The Debutante Ball Welcomes J. Anderson Coats!

We’re so pleased to have J. Anderson Coats with us today. Just take a look at her bio and you’ll see why we’re so excited to have had the chance to interview her!

J. Anderson Coats has dug for crystals, held Lewis and Clark’s original hand-written journal and been a mile underground. She has a cool surgery scar unrelated to childbirth, she reads Latin, and she’s been given the curse of Cromwell on a back-road in Connemara.  On a clear day, she can see the Olympic mountains from her front window. On the foggy ones, she can smell the Puget Sound.

And now a bit about THE WICKED AND THE JUST:

1293.  North Wales.  Ten years into English rule.  Cecily is an unwilling transplant to the English walled town of Caernarvon, and she’d like nothing better than to go home.  Gwenhwyfar, a Welsh servant in Cecily’s new house, would like nothing better than to see all the English go home.  The ruling English impose harsh restrictions and taxation on the Welsh, and conditions in the countryside are growing desperate.  The rumors of rebellion might be Gwenhwyfar’s only salvation – and the last thing Cecily ever hears.

Wow, right? And now onto the interview:

Talk about one book that made an impact on you.

When I was in the sixth grade, my gifted enrichment program did a unit on medieval culture.  One of the books available for our perusal was Castle by David MacCaulay.  (If you’ve never read it, Castle is a slice-of-life tour through a fictional castle in Wales with the most lovely and detailed illustrations.)  This book pulled me so firmly into the medieval world that I don’t think I’ve ever really left.  Castle made the middle ages feel familiar, approachable and real.

I went straight to my public library and systematically checked out every book on medieval Wales, then the middle ages in general.  When I’d read them all, I started harvesting titles from bibliographies and bugging my mother to get books for me on interlibrary loan.  This was how I learned how crass MacCaulay’s anglicizations were, but by then I was off to the races with other things, most notably When was Wales? by Gwyn Williams.

Williams’ dissection of traditional scholarship on medieval Wales introduced me to the idea that history isn’t facts, but a collection of narratives written by human beings for a given purpose.  The Wales that Williams presented was a complicated, fascinating place where history wasn’t encapsulated in the past, but had real and immediate bearing on the present.

Talk about one thing that’s making you happy right now.

Real Simple magazine.  I’m in awe of living-room makeovers and subtle eyeshadow and one-skillet dinners that involve fennel.  My “décor” involves big piles of books and a relentless, futile attempt to keep the dinner table clear enough to eat on.  But Real Simple makes me feel full of potential, even if the sofa has been “antiqued” by Thumbkitty and I wouldn’t know toner from exfoliant.  And potential is a good feeling.

What is your advice for aspiring writers?

Read.  Read widely. Read new books, old books, articles.  Read the back of the cereal box.  Immerse yourself in language.  Listen for how different writers sound in your head.  Read in the genre you want to write in.  Read outside of it.  Read things that are praised and things that are panned.  Read.  Everything.  It all has something to teach you.

Write.  Write every day, even if it’s a scribble on a grocery store receipt you pull out of the bottom of your backpack.  Develop the habit of producing words on a story, poem, novel, song each and every day.  So much of writing is discipline.  It’s butt-in-chair.  You can have the best ideas in the world, but when they’re in your head and not on the page, the only person who can enjoy them is you.

Listen.  Listen to feedback especially.  Find someone you trust who’ll read what you write and give honest, useful – and most of all – constructive feedback.  Listen to what he or she has to say.  Nothing any of us write is ever perfect the first time, and the only way to figure out how to make it better to be open to feedback and revise until sings off the page.

Give yourself permission to write crap.  Everyone’s first drafts suck.  Your favorite writer?  Her first drafts suck.  Your other favorite writer?  His first drafts suck.  It’s more important to just write.  Get it on the page and repeat after me: “It’s a first draft.  It’s supposed to suck.”  You can fix things in a crappily-written first draft, but it’s impossible to fix what doesn’t exist.

Don’t let yourself get stuck.  Read books on craft if you need to, but don’t get hung up on rules.  There are no rules.  There are only tools.  There are things that work and things that don’t.  Write something every day.  Learn from what you read.  Learn from who you talk to.  But the only way to be a writer is to write.

What’s your next big thing?  (new book, new project, etc.)

I’m working on several projects right now.  One is a companion novel to The Wicked and the Just which follows Maredydd ap Madog, whose father is the ringleader of the rebellion of 1294, as he negotiates the future his father wants for him and the future he wants for himself.  Then there’s a standalone book that’s set in twelfth-century Wales about a warband, an abduction, a badly-timed war, a charismatic but mercurial king’s son and a girl who would do about anything for a chance at a normal life.

What’s the strangest job you’ve ever had?

I don’t know if I’ve ever had a normal job.  I’ve answered phones for a meat-packing plant.  I’ve fetched coffee, sewed costumes and done laundry for dancers and actors at a theater.  I’ve lifted boxes of rocks at a silver mine (while pregnant!) and explained to college freshmen why the library could not buy copies of every textbook assigned to them.  I’ve been a personal attendant to a small screaming person who required round-the-clock supervision and attention – which, incidentally, was the absolute hardest of them all in terms of physical, emotional and psychic tolls.

Currently I have two jobs: my day job that keeps the lights on where I incrementally accrue an unusual amount of knowledge about industrial supplies, and my real job writing for young adults.  Guess which one I love more?

We bet we can guess! Thanks so much for being with us, today!

If you want more information about our esteemed guest or her book, which just released this week:



Twitter: @jandersoncoats


J. has graciously offered up a signed copy of THE WICKED AND THE JUST to one of our lucky commenters (US only, please)!  To be entered, just leave a message below, telling us about one of the strangest jobs you’ve had.

36 Replies to “The Debutante Ball Welcomes J. Anderson Coats!”

  1. Thanks for being here with us today, J, especially considering this is your launch week and we’re sure you’re VERY busy, what with all the great buzz THE WICKED AND THE JUST is getting! We get a lot of advice (and dish out plenty, too) around here, but I particularly like your tip for not getting stuck on rules, and to learn from the world around us rather than getting hung up on craft books and how other people say we’re supposed to write–very wise. Thanks again!

    1. Thanks for hosting me! It’s so great to be here. There’s always something new to learn – from books, from other people, from the world. You never know what’s going to matter when you write.

  2. Great interview, Jillian! I am amazed that your fascination with Wales began so early. It seems like you were destined to write THE WICKED AND THE JUST. And I love your writing advice, especially the part about crappy first drafts and reading widely. Sometimes I get so immersed in the YA world that I forget all the other incredible novels, poems, essays that are out there waiting to inspire me. Thanks for the reminders! And congrats again on the successful launch of TWATJ!

    1. I agree with you, Eve – some people are destined to write certain stories, aren’t they? And yeah, isn’t it great to go back and revisit those books that really inspired us and shaped our work? Thanks again to you both, my Class of 2k12 sibs!

    2. When I was working on the launch, I didn’t have a lot of time for reading, and I found that writing was *so much harder* when I wasn’t reading. I was surprised how much harder it is to create when you’re not immersed in a world that fuels ideas and nudges sentences into form.

  3. Hi! So happy to see you here at the Ball today–thank you agreeing to dance! THE WICKED AND THE JUST sounds like an amazing book–just the kind I would have devoured as a teen (and still will now).

    Your advice to writers is spot on, too.

    Happy Launch! 🙂

  4. Hi, J! Thank you so much for visiting with us.

    CASTLE! I adored that book! I remembering poring over it in my younger years and now I’ve gotten to share it with my kids.

    THE WICKED AND THE JUST sounds fabulous–the summary had me from the start. And your writing advice is so right on–especially in giving ourselves permission to write lousy first drafts–and guess what? They are so often better than we expect 😉

    Wishing you a wonderful launch!

    1. What’s funny is that you never know what’s going to be *the thing* that sticks with a kid and changes her whole life. I’m sure my teacher was just pulling every useful book off the library shelf for us to use in class. I guess that’s why we show everything we can to our kids whenever we can. Thanks for your good wishes!

  5. Somehow this is not what I expected this book to be about from the title. It sounds great! Something new. The strangest job I’ve ever had was cleaning a dental office after high school, which isn’t that strange, but sometimes the dentist would call me in to assist him and I bet the patients thought I was awfully young to be a dental assistant…
    Great interview. I love your bio 🙂

    1. But did it make you want to *avoid* dentistry? I had a crazy orthodontist who completely turned me off medicine, and I didn’t even work for him!

  6. I love how we get to “meet” so many authors. Thank you for this great introduction. Clearly, I need to read Castle in addition to The Wicked and the Just. The cover is amazing and also inviting!

    Lately, I have enjoyed reading YA books aloud to my bonus kids. I have found that is really working to get them “hooked” on books. You know when they want me to read to them over watching TV, it’s working. Plus, I love how the book can teach other things. So reading a book like this to them could teach them some great history!


    1. As a librarian by training, I always love hearing that people are reading to kids. I asked my mom read to me till I was 12, and she never *ever* told me I was too old for it. Go you!

  7. I love Wales and this sounds like a great book. And what a fun interview!

    The strangest job I ever had was also my first one – working the snack bar at a country club pool, which involved serving drinks, cleaning ketchup off tables and helping my boss with her summer college homework. That last part was not in the job description!

    1. I suppose it probably would have been bad to sabotage her homework, right? “No really, Napoleon DID successfully invade and conquer Russia. It was under French control until 1958. Really!”

  8. Your advice is spot on. So many times I hear the advice to read widely within your genre, but I agree with you. Reading everything will strengthen your own work and will make your reading life much more rich.

  9. The strangest job I’ve had….working on Air Conditioning units on third shift. It was brutal. The same assembly over and over and over….all night long. Yea, I didn’t last long.

    deadtossedwaves at gmail dot com

    1. Did you dream about it? That’s the weirdest thing about my day job. Sometimes I dream about spreadsheets. I figure I should be paid overtime for that.

  10. Ooo… I was just reading about this book and marked it “to-read”!

    Strangest job… well, I was once a travel agent. Only, I worked at a giant call center. We were about 50 different companies. When the phone rang my computer would tell me how to answer the phone. I worked the night shift. And it was in England, so I had all these people with thick accents (speaking of Welsh!) that I couldn’t understand wanting to take a holiday on various islands in Greece that I had never heard of. I have no idea why they hired me.

    1. It would have been funny (albeit potentially actionable) to have just sent them wherever you wanted them to go. Tokyo, St. Petersburg, Cairo, Sao Paolo – surprise vacation!

  11. My strangest job was definitely being a caddy.

    Now, I know what you’re thinking: ‘it’s not that weird to be a golf caddy, although slightly odder because you’re female.’

    Here’s the thing. I wasn’t a golf caddy; I was a bridge caddy. ‘What’s bridge,’ you ask? A card game old people play. ‘What did you actually have to do?’ I carried cards around and picked up score sheets. Fun times. Also, a lot of old people are really rude, kind of like the English. True facts.

    1. I’ve got to say this is pretty weird. I knew about bridge, but I never knew there were caddies involved.

      And having watched my parents and grandparents play pinochle, I can totally imagine how not-nice the oldsters were to you. They took cards seriously, dang it!

  12. The strangest job I have ever had was sorting clothes at a thrift store. The store had so much stuff it couldn’t possibly keep it all so it was my job to decide if the items should go on the floor or be put in bags to be re-donated somewhere else. It wasn’t always easy because depending on who was volunteering they’d have opinions on what clothing was acceptable. They’d turn down $200 coach purses for silver platform shoes. Usually I’d rescue the items but sometimes it wasn’t possible 🙁

    1. You want to hear something weird? That job sound kind of fun. Like a treasure hunt! What was the strangest thing someone donated?

      1. Oh I loved every minute of it. Strangest item had to be The Woman’s purse filled with those little match packs restaurants used to give out to their smoking guests or ermmm the elderly lady who said she was donating her son’s old vases and they turned out to be bongs. Needless to say was embarresing but I wasnt going to out her son since she was so happy to donate them. I know we had quite a few beer hats with various sayings on them as well. I really miss that job.

  13. Great interview, you two! I can’t tell you what to do with fennel or explain the difference between toner and exfoliant, but I am certainly relieved to learn that I am not alone. My strangest job was when I was 7 years old and my brother paid me a penny a branch to hack the limbs off pine trees with a hatchet. Yes, a hatchet, at 7. When my dad found out about it, he was furious! But not about the hatchet. He’d been paying my brother a nickel a branch, and my brother hadn’t told him that I’d been the one actually cutting the branches… while he sat back and collected 4 cents per.

    1. This is going to sound terrible, but it was kind of brilliant of your brother to think that up. I bet he’s your *older* brother, too. Because that sounds like something my older brother would have done to me.

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