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Author Interview: J.A. White

As a follow-up our review of The Thickety, J.A. White has graciously agreed to an interview with This Dark Matter because Randi stalked him on Twitter.

Thank you for writing a strong, female protagonist. Why is Kara Westfall’s story so important for you to tell?

For me the genesis of this story was this idea of a girl who grew up in an environment where every single person believed she was going to become evil.  Would that make her turn evil?  Or is it possible for an inherently good person to overcome such an environment and thrive?  It’s the whole age-old nature/nurture question, but of course I had to add a bunch of magic and monsters, because that’s what I do.

How does Kara compare (or contrast) with other YA reluctant heroes (i.e. Katniss from The Hunger Games or Tris from Divergent)?

I’d have to really sit down and think about those other great heroines, but off the top of my head I’d say that age is the greatest difference.  Kara is only 12.  Katniss and Tris are both 16.  I feel like Kara’s personality, given her age, is perhaps a bit more in flux than those other characters.  She’s also more susceptible to making mistakes and being tricked by adults.  As far as similarities, there’s the parallel between Kara/Taff and Katniss/Prim—both protagonists are strong, protective older siblings.  And I think both Kara and Katniss are sometimes a little too serious for their own good!

Your world includes a religion centered on following “a path” and avoiding magic. Do you think your readers will assume The Path is an allegory for a certain religion? Did you intend for it to be?

This is something that’s definitely come up a lot, both in interviews and reader reviews.  I did not have any sort of specific religious allegory in mind when I wrote this, but I can certainly see how someone might see parallels to Christianity or other religions.  Although I am not a religious person, I’ve always been interested in theology and how the power of belief has shaped our world.  Really, though, I just thought it would be cool to create a cult of people who thought magic was evil.  Simple as it is, that’s usually the thing at the heart of my writing process: “Wouldn’t it be cool if…”

At first, the story reads like a historical piece, seemingly like The Crucible, but as the story develops, I get the sense that it’s actually set in modern times. Did you intend for the reader to assume the story is a modern one?

De’Noran, the island where Kara grows up, is but a small portion of a much larger world.  I’ve always thought of the four books as Kara’s origin story, so as she grows and matures she’ll also learn that the world is a much more complicated place than she first thought.  So yes, her village is behind the times since it has basically ostracized itself from the world at large, but not in the way you might think.

Do you believe the magic in The Thickety is wholly evil?

That’s actually a HUGELY important question that runs through the entire series, so I can’t say!  Sorry!

In witchcraft stories, women are often depicted as evil or a threat to patriarchy. How do you feel the women of The Thickety are represented?

The Fold is definitely a patriarchal society, though there are strong female leaders in the community. (Constance is a good example of that, I think.)  However, since only girls can use grimoires (and I promise there’s a reason for that), women are always going to seem the greater threat and the first ones to be punished.  Plus, much like in Salem, they have to be more careful about how they talk and act.  Unlike men, they can be accused of witchcraft!

As odd as this may sound, I loved the character Grace. My son said I sounded creepy whenever I read her dialogue to him. If Grace was dropped in the middle of another book (your choice), what do you think she would do to torment the protagonist?

That doesn’t sound odd at all—and brava for doing a creepy voice!  I love Grace.  She’s my favorite character, and she was absolutely the most fun to write.  If I could, I’d drop her into Hogwarts just to mess everything up.  Although she’s definitely Slytherin material, I’m sure Grace could trick the Sorting Hat into placing her in Gryffindor, or Hufflepuff at the very least.   After that, she’d befriend Ron (the weak link) and slowly turn him against Harry and Hermione.  I think at some point she’d kill Hedwig, too, because after all her experiences with Kara she probably hates animals.

In reading Amazon reviews, I was surprised to find so much negativity! I read this book with my 8-year-old, and he loved it. What age group do you believe is appropriate for The Thickety?

I’m so happy to hear your 8-year-old loved it!  It’s nice when adults like my book and all, but an 8-year-old?  That’s golden.

It’s been an adventure with these reviews, that’s for sure.  There have been a lot of hugely positive, flattering ones, and also a lot of THIS IS WAY TOO DARK FOR CHILDREN AND J.A. WHITE SHOULD BE BEHEADED type reviews.  What makes parents most uncomfortable, I’ve noticed, is that Kara really does play with darkness, and characters do actually die.  Strangely enough, it’s this “realistic” quality that children seem to love the most.  I’ve yet to have a single child tell me my book was too dark for them.

As far as what’s a good age, I think it depends on the child.  My son read it when he was 8, and he seems relatively unscathed.  However, I’m comfortable saying 10 and up should be fine.  I have read reviews where parents recommend a minimum reading age of 14 or 15, which is utter insanity.

What was your favorite story as a child, and how did it influence The Thickety?

My favorite books growing up were The Black Cauldron and A Wrinkle in Time, but I also started reading grown-up books at a pretty early age.  I’d say The Thickety was probably influenced a lot by Ray Bradbury, specifically his short stories and Something Wicked This Way Comes.  I tried to inject that sort of lyrical darkness that Bradbury does so perfectly.  I also love mystery novels, so I tried to incorporate that into the plot and make it twistier than your average fantasy novel.

When can fans expect the second and third installments to come out?

This is a very recent development, but there are going to be FOUR books now!  Turns out the story was a little too book for just three books, so luckily my incredible publisher is going to give me more room to tell it.  The second book, The Whispering Trees, is due on shelves March 10, 2015.  I’m just putting the finishing touches on the third book, which will be out March, 2016—and then, of course, the fourth book in 2017.  And then I take a long, long nap.

J.A. White’s Author bio (from Amazon)–J. A. White lives in New Jersey with his wife, three sons, and a hamster named Ophelia that doesn’t like him very much. When he’s not making up stories, he teaches a bunch of kids how to make up stories (along with math and science and other important stuff). He wishes dragons were real because it would be a much cooler way to get to work.

You can order The Thickety here or pre-order Whispering Trees, the second installment.

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Randi Flanagan

Randi Flanagan

Randi Flanagan is a a weird Canadian and writer of dark comedy. A fan/geek culture aficionado, she's a contributor in the pop-culture book Fic: Why Fanfiction is Taking Over the World, and she was interviewed about her fan-writing by the Wall Street Journal. Randi watches zombie movies to relax and spends far too much time musing about vampire sex.
Randi Flanagan

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