Interview with AJ Alexander
by Sherry Perkins
AJ Alexander — author, poet, lover of Maine coon cats. Don’t know what a Maine coon cat is? It’s a ball of fur with attitude. But I digress…I met AJ through the Paranormal Romance Guild and an incidental Facebook encounter where she was holding the Halloween poetry contest she sponsors every year. She was looking for contest judges. I volunteered.
To be honest, I’d also been following her blog, “Writer’s Treasure Chest,” for quite a while as well. AJ’s blogs are filled with goodies such as writing and marketing advice, the occasional bit of comedic relief and even pictures of Maine coon cats. But more than that, she’s a writer who loves what she does — whether it’s novellas, poetry or paranormal romance and fantasy — and it shows.
She took a minute away from promoting her newest book, “Demon Tracker,” to answer a few questions.
1. Short stories, poetry, and novels–which is your favorite to write, and why?
I love writing novels (and novellas, in my case), and also, I write poetry, some of which I published on my blog “Writer’s Treasure Chest.” I enjoy the flow of the words and the rhymes when I write poetry. I could get carried away within the verses. The novel writing is my true passion. I have a straight plot; then I start knitting the “side-stories,” put my pen on the paper and start writing. Often there is even another one or two more side stories or unexpected characters coming up. I love the creating of worlds, weaving my imagination with the characters, and see how they develop.
All this is rarely possible with short stories. I’m not saying they’re a terrible thing, but they need a lot of planning to get one entire story inside of around 7,500 words. I love it to be carried away by the story, and it is almost a punishment to limit my fantasy into a word-frame.
2. “The Council of Twelve” series is categorized as Young Adult fiction. Do you find any particular challenges in creating stories within the genre? Are there themes or tropes you rely on? Conversely, are there themes or tropes you avoid? What about fantasy or paranormal romance as a genre?
I would like to re-categorize my series as “Young Adult fantasy/paranormal romance.” Of course, it’s fiction, but it’s not very clear where to set it up. In general, the fantasy-genre creates new worlds, whereas paranormal romance is taking place in our known universe. “The Council of Twelve” series is both. I’m writing the way I want to write, but the “Young Adult” category, of course, limits me in how far the “romance” between two categories can go. Young adults are young people in the age range of 12 to 18 years. In all of my books there is romance, but per definition I cannot write anything else than a few hot kisses. The protagonists can spend the night together – but in my books, I write, not more than the woman falling asleep in the man’s arms. In 2020 we expect teenagers at the age of 12 to know about intimacy. Reading my books, they have to use their imagination.
Also, I have to keep the language as decent as possible. Therefore, I limit even “foul language”, “swearing” and “name calling” as clean as possible and don’t write anything else than what every teenager nowadays hears in their typical environment. I had to correct my use of language several times. In particular, in my new book, the language use of my protagonist plays a significant role in her characteristics.
3. Could you talk about the value of having a good working relationship with your cover designer/illustrator?
It is enormously important to have an excellent working relationship with the cover designer. I was lucky enough to know my cover designer for several years before she created the first cover for me. I watched her grow, and I admired her excellent taste and careful work. When I asked her to do the first cover in “The Council of Twelve” series, I was curious about what she would come up with. She started by asking questions, asking for the blurb, asking for the main protagonists, their characters, their looks – and then we both began to look for pictures. We were in constant contact, and she clearly explained to me why she did this and that and how I would like that background and why she would recommend picking the other one instead.
The second cover was different, considering Sundance is a fundamental character for the entire series. It was essential to pick the right “Sundance.” It took me forever to select about 25 “Sundances” to start with and then start kicking the one and other out until I was down to five… from there on, Katie helped me decide and recommended until we agreed on the one that’s on the cover now.
Book three was almost “routine”… On my crusade to find Sundance I stumbled across Zepheira and sent the picture to my cover designer. She kept her and we knew already who would be on the front cover. The back of the cover was entirely her idea, and it’s beautiful, in particular the veined fire wings that are in Zepheira’s back.
I wanted a cover designer who did the covers of all the books in “The Council of Twelve” series to keep consistency and raise memorability. I was very happy she agreed to do so. It is important to know your cover designer’s taste but still have someone who surprises you with new ideas, and is positive and enthusiastic. I adore her.
4. We all get ’em–bad reviews. Some writers mope, some ignore them, and some integrate the information. How do you handle them?
I’m well aware of the fact that not everyone can love my books. It is crucial for every author to develop a thick skin and not let it get to you. Of course, if I would say they don’t bother me at all, it is a lie. What I don’t understand is the ‘one-star’ rating some people bombard an author’s work with, and sometimes only, because their friends say they didn’t like the book. But it’s not on us to turn lousy taste into a good one, *smirk*
At one point, I decided for myself; I have to make sure I don’t let them get to me. Even though I usually get horribly upset at first, after a few days, my rage flattens. Next thing I do, I just create a minor character in one of my upcoming books. And then I kill the character off in a way I think it’s appropriate – depending on how bad the review was. Let’s express it poetically: I get my lethal revenge in the best legal way imaginable.
5. You’ve talked about having your sister, your family, and your cats as your primary support system. Who does it best? Asking for one of your cats, wink, wink. But really, do you believe having pets makes you a more rounded and resilient person?
Oh, really? Must be the black kitty… she’s the only one who knows how to answer the phone, *wink*
Let’s get back to your questions. My sister is very supportive, very encouraging, and very helpful. She never ceases to listen when I’m facing a problem. She is the most fantastic person on Earth. I love to laugh with her, and she always makes time for me and my issues, no matter how busy she is.
I grew up with pets. We had guinea pigs, birds, rabbits, and cats when we were kids. Having pets to me is natural. I decided to take them in and took responsibility for them. Even after all these years, I have them; they still make me laugh and surprise me at times. They keep me grounded – and there are times when they are the only ones who care what I’m doing and how I am…
6. My series, ‘The Council Of Twelve’ is a Young Adult fantasy series, based on the fight’ Good vs. Evil.’ The books are telling the stories of unique characters and their adventures within the battle.
In 2018 I published Soul Taker, the first book in the series, telling Katies’ story, who changes her job from a Soul Taker to a Guardian, and meets her protector, Raphael, as well as her nightmare.
The book was followed by “Sundance,” a character we briefly met in “Soul Taker,” and who we’ll meet again here.
Only two weeks ago, “Sundance” was nominated in the “Author Academy Awards” in the Young Adult genre. I am grateful if you all could vote for “Sundance” here:
The third book, “Demon Tracker,” tells Zepheira’s story. She is the best Demon Tracker, the Good side has. Her tracking record is phenomenal and her teams usually wins the unspoken contest of tracker teams. One day she’s hired by “The Big 7,” warrior angels working closely with one of the “Council of Twelve” members.
Suddenly Zepheira finds herself in a high-class environment, having to prove how good she is.
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