Interview by Tsana Dolichva.
K.J.Taylor is a cynical, world-weary 60 year old woman stuck in the body of a 30 year old. She went to high school at Radford College, where she wrote her first novel, The Land of Bad Fantasy, and sold it to Scholastic without telling them she was 18 years old. She then went on to complete a Bachelor of Communications at the University of Canberra, where she wrote her second novel, The Dark Griffin. She now holds a Masters of Information Studies and has a part time job as an archivist. She once wrote a movie script which was rejected by an actual Hollywood agent, and currently lives in a yurt with the world’s laziest rat as a housemate.
You had a lot of books come out last year (five of them!) — what was that like? Were you run off your feet doing promo all year?
I had a heck of a lot of publicity stuff to do, yes! Two blog tours in quick succession, with a short deadline to answer a bunch of interview questions or write a suitably entertaining blog post. Since they were e-book only I didn’t get to do any signings, sadly. I also had two audio trailers made, plus I commissioned some artwork (money well spent!).
True story: At the San Diego ComicCon in 2011 I sat on a panel with some other authors, and one of the questions was “what do you think about ebooks?” I answered that I was no problem with them, but joked that “only problem is you can’t autograph an ebook!” At the signing afterward three different fans asked me to sign their e-reader covers, and I did so saying “well, that shut me up”.
It looks like you have more books on the horizon. Can you tell us a bit about them? (And will their release be more spread out, or do you have more busy times ahead?)
I’m currently in the process of publishing the next three books of the Cymrian Saga – a series that began with probably my most well-known book, The Dark Griffin. The original publisher decided not to continue with the series because they’re changing their focus away from fantasy, but I was able to find a new home for it at Satalyte Publishing. The next book in the series, The Last Guard, is currently slated for release in late September this year – in hardcover, softcover, and ebook, with cover art and internal illustrations by the extraordinarily talented Sydney-based artist Amber Goodhart (https://www.facebook.com/misshartart).
For those who have read the previous six books, the story now continues with the tale of Kearney “Red” Redguard, who made an appearance in The Shadow’s Heart as a boy. Now a grown man, Red must fight for his people, the Southerners, as King Caedmon Taranisäii of the North makes good on his promise to invade the South. And the massive dark griffin Kraego, son of the Mighty Skandar, has plans of his own. The sequels to The Last Guard are called The Silent Guard and The Cursed Guard, and their release dates have yet to be decided, but most likely they’ll come out sometime next year.
I’ve also recently been contacted by a University professor in Queensland, whose students are starting up a new publishing label. He asked if I had an unpublished short novel they could edit and publish. I sent him a book for younger readers I had written called The Price of Magic, and they’ve accepted it for publication. The Price of Magic is set in a world where the disabled have magical powers. The more severely disabled they are, the more powerful their magic is. The protagonist, a chirpy boy named Pip who has a gammy leg, is apprenticed to one of the most powerful mages in the world: a woman named Seress. When a rogue mage threatens the entire world, only Seress has the strength to stop him – but she suffers from severe clinical depression. How can you save the world when some days you can’t even get out of bed? It’s up to Pip to find the answer.
And yes I did my research! Not being depressed myself, I did plenty of reading up on the subject while also drawing on my own experiences in dealing with severely depressed people. I hoped that The Price of Magic would help to inspire people dealing with depression, as well as anxiety, physical disability, and terminal illness. The magic in the book was also intended as a metaphor for art – the idea came to me when I was sitting in the waiting room to see a counsellor (I had had a severe nervous breakdown) and found myself thinking “why are artists always such troubled people? It feels as if the more brilliant you are, the more screwed up you are”.
Broken Prophecy came out swinging hard against the idea of prophecies and destiny as seen in fantasy fiction. Last Snapshot, in 2014, you told us the anti-hero in The Fallen Moon trilogy came about because you had grown disenchanted with heroic characters. Are there any other fantasy tropes that you would like to subvert/punch in the face?
Oh boy, here we go. I’ll just make a list.
- Entire races/species classified as automatically Evil (honestly, this trope really smacks of racism)
- Beautiful Princesses (or indeed, any female character) who only exist as cheap plot devices and/or love interests to be rescued by the hero
- Endless chapters of the characters travelling somewhere, during which absolutely nothing happens (I find travel sequences really boring to write, so 99% of the time I just summarise it in a paragraph or two if nothing important happens along the way).
- Big Evil Villains who are evil just because and have no motivations that actually make sense. Also villains who are evil because they’re “insane”, which is a cop-out and quite frankly offensive to the mentally ill. And by “insane” I mean that the bad guy is referred to as “mad” but there’s no further explanation or specific disorder shown. He’s just doing bad things to people because he’s crazy! Actually, if I had my druthers we’d get rid of Big Evil Villains altogether and write about three-dimensional human beings who happen to have opposing goals instead.
- Chosen Ones. Most of the time this is just a cheap shortcut to getting your protagonist involved in the plot, especially when s/he’s the subject of an infallible prophecy. It removes your main character’s agency by forcing him/her to get involved, and makes them “special” when they haven’t done anything to earn it.
- Giving characters new abilities as the plot requires it
- The old stories/legends always turn out to be completely true and are never distorted by political or religious agendas (GRRM does a brilliant job of subverting this one)
- The protagonist becomes an expert fighter/wizard in a very short timeframe without explanation. You can’t become a “master warrior”, or a master anything in three months. It simply isn’t possible. Imagine picking up a plastic recorder and being instantly capable of playing a solo with the London Symphony Orchestra.
- Beautiful = Good, Ugly = Evil. You can tell if someone is Good or Evil just by looking at them, apparently
- Horses and other beasts of burden treated like cars. They never get tired or act out or panic when they see a snake and throw you off
I could go on, but I should probably leave it at that. :p
What Australian work have you loved recently?
Remember When the World Was Flat (And We Were in Love) by Ingrid Jonach. I’ve never been keen on romance novels, but I really enjoyed this one. It’s not pure romance, mind you – it’s a sci fi romance!
Which author (living or dead) would you most like to sit next to on a long plane trip and why?
William Horwood, so I could ask him endless questions about his Duncton Wood series. More people need to read that series. It’s definitely been a very big influence on me as an author.