For Educators, For Readers 5 years ago

#LoveOzYA Author Q&A With Jae Waller

Jae Waller is a Canadian-born author and artist who now calls Australia home. She has a deep love of languages and holds a BFA in creative writing and fine art from UNBC and Emily Carr University of Art + Design. Veil, the second book in her YA series, The Call of the Rift, has just hit the shelves.

Welcome to the LoveOzYA blog, we’re so happy to have you here! 

Thank you; I’m honoured!

Let’s go back to the beginning…have you been telling stories since you were a kid or was writing something you fell in love with as an adult? 

I’ve been telling stories my whole life. When I was about six or seven, I wrote a short tale about a talking squirrel named Nutters, which turned into a series of short tales. He got married to a girl squirrel. Clearly I was always a romantic!

When I was thirteen, an online friend roped me into a group of people writing what we called “team stories.” It was a huge series of interconnected fiction set in the same fantasy world, written by… I’d say twenty to thirty people? all working collaboratively. Over the next decade we wrote more than a million words (the equivalent of about ten novels.) I had to tap out when I got too busy with university, but I adapted a few of those stories into my current novel series.

Tell us about your new book.

My new book is the second in a series, The Call of the Rift. It’s an alt-historic fantasy set in western Canada (where I’m from) circa the 17th century, focusing on the clash between European colonists and Indigenous peoples. Imagine sword-and-sorcery with log cabins, fur trapping, and snowy coastal rainforest.

This book, Veil, starts in the aftermath of a brutal battle. The protagonist, an eighteen-year-old Indigenous girl named Kateiko, is dealing with a lot: her tribe is falling apart, a long winter of famine is coming, the last known wind spirit has vanished, and a rogue druid is trying to tear a rift in the world.

The setting may be unfamiliar to Aussie readers, but the themes are relevant, such as colonialism, racism, and climate change. It’s also a coming-of-age story, so Kateiko struggles with normal teen stuff: romance, strained friendships, tradition vs. independence, and finding her place in a changing world.

Did you have a favourite OzYA book when you were growing up? 

Over in Canada, we heard very little about Aussie literature. However, one of my best friends in high school loved Garth Nix’s Old Kingdom series, so when I moved to Australia in my twenties, Sabriel was the first book I picked up – and I adore it. The magic is so unique and innovative.  Also, Mogget is best cat.

Did you have anyone that encouraged your love of books, reading and writing when you were younger? 

My parents and teachers definitely encouraged my love of reading. I spent lunch hours in the school library, weekends and summer holidays at the public library, and every Christmas I got a box of books. When I was sixteen, my dad helped me get my first job as a library page.

As for writing… I grew up in a fairly blue-collar lumber town. We rarely did creative writing in school; we didn’t have advanced English classes; I hardly even knew of any Canadian authors. My parents suggested I go into writing, but I think they pictured journalism. Back then, being a professional novelist seemed on par with being an astronaut. It was for people in New York, London, and other big cities listed on the copyright pages of books. So to be living in Melbourne now, with my books on shelves around the world, is pretty surreal.

I want to stress this to any aspiring writer: it doesn’t matter where you came from, how good your education was, or whether success seems like a pipe dream. Sure, some people will face bigger barriers, but they’re not impossible to overcome. Just keep practicing and do the work.

What do you think sets Australian YA stories apart from those set internationally?

Admittedly, I’m still learning about Australian YA. My general impression is that it’s grittier and more realistic, more straighforward perhaps – which isn’t surprising since Aussies seem more direct than Canadians. You folks don’t sugarcoat things!

Stories set here also have details that make them recognizable to Australian readers, and that resonance is important. My partner grew up in regional Victoria, and when he was a teenager, there wasn’t anything like today’s YA scene. Seeing yourself, your friends, family, home, or way of life in a book can be so powerful. It might be the tiniest thing, a familiar place name or turn of phrase. It’s as if the author is reaching through the page and saying, “You exist. I see you.”

For me, I’ll read Aussie book blurbs and have to ask someone, “What’s HSC? Schoolies is that holiday week, right?” (I’m learning, I promise!) But I remember the first time I ever saw my hometown mentioned in a novel. I was twenty and It was revolutionary. I existed. So I know how significant it can be to simply read a story that’s set where you are.

Do you have a favourite bookshop or library?

I love grand architecture, so my favourite book place in Australia is the State Library of Victoria. It’s a stunning building rich with so much history. I feel smarter being near it. Occasionally I’ll sit on its front steps with an iced coffee and just watch people passing by.

My favourite book place in Canada is the library at the University of British Columbia. As a student there, I loved studying in a huge century-old room with a vaulted roof and stained glass and lamps hanging from the ceiling. Another study room there is known as the Harry Potter Room because it has a spiral staircase and portraits of former university presidents.

What was the last book you read and enjoyed?

I just finished Storm of Locusts by Rebecca Roanhorse. It’s the second novel of a post-apocalyptic urban fantasy series, set in Navajo land after most of North America has sunk into the ocean, with magic and trickster spirits and a creepy doomsday cult. There’s been a wave of Indigenous futurism in the last few years and I’m loving it. (Also, the audiobook narration by Tanis Parenteau is great… and I’m not just biased because she’s worked with my audiobook narrator!)

Aside from writing, what else do you like to do to explore your creativity? 

I’ve worked in many mediums over the years. In high school I did theatre and film. In university I double-majored in creative writing and fine art, where I mainly did drawing, ink painting, and photography. On my own time, I drew a reasonably successful webcomic called Mill City Fiasco from 2007-2013.

Nowadays I just do digital painting, mostly concept art for my novels. Early this year I did a portrait series of characters from book 1, and I plan to soon do characters from book 2. It helps me understand their personalities and it’s fun for readers to see them “come alive.”

What are the best and worst pieces of writing advice you’ve received?

The best advice I’ve ever heard is to write what you’re passionate about. You have to spend more time on it than anyone else, so you might as well enjoy it. Don’t write what you think you should write, because it won’t be genuine and people will probably be able to tell. Don’t try to jump into a trend, because it’ll be over by the time you’ve finished a manuscript.

The worst advice I’ve ever heard is that you need to write every day even if it means not eating, sleeping, exercising, or seeing your family and friends. That just glamourizes and perpetuates the ‘tortured artist’ myth. If you’re serious about a writing career, then yes, you ought to write often and treat it like a job, but people with day jobs get sick leave, holidays, and vacations. Why shouldn’t writers? Furthermore, nothing should come above physical and mental health. If you’re suffering, your writing will suffer, too.

What do you love about OzYA?  

So many things! I love that Aussie teenagers get to see themselves represented in fiction. I love that Aussie writers have places to publish along with a support network. I love that immigrants like me can come in and be welcomed. I love that we have a way to show teenagers are smart and passionate and discerning about literature. Youths are the future and we should be doing everything possible to bolster them.

To find out more about Jae and her writing, take a look at her website and give her a follow on Twitter: @JaeWalrus  and Facebook



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