KJ is one of my favorite writers. Not only is her writing filled with humor and romance, but her characters radiate goodness, just like KJ herself. She is so good at creating memorable characters that feel like they could be real people, with real problems. KJ is authentically herself and is simply one of the best writers in the genre. She has been kind enough to answer a few questions.
Your latest book, Ignis, is fantastic. It’s such departure for you with its darker tone. What inspired it or was it just how you envisioned Felicity’s backstory to be?
During Coming Home, Felicity was simply a character who was a counterbalance for Sam and Cath, particularly Sam. I had an ending in mind in that book where Sam asks Felicity if she’s bringing anyone to the premiere and I had Felicity say no. But it didn’t sit right. So I had her saying the name Tal. I had no idea who Tal was but I knew they were non-binary. Then in Kick Back, I had a scene that needed a police inspector, so Tal took on that role and therefore Felicity had Tal, the inspector. Then in Art of Magic, Tal was on campus a lot, and so Felicity had Tal the enigmatic partner. Felicity and Tal’s relationship grew in each book. Tal was still mysterious, so I wanted to investigate them farther. They needed a back story. So did Felicity. I knew Felicity had to have a huge storyline; something outside the box. She’s too strong to just appear like magic. Poof! There’s Felicity Davis. So cults and fire and stalking and blokes incinerating themselves was where my head went. And I whacked it all into a thriller because I figured it would work. And amazingly it did.
I wanted to thank you for being so open about your struggles with bi-polar disorder. It made me think more about my own mental health and I have since started therapy to work on that part of myself. How long ago were you diagnosed and how are you doing?
Excellent for starting therapy. Good for you. It’s something that should be seen as a positive, not as something you do when you get to the falling-apart stage. I was diagnosed in 2016 which astounded my psychiatrist. His words were, “How on earth did you get to this age without medication? You’re remarkably strong and astonishingly brave.” Which was complimentary and awful at the same time, because it meant that I’d presented myself, and blended in, as normal, through sheer willpower, for my whole life. No one knew. Of course, the diagnosis explained sooooo much. There were many events in my life that I identify now as very obviously a ‘high’ moment or a ‘low’ moment. Both places (highs and lows) are incredibly dangerous for an unmedicated bipolar-haver to be in. Basically, my psych said that technically, based on averages, I should be dead; a confronting thing to hear particularly as I’d been getting ready to chuck myself off a train platform.
I am incredibly transparent about mental illness. I create posts about the topic and scatter them like glitter all over Twitter and Facebook. I imagine that people read the first words of my posts and sigh elaborately but I’m going to keep making noise. Mental illness has spent too many years sitting in a dark corner so it’s out of sight and out of mind and people whisper about it like it’s the clown in the drain. Bugger that.
How am I doing now? I go in and out of head hospital. I take my medications because they save my life. I have days when I’m hollow and I look at the wall. I have days when I’m a bit manic and my gorgeous wife lifts an eyebrow and asks me if I’m okay because I’m talking rapidly and oh boy babe you might want to go for a looooong walk or maybe a nap. She’s my number one fan and support. But generally, I’m okay. I have awesome overseas author-y friend type people who Skype me and lovely Australian mates who Zoom me. I have my team.
I read the beautiful story of how you and your wife met and it’s like a scene out of a lesfic romance. (For those who don’t know the story check it out at kjauthor.wordpress.com) Did that make you a believer in love at first sight or destiny or do believe in attraction at first sight that grows into love?
It made me a believer in the idea that being adorkable is a fabulous strategy for landing the first date. My wife told me early on in our relationship that on the night we met, I was so geeky and adorkable (her word) that she wanted to get to know me more. My little novella Home, which is badly written and not edited properly (sigh) but it’s sweet and cute, contains two characters: Hanna and Jo. If you read that book, you’ll recognise Hanna and Jo as my wife and I. I wrote it for her.
I believe in attraction at first sight that grows to love. That’s what we did. Only because I asked her to feel my thigh.
I’m from middle America and would leave here so fast if I didn’t have teenage boys in school and my partner’s mom living with us. What are some things about Australia that would make it a great place to live?
Hmm. We don’t have as many people as the US. We’re 25 million generally friendly folk. We’re a big country and it’s easy to get lost (Oh. That’s not a great thing) But within one state, the distances between towns are huge. For example, the driving distance between Brisbane and Cairns (Queensland’s two largest cities) is roughly 1700kms; 300km longer than Land’s End to John O’Groats. I don’t know who John O’Groats is. I Googled driving distances. Um… Australia has a reputation for hosting the ‘world’s deadliest creatures’ and that’s pretty true. There are definitely plenty of things that could kill you, but it is also pretty over-exaggerated. Generally. Well, we’ve got Irukandji jellyfish, saltwater crocodiles, five out the top 10 deadliest snakes in the world, sharks, scorpions, three out of the top 10 deadliest spiders…but friendly people, right?
You have been chosen to start a new community that I can move to once my kids go to college. You must choose four other lesfic writers to assist with growing crops, building homes and everything else involved with building a community. Who are the four writers you will choose and why?
Ooh. That’s tough. Can I take more? No? Okay…right…um. Here goes.
Cheyenne Blue – Cheyenne posts amazing photos of her camping adventures and of driving places where there’s red dirt and probably nature-y things. She’s very handy with building materials so Cheyenne gets to oversee the building of stuff part.
Jae – Jae is excellent at organizing everyone and bringing about a sense of community. Did you see the ‘First Kisses’ anthology that she put together? 55 authors from different publishing houses and lots of Indies. Astonishing. She’s the mayor of the island. It’s in the rules. (Also, it’s now an island)
Lee Winter – for her plant knowledge – it could be Sam’s (Lee’s fiancé) plant knowledge, but Lee could channel Sam via direct mind link and apply that knowledge to bring quenda to the garden. Well, she’ll create the garden first because that makes sense. I can add mind links, can’t I? We could be creating our community in an alternate universe. We’ll teleport you over.
Chris Zett – I’m definitely inviting Chris Zett to join our survivors all-stars team. Medical knowledge? Completely! We’ll be filled with splinters from our house-building escapades. Or scratches from our roses, although roses seem pointless. Maybe cacti. Can you eat cacti? I don’t know, but Chris will have smuggled in G Benson. Not because of zombies because that’s bonkers but because of the medical assistance. I know that’s five people, but smuggling is kind of pirate-like and it seemed appropriate. I’d be there for comic relief. Or not. Maybe I’m bringing a microphone and will commentate Jeff Probst Survivor-style. Although nobody gets their tiki torch-thingy blown out because we need those things to spot the quenda.
Which of your characters is your favorite and why? Who most closely resembles you?
I would have to say Sam Markson. Many people have said that they can identify with Sam and recognise themselves in her. This was deliberate. I created Sam to represent the best of us. She embodies personality traits that people would identify in themselves. But I do put myself and other people into my characters. It’s hard not to. Maybe I’m a little bit of Felicity. Not the intimidating part. I’m about as intimidating as a pot plant. Definitely Emily Fitzsimmons. The anxiety, the family history moulded into personal experience. That sort of thing.
What are you currently working on?
Ooh. This is a bit of a secret project. But it’s definitely out of the box again.
What three books this year have made you sit up and say, “Wow, that was a work of art”?
Milena McKay’s The Headmistress and The Delicate Things We Make. Astonishing writing and I immediately reread them. I had to write essay-thingies about both of them.
Clare Ashton’s The Tell Tale. Oh my god. So good. Essay-thingy as well. Also, it’s Clare Ashton and I’ll read anything she writes.
Can I add another? G Benson’s Dead Lez Walking. Completely insane and wonderful and perfect. Oh…and I wrote another essay-thingy. I like to write about great les-fic because why not? We’re not in competition and I love to yell about other author’s work. I’m excited by the amazing stories that shape our community.
You are the Tom Hanks of lesfic writers. You are simply the nicest person; you are so supportive of other authors and some of the reviews you write are absolute perfection. Thank you for being the amazing person you are and for taking time out of your day to talk with me.
An absolute pleasure. I loved it. I hope I didn’t ramble. I tend to do that. Like right now. Please cut me off.