Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Interview with Author Jill Williamson

Today I'm pleased to interview award-winning author Jill Williamson, who enjoys creating "weird books for teens." Let's get started!

Jill, you've been a reader since childhood. At what stage in life did you realize you wanted to write for publication?

Jill Williamson
Not until I was about twenty-six years old. I had recently left the fashion industry, which had always been my dream. My husband and I were very involved in our church, working with teens. I wanted to do some kind of speaking to teens, to motivate and encourage them.

I discovered that sometimes, people hire speakers based on articles written by the speaker. So I looked into writing articles. Then the new Harry Potter book came out, and a new barrage of debates within the church community flared up as to whether or not the books were bad for Christians to read. The debate inspired me to write my own teen novel that all Christians would love. Yes, I was very naive. I have since learned that no one likes every book. But that’s how I got started. I was inspired to try and write blockbuster-style stories for teens that glorified God.

You've been published by the large firm Zondervan and by the newer and smaller Marcher Lord Press. Please share some of the differences in working with distinctly different publishers.

The editorial timeline is a much slower pace at Zondervan. Everything happens right before the release at Marcher Lord Press. Zondervan has more money to pour into marketing, where Marcher Lord Press has limited resources. Also, and probably the biggest difference, is that Zondervan books are stocked by bookstores. Marcher Lord Press sells primarily online. With Marcher Lord Press, since there are only two employees, I tend to get answers to my questions right away. Zondervan can take longer.

You've written fantasy, sci-fi, speculative contemporary fiction... Because author branding is much discussed, how do you view branding as it applies to your own writing? Can you categorize the fruit of your imagination?

For me, as long as it’s weird, I can write it. Anything that falls under the umbrella of speculative fiction is fair game. Yes, author branding is important, and I could have tried to become the medieval fantasy lady, and probably been more successful, but that’s not me. I’m far too random of a human being to stay that focused.

Your latest release, The New Recruit, is unlike anything I've read before. Please share a few words about it, including how the seedling for that idea first took root in your imagination.

The New Recruit is about a boy who is recruited into a spy organization that fights both the supernatural and groups that set out to turn people from Christ. Here is the back cover text:

Forced to choose between military school and a Christian spy organization, skeptic Spencer Garmond signs on with the Bible geeks. But before he even boards the plane for Moscow, Spencer realizes this is no Bible club.

These guys mean business.

Stumbling onto a case involving a gang of homeless boys, a chilling tattoo, and the always beautiful Anya Vseveloda, Spencer struggles to find the faith needed to save the Mission League from enemy infiltration.

This was the very first book I ever wrote. I pieced it together in a very backwards way. I was trying to write a story about teens going out into the world like missionaries, but since teen fiction books about missionaries weren't getting the attention of agents and editors, I thought, let's tweak the story and turn them into undercover agents.

How far into the future do you plan your stories? Are you planning the next one while writing the current one, or do you take them one story at a time?

I always have several ideas in my head. I try to stay loyal to one until it’s finished, but that doesn’t usually work. So, oftentimes I’m writing one story, and then I need to take a break to work on brainstorming a new idea and writing the proposal. Once that’s turned in, I go back to the story I was writing. I’d rather not bounce back and forth, but I think that’s how it has to be when you release multiple books in one year.

It's no secret that writers' choices of reading material help to shape their creativity. Name some major literary influences in your past reading.

Books I loved as a child: Nancy Drew, Little House, Anne of Green Gables, The Hobbit, the Narnia books. When I grew up, books I loved: John Grisham, Peretti, Francine Rivers, Tolkien. And I wasn’t really inspired by books to become an author. Once I began to write, so many authors inspired me. Here is a list of authors that have impressed me in one way or another: Frank Peretti, Ted Dekker, Megan Whalen Turner, JK Rowling, Rick Riordan, Scott Westerfeld, Robert Liparulo, Melody Carlson, Robin Jones Gunn, Bill Myers.

Share a few words about your relationship with your literary agent, Amanda Luedeke of MacGregor Literary. When and how did you get acquainted? Had you communicated with other agents before Amanda?

I’d had an agent prior to Amanda. And my previous agent was a good man and a good agent. But he wasn’t the right agent for me. So beforeI met Amanda, I was agentless, and I’d been praying for someone who really loved my writing. I wanted more than an, “I can sell this.” I wanted someone who actually liked my stories. When I saw that Chip MacGregor had added Amanda as an agent and that she was going to be at the Oregon Christian Writer’s conference (her first conference, I think), I felt like God created an agent just for me. I saw Chip and mentioned that I’d signed up to speak with her, and he went out of his way to introduce us. (That was so cool, by the way.) And one of the first things Amanda said to me was, “I really like your writing.” I was so happy. I didn’t care that she was brand new to agenting. She was the answer to my prayer. And she and I get along really well. I’m very blessed to have her on my team.

So far, you've been targeting young-adult audiences. Are these the readers you want to stick with, or do you have plans to write for adults too?

I have no desire to write for adults. I suppose I could. And my Blood of Kings trilogy was considered adult by my publisher, even though I consider it YA. But I feel called to write for teens. I’m always open to change, but I don’t see that happening in the near future.

You're a wife and mom, which undoubtedly demands much time. How do you manage to carve out hours (or minutes) for creative writing?

My kids are in school now, so I have all day, Monday through Thursday (only four days of school where I live) to write. Summers are harder. My husband is very supportive and does a lot with our kids to give me the time I need.

From your own experience, give one piece of advice for writers who have been studying and polishing their writing craft but who want to improve and grow in their skill. 

Just write more. The more books you write, the better you’ll get. And you can go back and rewrite old stories. But nothing is better than putting in time at the keyboard.

Are you working on any more books? If so, can you tell about them?

I’m working on Captives, which is the first in a dystopian trilogy coming out from Zonderkidz next February. It’s based on Daniel 1, when Jerusalem in conquered by Babylon and the young people are taken into the city.

Do you have a website or blog where readers can find out more about you and your work?

Yes, here are my links:

Thanks, Jill!

--Rick Barry


  1. Rick, what a great interview. As a reader and writer of Christian sci fi, this is so encouraging.

  2. In researching editors this past week, I found an increase in Christian editors who are looking for quality speculative fiction from a believer's worldview. Interesting!

  3. I am a volunteer youth worker and influence YA books on occasion and then pass them on the the teens in my church. I just finished "Replication" and already have a list of kids that "need" to read this great book. Even though she writes YA and I don't typically read Sci-Fi or Fantasy, I've loved every book of hers I've read.

  4. Glad it was encouraging, Darren!

    Wow! Thanks, Nikki. And thanks for working with teens. Youth workers rock!

    And thank you, Rick, for interviewing me. Can't wait to hear how your successful ACFW meetings play out! God bless and keep in touch!