Welcome to my blog spot- grab a cup of coffee and a good book ;-)
I read KJ Backer's epic debut fantasy novel Nav'Aria: The Marked Heir back in January and fell in love with unicorns all over again as she wove pure magic into the pages. (Read my review of it here.) After reading such a new and interesting take on the mythical creatures that I adored as a young girl, I had to "sit down" with her and ask her about her book, the writing life and what's next for this up and coming indie author!
Here's what she had to say:
Me: Hi Katie, tell me a little about yourself? When did you know you were going to be a writer?
KJ: Hi Shanna! Thanks for having me.
I am a former History teacher, turned adoptive/homeschool mom.
I have always been an avid reader… my Dad got me into reading at a young age. I think it was stories that drew me to teaching History. I’ve always loved learning about the world, and other cultures, and so it seemed like a natural fit. I enjoyed my time teaching and working with teens, and still love learning/discussing history, however, it is only more recently that I’ve realized that it is the “story” component that really drives my passion. In the past decade, I began writing, and it was then that I knew THIS is what I want to do. I’m excited for this next season of life.
Me: That’s awesome! I’m a bit of a history buff myself! So, what inspired you to write the Nav’Aria series?
KJ: When I was a little girl, I would visit my Grandpa’s house and run to stare at his painting in the hallway. It was of a downtrodden unicorn, appearing weary and worn, and I always wondered, “What could have happened to the unicorn to make it look so dejected?”
Years later, while I was a substitute teacher, I ran out of reading material for the day, and began scribbling. Doodling in a notebook really. My love for fantasy, the image of the unicorn, working with high school students, and my childhood growing up in Oregon, all kinda fell out on the page. I drew a hand with markings, with no idea where it would take me… eventually Nav’Aria presented itself on the page in that very classroom!
*Painting: “Beginning of the End” by Gene Waggoner (1981).
Me: Very cool! Which character of the series is your favorite? Why?
KJ: Ohhhhhh wow… tough question. I love them all, of course… well maybe not all. Narco is just awful!
I would probably have to say the unicorns are my favorite, specifically Trixon. I love writing his scenes!! He’s fierce, tough, loyal, a bit rash, and funny. I think some of my personality transferred to the page while writing him. If I was a unicorn, I’d want to be a warrior like Trixon.
Me: Haha! Yes, I love Trixon! And yes, boo Narco! So, did anyone in real life inspire your character, Darion? Vikaris?
KJ: My youngest brother, Danny, inspired the character of Darion… melded with some of my former students. Danny had just had a musical clef tattooed on his middle finger around the time I started writing, and it inspired the idea of a “Mark”.
Vikaris wasn’t necessarily inspired by any people I know, but more influenced by the great leaders/heroes I’ve read, taught about, and/or watched over the years. I wanted someone who so clearly exuded strength, valor, and the willingness to fight for his subjects. He is also a very fun character to write, because he is everything you’d want in a hero… and that’s extremely satisfying to create.
Me: Lol! Where the “mark” idea came from was gonna be my next question! And you did a great job portraying Vikaris as the noble king he is! Now, I gotta ask- Where did you get the idea for these battle-worthy unicorns that can talk?
KJ: That idea goes back to the gritty unicorn painting. When my Grandpa died, he left the painting to me in his will. It’s currently hanging in my office. I look at it EVERY DAY.
Having grown up looking at that unicorn… I wanted to see MORE from unicorns in other stories. They seem to so often be background characters. Passive. Weak. Pure. Cartoon. Sparkles and rainbows. And while that works in a lot of tales, I wanted to see them at the forefront—in battle--fighting for their Kingdom, and willing to do whatever it takes to rid their land of an evil usurper. THEY HAVE FREAKING HORNS AFTERALL, why not let them use them in a fight!?!?
Haha sorry… I’m getting a bit worked up on this one.
Me: Haha! Yes!!! Exactly! Well, it’s a great idea and a good reason to be passionate! ;-) What are you working on now?
KJ: Presently, I’m in the revision stages with the sequel, Nav’Aria: The Pyre of Tarsin. I’m also outlining and working on a non-fiction work as well.
Me: Now, how many books are there going to be in the series?
KJ: Nav’Aria is set to be a trilogy… and then, perhaps I’ll add in a collection of short stories showcasing the various species in Nav’Aria (unicorn, centaur, merfolk, troll, nymph).
Me: That would be cool!! So, what are you planning for after the series is complete?
KJ: I have a few other works in mind… like the non-fiction book for example, which highlights our adoption journey. I also have a fun YA Fantasy stand-alone novel that I’m itching to get started! It’s EPIC!
Me: Nice! I can dig EPIC!!! Now, as a wife and mother, how do you get any writing done?
KJ: RIGHT!? It’s tough to balance… as I’m sure most writers find. It definitely takes will-power, and focus. And I’m the first to admit, that I’m still working on it.
This year, I have really tried to safeguard my mornings. I get up at 5 a.m. every day to ensure that I have some writing time before my family wakes up. I find that my brain works best first thing as far as writing goes. I live for that quiet time…. Just me and my pomeranians, and of course, a steaming cup of coffee!
Me: Yes, that coffee makes life so much easier! So, tell us a little about the next book of the series! When is its debut?
KJ: Nav’Aria: The Pyre of Tarsin is the second book in the series. It is intense! It has more of everything! More fighting, more intrigue, more suspense, heartache, love, and loss! It picks up right where the first book ends, and it is action-packed till the very end.
I had a friend recently (jokingly) get mad saying that the first book kept her on the edge of her seat and left her hanging, and wanted to make sure that the second wouldn’t do that. I just laughed…. I better get going on the third, because I know readers will be anxious to find out what happens next!
Hoping to release the sequel by Fall 2019! (Readers can learn more at www.kjbacker.com, and sign up there for my newsletter in order to be the FIRST to see the sequel’s cover reveal!)
Me: Oohh, I can’t wait!!! WHAT?! I live for books that keep me on the edge of my seat and if book 2 is half as good as book 1 was - which I know it will be ;-) - I’m gonna LOVE it!! What drew you to the fantasy genre?
KJ: My Dad. He took me to get my very first library card, and has fostered my love for reading my entire life. We love swapping books!
As a child I loved anything with a dragon, unicorn, and magic..clearly, I still do! I love reading and writing fantasy, and letting my imagination soar.
Me: Haha, understood. I still have an obsession with fantasy myself! Who are your favorite authors/books?
KJ: O.k. now we’re talking!! Is there a cut off for this question!? I LOVE SO MANY!
My MOST FAVORITE series is “The Wheel of Time” by Robert Jordan (concluded by Brandon Sanderson).
I also have read most of Brandon Sanderson’s works, and love them all… especially “The Stormlight Archive” series and “Warbreaker”. He is an incredible inspiration as an author. His love and dedication to his craft… and fans, is truly admirable. I so respect him.
Other favorite Fantasy series would include “A Song of Ice and Fire” and the “Harry Potter” series.
Jennifer Donnelly is another of my favorite authors. Her “Tea Rose” trilogy is super intense, and inspired me as a writer to not shy away from the gritty as a female author, and just as a writer in general. She is fantastic… and I enjoy following her on social media.
Another favorite is Ken Follett. I love reading Historical Fiction, and his “Pillars of the Earth”, “World Without End”, and “A Place Called Freedom” are some of my very most favorites.
Me: Wow! Looks like I have more books to add to my TBR pile ;-) So, what do you love about writing?
KJ: I honestly enjoy it all!
I am taking it in stride, and trying to enjoy the process as I learn from fellow authors, like YOU Shanna Swenson!! And, continue to push myself further with my writing, storytelling, goals, and expectations. It has honestly been an incredible journey.
Me: Aww, well, I’m glad to help in any way I can! :-D We are all in it together after all, and learning and connecting with each other is vital in this process, I believe! Final question, Katie! What are you looking forward to in 2019?
KJ: I published Nav’Aria: The Marked Heir on January 1st, so I already achieved one of my life-goals of actually publishing a book! And then to top it off, I wrote the entire sequel (first draft) in just three months… which for perspective, I started the first book 8 years ago, never expecting to actually finish it. So to be here in 2019 with a published book, and the sequel already in the editing phase is simply mind-blowing.
I truly feel blessed and inspired by the readers, my amazing family and friends, and the AWESOME #writingcommunity I have found on Twitter and Instagram, that has led me to make writer connections/friendships with people like you, Shanna. 2019 has been amazing… and I’m hoping it ends in a big way with the sequel published and book three in the works!!!!
***Look for me, K.J. Backer, on social media (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter)!
Thanks again, Shanna. This was a true privilege.
Me: Aww, yes, this journey has been incredible and the #writingcommunity has been invaluable. So many wonderful writers and readers.
Katie that sounds EPIC! I wish you all the best in your endeavors and look forward to reading the rest of the books in your action-packed fantasy series. It has truly been a pleasure! Thank you so much!
You can purchase KJ Backer’s debut novel Nav’Aria: The Marked Heir on Amazon (in Kindle, Kindle Unlimited and paperback formats) Be sure to follow her on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Goodreads AND sign up for her newsletter, for the latest info on all things Nav’Arian.
P.S. She’ll be releasing the cover for book two soon, so DON’T miss out ;-) !!!
(Sign up here: www.kjbacker.com )
K. J. Backer (b. 1986), originally from Corbett, Oregon, is an American writer, wife, mother, teacher, singer, Pomeranian enthusiast, and world traveler who currently resides in Billings, Montana.
She credits her close family bonds, wild imagination, and love of books to her humble, rural upbringing. Backer has always been interested in other cultures and dreamed, from an early age, of traveling the world. Her numerous journeys as an adult have greatly impacted her life and development, and have left an indelible mark, too, in her writing. Backer’s ever-evolving writing and teaching focuses both on World History themes and positively impacting lives of today’s youth, interests strengthened during her years teaching high school History classes. The strong sense of people and their place evidenced in her writing comes from past and present journeys. The fragrant Douglas firs of her Oregon home, the ornate castles she strolled through in Europe, the Plains peoples’ resilience, the hospitable communities in Ethiopia, and the law-making endeavors witnessed in the U.S. Capitol all get new life in her Nav’Aria series. Her most sacred journey yet, motherhood through adoption, provides her best material. Affirming that hope is eternally fruitful, her years spent awaiting parenthood inspired her most productive and meaningful work.
Nav’Aria: The Marked Heir is her first novel.
Shanna Swenson, Author of the Abundance series
Shanna loves a good book that thrills, chills and warms her heart. She also enjoys supporting her fellow indie authors.