Author Interview – J. Emery

I’m very excited to have my friend J. Emery for an author interview this week!

J. Emery has published two stories this year, a short story called An Offering of Plums and a novella, Help Wanted, which I reviewed here. I highly recommend both stories!

And now, to the questions!

When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

It was one of my dreams even when I was little. I’m not sure how I found out that writing was a job that anyone could do but I was determined to be a writer. Of course when I was little I also thought I would be a teacher, painter, and florist at the same time as writing.

I just really love telling stories. I used to make up elaborate soap operas with my sister when we were home from school for summer break. Some of that love of melodrama is still with me too.

Where do you get your inspiration for your stories?

I usually start with a character type that I want to work with and build from there but the plots and aesthetics come from all over the place. I draw a lot from video games and anime. The worldbuilding and mechanics there can be really unique. They’re a part of the story as much as the action. I’m really visual (former painter and all) though so I’ve also had stories come to me just from the way the highway looks in a snow storm.

Help Wanted was more a combination of interesting setting (the magic shop) and the turmoil of early college life and wanting to explore all that upheaval. But with some comfortable magic. Not everyone gets (or wants) to save the whole world. Trying desperately to pass a difficult class is probably a little more relatable.

Where did you get your inspiration for the world of Help Wanted/Ashveil Academy?

I’d joked for a while that I wanted to write a college story. I really like the possibilities of New Adult and all the ways I can work ace narratives and stories with lower/no romance into that age range. There are so many changes happening in a short span of years and a lot of concerns that I can’t really use with older characters. That’s the technical side of things.

On the other side: I really just wanted to write about a character like Em with a quieter personality and a very personal set of conflicts who is getting her first chance at exploring who she is.

Where did you get the inspiration for the main character Em? Did you draw on any of your own experiences when writing this story?

A lot of her questions are questions I also had at that age so this was a chance to explore them a little more openly and say, “Here’s how I felt. Maybe you feel that way too.” And I wanted to allow room for the answer to some of her questions to be “I don’t know.”

I know a lot of people (myself included) who have a hard time pinning down their identity because things shift and there’s no one ruler to measure yourself against when everything is internal. So I feel really strongly about leaving that room to question and accept that feelings and identities can change or shift and we don’t always have to have concrete answers to be considered valid.

What is your favorite character type to write, and why?

It will surprise exactly no one who knows me that my favorite character type to write is the sneaky asshole, which is weird considering there really aren’t any of those in Help Wanted. Phineas is maybe a little bit of an asshole to start and there’s a hint of animosity between him and Em at first, but he gets over it pretty quickly.

They’re my favorite though because usually the asshole characters are the ones that do the things everyone wishes they could do. They make messes and they cause drama and I really like to see how all of that pans out in a story. It’s a really fine balance between being a likable asshole and an unlikable one and I like figuring out where the line is. They’re also usually cleverer than I am. Writing is more fun for me when I get to be surprised by my own characters. I never know what they’ll do until they do it.

Who (a personal acquaintance or an author) has inspired you the most, and why?

I think my obvious answer is that Diana Wynne Jones inspired me the most because when I was a new writer I felt like all fantasy had to be either Lord of the Rings-type high fantasy with quests and bearded wizards or else it had to be gritty dark urban fantasy and neither of those really appealed to me. So Diana Wynne Jones appealed to me as a kind of cozy weird alternative. That’s also where I got a lot of my love of dry situational humor and sarcastic banter. I reread Charmed Life so many times when I was younger. It’s at least 50% domestic drama. That really stuck with me.

What surprised you most when writing this story?

How attached I got to all of the characters so quickly. I was worried that with the story being so short I wouldn’t get to love them like I do my novel characters. I was wrong. They’re all my children now. I also plan to write at least four more books with them all when I get the chance.

Do you have any favorite tropes?

I am always here for enemies to lovers and people in disguise. If they’re combined in one story, even better. Basically anything that can provide excellent snarky banter is okay with me.

What draws you to specific genres?

I naturally gravitate to fantasy. The world-building is fun to me and the potential for all kinds of unusual stories. Anything I can imagine, I can do. Plus, if I want to write queer characters of any gender in a fake marriage it’s fair game. All I have to do is write a world where that’s an option. Asexual thieves in magical flying cities? Done. I read a little bit of everything but when I write it’s almost always fantasy.

What is your writing process like?

My process varies a lot depending on the story. I don’t outline or do much pre-planning though so my first draft of anything is usually really spotty and full of holes. I’m also a very, very slow writer. I have a couple books I’ve been working on for over two years and I’m still on their first draft. Writing for me is kind of like fumbling around in the dark until I trip over everything I’m looking for. Sometimes twice.

That’s part of why I like novellas. The shorter length means less fumbling around.

What’s your favorite food, and your go-to writing fuel?

Probably tacos. My grandparents used to grill arrachera for tacos when we would visit. When I need comfort that’s what I go for. I never had much contact with the Mexican side of my family since they lived further away so food was the one thing we had to bond over. I still think of my grandfather every time I see those enormous jars of pickled jalapenos.

I don’t usually snack when I’m writing but I make myself a cup of tea before I sit down at night to work. If I’m really hungry I might eat a handful of tortilla chips or sour gummi worms. The sour ones are the best.

Are you reading any good books right now, and if so, share!

I just finished The Cruel Prince by Holly Black not too long ago and I’m honestly still thinking about it. Jude made that book for me. Otherwise I’m about to dip into my backlog of queer romances. It’s just hard to pick one when they all sound so good.

If you could teleport to anywhere on the planet right now, where would it be and why?

Ooooh, that’s tough. I would probably just go to Portland because that’s where my sister lives and I haven’t seen her in about a year. But if I could bring someone with me I might have to make a couple stops along the way, hit a bunch of art museums and things. Not in a thief kind of way, just to go look at stuff.

Thanks again for the interview!

About the Author:

J. Emery has been slowly writing their way through every fantasy trope since they were little (some of them more than once). Maybe someday they’ll have covered them all. And also made them much more queer.

In their free time, they can be found gaming and documenting the whole thing on their twitter at @mixeduppainter. Their ridiculous levels of terror over horror games are near legendary.

Check out J. Emery’s books on Goodreads!