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:
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.