An Interview with author Amalie Jahn
Amalie Jahn is a brilliant young adult author. She writes multiple series including some of the best time-travel books I have read. Her stories deserve some recognition and I am happy to introduce her to the readers of the Young Adult Author Rendezvous.
What are the titles of your work and can you tell us a bit about them?
The Clay Lion Series includes three YA time travel books which are each stand-alones in their own right – The Clay Lion, Tin Men, and A Straw Man. Each book follows a different main character on a trip back in time to save someone they love. In The Clay Lion, Brooke travels back in time in an attempt to save her brother Branson’s life. In Tin Men, Charlie searches for his birth parents. And in A Straw Man, Melody tries to save her boyfriend, Nate, from the throws of addiction. I’ve also written an NA trilogy called the Sevens Prophecy Series about a group of psychic strangers who are destined to save the world.
Who’s your favorite character from your books?
When you spend hundreds of hours with your characters day in and day out, crafting their personalities and sharing in their triumphs as well as their defeats, they become part of your family. So, choosing the one you love best is a bit like picking your favorite child. Diplomatically, I enjoy them all for different reasons, but if you’re making me choose just one, I supposed Brooke would be my favorite. There’s a lot of me inside of her, from her dogged perseverance to her desire to control the uncontrollable. Sharing her journey was a way for me to sort out some of my own issues, and I’ll always be grateful to her for that.
Time travel – probably one of the coolest, but also most difficult ideas to write about. What were some of the challenges you faced in dealing with it?
The idea for the story about time travel came to me in a dream. I woke up and jotted down a few notes so I wouldn’t forget them. When I revisited my ideas at the start of the manuscript I began to realize that a lot of what was plausible in my subconscious imagination would not work realistically in the world I wanted to create for my characters. I struggled a lot with the fundamentals of how time travel was going to work in my world, and those struggles manifest themselves in many middle-of-the-night rewriting sessions, when I would wake up in a cold sweat realizing entire chapters would have to change because theoretically the timelines just wouldn’t sync. For example, in an early draft Brooke’s parents remembered Branson’s initial death after her first trip back in time, but of course that would be quite impossible because by going back in time, Brooke started along a new timeline in which she was the only one with any memory of that first death. There was also the issue of Brooke traveling inside her own conscious to avoid the possibility of running into her past or future self during her trips. I made rules for myself and then immediately break them. It nearly drove me mad. And although I’d like to say writing about time travel got easier as I made my way through the series, the struggle continued with the second and third books. I did the best I could with the challenges time travel presented, but at the end of the day I just had to trust that readers would read past the small plot holes and focus more on the storyline. I’m happy to report this seems to be the case.
I’m a huuuuge fan of your books and one of the things that always amazes me is that even though time travel plays a big role, they don’t seem like science fiction books. The storylines seem more about relationships than the details of actually traveling back in time. Was this on purpose?
Absolutely. I’m not really a big sci-fi girl. I enjoy a good Star Trek episode as much as the next person, but what has always been the most important thing to me as a reader is my connection with the characters. I have to be invested. I have to feel what they’re feeling in a way that immerses me in their world. I wanted The Clay Lion to be Brooke’s story, her journey out of a dark place and into the light. Time travel was simply the means to propel her forward on that path of discovery. With that being said, as readers move through the series, the characters begin to delve more deeply into the more specific ramifications of time travel. Melody’s experience in A Straw Man is a deeply disturbing with regard to the significant damage it can cause.
The Clay Lion is probably one of the most heart-wrenching books I’ve read. It’s a love story, but I found it also to be about family and learning some hard life lessons. How do you balance a desire to write about romance with a story filled with grief and so much pain?
Isn’t that the balance of life – taking the good with the bad and making room for them both? I knew what was eventually going to pull Brooke out of her depression in the midst of her grief was love, in all its forms. She starts out so broken, but when she allows the love back in, the healing process begins. I believe this is true in life, that love helps us overcome, and I wanted the simplicity of a blossoming romance to help Brooke find her way. As an author, I couldn’t keep taking from her without eventually giving something in return.
What authors have inspired you to write?
Oh jeez, so many. From my childhood: Judy Blume, V.C. Andrews, Jerry Spinelli. The first book that taught me about the emotional power of the written word was Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson. I read a ton of Dean Koontz in my twenties and still revere him for his prolific body of work. The author that made me want to become a writer, however, was Christina Schwarz. I distinctly remember reading Drowning Ruth and thinking “I want to write like this someday.” I’m not there yet, but I’m working on it.
What age were you when you started writing?
I remember writing fiction as early as second grade. I wrote short stories in little steno notebooks I kept hidden under my bed. My spelling was atrocious (still is!), but I learned at a very young age how writing could be used as an escape and a way to sort out problems one story at a time. It’s always been a form of catharsis for me.
Do you ever experience writer’s block?
Yes and no. Sometimes when I sit down to the computer I’m not sure how a particular scene is going to play out or (more rarely) what comes next. At those times, I either let my characters take over or work on something else for a day or two until the perfect solution presents itself. Most times, if I’m stuck, I force myself to write through it, knowing I can always come back and revise if necessary.
Do you work with an outline, or just write?
Yes to both. I always have some sort of rough idea of where the story is headed, but it’s never very detailed. I liken it to knowing that I want to drive across the United States from New York to California, and I know I want to see Cincinnati and Las Vegas along the way, I just don’t know exactly how I’m going to get there. The characters make those more specific decisions for me. Which roads to take. Which detours to make. I love it when they surprise me along the way with ideas of places to stop I hadn’t even imagined.
Do you ever get sad when you realize that the characters that you’ve created aren’t real?
Wait. They aren’t?
If you had to go back and do it all over, is there any aspect of your novel or getting it published that you would change?
Oh, yes. When it came to publishing I basically did everything wrong because I didn’t know what I didn’t know. If I had to go back again I would be more patient. I would have spent more time learning about the industry before diving in head first. With that being said, my publishing journey has been an amazing learning experience as well as one of the greatest joys of my life, missteps and all.
Can you tell us about your upcoming book?
Absolutely. The final book in the Sevens Prophecy Series is due out this summer, and I’m patiently waiting for a release date for a YA contemporary I’ve written about a farm girl from Iowa named Tess Goodwin who moves to North Carolina when her father reenlists in the Army after September 11th. It’s a friendship story (and a love story) about Tess finding acceptance in the last place she’s expecting.
What has been the toughest criticism given to you as an author? What has been the best compliment?
Well, I believe you can’t actually call yourself and author until someone tells you your book is “garbage.” Thankfully I’ve only encountered a few comments as painful as that. I know most publishers encourage their authors not to read reviews, but can’t help myself. The truth is, as much as the good ones brighten my days, the critical ones often shed light on areas I need to focus on improving. I think the trick is not falling under the delusion that just because your body of work is successful as a whole that you don’t need to continue growing in your craft. Learn how to tighten the plot, be more descriptive, or improve the flow of dialogue. I know that I can always do better and that my readers deserve the best work I can produce. And as for the best compliment I’ve gotten? Nothing makes me happier that when I hear I’ve made a reader cry. Knowing someone has connected with my characters at such a deeply emotional level makes reading the handful of “garbage” comments worth it.
Do you have any advice to give to aspiring writers?
Don’t give up.
Keep pushing yourself to try new techniques.
Write the story inside you, not the story you think will sell a million copies.
Read a lot. Then read some more.
Find a good editor.
Believe in yourself.
Do you have any strange writing habits?
It has to be quiet when I write. No music. No television. No kids playing in an adjoining room. I have a desk set up on my treadmill, and I walk while I write so I’m not sitting on my butt all day. I go pretty slow, though, because I’ve found if I walk too fast my brain doesn’t get enough oxygen and my writing gets pretty mushy. About 3.5 mph is my max before I’m spouting nothing but gibberish.
What others are saying about Amalie Jahn:
“There’s a very profound message hidden in these pages. You get glimpses of it throughout but you don’t truly understand it until the very end of the story.”
“It will tear your heart out of your chest and piece it back together again, stronger than it was before. You will experience every emotion from A to Z and back again, and you will have grown as a person for having read it.”
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