Monday, February 3, 2014

5 Questions with J. Anderson Coats

I included a review of Ms. J. Anderson Coats' book The Wicked and the Just (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012) in my "Winter Break Mash-Up" post. (You might want to read that post for questions 2 and 4 to make sense.) She graciously agreed to do an interview on the fascinating topics explored in her book here with me! I hope you enjoy.

HF: How and when did you become interested in medieval Welsh culture?

JAC: When I was in the sixth grade, my gifted enrichment program dida unit on medieval culture. One of the books available for our perusal was Castle by David MacCaulay. (If you’ve never read it, Castle is a slice-of-life tour through a fictional castle in Wales with the most lovely and detailed illustrations.) This book pulled me so firmly into the medieval world that I don’t think I’ve ever really left. Castle made the middle ages feel familiar, approachable and real. I went straight to my library and systematically checked out every book on medieval Wales, then the middle ages in general. When I’d read them all, I started harvesting titles from bibliographies and bugging my mother to get books for me on inter-library loan. I became the kind of unbalanced teenager who had research interests instead of boyfriends or, y’know, a life.

HF: When writing your book, did you sympathize more with one character than the other? (Cecily or Gwenhwyfar)

JAC: Cecily certainly has problems, but many of them are first-world problems and often of her own making. Gwenhwyfar’s problems are more immediate and visceral and dumped in her lap, but her fierce and uncompromising attitude complicates her ability to deal with her situation productively. Authors can’t afford to cuddle their characters too close. It’s when you put them through the wringer that they start doing interesting stuff.

HF: Did you ever consider writing non-fiction instead of historical fiction on this subject? If so, what made you choose historical fiction?

JAC: I have a bunch of academic degrees; a few in history, one in library science. I definitely could have written a straight history, but I’m much more interested in the story of early colonial Wales---what was happening on the ground to ordinary people, how they experienced these laws and injustices, how they responded. History happens out in the weeds no matter what the books tell you about kings and battles and Important People.

HF: Your book was written with a dual perspective, alternating by chapter. I noticed that Gwenhwyfar's chapters were a little bit shorter than Cecily's. Was there a reason for this?

JAC: I structured the book so Cecily’s narrative was initially the stronger, dominant one, but toward the end, Gwenhwyfar’s sections grow longer and Cecily’s become shorter. The distance between them is shrinking as the world changes around them.

HF: Do you plan to write more historical fiction, and if so, will you stay on the subject of medieval Wales? If you plan to write something other than historical fiction, will you stay in the YA


JAC: I definitely plan to keep writing YA, and maybe middle-grade someday. I like historical fiction and I’ll probably write more in the future, but I go where the story goes.

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