Good morning. I am excited, today, to start the new year off with an amazing writer, J D Abbas, here for my Author interview. J D is a very old and dear friend. I hold so much respect for her. J D Abbas. This isn’t the name I’ve known you as. Is there a reason you write under a pseudonym?
I’m very careful with my identity because I blog about human trafficking, particularly sex trafficking, and other human rights abuses. I’ve known people who have had death threats, so I don’t take chances. That is also why you won’t find a picture of me on my website or in my novels.
That sounds scary! I certainly understand why you would use a pseudonym. I know from reading your first two books that it’s a central theme. Tell us a little about your new book. What is the main storyline?
My newest novel is the fourth in a five-book medieval fantasy series, The Innocence Cycle. The overarching storyline is about seventeen-year-old Giara, a rescued pleasure girl with a fractured psyche who discovers she is the descendant of an ancient, near-extinct race with tremendous powers. One of her abilities shows up in a particularly odd way: She shape-shifts with her emotional states. She must learn to harness her gifts to defeat the woman who has destroyed her life and is attempting to eradicate all innocence from the realm. In the fourth novel, Birth of Innocence, Giara arrives at an enlightened haven in their world, where she will marry—she fell in love in book three—and give birth. In this place, she will also learn more about her history and abilities as well as meet other children who have been rescued. The story is building toward the final confrontation in the last novel.
Oh! That sounds exciting! Now I’m more eager than ever to finish the series. How long have you been writing? I never even knew you were interested in writing back when we went to school together.
I wrote my first poem in fourth grade, “In the Land of Make Believe.” Rather appropriate for the direction my writing has gone. By eighth grade, I was writing short stories. I didn’t really take it seriously until I was in my thirties and joined a creative writing class at a local community college. I’ve been writing full time since 2010.
Wow! That’s a surprise to me. How many books have you written?
I’m working on my fifth novel in this series. I have a novella that was published in Egypt in Arabic (a long story), which I hope to expand to a full-length novel (here, in English). I also have two other partially written novels that have been set aside until I finish this project.
A book in Arabic? That’s one I won’t be reading soon. I’m impressed and curious. When did you first know you wanted to be a writer?
Throughout my thirties, I searched for a creative outlet that worked for me. I tried drawing, painting, sculpting, and eventually focused exclusively on writing. Being creative brings to life a part of me that has long felt dead, and writing, especially creating my own elaborate worlds, gives me the most sustained sense of life.
I understand that. I feel that same way when I write. What inspired you to write this book?
I had a scene stuck in my head. It haunted me for over a year. Finally, a friend said, “Why don’t you write it out and see where it goes?” I did, and here we are some 600,000 words later. Although the term “human trafficking” is not in the novel, it is a subject that is important to me and needs to have more exposure. Many medieval fantasy novels will treat the abuse and subjugation of women and children as just an accepted fact in “primitive” societies. Many modern-day abolitionists, of whom I consider myself one, are working to help people understand that these same abuses are rampant today in “civilized” first-world societies. We are just better at hiding it. In my opinion, it is and has always been human nature for the powerful to prey on the powerless.
I agree. It’s been about ten years since I first understood it was a real problem today. And you’re right. Many books treat it as if it’s normal. I think that’s appalling! Did the “scene stuck in your head” turn out the way you first thought it would? If not, what was different?
I had no idea where it would go when I started. After 450,000 words, I began to get a general idea. I have known the ending for some time, but it was the journey to arrive there that was the unknown. I tried a few different ideas, but truly my characters wouldn’t let me get away with veering from their stories and telling it their way. Sometimes I write things, and when I go back and read them later, I am amazed because I don’t really remember writing that. Stephen King talks about “unearthing” stories. I totally identify with that. I feel like the story is there, and my job is to discover it, somewhat like an archaeological.
I think many writers find that their characters are the ones writing the story. I find that myself in my own writing. How long did it take you to write those 600,000 plus words? Tell us a little about the process.
That’s a difficult question to answer. I first started it maybe fifteen years ago. Originally, I had one long story that I wrote over the course of several years. Later, I broke it into individual novels, but after breaking it apart, I had to do a lot of work on each novel. I’d say this fourth one took about a year to flesh out. Probably half of this book is new material. I added a second storyline and a small cast of new characters. The parts I already had were completely reworked and rewritten. I’ve worked with two critique partners, two writing groups, and an editor friend since the first book, so I’ve been given a great deal of feedback.
Did you need to do any special research?
I went to Ireland twice and even stayed in a castle overnight—an authentic castle—to help me get a better feel for my setting. I’ve studied castle layouts, medieval weaponry, and books on world building.
I remember you going to Ireland, but I didn’t know it was for research. Do you have a special place or atmosphere you like to write in best?
I’ve been known to write most anywhere, but I prefer at home, in a quiet atmosphere. I wrote a big chunk of the fifth book while at a writers’ retreat, Rain-forest Writers, where authors are scattered everywhere in a lakeside resort just typing for hours on end and competing for number of words written. I was pleased with my 16,500 in three days, but the winner wrote around 60,000!
That sounds like an amazing retreat! Tell me, how are you like your main character?
Our histories are very similar. Like my character, I was a victim of sex-trafficking, except it wasn’t called that when I was a kid. That term didn’t enter American vocabulary until decades later. My mind was likewise fractured by the abuse, but I don’t shape-shift. I wish I had Giara’s powers and could fight for other victims and help set the world right. My writing is my weapon, and I give a dollar from each book I sell to an organization that works with survivors of domestic sex trafficking.
I didn’t know that about you. I’m so sorry that happened to you and so glad God intervened and brought you out! Did you learn anything new about yourself while writing this book?
I learned I am more creative than I thought, and I have a ton of words inside of me. I also discovered that writing these novels has been healing for me. Some of my story is woven into Giara’s, not always consciously, and putting it on paper and helping her to overcome has been empowering.
I’m glad to hear that. What new project are you working on now?
I’m working on the final book in the series. It is the hardest one yet because I have to tie up so many loose ends, and I feel this tremendous pressure to give the readers, who have stuck with me through this long series, a satisfying end to the journey.
I’m sure you will do an incredible job with it and I’m looking forward to it even more now. Have you published traditionally or independently?
I’ve chosen the independent route. I wanted to do the traditional route and even had two editors who were interested. They both liked the work but weren’t sure how to market it because it is so unique. I was warned by my personal editor that this might happen. Publishers want familiar things, easily niched things. My novels are not. I also queried a great deal and got similar feedback: good writing, but I don’t know how to sell it. So I made the choice to do the hard work of setting up my own publishing label, Tamak Books, and doing it myself.
I’m sure that was a hard choice. I’m struggling with that myself at the moment. What advice would you give a new author?
Spend time with other writers. Get into a writers’ group. Go to conferences and workshops. Find critique partners to work with. Join Twitter contests to connect with other writers. I’ve done Pitch Wars, Pitch Madness, Pitchapalooza, and SFF Pitch. It’s inspiring to talk with others about their projects and watch their development. If you live in the boonies, like me, you can connect online or invest in an annual retreat. I don’t regret any of the time or money it has required to learn from others. Also, be careful about trying to incorporate all of the ideas and input of others. It can drive you to distraction. Learn the rules. Hone your craft. Then, find your own creative style and journey. We are all unique, and we can’t be like any other writer.
Good information. I’ll take that to heart. How can we find your books?
I am so glad that you shared this time with us today. I feel honored. I truly hope that this message of the horrors of human trafficking is spread and the caused helped as never before. I’m sure you won’t mind if I say that if anyone would like to know more about how to get involved and help blot out this blight on human history, that they can contact you through your blog at jdabbas.com. Do you have any closing comments for us today?
I have many friends who have published both traditionally and independently. Either way, getting published is hard work, but marketing is harder yet, even with a traditional publisher behind you. If you love writing, don’t give up. If you’re in it for the money or fame, you might want to rethink your plan—though I do have one friend who ended up with a six-figure contract that quickly moved to seven with movie rights and translations, etc., but that is rare. Most of us are happy just to get a small royalty check each month. Like most artists, we do it for the love of the art form.
Thank you, Stena, for allowing me to share a part of my love of writing and my journey with you and your friends.