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Interview With Jill Williamson

Making her authorial debut, Jill Williamson joins us this month to talk about her first release, By Darkness Hid, a medieval fantasy already making a lasting mark on the Christian fantasy market, even in its infancy.

Jill, from your bio I gather you had a shaky start in the fashion industry. What brought you to writing—especially medieval fantasy for young adults?

I latched onto fashion because it was something people told me I was good at. Once I met Jesus, I wanted to do something more for Him. Not that He can’t use fashion, but I found that fashion and I were not as good of a fit as I’d once dreamed.

I have always loved books and movies. I actually started writing several books over the years, but I’d never though about trying to get a book published. When I left the fashion industry, I wrote some articles with the intention of becoming an inspirational speaker to teens.

My husband was a youth pastor, and loving teenagers had become our new purpose in life. A debate broke out about whether the Harry Potter books should be read by Christian teens. So, I decided to write a Christian teen novel that would capture the excitement and mystery of Harry Potter. I brainstormed for a long time and eventually started writing. I was instantly hooked on writing fiction.

I struggled a bit with that. I had felt called to share my testimony with teens and fiction seemed almost selfish. Could God use a novel? Shouldn’t I put my book aside and focus on the articles? I prayed and consulted with my pastor. He told me to go for it. So I did. And now that I’ve published a book, I get to speak to teens about my writing and my life. Isn’t God good?

That first book was hard work. No one wanted to see Christian young adult fiction. And I didn’t know how to explain my genre to an editor or agent. (I didn’t even know what it was!) I simply wrote what I loved to read. It took me three years to figure out I was writing speculative fiction. By then I had started a few more books, and they were all a little weird. I have a series about Christian spy kids, a series about mad scientists, and a series about angels and demons. And there was my medieval fantasy series too.

By Darkness Hid is book one in the Blood of Kings series. How many books will there be and what do you envision for this series?

Blood of Kings is going to be a trilogy. The second book, To Darkness Fled, is almost finished. It will come out from Marcher Lord Press on April 1, 2010. The Blood of Kings series is about how light is stronger than the dark. The theme is coming to know your creator and discovering your purpose in His ultimate plan. I’m excited to see how all my characters will discover this.

Marcher Lord Press is new on the scene but seems to be opening doors for speculative fiction. What has this meant for you?

I did not intend to pitch my book to Marcher Lord Press at the Oregon Christian Writer’s conference last summer. I knew Jeff Gerke was a smart editor. And since there was only one editor interested in young adult fantasy at the conference last summer, I figured I’d put my proposal in to Jeff for his editorial feedback. I was surprised when he asked to read the full. And when he wanted to publish it, it just felt right. A lot of agents recommend that unpublished authors start with a smaller house to start their career. My agent was no different. Publishing By Darkness Hid with Marcher Lord Press has been wonderful. Jeff saw the first chapter in July 2008, by April 2009 my book was out, and now people are asking for book two. It all happened very fast.

I love what Marcher Lord Press is doing. Not only are they opening doors for speculative fiction, they are operating on a new publishing model. I often hear people say that Marcher Lord Press is a print on demand publisher, and that’s not exactly the case. Marcher Lord Press is an advance-paying, royalty-paying publisher, and they create a beautiful product.

The term “print on demand” carries a negative connotation as being self-publishing. Really, “print on demand” is simply a way of printing books. Why print 5,000 titles and store them in a warehouse or ship them to bookstores across the country only to have many of the books returned? It costs a lot and there is no guarantee the books will sell. It makes good business sense to only print the books people have purchased. I think more publishers would like to do business this way and are watching Marcher Lord Press to see what happens.

This publishing model is also good for authors because we get a bigger royalty and don’t have to feel like a failure if we don’t earn out our advance. I’m happy to say that Marcher Lord Press' first season list broke even in four months (Summa Elvetica, Hero: Second Class, and The Personifid Invasion) and the second season list (The Dark Man, Starfire, and By Darkness Hid) has already broken after only two months of being released. Isn’t that wonderful?

Reflecting back, what do you see as most significant to your publication journey?

Finding good critique partners. I’ve had dozens of people read my books for critique, but finding someone who can point out plot holes, weak scenes, and character misrepresentations was huge. My critique group is the best, and my books are better because of them.

What’s your biggest challenge in balancing writing time with your other responsibilities?

Learning to say no. My husband is a youth pastor, so we are very involved in church and teen activities. I've always had a hard time saying “no” to church things. I get stuck thinking that if it is for church, God must want me to do it. I know that’s not true, but I fall into that trap time and again. I have to remind myself that if I’m saying yes to everything, I am probably stealing someone else’s opportunity to serve. I try to write during the day, so that I can keep my nights free for family and teen activities. It’s a big challenge for me to balance it all.

And how do your faith and spiritual life play into the picture and affect your storytelling?

I don’t think you can read a book without getting a glimpse of the author’s worldview. I hope that is true of my books. My heart aches for the youth of our world. So many are lost and confused. Most have broken homes and broken hearts. So many feel insignificant and unloved. I want to show characters who are struggling to find their place in the world. I want to show these characters encounter God, because only God can give purpose, unconditional love, and true healing. It’s impossible for me to tell a story without incorporating God into it. Everything is all about Him.

What do you consider the greatest moment of your writing/publishing career?

I was really excited when I saw my book cover for By Darkness Hid. Kirk DouPonce did an amazing job. But it was even more awesome to get my first letter from a reader. I was thrilled to see how this person was drawn into the story and what they thought about it.

Who/What spurs you to write? Where do your story and character ideas come from?

My imagination never turns off. This can be a really annoying thing, but it does help me write. I can get a story idea from anywhere. By Darkness Hid came from two places: A really weird dream about a guy who didn’t know who he was, and a walk with my little boy under a tree that had half burned. Ideas are everywhere. They just need time to grow.

What do you think makes your style of storytelling unique?

I think it's in the details. I spend a long time developing my storyworld and characters. I want the story to feel real to the reader. I'm very intentional about everything from the plot to each character's dialogue to the description. Entertaining a reader is a privilege that I take seriously.

Finish this question. My favorite kind of story is one that…

I can't put down. I want to read a book in a day or two, and I get frustrated when I am not drawn into the story that way. I want engaging characters who take me on an amazing adventure, even if it's in their own backyard.

Any parting words?

Thanks for having me here. If you enjoyed my book, please tell someone about it, visit my Web site and sign up for information on book two in the series, and join my Facebook fan page. Also, if you are looking to discover more clean teen fiction, check out my blog:

Thanks for sharing with us, Jill!

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