Thursday, May 19, 2011

Interview with Author A.J. Walker

A.J. Walker is an archaeologist who likes to get to the bottom of things. His training has taught him that under an innocuous field may lie a vanished village, while turning over a simple stone may reveal ancient writing. Finding the hidden under the surface is what archaeology is all about.

It's what writing is all about too. What makes people do what they do, and feel what they feel? It's often hard to find that out in the real world, but building a character from the bottom up makes for a satisfying pastime because it takes the writer from cause to effect. Like all writers he has been an avid reader since childhood and it wasn't long before he took the ideas in his head and put them on paper. When he's not writing, he likes to explore the natural world. He has a love of long-distance hiking and has recently discovered the joys of caving. He has yet to come across any monsters while exploring the underworld, however.

Roots Run Deep, published by Double Dragon, is his first published novel and the first in the House of Itxaron fantasy trilogy. He’s blogs about the Middle Ages, writing, and his books at

This book is rated PG-13: includes several bloody fight scenes, a few sex scenes that aren’t graphic, one scene of sexual harassment, a dozen four-letter words.

Deirdra: When did you first know you wanted to be an author?

A.J.: I can’t remember! I’ve been writing since I was very young, usually adventure stories with me as the hero. I stopped writing in my teens and twenties and got back into it when I graduated university.

Deirdra: What is your writing and educational background?

A.J.: I have a Masters degree in Archaeology and Medieval Studies. Writing background? Oh dear, only that book on the top of this post! Of course I’ve worked on academic papers, as well as a small mountain of unpublished short stories and novels. My next novel, Murder at McMurdo, will be published by LL-Publications next month. It’s a murder mystery set in the McMurdo research station in Antarctica.

Deirdra: What makes you passionate about writing?

A.J.: Expressing my feelings and beliefs through writing. Trying to express my world view while entertaining people and not preaching to them. Also, I love it when a character does something unexpected. They really do have a life of their own, don’t they?

Deirdra: Can you tell us a little about e-publishing and how this publishing route has worked for you.
A.J.: I’m the typical story of a writer waiting for months, even years, before hearing back from traditional publishers. Tor holds the record at 19 months, which included a year when they had lost my manuscript but didn’t tell me, or didn’t notice. I realized at that rate I’d look like one of the ancient skeletons I excavate before I got published, and since even traditional authors are left to do all their own marketing, it made sense to jump to ebooks. I’m very happy with Double Dragon and LL-Publishing. They’re professional, have good editors, and actually respond to emails.

I’ve heard horror stories about some epublishers, though, so writers should be careful. One good source of information is Piers Anthony’s Publish on the Web page at

Deirdra: Were you ever discouraged along the way? If so, how did you deal with it?
A.J.: I get discouraged every day, and inspired every day. I’ve decided to ignore the first emotion and use the second to make my books the best they can be. That works any day I don’t get a rejection slip.

Deirdra: What is your writing schedule like?

A.J.: Hectic. I work part time for a local Archaeological Unit, and part time at a laboratory. My schedule is always changing so I slip in writing wherever I can. Weekends are the best time and I always have at least one long session of three or four hours in front of the keyboard.

Deirdra: Can you tell us a little about your book Roots Run Deep?

A.J.: The backcover blurb says:

She fought her way up from a shanty town to a palace in order to change the world, but her hardest challenge was to change herself.

When a small-time goblin gambler falls in love with a deposed human king, the least of her worries is his vengeful usurper. Kip Itxaron has to follow religious visions despite having lost her faith, unite her squabbling people, find the fabled Lost Tribe of Goblinkin, overcome her fear of battle, and somehow be a leader to a people who have never had one.

But that’s nothing compared with loving someone who reminds her of every man she’s ever hated. Human men can barely be called male. Pasty skin, weak bodies. . .they don’t even have tusks! Not to mention that when he was in power he treated her people just as badly as the rest of them. Kip can see he’s changed, but has he changed enough? Can she change enough?

Kip has more to deal with than that. She has to struggle with her own self-racism and learn to trust others. She has to learn that the guy charging at her with a sword is only the most obvious of her enemies.

Deirdra: I'm very interested in your trade as a medievalist. Can you tell us a little about how what you do and how that has influenced your writing career.
A.J.: I’m an archaeologist with a specialty in the medieval period. In the UK, Archaeological Units excavate historic sites threatened by development and manage any accidental finds by farmers and other people. Work is on-again, off-again depending on the need and the weather, but I also have a part time lab job analyzing artifacts. While my specialty is the Middle Ages, my work has me excavating everything from Mesolithic hunting camps to Roman burials to lost nineteenth century villages!

A deep study of the history and culture has certainly influenced my work, but I try to incorporate those influences seamlessly into my narrative. I don’t want it to read like some of the textbooks I had to read in university!

Deirdra: How many beta readers do you have review your manuscript before you send it to your editor?

A.J.: Eight. They were all extremely helpful. I made sure to get people with a variety of tastes including a couple who don’t normally read fantasy. You want a wide range of opinions from beta readers. None of them were friends or family, because they’ll only tell you what you want to hear.

Deirdra: What do you hope readers will get from your books?

A.J.: A character whose own limitations are her greatest foe. Kick-ass battle scenes. A rich tapestry of different cultures. A troubled but triumphant romance. A twist on the traditional rags-to-riches tale.

Deirdra: What is your process of brainstorming a story? Do you just sit down and write, waiting to see what happens next? Or do you outline first?
A.J.: I get the germ of an idea from. . .somewhere. Then I begin to work on it in the back of my head until I have the potential for a story. I do an outline, and then wing it. In fact, I rarely look at my outline once I’ve written it. The outline is more to organize my thoughts before getting started.

Deirdra: Who has made the greatest difference for you as a writer?
A.J.: My friends and family. They may be no good as readers, but they’re great for moral support!

Deirdra: What authors do you admire, and why?
A.J.: Robert Silverberg for his long work in the field. Some of his science fiction and fantasy are classics. His first book came out in 1955 and he has one coming out this year. After half a century he hasn’t given up writing! While Silverberg is a personal favorite, I admire all the Grand Old Masters who write year in, year out, and keep honing their craft.

Deirdra: Besides writing what other talents or hobbies do you have?

A.J.: I love to hike. The English and Scottish countryside offer some of the best hiking in the world. Getting out into nature is an excellent way to clear your head.

Deirdra: What words of advice do you have for other writers who desire to have their manuscripts become books in print?

A.J.: Listen to all that basic advice everyone’s telling you (“observe proper manuscript format” “read submissions guidelines”, etc.). All of this information is freely available on a million websites but editors are constantly complaining about improper submissions. Don’t think you can break the rules. You can’t. You may be able to stretch them, maybe, but not break them.

Deirdra: Where can our readers go to find your books and order them?
A.J.: Direct from Double Dragon:

Amazon Kindle:

And many other online venues.

Deirdra: Any final words you would like to share?
A.J.: If you are a writer, don’t give up. If you are a reader and not a writer, get in touch! Find your favorite writer’s blog and post a comment. Do the same with publishers. We need to know what you like, what you hate, and what you want to see published in the future. Publishing is a strange business because there’s very little market research. Writers and publishers throw books out into the wind and hope a few of them fly to the stratosphere. Social media helps us know which way the wind is blowing.


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