Hello everyone! Today I have an author interview that really proves one thing: you are NEVER too busy to write a novel, or three, or more…
Welcome to Cover to Cover A.J. It’s been a while dragons have been mentioned in these parts of the blogosphere, so we are all excited! 😊 I’m going to get straight down to business… I saw that you used to be a falconer, and that you love animals… does that mean dragons were an absolute must for you when you decided to pick up the pen?
When I first started thinking about writing my own stories the choice for dragons was indeed quickly made. I had always said to myself that if I ever were to write a book, it would have to be about dragons. The idea of bonding with a powerful animal like that to such an extent always gave me a thrill when I was younger. Not to mention the idea of flying. To enjoy that freedom. To have the choice to leave it all behind if you wanted to. In fact, as a kid I used to draw dragons all the time; the idea of them being some remnant of the dinosaur age with a good dose of imagination perhaps.
But in my books, it goes beyond the magnificence of the creature as a whole itself. That bond between human and dragon (my favorite kind of dragon story as I’m not much one for people shapeshifting into dragons, etc.) gives an additional layer that I like to explore. How the personalities influence each other, collide or compliment. I remember well how that was one of my favorite things in other books like the Dragonriders of Pern by Anne McCaffrey. But with so many dragon books out there, I did want to find my own approach with the story involving these creatures.
Drawing from my background in wildlife management and working with birds of prey, I dove into the process of building trust when working with animals. I think that lies at the base of the Stone War dragon bonds, but there are different layers. For example, the dragons tend to be untainted by human emotions when they hatch but are quickly shaped by their experiences that have different impacts depending on their different characters.
Does that mean dragons will always be your go-to, or do you think about dabbling with something different?
Since I started writing, my creative brain has been teasing me with other possible stories to explore. Things like zombie apocalypse with an epic fantasy twist, or more into the scifi blade runner type of universe. But, for now, dragons is where it’s at and I’m focused on weaving the threads of the Stone War Chronicles into an epic adventure.
I can definitely tell that you have given a lot of thought and attention to the dragon aspect and that is always encouraging when potentially exploring a new author and their works. It gives confidence that the author, in this case you, has written what they feel strongly about and that in turn always, just always, makes the story so much better. But now that the most important question is out of the way – because as fantasy readers we always care about the dragons first and foremost! – can you tell us a bit more about yourself? What do you do and who you are when not writing fantasy?
Sure thing, but where to start? It often feels like I’m living several lives in parallel and nowadays I have to manage my energy levels a little bit more closely, but it is a life filled with interesting things. First of all, I have a family, wife and 2 kids. The kids are growing up so fast that it’s dangerous to blink.
In my free time I enjoy a wide variety of entertainment, be it board games, watching movies/series or gaming. I tend to have a preference toward the darker stories on streaming platforms, but I wouldn’t call myself a horror fan. At the same time, I’ll happily play games like Legend of Zelda, Kirby or some RTS or RPG on the PC. My interests are very diverse in that way.
I read all kinds of books, trying to mix things up so I don’t get stuck into epic fantasy too much… yet it always draws me back quick enough. At the moment, I highly enjoy (like many people out there, I think) the various types of litRPG books. Work wise, I’m still very active in wildlife management, working with zoos and aquariums to improve species conservation and preserve nature.
To remain in good physical and mental health, I’ve lately stepped up the physical exercise a bit, which puts me on a weekly routine of yoga, aikido and archery. I think I’ll stop there, because I could probably keep going for a while. Let’s just say I’m of the general opinion that there’s not enough hours in the day for me to do everything I want.
You have a LOT on your plate, how do you still have time to write? 🙂
Finding time to write has certainly become a challenge and I’m actively re-evaluating the different activities to make more room for writing. There are also certain times where I write more and times where I write less. Not ideal, but I’ll take what I can.
Having to manage your time strictly across so many things, do you think it helps or stems creativity? Or do you still sit down and write when an idea strikes even though you might be in the middle of yoga?
Ideas for writing DO pop up at different times, and yoga, or for example walking in nature, are ideal to let my thoughts slide over the different characters and their arcs to determine what works. I would even say that sometimes weeks of downtime (low activity writing weeks) as it helps me solve the sometimes hard to figure out flows of the story. By letting it sit and simmer for a bit, a solution often presents itself on how things can be adjusted or how a scene could influence the flow of an event later down the line better, etc. It’s all part of the process.
There’s no two ways about it, you’re a planner. It makes sense with the multitude of things and activities in your life… Planning does away with the chaos, am I right?
Planning is certainly needed, but the best planners know when to be flexible in their approach, I think. Creativity often can’t be contained to ‘only then’, or ‘only there’. So, of course I have tons of notes on my phone and notepads lying around the house. I do like to write in chronological order and have most of the story flushed out in my head already.
I won’t write a scene toward the end of the book until I actually get there as too much can change in the journey towards that point. This does mean that sometimes I get stuck on a plot point, while I already know what to write a few chapters after that, but I won’t actually write it until I get through the obstacle and reach the correct place in the book.
I want to make people feel the world is alive in all its turmoil.A.J. Norfield
I’m the kind of person that somehow manages to stay organized, but I am unable to plan. I just… start thinking about all the other variants that may come into play and then I go, feck it, I’ll see how goes. This comes with a downfall of course… So, my point is, I admire you, planners! You’re a special sort!
Earlier you mentioned your creative brain has been exploring other avenues like zombies… Is there a topic, theme or a character you know you will absolutely never write about because of personal preference, risk or other reason?
That is an interesting question. I don’t think I would ever not write a specific thing, but it would have to fit in my book. I’m lucky/privileged that I live in a country where there is freedom of speech. A fact that I’ve always been aware of, but nowadays holds even more value to me with all the chaos and discontent that occupies the world right now.
But to not include anything is only decided by measurement of ‘does it fit the story’. I’m well aware that this automatically means your books might not be enjoyable to select people. Trauma, same sex relationships, religion, violence, there are many reasons why people might get offended by a story, but that is for them to find out.
I’m not a writer that writes to offend people though, I just want to tell an entertaining story in a world that feels “real” so people can go on an adventure and get carried away on their feelings about the persons fighting the fight or to survive. Overcoming obstacles internally and externally. In that way my books are perhaps quite “classical” in their setup, but with a current day mindset and my own unique approach of world building.
Do you have a favourite character? Someone you relate to or someone that has become dear to you through writing them.
My favorite character (if there were a ranking) changes as the story flows. The dragons have high places in my scale of liking, but each book has a different focus/flow and as a result different characters shine at different times.
In the first book of the series it’s all about Raylan (MC) and Galirras (Wind Dragon), but book 2 and 3 throw a female lead (Trista) on her own separate path and the water dragon in the mix. Book 4 will focus more around Trista’s little brother Decan, etc.
But while there’s plenty of attention for other characters (there’s often multiple plotlines being followed), Raylan is always my main go-to character throughout the series, this is his (and Galirras’) adventure and I reckon there’s quite a bit of me in the complete package that he is. He’s a bit of a white knight but not blindingly so. He’s not too overjoyed with taking responsibility over others either, while he possesses a boyish curiosity. Anger, guilt, doubt and pride (among other things) are thrown in the mix, too. Apart from that, I really like his bond with Galirras, which is by far the most uncomplicated of bonds compared to the other characters and their dragons.
What about the world you have created? What can the reader expect in your books?
My world building really came from the flow of the story. With my wildlife management background, I tend to incorporate landscapes and nature quite a lot (I’ve learned to dial it down a little as my editor kept “killing my babies”).
The world of Aeterra is still rough and largely uncultivated, but the balance of nature is one of the bigger underlying threads that keeps returning. We’ll see tensions rise about living with the land/sea or off it. We encounter the devastation of overusing the natural resources offered. There are little warnings about not following the balance of things throughout the story as well. And I don’t want to spoil anything so I will keep details to a minimum, but as I envision the arc toward the end of the series right now, it will gradually become one of the multiple pillars on which the entire endgame is carried.
All this flows to the page as I play the story like a movie in my head. I envision vistas. Cities in their prime, as well as crumbling ruins. Cultures and opinions living next to each other, rubbing against and clashing with each other. Thousands of animals roaming the untouched plains, or the dangerous forest grounds where people are not the most feared beings among the trees. I want to make people feel the world is alive in all its turmoil.
I do love nature, some of my best memories are roaming in the woods so you sure are making your worldbuilding sound extremely appealing to me!
That is precisely the vibe I try to incorporate into my stories. That youthful sense of adventure and discovery. Of course, the stakes are a lot higher for Raylan, Galirras and the others.
Creativity often can’t be contained to ‘only then’, or ‘only there’.A.J. Norfield
Has writing always been with you, from a young age? Which authors and books were the childhood favourites?
I did create my own content/stories when I was a kid, mostly drawing my own comic books and drawing in general, but it was nowhere near professional levels, and I never followed any education towards those goals.
If I look back at it, I think the urge to tell and create a story grew over the years. I was curious if I could even do it. And what efforts it would take. What would I need to learn to make a story flow. So, when I got to the point where I decided to start, I did a lot on feeling, as I went I discovered the structures of being an author, of story/world building and everything around it.
The books during high school for English were some of my favorite reads. At the time, I veered a lot towards books like Brave New World, Day of the Triffids and This Perfect Day. I was so glad that I did not have to read “boring” books for English, and it certainly helped establish my love for the English language for reading and writing. It was a little later when I leaned more towards dragons and other fantasy, like Discworld–a series that became a large part of my life as I would always buy a new Discworld book when I left for travels again. I still remember that the passing of Sir Terry Pratchett was one of the first times in my life where I was really touched by someone leaving this earth that I never even met. I was emotionally impacted in a way I had not held possible before. It was a strange sensation.
I keep circling back to how you started your writing journey. With someone as organized and busy in life as you, I find it fascinating. Did you look at plotting structures online until you wanted to weep? Did you read a book about writing? Or, did you just dive right into it and let every step come naturally?
I was not very organized in the beginning. The decision to write my series came in the middle of the night when I was walking around with my daughter (just a baby at the time) because she had stomach cramps. Once I took the decision, I started to gather the intel I needed to be able to deliver my goals in the best way possible. It was a whole process where the writing was very much a flow of worlds with little planning apart from the story that I had in my head, while around the writing I feverishly tried to gather as much knowledge about the different topics like building characters, believable worlds, story flow. Books like ‘On Writing Well’ by William Zinsser and all kinds of websites, really provided me with the starting points.
Because book 1 was quite a big learning curve on writing well/clean and the entire process around it (like finding a good editor!), it ended up being edited twice. The later books had a lot more structure from the start as I made the knowledge I sought and found my own, allowing me to quickly grow into my own style of storytelling.
English language isn’t your first language, you were born and raised in the Netherlands. How did you decide whether you were going to write in your native tongue or in English? Was it ever even a question?
For me there was no doubt that I wanted to write in English. I grew up with a lot of English TV (the Netherlands did not dub series/movies as much as it does nowadays), and the schools that I attended, and my work had always had a heavy dose of English involved.
Besides that, it was also a very conscious decision to try and reach the largest audience possible. Epic Fantasy is only but a small niche in the Netherlands, not to mention that the entire country only has 17 million people living there. So, for me it really was a no-brainer.
Only 17 million! That’s 13 times more people than Estonia has and I still fancy the notion I will one day write a book in Estonian…. Ah 😀 … Anyway! What’s next for A.J. Norfield?
Next is getting the newest book in the series on the (virtual) shelves. A new dragon and a new adventure while the bigger scenario unfolds. Not everyone will make it and especially Decan has a hard road ahead of him. I’m so excited to bring the next part of their journey in front of the readers.
After that, it will be focusing on the last two books of the Stone War Chronicles. I’m looking forward to exploring more of the Tiankong Empire, which is where a large part of the main storyline will take place in the book I’m about to write. And we’ll also learn more about the disappearance of the dragons so many years ago.
Yeah, I can’t wait to get it on paper and out of my head. Once the series is officially done, it’s time to sit back and think about what comes after. Maybe a more futuristic book. We’ll see as I’ve toyed with a variety of ideas…
And there you have it! What did I tell you? One is never too busy to write a book, one simply has excuses. So, breathe dragonfire on them excuses and get writing! The world and readers want stories. Readers always want new stories, the pack of hoarders that they are, and if ever there’s an inspiration to get your ducks in a row and plan your life into a little bit of an order, A.J. Norfield here is a perfect example to get things done!