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[Author Interview] J. W. Elliot

Welcome J. W. Elliot

James is a twenty-nine-year-old stuck in an older man’s body. He loves to paddle his canoe, shoot his handmade longbows in the woods, make knives, study martial arts, and generally enjoys challenging himself. When not teaching or writing about the real past, he is imagining worlds and histories that might have been, should have been, or may yet be.

James has two homes (though only one house)–the mountains of Idaho and the forests of New England–where he canoes, hikes, camps, rock climbs, and shoots the longbows he makes himself. He lives in Massachusetts with his wife.

His next book: Heirs of Anarwyn, Book III: Shattered comes out in a few months.

You can follow J. W. Elliot through his social channels:

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Tell me about yourself. What inspired you to write?

I’m a professional historian of Latin American and World History with five academic books published. I also study martial arts, and I love the outdoors and outdoor activities including canoeing, archery, hiking, rockhounding, and rock climbing. I bring all of my hobbies and professional expertise into my fiction writing.

Some of my earliest memories are of my mother reading to me. We had a subscription to National Geographic, which I devoured, and the Reader’s Digest, as well as a bookshelf filled with encyclopedias. So I have always loved stories and knowledge. But I think the real catalyst in me becoming a writer occurred when I was ten years old, and my family moved from Idaho to Oklahoma. It was a very lonely time for me, and I found solace and friendship in the characters I met in the books and comics I read. That was where I discovered J.R.R Tolkien, Ursula K. LeGuin, and Katherine Kurtz. That experience inspired me to take a creative writing course in high school, and I have been writing fiction ever since.

I dabbled in fiction writing for many years while I went to graduate school and started building my academic career. I often worked on my stories to wind down and relax at the end of the day. Eventually, I started reading them to my kids at bedtime. Their enthusiasm kept me writing—I knew I had to have something new for them the next night. My new series, Heirs of Anarwyn, was created in that give-and-take as I read and my kids critiqued.

Describe your desk / writing space.

I tend to write upstairs in my office surrounded by books with music playing in the background. But I can and do write anywhere. I’ve written in car repair shops, in the car while my wife is driving, on the airplane, restaurants, at church, and under the trees while camping. Writing time is so precious, I take what I can get.

Do you have a writing routine, or do you write when inspired?

I always have at least three books in process at any given time—one I’m editing, one I’m writing, and one I’m planning. I write every day, and I prefer to write in the morning when I can. But since I have a real-world job, I usually have to write in the afternoon or evenings.

My philosophy is that inspiration is not found—it’s created. By that, I mean there is no mystical muse upon which we have to wait for inspiration. I create work habits and processes that generate ideas and inspiration consistently. That’s what I do, and so far it is working pretty well.

How do you come up with the title for your books?

A title needs to catch the reader’s eye as much as the cover does, so I spend a lot of time trying different ideas for titles. I run them by my beta readers and try to find titles that are intriguing while also giving a sense of what the story is about.

What was the hardest scene for you to write? Which scene was your favorite to write?

I guess romance scenes are a bigger challenge for me. My daughters constantly tell me I get things wrong, and I have to rewrite them. My favorite scenes are fight and battle scenes. As a martial artist and a historian who teaches a course entitled The Global History of War, I feel pretty comfortable writing those scenes.

What inspired your book/series?

The Archer of the Heathland series came about because I wanted to write a series in which archery was represented in an accurate way. I also wanted to explore the role of family and loss in the shaping of human identity.

The Ark Project arose from the question of what it means to be human in a world where science and technology have superseded biological evolution. It was challenging because, as a historian, I tend to live in the past. I had to do a lot of research to make sure I got the technology and science correct. Even though I made up a bunch of advanced technologies, I think the future I created for The Ark Project is possible. It could actually happen.

The Worlds of Light trilogy came about because I wanted to see if I could create a magic system that drew on the real history of worshipping light with a modern scientific understanding of light. I also wanted to explore the question of how power can corrupt and what choices have to be made to ensure that it doesn’t.

The Heirs of Anarwyn series came to me one day as I was driving through the Idaho countryside. I wondered what would happen if magic wasn’t just an inert power. What if it had both consciousness and will and actively intervened in human lives to pursue its own agenda. I wanted to explore the nature of evil and how it takes root in the human psyche. I started writing it when I was sixteen, and I still haven’t finished.

Walls of Glass struggles to understand nature of racism and what each of must do to confront it. I drew on my own life experiences and my studies of history for inspiration.

The Miserable Life of Bernie LeBaron examines loss, mental illness, and broken families in a heartwarming story of a young man who overcomes his challenges by developing intergenerational friendships. I drew much of my inspiration for the story from own life.

Somewhere in the Mist examines the challenge of facing tragedy and loss in the era of the Great Depression. I wanted to write a story that explored how the past remains with us despite our efforts to hide from it. I found the central idea for this story in the Marion library in a little room dedicated to a ship called the Mary Celeste, whose occupants disappeared at sea without a trace.

What are you working on next?

After I finish the Heirs of Anarwyn series, I plan on returning to Archer of the Heathland world for a spin-off series with two of my favorite characters.

What authors or books have influenced your writing?

I love all great stories. I really don’t care what the genre is. But my “go-to” fantasy books—the ones I return to over and over again—are, of course, J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings and Ursula K. LeGuin’s Earth Sea Trilogy. I think these stories have a timeless quality to them that spoke to me as a child and still speaks to me as a more jaded adult. I devoured the Terry Brooks Shannara series. Somehow, I missed reading Frank Herbert’s Dune while growing up, but I just read the first book and loved it. So now, I’m getting into that entire series. I really enjoy Brandon Sanderson—especially the Mistborn trilogy and The Reckoners series. I find the Harry Potter series enjoyable, and I’m about halfway through Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time.

If you could live anywhere, in this world or fantasy, where would you live?

I think I would love to live in Lórien amid the golden Mallorn trees beside the River Ânduin. In the real world I would like to live in the White Mountains near the Franconia Gap.

What is your favorite meal?

Probably ratatouille. My wife makes a killer batch.

Coffee or tea? Wine or beer?

None of the above. I prefer water.

Describe yourself in three words.

Driven. Caring. Fun-Loving.

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