door. You and your fans did an amazing job of rallying new fans in the days leading up to your release. If anyone in your network didn't know you were a writer, you all but exploded out of the closet with that debut. Now that you've got your very own ISBN and Amazon author page, are your friends/family reacting differently to you as a writer?

MJ: I'm laughing. Actually, yes. I get a lot of comments that I've never gotten before. My friends and family are often introducing me now as "published author," and that's just crazy. I may have offended a few people by reacting badly to it -- for example, one friend I accused of being sarcastic. I couldn't deal with the attention. However, now that it's been a few weeks, I find that the conversations started by that new description -- "published author" -- are very enjoyable.

LC: You and I have discussed having musical influences for our writing. (I have soundtracks for each of my books.) What were some of your musical choices for CORONA?

MJ: First and foremost: "Viva La Vida," by Coldplay. I don't even *like* Coldplay, but that song went straight into my heart. I've also quoted a couple of other songs in the book itself: "Groove is in the Heart," by Dee-Lite, and "All Star," by Smashmouth. Beyond that we start getting into really weird stuff, like "Vicarious" by Tool and "Cursum Perficio" by Enya.

LC: Quick: who's your favorite character from CORONA?

MJ: The fairy Yvette. Her wise silliness sank deep into my heart.

LC: What practical advice do you have for aspiring writers?

MJ: Read. Read again. Write. Write again. Learn about your craft; buy writing and editing guides, or borrow them from the library. I'm not saying you have to take other people's rules for your own, but I am saying read with an open mind and an open heart. You'll discover you're already doing a lot of things right, and you'll also start to notice patterns of advice on things you may not be doing correctly. Then -- edit. Edit again. And again. When you're ready, share your work with other writers by joining a writing group or an online writer forum, like Find people like you -- if you want only to write for the love of writing, don't get too involved with the super-aggressive, constantly submitting crowd. Your heart will tell you when it's time to start publicizing yourself, so push, push, push. Hiding your art is soooo 19th century.

And never forget that you love doing this.

LC: As fun as it would be to virtually cast the fictional movie version of CORONA, I have a more interesting question: Who would play you in a movie?

MJ: Whoever she is, I hope she's younger, thinner, and far smarter. --Actually, scratch that. Make it the opposite, so when people meet the "real" me, they aren't disappointed.

LC: Don't make me get out my can of whoop-ass. You know how I feel about people giving my friends a hard time, and that includes themselves. You've been wonderful, thank you for being here today. Before we go, is there anything else you want to share?

MJ: I'd like to share some cheesecake.

LC: Make it chocolate-raspberry and we've got a date.

Thanks for taking the time. Check out CORONA in e-book format for its low debut price. The hardcover version will be out in June through Canonbridge, LLC.

- Liz

* MJ's blog tour has been involuntary, started by J.A. Souders and me. If you'd like to have MJ visit your blog to talk more about her unique publishing experience, fantasy world-building or cheesecake, please contact her through her website.


Kristan said...

That's a beautiful cover, and the book sounds so interesting. Thanks for this interview, guys!

jasouders said...

What an awesome interview! Seriously! MJ, I love that cover and I'll join in that cheesecake! Great job, Liz. So who's next on the tour?

Jill Kemerer said...

I always enjoy hearing about risk-takers. Great book concept and awesome cover!

nancy said...

Excellent interview ~ both questions and answers.

Kudos (and cheesecake) for you both!

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