#LoveOzYA Q&A (round two!) with A.B Endacott
Alice Jane Boer-Endacott was born and raised in Melbourne, Australia, and is best known for writing young adult fantasy stories in her Godskissed Continent series.
In 2019, she joined the #LoveOzYA Committee, and in 2020, she became a part of the organising group behind OzAuthorsOnline, a digital platform for author events created in response to the lockdowns imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
She spoke to #LoveOzYA's Dayna Smith about her newest self-published work is DELIVERANCE OF THE BLESSED, which is out now.
You can read the chat below or check out clips on our YouTube channel!
We’re here today to talk about DELIVERANCE OF THE BLESSED. Now the first question I had - is it Bless-ed or Blessed? As I was reading it, I wasn’t sure which one to say in my head.
That’s a really good question. I think I started writing it as Bless-ed and I think I’ve ended up saying it as Blessed because the Unblessed - it’s a bit awkward to say Unbless-ed. But that’s a really good question and I think I definitely switched in the writing process.
What is it about?
So, at its premise it is a girl trying to bring back from the dead the person who she loves the most in the world and how that happens or doesn’t happen and what happens along the way. Looking at it on a deeper level, to me it’s about, first of all, the process of grief — the question of what does grief look like and how do you adjust and move on when you’re grieving, or not move on as the case can be.
It’s also about development as an individual and how people can be taught to think of themselves as less, and how part of growing up is often acknowledging that that’s actually something that someone has told you and you don’t need to think that about yourself.
So lots of layers that you were thinking about in the process of writing about it…
For me, all my books, there’s what the story is about, so what happens in the story and I always sit down and, this is before anything I written, I sit down and ask myself what’s at the core of the story. So Queendom, the first book in the Duology, is actually about family and how family is a tie we’re connected to and what family means. So I actually write it out and until I have a knowledge of what that core is, I don’t start writing.
It’s part of the Godskissed Continent Collection but it’s a standalone. So how does it fit within all the other books in that series. I think there’s five of them, is that right?
Six books — Queendom duology was released as a bind up, but it’s two separate books.
I guess the best way to conceptualise it that it’s kind of like Avengers in that each of the protagonists have their own story and it’s linked to one of the four major countries on this continent.
And after (DELIVERANCE OF THE BLESSED), and I have actually written it and the one after and I’ve just taken a pause on the final one. It’s multiple perspectives and each of these four protagonists have a perspective so we have a chapter from Lexa’s perspective, one chapter from Kaylene’s perspective and the narrative obviously continues across all of them.
But what was really important to me, I love fantasy, I love a 10 part epic multi-voiced, cross-continent fantasy, but I also really loathe it when I start a book and go 'oh no, I’ve just locked myself in for to another nine.' I’m not looking at anyone in particular, but Brandon Sanderson and the Stormlight Archives are probably the ones I would think of first.
So I thought I don’t want to do that to a reader, I don’t like that. You could pick up (DELIVERANCE OF THE BLESSED) and you would never have to read another book in this world for it to be a complete story. You could read Queendom or Queendom and King and you would never go 'oh I’m so angry that this story wasn’t completely wrapped up”.
So that was really important to me and then I guess the consequence and, how they might interact after those events if they were to meet, as happens, so Lexa, the protagonist of Ruthless, she does meet Kaylene and so if you know, that’s great and it’s a nice little Easter Egg for you, but if you don’t she’s just an interesting character who you think that’s an interesting back story. So that’s really important to me as an author that I don’t hold my readers hostage, I suppose.
In terms of the timeline, does DELIVERANCE OF THE BLESSED come afterwards?
Yep, Deliverance is actually the final book before all four of the protagonists meet in a chronological sense. I don’t think there’s any significant spoiler, except the character in Queendom, she has her own trilogy, the Dark trilogy, so we sort of know where she ends up but for me that trilogy is about the journey, not the destination.
You mentioned that this book is about the plot and then the layers of grief and being constrained by a person by outside forces. Why did you want to explore those themes in a fantasy setting and not, say, in a contemporary novel?
Primarily I think fantasy is a really fascinating way to explore those themes because you’re looking at the emotion in its purest form. You don’t have the constraint of thinking about contemporary society and how they interact, you have such control so you can examine whatever it is you want about that experience or emotion completely on your terms.
It’s funny, I didn’t realise how much it was about grief until I came back for the first edit about a year ago and I realised that was the key theme running through it. It’s not just what you would do if you lost someone, it’s grief. And this idea of under what circumstances would your grief be so profound that you would 'tear apart the entire world': Why would you forsake everyone and everything?
And it sort of came to me that if that person was your whole world and why would that happen because of this circumstance. So the rawness and the purity of being grief-stricken, I think having a fantasy environment allows you to really create the condition for that emotion to exist in the character. I love fantasy because it can be a vessel to really explore fundamental truths about human nature and human behaviour.
For me as reader, sometimes I find fantasy has a lot about the world building. I always wonder if as a writer you feel you’ve got to to explain all the rules around the world and whether you enjoy the process of setting up the world or whether it gets in the way of moving on to exploration of emotions or themes. Do you enjoy that part of it, of living in that world as you write it?
I do, very much so. I’m really firm about only showing the bits of the world that are relevant to the plot. So I have notebooks full of plans and little bits of notes, so for instance there’s a reference to the fact that he was buried, so I went and off the back of that, I talked about funeral rites and the logic behind them for each country, but I’m not necessarily going to mention it. So there’s definitely the tip of the iceberg element.
Like all good intellectual snobs, I come back to my training. So I’m an anthropology student and so I’m really interested in culture. So I’m interested in what cultural conditions create this norm and how I can play with that norm as a plot to interact with the character and their journey so there is a bit of interplay. I think I enjoy it as an intellectual exercise, what if, why would this be the case, where has this come from.
But every now and then I realise there is a blank spot that I need to fill and then there’s generally a bit of swearing and 'I didn’t want to have to think about that!'
I think what I really enjoy about the world creation process though is that I can look at something in our society that I want to make a comment about and I can either just flip it or get rid of it and draw the reader’s attention to the fact that I got rid of it or flipped it; I can say I don’t like that, I think that’s a silly norm or idea or practice and I can just get rid of it.
So I think it’s an opportunity to paint an ideal or paint a point, so Queendom the premise is that the first male heir to the throne has been named. It’s a matriarchal line and everyone loses their mind over the fact that a man might get into power, because I think I’m so sick of reading stories, and fantasy stories, in which it’s the first female heir to the throne and everyone loses their mind.
It’s a very tired trope so for me, flipping it was a subtle, or not so subtle, way of saying well, that’s stupid, isn’t it? So I think that’s the part I really enjoy.
Where do the ideas come from? You mentioned being an Anthropology student, where did the idea for this book come from?
Realistically, from the book before. As I was writing the character arc, the character died but Lexa, the protagonist, was reflecting on it and I thought well, what happens if you couldn’t cope with it, what happens if there was someone that was so important and so your world.
And I liked this idea of someone who would literally ruin everyone else’s life, did not care about anyone else, I will literally inflict this terrible change to reality, potentially, or I would risk anyone and everything to get this person back. So that was the germ of the idea and it just sprouted from there. And then I thought about why the Sanctuary presented itself.
Of my books to date, this is the one that has the most overt use of magic, I don’t like to use the word magic, I think it’s a bit lazy, so obviously a Blessing, but it’s obviously magic. And so I was thinking about what that would interact with the rest of the world.
There’s not a lot of magic in the other worlds so how would this country and its rampant magic users not be as well known across the rest of the continent. So I think a lot of its logic, I think a lot of world building is logic. I’m reminded of something Isobelle Carmody said, the characters’ exploration drives the world. The character’s walking down the street and there were watchers overhead, so I thought if there’s someone watching them digitally, then that technology has to be in the world. So I think I’m a lot more cerebral, so I plan a lot before I write, but that logic unspooled.
But I will say, this was the first book where my plans went awry and some of the characters, the way I wrote a scene, I was surprised. It all more or less ended up where I expected, but there were a couple of threads I didn’t plan for.
I’m always interested to know what your writing practice is like. Do you write full time, are you coming to this after a day of work, are you going off on retreat days or have you got a writing fellowship? How did the book get written?
I’m really fortunate that I have very flexible work hours. The lion’s share of the work I do is tutoring, tutoring English of course, at a tertiary level so I control my own hours.
I do have quite a lot of work and then I do other bits and pieces on the side, but it does mean I often have chunks in the day and I try to structure my time so I have a morning to write or an afternoon. Obviously COVID has disrupted that in some ways and what I’ve learnt is that shifting locations also spurs me on to write, either because I have to get this bit out, or setting up, I get fresh wind.
The last thing I wanted to ask about was just about the self-publishing process because most of your books, except Mirror Mirror, your non-fiction book, are self-published and I think that perhaps young people would be interested in knowing more what that process is like and why you decided to go down that path as a writer.
It’s a really good question and one I wish I could talk more about, honestly. So I had five manuscripts and I knew that they were good, you know there is always room to be better, and even though they hold a very special space in my heart because these are the characters I started out with, people have told me this one, my latest, is the best. I knew they were books that were worth something.
And I did do pitching. I did maybe one or two rounds of pitching to agents, not so much publishing houses, because the advice is to find an agent because if you pitch the publishing houses, your agent has nothing to go with or it goes on the slush pile of the publishing houses.
And I thought, this is exhausting and not just exhausting, it relies on chance in a way that, to me, even a normal job application process doesn’t and I’ve got these manuscripts piling up so what is the point? What can I do to differentiate myself so that when I do go back and try to find a agent so that rather than being like ‘hi, I’m the 20th person to email you today and I want you to represent me and I haven’t done anything but I’ve got a cracker of a manuscript”. What can I do to set me apart?
And so I thought I’ve got these manuscripts and I can self-publish them and so I did the research, I spoke to a few people, I got a really good piece of advice from my godfather, just generally talking about career advancement, and he said rather than ask for something, more or less build something or do something.
Which is actually how I joined LoveOzYA. I thought rather than asking the community for something, why don’t I give something to the community? I’m very fortunate that my father is a computer nerd so he does a lot of my technical things that I don’t want to do, the formatting.
I’m fortunate that I know a graphic designer who I happened to meet early in his career so he’s really happy to work with me. So I was lucky and I did my research and then I found the bookstagram community and then the LoveOzYA community and I started just hustling to get people to read my books, you know I would contact bookstagrammers with lovely profiles and over a certain number of followers and I would say would you be interested in a review copy? That’s the hardest thing for me- the hustle. You always have to be contacting people and you know, I back my books, but I’m also not going to be smarmy.
So I think hustling authentically, if that’s a thing, that’s the thing I would tell people - know what your channels will be and how you’re going to interact with your readership.
So now I’m seven books in and so I’m a complete control freak and I like that I have control over every part of the process. I like that I control my timelines and I’m good at hitting my own deadlines, I’m fortunate that’s something I’m intrinsically capable of doing. I’m also learning every day, I’ll read articles on publishing trends and marketing, I brought someone on to do my marketing strategy, its an area I don’t have training in or the time or interest in. She does a great job and more or less manages my website. So my general advice would be to read and know who to ask for help, acknowledge where you don’t know something and won’t be good enough.
So I haven’t pitched agents, I’m thinking that might be a 2021 goal, but we’ll see, my hope is though that if I do start to contact people that I have a little bit more differentiation because I’ve written books already, I’ve got a known quantity.