Monday, February 13, 2012

An Interview with J.A. Beard Author of The Emerald City.

Last week, J.A. Beard released his debut novel "The Emerald City."

In this loose re-imagining of the Wizard of Oz, Kansas teen Gail Dorjee has tried to escape from the pain of her parents' death by retreating into a hard shell of anger and sarcasm.

When her aunt and uncle ship her off to an elite Seattle boarding school, Osland Academy, she spends her first day making enemies, including the school's most powerful clique, the Winged, and their leader, the ruthless Diana.

Social war and the school's uptight teachers are only mild annoyances. Mysterious phone outages, bizarre behavioral blocks, and strange incidents suggest Osland is focused on something much more sinister than education.

Now Gail has to survive at Osland with a pretty pathetic assortment of potential allies: her airhead roommate, a cowardly victim of the Winged, and Diana's cold, but handsome, boyfriend, Nick.

What inspired you to write a story based on the Wizard of Oz?

I like musicals. A couple years back, the Broadway touring production of Wicked rolled into town. Now, for those unfamiliar with it, it's an adaptation of a book by Gregory Maguire. His story is a revisionist retelling of the WONDERFUL WIZARD OF OZ from the point of view of the Wicked Witch of the West. Although it adds some details and changes character perceptions, it's still firmly set in L. Frank Baum's Oz.

After watching Wicked, I became inspired. I wanted to write some sort of Oz story, but writing something directly set in Oz didn't really appeal to me. I'd been on a reading streak of YA paranormal/urban fantasies at the time, so the idea of adapting Oz to a more modern YA setting seemed like a good plan. After all, Dorothy wasn’t an adult when she traveled to Oz.

I'm originally from the Pacific Northwest, so I immediately thought of setting the story in Seattle, which has had the nickname "The Emerald City" for a while now. 

Given that my immediate inspiration for this story was a musical, some of that also made it in. Obviously, I don't have a sound track or anything, but a character with a beautiful singing voice plays a key role in the plot.

What genres do you prefer to write in and why?

I actually like to dabble in many genres, but my manuscript focus in recent years has been on fantasy/ paranormal and historical fiction.


Fantasy and paranormal works appeal to me because outside the writing context I'm a very skeptical sort. I don't believe in magic, psychic powers, or anything like that. I sometimes joke that the only magic I believe in is the magic of compound interest (I forget where I first heard that joke). It's terrific fun for me to imagine worlds where those sorts of abilities exist and influence people—a nice bit of escapism.

That being said, the addition of supernatural abilities and aspects to a story allows a sort of philosophical and sociological exploration as well. You get to start asking questions about how people would react if they had certain abilities or how a society would be different, for example, if a medieval government had professional telepaths. What impact would the mass creation of magical automatons have on a rural slave-owning society? Would a modern American high school student abuse special powers? Why or why not?

The interesting thing is that when you start asking these questions, the answers start suggesting a lot about human nature (or at least a particular perception of it). So fantasy and paranormal works, while being fun on a purely escapist level, also help me explore my thoughts on human nature.

My love of historical fiction flows naturally from my love of history. I'll never have a time machine to visit and interact with the past, so the closest I can get to time travel is directly engaging the past via the creation of historical fiction. Although I've always been interested in history, it's not until I started working on historical fiction that I really became engaged with the day-to-day lives of people in the past.

What would you like readers to come away with after reading The Emerald City?

I’m hoping, first and foremost, that readers enjoy the story as an entertaining urban fantasy take on a classic but also appreciate the emotional depth of the story. I put a lot of effort into character development, so I’m hoping my characters will be memorable.

Who is your favorite character and why? 

Gail’s my first favorite. She’s feisty yet vulnerable. She’s a good person, for the most part, but far from perfect. I’m not so fond of anti-heroes in fiction, so I worked hard to create a realistic, flawed character that still is a heroine and not an anti-heroine.

Lydia, Gail’s roommate, is my second favorite. She’s a bit of a comic relief character who Gail calls the “Queen of Sunshine”. She has a quirk of constantly screwing up famous quotes, though she does play an important “serious” role in the plot as well. There’s a nice little contrast with her as well. She’s normally a bit of an airhead, but sometimes her weird thought processes let her figure out things that pass by others. 

I’m a very cynical person, so it was actually rather a challenge to write a completely non-cynical character.

Did you have to do any research for this story?

Not much really, particularly compared to my fantasy and certainly compared to my historical fiction WIPs. I had to research Tibetan myths a bit, but that's about it. The story is set in modern times in a region I'm familiar with. The only thing I double-checked on a lot was what elements were in the original WONDERFUL WIZARD OF OZ versus the movie. The former is in public domain whereas the latter is not. I definitely don't want to step on anyone's intellectual property toes.

What is the theme of this story?

Well, I’d say there are twin themes: belonging and grief. The main character, Gail, has become detached from the world in an unhealthy way as she’s let her grief over her parents’ death swallow her up and turn into anger. Before leaving Kansas, she basically alienated all her friends. Now, she’s in a new place with a new opportunity. It’s her very separation from others and isolation that’s helping to keep her from dealing with her feelings. It’s somewhat ironic that it takes supernatural events to finally get her to deal with it. There’s also a nice contrast in that Gail is a sort of thematic mirror for the true villain in the story.
Who do you believe is the best audience for this book?

Well, it’s a young adult book primarily targeted at teen girls, but I’ve had boys, girls, men, and women of various ages read it and enjoy it. It’s a nice character-driven story with a supernatural overlay. So, really, anyone who enjoys character-driven stories should enjoy it. Despite it being an adaptation of the WONDERFUL WIZARD OF OZ, you don’t even have to be familiar with that to enjoy it. It’s a nice story that stands on its own, but those familiar with OZ will have some fun, I think, with the various references and allusions. Some are very obvious, and some not so much.

What made you decide to Indie publish?

You simply don’t need publishers to get access to the reading public, especially with the rise of the e-book revolution. If a publisher approached me and offered me a good deal, I might take it, but I see no compelling reason to potentially spend years trying to get traditionally published.   

Tell us a little about yourself outside of writing.

I like to describe myself as a restless soul married to an equally restless soul. My two children are too young yet to discuss whether or not they are restless souls, but I’m betting on it. I like to call myself the Pie Master, yet I'm too cowardly to prove my skills in an actual baking competition. So, really, I'm merely a Potential Pie Master. I’m also currently working on my PhD in microbiology, but I have no interest in writing medical or biological thrillers.

Are there plans for a sequel?Yes. Although THE EMERALD CITY is a complete story that can be enjoyed as a stand-alone, it’s also the first book of the planned Osland Trilogy. The sequel, THE ETERNAL CITY, should be out near the end of the summer.

What other projects are you working on?

With the aid of my editor, I'm finishing up edits on two other projects scheduled for release in February and March respectively, A WOMAN OF PROPER ACCOMPLISHMENTS and MIND CRAFTER. 

A WOMAN OF PROPER ACCOMPLISHMENTS is a slightly alt-history (sorry Americans, we lost the Revolution in this timeline) sweet Regency paranormal romance.

MIND CRAFTER is a fantasy story focused around a young telepath who gets drawn into a dangerous conspiracy involving a religious cult.

Though I'm also working on the sequels to the above, I'm also working on a historical thriller planned for release in the fall. This story will be set in Heian era of Japanese history. 

I'm "cheating" a bit in that I have several novels I'm releasing this year, but most of those manuscripts were completed previously and just in need of some editing.


Thanks for chatting with me today and best of luck.
It's good to be able to update my blog.

Visit J.A. here:

Google Plus

Purchase Links:

Barnes and Noble

I just had to find a pic of the Emerald City.


J.A. Beard said...

Thanks for having me.

Michael Offutt, Tebow Cult Initiate said...

I love that pic of Emerald City.

Rusty Webb said...

That is a great pic. Looks like I missed a post or two from you. Sorry about that.

Anyway, good interview.

Jay Noel said...

Her book sounds fantastic! And her cover is spellbinding. Great interview.

Loving Emerald City...I can smell the Capitalism (sorry, that was for Michael's benefit)

J.A. Beard said...

Thanks. I hope you check it out.