J.A. Beard as he tours his YA fantasy novel The Emerald City.
J.A. Beard likes to describe himself as a restless soul married to an equally restless soul. His two children are too young yet to discuss whether or not they are restless souls, but he’s betting on it. He likes to call himself the Pie Master, yet is too cowardly to prove his skills in an actual baking competition. So, really, he’s merely a Potential Pie Master. When he’s not writing, he’s working on finishing off his PhD in microbiology.
Welcome, J.A. Please tell us about your current release, The Emerald City.
When her parents die, teenager Gail Dorjee retreats into an angry, sarcastic shell. She hopes it will ease her pain, but all it gets her is a one-way trip from Kansas to a Seattle boarding school, the elite Osland Academy.
As soon as she arrives, Gail clashes with Diana, the leader of the school's most powerful clique. The Winged make Gail's life hell until she find allies: her airhead roommate; a cowardly fellow victim of the Winged; and, bit by bit, Diana's boyfriend--the seemingly heartless Nick.
Gail soon has bigger problems than Diana. One of her teachers hates her. Glasses shatter and fountains erupt around her. She can't swear no matter how hard she tries. An unseen force is keeping her on campus. And worst of all, she uncovers a plot that will give one person a precious gift at the cost of thousands of lives. Now Gail and her friends must stop the plot--not just to save lives, but to win a brain, the nerve, a heart and a home in this modern urban fantasy take on The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.
What inspired you to write this book?
The Emerald City came about as a result of a bit of serendipitous inspiration. A couple years back, the Broadway touring production of Wicked rolled into town. Now, for those unfamiliar with it, it's an adaptation of a book by Gregory Maguire. His story is a revisionist retelling of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz from the point of view of the Wicked Witch of the West. Although it adds some details and changes our perceptions of the characters, it's still firmly set in a non-modern place and time.
After watching Wicked, I became inspired. I wanted to write some sort of Oz story, but writing something directly set in Oz didn't really appeal to me. I'd been on a reading streak of YA paranormal/urban fantasies at the time, so the idea of adapting Oz to a more modern YA UF setting seemed like a good plan. The original Dorothy wasn’t twenty-five, after all.
What exciting story are you working on next?
A Woman of Proper Accomplishments, a slightly alternate history Regency (the story is set in 1811 in Bedfordshire, England) paranormal romance. In this world Benjamin Franklin discovered a type of magic called spiritus that allows a rare few people to literally breathe life into objects (thus earning them the nickname of “soul breathers”). The various intellectuals and religious leaders of the day swear up and down that it’s not magic and try to treat it as a science despite obvious defiance of the Laws of Physics. The English weaponize the discovery pretty quickly and use it to crush the American Revolution, but they still have to later face the Napoleonic Wars. This time everybody involved has soldiers of flesh, wood, and stone to fight.
This is all pretty distant from nineteen-year-old Helena Preston. She’s more interested in finding a husband that will accept her “unfeminine” interests in things such as science/natural philosophy. When a handsome and well-off soul breather strolls into town, Helena thinks she’s found the man of her dreams. When she’s attacked by what appears to be a product of soul breathing, she faces the uncomfortable possibility that her new love interest isn’t such a catch after all. Plus, there’s no etiquette book in England that teaches the polite way to ask a gentleman if he sent a magically animated pile of wood to kill you.
I also have some other projects in the works, including the sequel to The Emerald City.
When did you first consider yourself a writer?
I suppose with the actual publishing of my novel, I now feel like a writer.
Do you write full-time? If so, what's your work day like? If not, what do you do other than write and how do you find time to write?
No, I do not currently write full-time. As of yet, my income from writing doesn’t allow that and no rich dukes or princes have stepped up to be my patron. My “day job” involves studying viruses as part of my work to earn my PhD in microbiology. I’m also married and have two children, which take up more than a small amount of time.
I mostly write at night and very early in the morning. I also try to write extensively on the weekends if I’m not in the lab.
What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
I like putting in hidden meanings and allusions into a lot of my work. The Emerald City, given that it is inspired by another book, is filled with things like that. Some are very obvious, such as turning Dorothy Gail into Gail Dorjee. Some are less obvious. The character of Lydia Wray is the Scarecrow analog. Her last name was chosen because there’s a village in England named Wray that has an annual Scarecrow Festival.
In one of my fantasy works-in-progress, the numbers eight and four are rather prominent as the setting is rather East Asian-influenced. Eight is a lucky number in most East Asian country and four is an unlucky number. So, I often associate those numbers with good and bad things respectively in that story.
As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
A computer programmer. I did briefly study the field at university before realizing I was more interested in computers as a tool than actually being the guy to make them work. Despite that, after a few different jobs, I did end up a computer programmer for several years before returning to college to study microbiology.
Anything additional you want to share with the readers?
Thank you all for taking the time to read my interview.
Thanks for stopping by and spending a little time with us, J.A. The insights you list for the 'quirks' question are an extra special treat.