Book Nerd Interview
A.J. Hartley is the bestselling author of mystery/thriller, fantasy, historical fiction, and young adult novels.
He was born in northern England, but has lived in many places including Japan, and is currently the Robinson Professor of Shakespeare studies at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte, where he specializes in the performance history, theory and criticism of Renaissance English drama, and works as a director and dramaturg. You can see his current academic c.v. here.
He has more hobbies than is good for anyone, all of which you can learn more about by friending him (odious word) on Facebook, by following his blog and by checking in on the What’s Going On page. He is represented by Stacey Glick of Dystel and Goderich Literary Management for books, and by Eddie Gamarra of the Gotham Groupfor film and television. And check out A.J’s Amazon author page.
Was there a defining moment during your youth when you realized you wanted to be a writer?
I remember telling ghost stories to my fellow cub scouts on some camping trip. I must have been about eleven. I wasn’t a terribly good scout and didn’t make friends easily among the troop (that was what we called it: ‘battalion’ might have been better since it was all very paramilitary). Anyway, holding a couple of dozen boys spell bound with no more than words left an impression on me. I was told I had a talent. In fact I suspect that I just liked words more than most boys of my age in a working class, industrial town, and that showed through. And I loved reading, of course. At first it was probably just a way of compensating for the fact that I wasn’t going to be playing Manchester United any time soon (I grew up in northwest England, where Such Things Matter), but then reading became a mode of being, a version of self. This was what I loved, what I wanted to do. I wasn’t bright enough to wonder if producing such things were beyond me, so I became a writer.
Why is storytelling so important for all of us?
That’s quite a question. I’m sure there are lots of valid answers, ideas about connecting imagination and community, shared experience, but for me the core concerns making sense out of reality, out of experience which otherwise feels arbitrary and drab. What’s that Picasso line about art being the lie by which we know the truth? That makes sense to me. Stories connect us, but they also take us out of ourselves and into a world which is bigger, more dramatic and colorful, and they help us find that sense of drama and color in our everyday lives. Is that too abstract? Stories make us feel like we are characters in our own lives, people with purpose and significance. I think.
Beyond your own work (of course), what is your all-time favorite book and why? And what is your favorite book outside of your genre?
Well, I’m a Shakespeare professor so this all gets a bit loaded. I mean, anything people are still reading and finding to be powerful after 400 years has to be worth something, right? So can I count a play as a book? If so, I might say The Winter’s Tale, which is a story of destructive jealousy, and redemption, and a kind of magic. And every time I return to Hamlet or King Lear, I find something that grabs me by the throat, often something I’ve read a thousand times without seeing it properly.
What is the best piece of advice you ever received from another author?
Take it as seriously as anything else in your life. If you treat it merely as a hobby, it will stay a hobby.
In your book; Act of Will, can you tell my Book Nerd community a little about it?
It’s the story of a young actor, Will Hawthorne, in a medieval or Renaissance world, who—very much against his better judgment—winds up working as a kind of adventurer, trying to solve the mystery of an army of ruthless horsemen who emerge out of the mist and leave destruction in their wake. And it’s about his total inability to live up to the expectations of his new companions, particularly a girl…
For those who are unfamiliar with Will, how would you introduce him?
A likeable 18 year old rogue. Smart, quick witted, charming, and cocky. A boy who relies on mental agility, improvisation, and words to get in and out of trouble. A survivor, but not a fighter. Not a believer in much of anything. A realist. Even a cynic. All of which is going to take a beating when he starts running into signs of magic which are really hard to rationalize away…
What are some of your current and future projects that you can share with us?
I have a novel based on Shakespeare’s Hamlet (retold as a kind of Games of Thrones-esque thriller) coming out as an audio book (with a very cool narrator who I’m not allowed to reveal yet) late this spring. I’m tweaking a YA scifi novel about a bunch of misfit teens who survive the crashing of their spaceship on a hostile world, and I’m in the early stages of a fantasy mystery set in in a place which looks like Victorian Africa. Kind of J
If you could introduce one of your characters to any character from another book, who would it be and why?
I’d love to introduce Will to Frodo Baggins or Aragorn. They would hate each other. At first.
When asked, what’s the one question you always answer with a lie?
“Do you know the books by [insert writer name here]?” I don’t actually lie and say I do, but I always feel caught out, like I SHOULD know this writer, and every other writer, for that matter. So I find myself mumbling about how the name sounds familiar but I don’t THINK I’ve read their recent stuff yet… Sigh
What’s the best advice you can give writers to help them develop their own unique voice and style?
Don’t copy others. It’s good to be aware of the market and of genre, but you finally have to write the book you want to write, a book you want to read. And if you find your story is getting similar to others you’ve read, force it to be different by adding a major wrinkle, changing the gender of your protagonist, or making your tone comic rather than serious, adding magic or… something, anything that would prevent a general reader from connecting the two books. I’d also say that while it’s crucial to understand genre, the best books are often those that combine genres in some unexpected way or otherwise push the limits of the genre so that it feels not quite like anything you’ve read before.
What's the most memorable summer job you've ever had?
I worked as an archaeologist on a bronze age site just outside Jerusalem in college. It was, at the time, the furthest I had travelled from the UK, and was—to all intents and purposes—another planet. We used to get up in the middle of the night because we could only work till noon, when it became too hot to do much of anything, and began the day in our tents by shaking our shoes out in case any scorpions had gone in over night. I felt like Indiana Jones.
Who was your first girlfriend?
Someone I didn’t know very well and with whom I was completely incompatible. I was 14 or 15. She was an idea to me. It didn’t last.
Tell me about your first kiss
You know, I don’t remember. I know I’m supposed to, but I don’t. I do remember the first time I wanted to kiss someone, and that is a much more potent memory for me. I was 11 and about to appear in a school play. This girl I’d been in school with for years was going to be in it with me and I needed help with my shirt collar. She was wearing a hat with a large brim. She stood close to me, helping me with my shirt, and for a moment I was under the brim of the hat with her, and something about the light or… I don’t know. But I remember quite distinctly being suddenly acutely aware of how close she was and, in the same moment, that she was beautiful. I had never noticed before.
What would be harder for you, to tell someone you love them or that you do not love them back?
I don’t have a problem telling people I love them, though I don’t do it often and, in romantic terms, have only done it a few times. Hurting someone, even if it’s the right thing to do in the long term, is much harder for me. So I’ll go with #2.
When was the last time you cried?
Not long ago. My father died late last year. Christmas was tough.
What decade during the last century would you have chosen to be a teenager?
The sixties, maybe: youth culture coming into focus, exciting, innovative music, new freedoms and ideals. But I was born too late for that so I was jaded and skeptical about what the sixties meant to my elders! So maybe I was more an 80s kid… New wave and post punk alternative music. Yeah J
What is your greatest adventure?
I’m always planning something new. I love exotic places and adventures (some of which inform my writing). I’ve lived in a lot of places and travelled all over the world, always hoping to get off the beaten track a bit. I especially love being out in the wilds and have always been fascinated by birds and animals. This summer I’m off to South Africa and Swaziland, hoping to see lions, elephants, leopards and so on. But I hope to keep my mental life adventurous too: new projects, books I haven’t yet begun to imagine…
Where can readers stalk you?
My authorsite is www.ajhartley.net
Facebook author page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/AJ-Hartley-author-page/144156385632461
Facebook personal page: https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=580432410&ref=tn_tnmn
But when his new “friends” take a job investigating a band of ruthless and mysterious horsemen who have been devastating a land far from all Will has known, he encounters an altogether different level of danger. Soon it is not clear which is more likely to get him killed, the party’s nobility, the enemy’s merciless efficiency, or his own special talent for fiasco.
Can Will get used to this world of vanishing adversaries and magic swords? He will have to if he’s going to survive it. And to wind up rich and in the good graces of the beautiful Renthrette, he’s going to have to do rather more than that…
“Fast paced and beautifully written” R.A. Salvatore
A “clever page-turner” Publishers Weekly (Starred review)
The first book in A.J. Hartley’s Hawthorne Saga, Act of Will, is a smart and refreshing fantasy book that delivers excitement and fun. The atypical hero, Will, is taken from his comfort zone as an actor and is placed in the middle of an actual adventure. The 18-year-old that possesses no hint of moral or skill other than just being an actor is only out for himself. As he runs from The Empire, he ends up in the rescuing hands of another group where he learns that the adventures he plays as an actor are very much real.
The one magnetic appeal that readers will get from this book is how Will does not fall in line with the standards of what a hero should be. He certainly does not showcase any sort of heroic qualities. To make him even farther away from the word “hero”, when a hero is needed, he’ll quickly sneak out of the situation only to save himself. Although all of these attributes can be used for nomination for “Worst Person Ever”, there is a side to Will that appeals to readers. He’s blunt and says what is on his mind. This bold personality overshadows most of the bad and comes off as amiable.
The writing for Act of Will is in Will’s point of view. Hartley’s writing approach enables readers to fully grasp the thinking process of this very interesting young man. Aside from developing such a strong character, the story flows flawlessly and I never found myself yawning between paragraphs. Dialogue and story development are clear and precise that follows its own beat of the drum. Highly appealing and hilarious, this series will certainly make your reading time worth it.
*JBN is not responsible for Lost or Damaged Books in your Nerdy Mail*a Rafflecopter giveaway