Welcome back for part three in our talk with A.J. Hartley, author of Steeplejack.
Read part one here.
Read part two here.
Airship Ambassador: Every author I’ve talked with has a different journey to seeing their works in print. What was your publishing experience like?
A.J. Hartley: I’ve been doing this a long time. I wrote long fiction for 20 long years before I was first published (this being in the days before self-publishing or the rise of so many small presses)—8 complete novels. I’ve paid my dues. My first novel published (by Penguin/Berkley) was The Mask of Atreus, an archaeological mystery/thriller. That was just over a decade ago. Steeplejack is my 13th novel.
AA: What do you think puts this story on someone’s must read/have list?
AJH: It’s weird J I mean, generically. It’s a mixture of a number of different styles and narrative types which—I think—work well together because they fit the story. The result is pretty unusual.
AA: Oh, ha! Weird could be a compliment to a great many readers! If Steeplejack were made into a movie, who would you cast as the main characters?
AJH: People I haven’t heard of. So long as the racial casting is done right, I’m good.
AA: OK, readers, start making your suggestions for casting! What kind of attention has Steeplejack generated?
AJH: I’ve had some amazing reviews, particularly in the trade journals like Publishers Weekly, Kirkus, Booklist and Shelf Awareness, all of which gave it starred reviews, which is pretty remarkable.
AA: How are new readers finding you – conventions, website, word of mouth, etc?
AJH: All of the above. My own website is www.ajhartley.net but I’m also easy to find on facebook and twitter. I’m appearing at a number of different conventions and festivals including DragonCon in Atlanta, the Texas Teen Book Festival in Austin and Fall for the Book in Virginia.
AA: For the aspiring writer, what lessons did you learn about having an agent and editor, their feedback, and your writing?
AJH: Seek out the opinions of people who know what they are talking about, and trust what they tell you. I wrote in a vacuum for far too long and it delayed my getting an agent and published. The more you learn the importance of reader response the netter you get. Authors who think they are too smart for the public never get anywhere.
AA: That lesson could apply to all of us in one way or another. There’s always someone who knows more and can help us, if we let them. Have you been on book tours and to conventions? What has that been like, and the fan reaction?
AJH: I have been doing conventions and such for years, but since this book is new I’m only just starting to meet people who had already read the book. It’s pretty great. Writing can be a lonely life. It’s nice to meet people who appreciate what you do and have been—in some admittedly tiny way—changed by your work.
AA: What do you do to keep a balance between writing and the rest of your life?
AJH: Ha. I walk a lot, though that is often followed by frantically scribbling down whatever I just came up with. I travel a good deal too (but see above re, subsequent scribbling). I play piano and guitar, neither especially well, and I read, of course. Never trust a writer who doesn’t. Oh, and I’m a Shakespeare professor. So there’s that J
AA: Shakespeare is classic for good reason, and there’s a lot people can learn by reading his work. Do you get to talk much with other writers and artists to compare notes, have constructive critique reviews, and brainstorm new ideas?
AJH: Yes, I have a lot of writer friends and we constantly compare notes about the business and the writing process. Usually over a beer .
AA: As a reader, what has made you stop reading something before finishing it? How do you try to avoid that issue in your own writing?
AJH: Bad writing. I mean, at the sentence level. If the prose itself doesn’t interest me, the story wont hold my attention. I like writers who have a sense of verbal precision and nuance, writers who can show me things through their voice, writers who will occasionally use a phrase that might be poetry or a detail so vivid that I really see or feel the moment. How do I do that myself? Practice, I guess. Revision. Putting the book away for a while and then rereading it to see if it’s any good.
AA: Oh, yes, bad writing is a big obstacle to keeping a reader’s interest. What do you consider your first real writing experience? Was it the back-to-school exercise of “What I did this Summer” or something you just did on your own?
AJH: I wrote a “book”—a short story, really—about a witch when I was abut 8 and illustrated it myself. I don’t know what happened to it. And I wrote a poem about Autumn leaves when I was a couple of years older than that, composing it at a type writer. It was pretty generic, doggerel even, but it had an ear for rhyme and rhythm and I remember my parents asking me where I’d gotten it from. It set off a little light bulb in my head.
AA: How have you and your work grown and changed over time?
AJH: Well, I’m better now J The more you write, the more you learn. It’s faster for me too. I think I can get in a first draft something that used to take me two or three. It might not be to everyone’s taste, but I know what I’m looking for and what it should sound like. You also grow in confidence. You know you can write a book because you’ve done it before, and that takes some of the pressure off and allows you to be freer, more open to ideas. I still can’t commit to one genre though…
Let’s pause here in our chat with A.J.. Join us for part four when he talks about writing, and inspirations.
You can support A.J. and our community by getting your copy of Steeplejack here.