Posted on 12/21/2018 at 08:00 AM by Sadye Scott-Hainchek
Author JA Andrews’s story is a nice bit of vindication for any liberal-arts students tired of STEM scholars laughing at them.
Andrews loved reading fantasy in her younger years — David Eddings, Anne McCaffrey, Raymond E. Feist, and Terry Brooks — but followed a much more conservative path, studying aerospace engineering in college.
And when she left the engineering field, it wasn’t to pursue writing, but rather to home-school her three children.
It wasn’t until her husband left for a month-long trip out of town that Andrews found the urge to (metaphorically) pick up the pen again.
She wrote a chapter of a story each day and emailed it to him to help him pass the time.
Once he returned, the unfinished book was set aside for a few years, but ultimately the itch to write just wouldn’t go away.
Andrews returned to her project, wrapped up the story, revised it, spent some time studying the craft of writing, and eventually decided to publish what was now A Threat of Shadows.
After all, others were succeeding in the self-publishing world, so she certainly could too — as she observed, “After all, it’s not rocket science.”
Andrews, who has since put out two follow-up novels to A Threat of Shadows, recently took the time to tell us more about life as an engineer-turned-artist.
SADYE: What inspired you to become a rocket scientist and then to leave the field?
JA: To be fair, my degree is in rocket science (aerospace engineering), but I’ve never actually worked as one.
I’ve done other sorts of engineering, but it turns out there aren’t a ton of aerospace jobs around. Shocking, I know.
As a girl who was always good at math and science, who also had an engineer for a father, I was told over and over that I should do engineering.
I loved reading fantasy books too, but never really considered writing as a viable career path.
So I headed off to get an engineering degree.
Except it was quickly obvious that a lot of engineering involved things like deciding what diameter bolt to use in a design. That didn’t sound fun.
Aerospace engineering, though — those people were talking about how to design things to go into space. And honestly, space is about as close as we get to a fantasy world.
Gravity doesn’t work quite the same — at least it doesn’t pull you down, if you can even figure out which way down is.
You can be killed if you get too hot. Or too cold. Radiation can kill you. If you’re off course a little, you’ll just disappear into the blackness of space.
Now that sounded like some fun rules to work under.
But, like I said, I never actually worked as a rocket scientist.
Instead, after working in other fields of engineering for about ten years, we had kids, and I was more than ready to leave the cubicle and stay home.
SADYE: Do you use anything related to your aerospace engineering degree in your writing?
JA: Hmm, I don’t think so since I don’t write sci-fi. I stick with pre-industrial fantasy.
I think that's because if I did sci-fi, I’d feel so compelled to make it all scientifically real.
There are some authors who love that and are amazing at it. But I’d rather spend time on my characters than my science.
My magic system is based on the transference of energy, so it’s still a tiny bit nerdy.
SADYE: What advice would you give to a new writer?
JA: Get involved with a community of authors.
Find a group of writers who can critique your work; find writers who are better than you, and learn from them.
Find groups who you can network with whether you’re an indie author or if you're going the traditional route.
I think that every good thing that has happened in both my craft and my career is from working with and learning from other authors.
SADYE: Of all the powers and abilities you’ve bestowed on your characters, what would you most like to have yourself?
JA: One of my characters, Will, has the ability to feel other people’s emotions.
I think that’d be exhausting all the time, but he can turn it on and off, and it helps him to really understand other people.
I think that’d be a great power to have.
JA: I met Brandon several years ago because we both jumped into our indie publishing journey at the same time.
We were in some Facebook groups together, and when I first met him, his leukemia was in remission following his first bone marrow transplant.
I had no idea he’d even been fighting cancer. We became online acquaintances purely from our books being similar.
When he found out his cancer had returned, I remember thinking that if I had to pause my career for a few months to go through chemotherapy, it would destroy all the momentum I’d been building.
So, with quite a bit of discomfort and trepidation, I contacted Brandon and offered to help him out, even though I was essentially still a stranger.
Anyone who's met Brandon knows that he was incredibly kind, and he was grateful to have someone to take care of his newsletter while he’d be in the hospital.
So for a few months I got to know Brandon’s readers (who adored him) and sent out newsletters for him.
When he recovered from the second bone marrow transplant and was back to being reasonably healthy, we were able to keep up our friendship and find ways to support each other through promoting each other’s books.
When he got the news this fall that the cancer was back, and this time there were no treatment options, it was so natural to step in and offer whatever help I could.
I was only one of a dozen authors who dropped everything to help him publish the book he’d been working toward publishing this fall, and one of the hundreds of authors who stepped up and shared his work with their readers.
Promotional groups like Fussy Librarian were also amazingly generous in sharing about Brandon’s books at no expense to him.
You’d think, after that story, that it would feel like we were all able to help Brandon. But that’s not at all how it feels.
Brandon, even in the face of his terminal cancer and knowing he would be leaving his wife and young boys, was one of the most genuinely kind, generous people most of us have ever met.
His attitude in the face of all the suffering he must have been going through was incredibly inspirational.
I know I speak for the other folks who worked with him that it was an honor to know him.
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Categories: Author Interview