Nine Questions with J. J. Fischer: An Interview
What is one thing most people wouldn’t know about you?
Well, I adore chickens… oh, you mean something people don’t know about me. 😉
Okay—this is going to shock a few people senseless—but my favourite Star Wars movie is Episode II (though if we’re counting the spin-offs, Rogue One leaves every other instalment for dead). Sure, Anakin could benefit from some anger management strategies, but he’s a gazillion times better than whiny Luke Skywalker and petulant Princess Leia. I also don’t hate Jar Jar Binks and think he’s a successful character precisely because he is so good at getting people to hate him.
Please don’t blow up my letterbox.
Another semi-cool fact about me is that I’ve come very close to death exactly three times: once, in a skiing accident; secondly, in a near head-on collision; and thirdly, on the operating table. The third brush with death left me with a 25cm scar, which is surprisingly good fodder for dinner parties. Just ask my sister, who typically mentions it within five minutes of meeting new people.
Speaking of dinner parties, if you could invite three famous people to dinner—living or dead, real or fictitious—who would you invite?
Okay, I'm choosing to read that as six people, because you don't host a dinner party with only three guests (you'd know that if you watched Keeping Up Appearances through your childhood years). I would absolutely invite Helen Keller (deaf and blind author and political activist), C. S. Lewis (of Narnia fame), J. R. R. Tolkien (whose resume, of course, needs no detailing), and Taika Waititi, because he's hilarious and I want to hear spoilers on the new Thor movie.
Fictitious guests would include the feisty Jane Eyre or the personified Death narrator from The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. Ooh, yes. Death would have to fend off so many interesting questions. And Tolkien would probably spend the evening teaching Helen Keller one of his Elvish languages and initiating her as one of the Inklings. Taika Waititi would do his Korg voice for Death, and Tolkien or Lewis would agree to write a novel about Korg's backstory. So much coolness.
How did you first begin writing? Has your writing evolved in any way since then?
I’ve been writing forever, if you count my childhood scrawls and that amazing anthology of zoo animals I painstakingly wrote and illustrated during kindergarten, to rather limited acclaim. But I "officially" began writing in 2006, when I was fourteen, during a family holiday around Australia. On the west coast, in a place called Jurien Bay, I had a dream that became the opening scene of my debut novel. It contained pretty much every cliché known to man, and eventually found its way to the electronic trash can, but by that time I’d seriously caught the writing bug.
During high school, I wrote every chance I had; rather bizarrely, usually at night during thunderstorms, but I kept my book a secret from all but my immediate family. Seeing the film Miss Potter—about the life of author-illustrator Beatrix Potter—inspired me to take my writing more seriously. But, honestly, the first ten years’ worth of writing is pretty dodgy. I hope those drafts never see the light of day.
What is your writing process? For example, do you write to music?
I’m very easily distracted, and music is like transcribed emotion for me, so I can’t actually write while listening to music. Mainly, I just sit down at the computer and type, although I try to pray before I start, to commit my writing session to God. Anything beyond that is procrastination and I try to deal with it swiftly and viciously.
However, when I’m in the planning stages of a story, I usually write to instrumental music—my absolute all-time favourite being the theme song (“The Gael”) from The Last of the Mohicans, which I often just play in my head. I have written literally dozens of scenes to this piece. Other than that, I love anything from Hans Zimmer, particularly “Time” from Inception, The Prince of Egypt soundtrack and the Pirates of the Caribbean soundtrack; as well as anything by composers Harry Gregson-Williams, Howard Shore, and Yiruma.
Do you have a favourite book/film/TV series?
My favourite book is actually a series: The Mark of the Lion Trilogy by Francine Rivers. It is closely followed by Christy (Catherine Marshall) and The Princess Bride (William Goldman).
As you can tell, I have trouble picking just one thing. This is probably why my debut novel is so looooong.
Despite what my friends would say, my favourite film is not The Lord of the Rings trilogy. It would have to be a toss-up between Life is Beautiful and The Last of the Mohicans. However, I think that TLotM would probably win if someone held a gun to my head. That movie has everything—adventure, action, romance, Daniel Day-Lewis, an incredible musical score, a perfect villain, and a (mostly) happily ever after ending.
As far as my favourite TV series goes—North and South is a definite winner. I can’t go past brooding, heart-on-his-dashingly-tailored-sleeve Richard Armitage as John Thornton, sorry.
What about favourite Disney movies?
Of the older Disneys, Aladdin and Mulan are my favourites—which makes 2020 a very good year for me with the live-action rendition of Mulan coming out in March. I’m so ridiculously excited. As far as the new Disneys go, I'd have to choose Tangled. My first car was named Pascal in honour of Rapunzel’s chameleon sidekick. And Maximus? I need that horse.
Is anything/anyone in your book inspired by your own life/family members/friends?
Ooh, now you’re just asking for trouble.
Like many authors, I write from my own experience, and my work is (hopefully) the richer for it. My debut duology, although it is in the fantasy genre, is influenced by my journey with suffering, particularly the chronic illness which has dominated the last two years of my life. My two main characters are really the literary expression of two halves of my soul. After reading my books, my husband even remarked: “I think I understand you better now."
As far as family members and friends, there are certainly traces of my loved ones in all my characters. Some of the places in my imagined world are subtle reworkings of their names. Some characters exhibit personality traits similar to people I know or have known. Still more have struggles I have witnessed from those around me. The tragic death of an important character in the first book is the creative outworking of my attempt to cope with the death of a close family member whom I esteemed as a brother. I cried like a baby while I wrote that scene. But I also found a small measure of peace and healing through the process.
Who was your favourite character to write?
I loved writing my male main character, Torsten Eiselher, and he still feels a little like my “first love”, even though he is a figment of my imagination. I also love writing villains with complex motives, and my debut duology has three (three!) of them. The main villain, Jurien Arminius, is named after the place where I first dreamed of the opening scene to the story—Jurien Bay in Western Australia.
What do you hope readers will get out of your books?
If you weren’t put off by my outrageous ambivalence towards Jar Jar Binks and you’ve made it this far through this interview, congratulations. 😉
I think the best stories are the ones that change us. The ones where we close the book and walk away, but we cannot help but be irrevocably changed—transformed, even. I’ve read hundreds of books—maybe thousands—but I continually come back to the stories that provoke deep emotion from me. The stories that frustrate and inspire and challenge and encourage me; that maybe even rock the foundations of my comfortable world.
Perhaps it’s too ambitious a goal, but I really hope that every one of my stories impacts my reader in some way. As I’ve said before, my faith is the cornerstone of my life—without it, I would not be the person I am today—and so faith is really what colours my stories. Many books indelibly imprint on the mind—and fewer still make their mark on the heart—but I also want to write fiction that feeds the soul. My books celebrate hope, courage, love, and perseverance in the midst of suffering, violence, oppression, and hatred. They feature characters who seek to triumph in the midst of adversity and struggle.
It has recently become fashionable to have a “life verse”—a Bible verse that informs every part of one's life. In all honesty, my “life verse” has to be Psalm 42:7: “Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls; all your waves and breakers have swept over me." As a character in my second book muses—inspired by this very verse—the deep in us is only an echo of the depth of God. I could write my entire life and not uncover even a little corner of the richness of the Author of life. But to reflect that depth is my calling, and it is my honest delight to honour it.
I hope it is a blessing to you 😊
So when is this debut novel actually coming out?
It will be out this year, probably around Spring (Fall in the US). My editor and I are just finishing up on the edits now and the book will then proceed to the creative phase (cover design, interior typesetting, etc). Stay tuned for an official release date!