Hey, guys!  I have some awesome news!  I recently did a Q&A with Hannah West, author of my school's book club pick of the month, Kingdom of Ash and Briars!  I'd like to share it with you today, and this can also be seen on my blog, The Mortal Jessica (www.themortaljessica.wordpress.com)

1. What made you decide to write a fantasy with fairy tale elements? Will there be a sequel?

Growing up, I devoured Robin McKinley and Gail Carson Levine and, of course, anything Disney. I started writing countless stories, some of which were urban fantasy or sci-fi, but most were fantasy with elements of fairy tales. I liked the idea of the world around Sleeping Beauty or Cinderella or Beauty and the Beast being even richer and more complex than the original tales would suggest. But as a kid I could never finish writing one of my stories. I would write hundreds of pages and never bring it home.

However, in 2010 I studied abroad in Orléans, France. It snowed for several weeks while I was there, and the Old World feel of the castles and cobblestones called forth that love of fantasy and magic. So I started writing about the kidnapped girl getting dragged through the snowy woods. I didn’t know what was going to happen to her yet, but I knew THIS would be the story I would finish. This would be the book I’d finally write. Then my parents sent me a care package that had a pack of Disney princess pencils, and the idea for tying in Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty struck me while I was using one during French grammar class.

Bristal’s story is tied up pretty neatly, but a return to her world narrated by a new character is in the works!

2. What is your writing Kryptonite?


3. If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?

There’s probably a really profound bit of advice I could offer to my writing self at any age, but I’m going to be shallow right now: I would tell 23-year-old me that she was going to get her first book published. In 2013 I was querying agents, which is a hard phase that inevitably involves rejection, and on top of that I could only find a part-time writing job, was living with my parents, and had mystery medical issues. It was a tough year, and while the waiting made me a better person, current-me takes pity on past-me and would give her some good news.

4. Did publishing your first book change your process of writing? If so, how?

Absolutely! The first book is so much trial and error. You really don’t know what you’re doing, and for me that was true in every aspect, not just in the actual writing and revising. I had no connections or experience in the publishing world and everything I knew about agents and book deals was from just researching online. There’s plenty of information to be found online, but your own research can’t teach you everything. It helps to get involved with the writing community and attend conferences and have a critique group. But at the same time, I think you have to accept that your first book is going to be an experiment and the attempt to get it published somewhat of a gamble. Many authors have to shelve their first book but are able to publish their second.

The actual process of writing for me has become smoother. I’m able to more clearly identify excess words or scenes that don’t do anything for the story. I’ve been very determined to avoid mistakes I made with KOAAB that made the revision process long and arduous.

5. What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?

I do research while I draft as needed. I don’t like researching because the Internet is oversaturated with so much information it’s hard to know who is an authority on a topic. That’s part of why I love writing fantasy - you make your own world instead of reading about the real one. But I did recently finish drafting a southern gothic novel that required considerable research. I based my fictional town on a real town in East Texas and was able to drive out there a couple times.

6. What's the most difficult thing about writing characters from the opposite sex?

Something that I strove to do was give them a life outside of the their interactions with my main character. I don’t like when a male love interest is so obsessed with a female main character that you hardly see him interact with his friends or laugh or just be a person.

7. Do you read your book reviews? How do you deal with bad or good ones?

I read some! I read the Kirkus starred review and a couple other publications who reviewed it positively, but I avoid Goodreads like the plague! Generally I only read reviews that bloggers tag me in. I appreciate criticisms nestled in positive feedback, but I don’t want to see anyone flat out hating on it. That’s not constructive to me as a writer.

8. As a writer, what would you choose as your spirit animal?

I just took my patronus test on Pottermore a few days ago and got an Irish Wolfhound. I like that! But I got sorted into Ravenclaw and just NO. I am a Gryffindor.

9. What were some things you edited out of the book?

The scenes and words I cut could have been their OWN book. One notable difference was that in the original draft, when Bristal becomes Princess Rosamund’s guardian, I had her journeying over the countryside to find them a place to live, buying a rundown cottage from a little old lady, fixing it up, and getting acclimated to the town they lived in. Not a single bit of that journey ended up in the final draft. As a first-time author you think you need to explain the why and how of everything your character ever does.

10. Lastly, what are some common traps for aspiring writers?

Not continuing to learn how to write well. Sometime during high school, I stopped loving writing. School assignments became more academic than creative, and I made blah grades that made me feel like a bad writer. But when I took a basic composition course in college, I realized my passion had faded merely because I hadn’t learned a few basic rules for being a successful writer in the real world. My writing style had not matured with me as a person. I had always been a little wordy and rambly, and all I needed was to learn to be more concise without sacrificing creativity. The storyteller awoke within me again - and I made English writing my minor!

Impostor syndrome. Never feeling like you belong. Feeling like you’re worthless because you haven’t reached X landmark yet. Feeling like if you just finish a book, or get an agent, or get a book deal, or get a starred review, or hit the NYT bestseller list, you’ll suddenly have a sense of belonging.

Being overly sensitive to criticism. Pursuing writing as a career means facing rejection and criticism at every stage. Thankfully, if someone as sensitive as me can develop a thick skin throughout the process, literally anyone can. If you love what you’re doing enough, the rejections roll off you. You learn and move on. And it’s so worth it!

Published by Jessica Brandenburg