I'm so delighted to bring you another interview with a debut author of the Class of 2k12, J. Anderson Coats, about her novel THE WICKED AND THE JUST. This novel is just my cup of tea - historical - and that cover is so appealing!
Congratulations on the publication of your novel, THE WICKED AND THE JUST. I’m so excited to be able to read historical fiction set in Wales. Can you tell us a bit about the story and what inspired it?
THE WICKED AND THE JUST takes place in 1293-1294 in north Wales, ten years into English rule. Cecily is an unwilling transplant to the English walled town of Caernarvon, and she’d like nothing better than to go home. Gwenhwyfar, a Welsh servant in Cecily’s new house, would like nothing better than to see all the English go home. The ruling English impose harsh restrictions and taxation on the Welsh, and conditions in the countryside are growing desperate. The rumors of rebellion might be Gwenhwyfar’s only salvation – and the last thing Cecily ever hears.
Medieval Wales doesn’t get a lot of attention despite the fact that it was a complicated, dynamic place. The native rulers managed to resist outright conquest by their English neighbors until 1283, but then the victorious English fast-tracked a series of castles and walled towns to maintain control of the area and the people.
What interested me was this question: Even when granted a lot of special privileges - including significant tax breaks - how did English settlers live in a place where they were outnumbered twenty to one by a hostile, recently-subjugated population, and how did the Welsh live so close to people who’d done the subjugating, especially given the burdens placed on them by their new masters?
How long have you been writing for children/teens? Have you written other books or is this your first effort?
I wrote my first novel at age thirteen. It was about a hundred pages long, typed, single-spaced, and it was really bad. By age eighteen, I’d written five more, each slightly less bad than the last. I started querying at age twenty, and I queried four novels over ten years before I wrote and sold W/J. Ray Bradbury famously said that your first million words don’t count. I think it was more like two million for me. So while this definitely isn’t my first book, it’s the first one that’s ready to go into the world.
Thirteen!! That's such an inspiration to young authors. Can you describe your path to the publication of THE WICKED AND THE JUST?
As I mentioned, I queried four different books over ten years, and I queried like it was my second job. The Erin Murphy Literary Agency was always at the top of my list, but they don’t take unsolicited queries. I queried like crazy all around them – I have something like two shoeboxes filled with rejections - and I came close to getting an offer of representation a number of times, but I always kept one eye on EMLA’s requirements for any change.
So when I got the chance to query Joan Paquette, I leaped on it. What followed was a sort of courtship over nine months where she kept on asking for revisions and I kept making them, preparing for the eventual “no.” But that “no” never came, and the ink wasn’t quite dry on my agency contract when W/J sold to Harcourt. It was something like ten days between being unagented and my first sale - quite a whirlwind!
Do you have any advice for beginning writers?
Give yourself permission to write crap. Everyone’s first drafts suck. Your favorite writer? Her first drafts suck. Your other favorite writer? His first drafts suck. It’s more important to just write. Get it on the page and repeat after me: “It’s a first draft. It’s supposed to suck.” You can fix things in a badly-written first draft, but it’s impossible to fix what doesn’t exist.
Can you tell us something about your personal life - inspirations, plans for the future, goals, etc.?
I’ve been told my origin story is somewhat interesting. I had a kid at age 19, a BA from a Seven Sisters college by age 22, a first master’s degree by 24, a second by 30, and a book contract by 32. The future is less knowable. Can I propose absurd yet awesome things like being hired by the National Library of Wales or writing full time?
It sounds like you've lived several lives already. Do you have any new writing ventures underway?
I’m working on several projects right now. One is a companion novel to W/J which follows Maredydd ap Madog, whose father is the ringleader of the rebellion of 1294, as he negotiates the future his father wants for him and the future he wants for himself. Another project is a standalone novel set in twelfth-century Wales about a warband, an abduction, a charismatic but mercurial king’s son and a girl who’s willing to do about anything for a chance at a normal life.
Do you have a website where readers can learn more about THE WICKED AND THE JUST?
I do! http://www.jandersoncoats.com - I also spend way too much time on Facebook, so feel free to stop by there as well!