Author Interview – J.A. McLachlan, Author of “The Occasional Diamond Thief”
J. A. McLachlan was born in Toronto, Canada. She is the author of a short story collection, CONNECTIONS, published by Pandora Press and two College textbooks on Professional Ethics, published by Pearson-Prentice Hall.
But Science fiction is her first love, a genre she has been reading all her life. Walls of Wind was her first published Science Fiction novel. Her Young Adult (YA) Science-Fiction (SF) novels, The Occasional Diamond Thief (2015) and The Salarian Desert Game (2016), are both published by EDGE Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing. She is represented by Prospect Literary Agency.
1. Tell us more about you and what ignited your passion for words.
My earliest memories are of being read to. I particularly remember lying in bed enthralled while my big sister read me C. S. Lewis’ Narnia series, and E. Nesbit’s wonderful books about magic. Every week my mom would drive us to the library and we’d each take out a stack of books. By the time I was in Grade Two, I was writing my own short stories and poetry, and by the time I was in Grade Four, I had decided to be a poet when I grew up.
In high school, I won a few awards for my poetry and by the time I was in university I had had some of my poems published in literary magazines.
Then a number of things happened, good and bad: an illness which depleted some of my energy, graduation and a job, marriage and children… Writing fell by the wayside, although I still read voraciously. Then, when my oldest daughter wrote her first novel in high school, I remembered my own love of writing, and started again, this time writing a novel. It was like finding myself again, and I’ve never looked back.
2. What type of books are you writing? Can you tell us more about it or where we can find it if already published?
I read and enjoy a variety of genres, so I also write in several genres. My first published book was a collection of contemporary short stories (Connections), then a science fiction novel (Walls of Wind). In 2015 my first young adult novel, The Occasional Diamond Thief, was published by EDGE Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing, and in the fall of 2016 they also published the sequel, The Salarian Desert Game. I also have a memoir, an historical fiction novel and an historical fantasy novel on offer with my agent. I worried at first about confusing readers, so I write my science fiction and young adult novels under J. A. McLachlan, and my contemporary and historical fiction under Jane Ann McLachlan.
The Occasional Diamond Thief won the Book Publishers of Alberta Award for Speculative Fiction, which particularly pleases me because it shows that although the novel is young adult, both teens and adults enjoy it. I love the characters in that novel and had great fun sending them off on another adventure in The Salarian Desert Game.
The Occasional Diamond Thief can be bought or ordered at most bookstores across North America. All of my books can be found on Kobo or on my Amazon Author’s page.
3. Would you mind sharing a high, a low or something special you experienced writing this book?
I started writing this book while visiting my daughter in the south of France. It took many rewrites over six years before I felt it was ready for publication. I’m not a patient person so that was hard, but I was working on other projects in the meantime and improving my skills as a storyteller. I always loved this story and the characters of Kia and Agatha, so I was determined to get it right.
A real high was when three authors I admire all agreed to read the book and wrote amazing blurbs for it.
Robert J. Sawyer said: “J. A. McLachlan is a terrific writer — wry and witty, with a keen eye for detail. In a world where young-adult fiction is booming, The Occasional Diamond Thief propels McLachlan to the front of the pack,”
Tanya Huff wrote, “Strong, character-driven Science Fiction — McLachlan makes you both care and think. You can’t ask for more. I enjoyed both books in this series, and hope to see a third,” and
Tamora Pierce wrote a lovely email to me after reading my books, and gave a back cover blurb: “Tense, thrilling, edge-of-the-seat reading–I tore through these books! Kia and Agatha are a fascinating pair, Kia so practical, down-to-earth, and wilful; Agatha so mystical and driven. More, please!”
It meant so much to me that these very successful authors would take the time to read my books and that they thought so highly of them.
4. Are you working on anything new? At which stage are you with this new project?
I’m currently writing another historical fiction novel, set in the 1300’s. It’s a fascinating story, but it’s bad luck to say any more about it till it’s written! I also have a cool idea for a third novel in the YA world of Kia and Agatha. I love exploring new worlds and future societies with them.
5. What advice would you give a new writer?
I would first tell them not to be in a hurry to get published, to work on their craft–join a writers’ critique group, attend writing workshops or courses, and go to writers’ conventions to meet and talk to other authors. Too many people think that because they can write a nice sentence, they can tell a good story; or because they can delight people with their stories, they don’t have to work on their writing skills. There are all kinds of things you have to consider, like first or third person, POV, past or present tense, and how to avoid leaping between these and confusing your readers.
The good news, and the second thing I would tell them, is that persistence counts way more than raw talent. These things can be learned. If you keep working at it, you will succeed. But it’s very hard to judge your own work. You don’t know what you still have to learn, and you also don’t know when you’re on the verge of making it. So have faith in yourself and be persistent.
6. Besides writing, what do you enjoy most? Can you tell us something about what you do outside of writing?
Well, I read a lot and I love going to movies and plays — I like stories in all its forms. I also like to make quilts. Not so much the stitch-by-stitch quilting part, but I enjoy sewing the top, piecing fabrics together to create an original design. It’s creative and at the same time relaxing, because it doesn’t require the same mental energy as writing does. And I love to travel. When I’m writing a book, I always go to see the location. I need to walk around the city where it’s taking place, to soak up the atmosphere and learn some of the street names. I also enjoy speaking at writers’ conventions and teaching writing workshops. I was a college prof before becoming a full-time writer, and I guess teaching is in my blood. Helping new writers is important to me because many experienced writers taught or helped me when I was beginning.