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Interview with Joan Campbell

Welcom, Joan! What do you hope readers will take away from your newest release Guardian of Ajalon?
The Poison Tree Path Chronicles is a tale of adventure, discovery and ultimately, redemption. In the first book, Chains of Gwyndorr, my two young protagonists discover a book written in the forbidden Old Tongue. In Guardian of Ajalon, this ancient book is finally deciphered and read, taking my characters into a vivid world where they discover their true identity and a way to freedom. I would love for my readers to come away from reading Guardian of Ajalon with a renewed sense of their great worth in God’s sight and a fresh perspective on the love and sacrifice of Christ, because these are the main themes of the book.

Can you tell us a little about the process of creating your story world for speculative fiction?
Early in my writing career I was privileged to have guidance from a British publisher on world-building. He read a draft of my manuscript and told me that the world I’d created felt too similar to our own. I had to work on making it more dangerous, more magical and constructing rules and beliefs that were unique to Tirragyl.

When it came to making my world more dangerous and magical, my two teenage daughters had great ideas. In order to make the Rif’twine Forest such an ominous place, we came up with very creative ways in which a plant might kill you! They were also an inspiration in the creation of power rocks – rocks imbued with magic. We asked ourselves, ‘what would be a remarkable power to have?’ and then crafted rocks such as the Verity Gem (knowing when someone is lying) and the Mind Rock (the ability to read another’s thoughts).

However, my own life experience also influences my fantasy world. For instance, the division in my society (South Africa) finds expression in a very divided Tirragyl. Some of the traditional African beliefs also find their way into my books, such as the belief that twins share a soul. This plays out heavily in Heirs of Tirragyl (book 2) where Queen Nyla’s life is in danger because her twin brother covets her ‘piece of his soul’.

What aspect of writing speculative fiction do you enjoy the most? What would you say is the hardest aspect of writing speculative fiction?
I enjoy the pure escape of it. As a child I got lost in the fantasy worlds of books. As an adult I still get lost—except they’re worlds I’ve created. I also love the way you can play around with spiritual themes without being ‘preachy’. My faith flows naturally into the storyline. I’m not sure I’d get that right in any other genre.

For me the hardest aspect of writing (any writing, not just speculative) is the editing process. When I first opened the email from my editor and read her comprehensive edit document I thought, “I know nothing…I should never write another word again!” Yet, after a while I started to think, “Yes…she’s right. I can so improve that,” and then I knew I would be okay. But that initial read through the edit document was definitely the hardest.

What’s your writing routine like? Do you prefer to listen to inspirational or motivational music/no music? Do you have any favorite writing snacks or drinks?
I have to be in a good place emotionally to write. So I can’t just jump into writing at the beginning of the day. I start by having a Quiet Time and dealing with admin and my to-do list. Only when all that is out of the way and my mind is clear, can I throw myself into my writing. I love writing outside (our great weather makes that possible) where my only soundtrack is the wind and birdcalls. Coffee is a must. Muffins are a nice-to-have.

Are you a plotter or a pantser?
I’m predominantly a pantser, although I do have some idea of where my story’s going. A story idea begins to ferment in my mind long before I sit down to write. With this trilogy, I knew that I wanted to tell of a journey from deception to truth, from loneliness to belonging, from shame to worth. As this theme grew in my mind, the character of Shara began to emerge. Over time I gained a sense of her, where she lived, the situation she was in and where my story would ultimately taker her. Everything in-between was a mystery but with those elements in place, I had just enough to go on, so I jumped in and let Shara's journey begin.

At times I’ve tried to sit down and do more plotting but it just doesn’t work for me. It’s not true to me or the characters (who are pretty much in control in ‘pantsing’). Detailed plotting also takes away the element of surprise -- the very thing that keeps me writing.

What genres do you enjoy reading in your spare time?
Fantasy, spy and crime novels are probably my favorite, but I enjoy fast-paced, well-crafted books in most genres.

Besides writing, do you have any other hobbies you enjoy?

I love tennis – I’ve got a pretty mean backhand. I also enjoy hiking, birding and anything that takes me outdoors.

What advice would you give a novice author working on his/her writing craft?
Firstly, you have a unique voice and your own stories to tell. The more you write the clearer that voice will become, but you’ll only discover that through the process of writing. Trust your voice and your creative instincts.

Secondly, protect your passion. The writing and publishing journey can be bumpy, frustrating and discouraging. There may be times you’re tempted to give up, but here’s the thing – you are a writer! If you don’t write, a very significant part of you shrivels up and dies. So protect that creative, lovely, joyful part of yourself, and don’t let anybody – publishers, editors, reviewers or your own inner critic – steal it away from you.

If you could go on a vacation in any place in the world, where would you go and why?
There are so many places I’d love to see, but only one place that has stolen my heart – South Africa’s Kruger National Park. I love the silence and wildness of the African bush, and the anticipation that just around the bend there could be a pride of lion or a herd of elephants or an African Fish Eagle. Nowhere do I see God’s remarkable creativity more clearly.


CJ Myerly is a graduate from Clearwater Christian College. She resides in Tampa, Florida with her husband and two children. She’s always loved reading and writing and is currently working on a contemporary romance series. She hates clutter, loves organization, and has a love/hate relationship with all electronics. CJ blogs about books, writing, motherhood, and homeschooling at

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