Conversations on the Craft of Writing with K.J. Backer
The visionary storyteller behind EPIC fighting unicorns, a world at war, adoption themes, and a hella creepy villain
I'm always looking to learn from other writers about their approach to the craft! I want to know what motivates them, what they find challenging, and — most of all — what they love about writing.
I recently got to the chance to hear from K.J. Backer, author of the Nav’Aria trilogy, who is one of the great writers I got the chance to read last year. Her fantasy work is right in line with my interests, and I found myself completely captivated by her world and characters.
Here's what she had to say...
When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
I have always LOVED books and storytelling, but it wasn’t until I graduated college with a History Education degree that I realized I could actually be the one to write a book…and that I wanted to! In 2011, I was working as a substitute teacher before I got my full-time teaching position and always brought a journal in case it was a slow day in class. From those random journal scribbles, Nav’Aria was born. I didn’t take it seriously until I had written half a book! When I finally finished writing (the first draft) of Nav’Aria: The Marked Heir in 2017, proving to myself that I was capable of writing a full book, I knew this was what I wanted to do.
Tell us about any work you’ve had published or anything you’re working on now. How do you decide which projects you want to pursue?
My completed fantasy trilogy, Nav’Aria, is available for readers! It’s been incredible to publish and see people connect with the story. If you’re up for EPIC fighting unicorns, a world at war, adoption themes, and a hella creepy villain, then check this *adult* fantasy series out.
Last year, I also wrote a nonfiction memoir covering my journey to motherhood and our experience with adoption. We will see where that one goes. It is not published yet.
I’m very excited to dive into my next writing project, though I’ll admit I’m still narrowing down which one I want to go with first. I’m currently teaching, so I don’t think I’ll formally start anything until summer. Originally, I thought I’d dive right into another fantasy (which I’ve been dreaming about for over a year) but now I’m also kicking around a Mediterranean/historical adventure (inspired by my history students), and/or a pet-friendly children’s or MG book (inspired by daughter and many beloved pets).
Do you have a preferred genre to write in?
Though I’m very open to writing in multiple genres, fantasy is my jam. It’s always been my favorite to read…allowing for such a great escape. I LOVE worldbuilding, creating names, embarking on a good quest, exploring all the magical creatures and lore, sequencing crazy battle scenes, and weaving in historical themes.
Who is your favorite character or what is your favorite part from any work you’ve written?
Ohhhh, the unicorns in Nav’Aria are definitely my favorite…Trixon, Trinidad, and Triumph in particular. I always envisioned that unicorns could be something more than the stereotypical sparkly and sweet children’s characters. I wanted to see them gritty and at war in a mature setting, fighting to protect those they love. It was thrilling to “see” them in action.
What’s your writing process? Do you have any routines or habits that help you do your best work?
I was able to set up a home office over the last two years, and it’s really been a gamechanger. Having my own space helps me to focus, and I was able to write three books in here. I love turning on some classical music, having a fresh cup of coffee, a quiet house, and a snuggly pup or two nearby as I pound out the words. Typically, if I’m working on a first draft, my goal is to put in an hour or two daily (that doesn’t always happen, but I’ve gotten better at it). I can usually type around 1,500-2,000 words an hour and so that’s my goal. I think the magic happens, at least for my work, on the second draft though. The first draft is the bare bones, and the second draft allows for the fleshing out. The detail and imagery. That’s the fun part, I think.
What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever received? And the worst?
The best advice: To just write. Write it out and don’t look back. For so long (on my first book), I’d write a little, then go back and edit those pages. And then get distracted or disheartened by the rough-draft quality and take months off. It was not a good way of going about it. I’ve since learned to pump out the first draft. There will be time for editing, but until the words are on the page, you’ve got nothing. So, I let myself enjoy the messiness and exploration of a first draft and hold off on polishing until the subsequent drafts.
The worst advice: I was told by someone before releasing my first book to “just shelf it.” The individual had read the first (unedited) ten pages and said to set it aside and try something else. I’m glad I didn’t listen. Now, three edited and published books later, I’m immensely proud of Nav’Aria, and never tire of hearing from readers who’ve connected with the story.
Who’s an author you really admire?
The Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan (and eventually, Brandon Sanderson) is my absolute FAVORITE. I fell in love with fantasy after I read Robert Jordan’s work. He inspires me to create. His writing is on a whole other playing field, in my opinion, and Brandon Sanderson as well. I’m inspired by their immense worldbuilding and indescribably awesome imaginations.
RIP Robert Jordan.
What’s the biggest challenge you’ve had to face with any given writing project?
Writing my third and final book of the Nav’Aria series was difficult because I really wanted to deliver. I had to tie up all the loose ends/connect-the-dots and conclude the story in a way that would leave readers entertained and satisfied. I put a lot of pressure on myself for this last one. But at the end of the day, the response has been awesome, and I’m super pleased with the result. My editor, Heather Peers, has been a huge help, and together I believe we created something great. Darion’s story has touched a lot of lives, specifically mine.
When you have a bad case of writer’s block and are procrastinating, what would we probably find you doing?
Ohhh goodness… how’d you know I procrastinate!? You’d probably find me playing with or taking care of one of my pets (two pomeranians, a tortoise, a chihuahua puppy, fish/snails/frog), out walking or running, or pouring some wine and scrolling Instagram for far too long.
What’s the best feedback you’ve ever received from a reader?
Honestly, I have been completely blown away by the fantastic response from readers. I can’t even describe what a joy this journey has been. Going back to that moment when I was told to “shelf my writing” to now having people continually praise Nav’Aria, leave positive reviews, attend book signings, and send me the sweetest messages, it just warms my heart. I know that this story might not be for everyone, but I’m glad I didn’t let fear hold me back.
What does literary success look like to you?
By finishing the Nav’Aria trilogy, I proved to myself that I can do it. In my mind, that’s a literary success! Now I look forward to creating more works, sharing them with readers, improving my craft, and earning enough to support myself and my family. That’s my goal.
Finally, where can readers follow you — website, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook page, etc.?
I love connecting with people online! I’m K.J. Backer on all social (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Goodreads, and LinkedIn) and/or you can learn more about my writing journey and sign up for my newsletter at kjbacker.com.
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