Christian fiction author J. J. Fischer began writing her first novel at age fourteen and completed her Bachelor degree in English Literature and Creative Writing in 2012. Also a qualified psychologist with undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in clinical psychology, Jasmine’s dream is to write stories that weave together her love for Jesus, her passion for mental health, and her struggles with chronic illness. In this interview, she talks with us about her latest book, The Sword in His Hand, which is the first book in her new series, The Darcentaria Duology.
FF: How long have you been writing?
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.
FF: Why did you become a writer?
There’s a wonderful saying: “Reading is like breathing in, writing is like breathing out” (Pam Allyn). I think every writer first falls in love with stories, so much that they reach a point where they just need to create stories of their own.
Stories do so much for us—they allow us to test out ideas, to teach and inspire and challenge, to work through our triumphs and our pains, and to explore what it is to be human. Fiction, in particular, does a wonderful job of reflecting truth. As a Christian, I also believe that all stories are a part of the ultimate Story—the redemption story God has been writing for us since the world began. Composing stories that reflect and honor this profound narrative is kind of like shining a light on a diamond. It only really illuminates one small part of a complex, multi-faceted whole, but in that moment, you catch a glimpse of life-changing truth. And capturing that moment in a story—there’s really nothing like it.
For me, writing is like a reflex. It’s an instinct and a creative impulse and a way of making sense of what’s happened to me. I wouldn’t say I’m deliriously happy when I write, but it’s definitely how I feel closest to God. It’s also a huge part of how I worship Him.
As for writing fantasy in particular, that’s a no-brainer for me. Having a job/pastime where I can create worlds—which are always rather paltry echoes of the world that God has created—reminds me of the fact that humans are made in the image of their Creator. Our God is a creative and inventive God, and human creativity is a reflection of divine creativity. And yet, the more I write, the more I’m convinced that I’m not really creating but rearranging.
In that sense, world-building makes me feel terrifyingly small… and at the same time, connected to the God who didn’t just plonk landmarks on a map and call them things like “The Forbidden Forest” and “The Dark Lands,” but actually came up with all the building blocks in the first place. Incredible, right?
FF: How do you go about inventing a fantasy world?
It’s really a simultaneous process. I usually see a character first, and that character determines certain things about the world—where did they come from? What climate do they live in? What is their profession? Do they have any special abilities?
At the same time, I start working on the map. It might be a sketchy outline at first, but as inspiration strikes, I’ll start to fill in the blanks. Reality is always stranger than fiction, so history is a wonderful place to begin with. I didn’t have Pinterest when I wrote my first duology, but now that I do… oh, it’s amazing. I could waste a whole day collecting images for a new series.
FF: How do you try and weave in a Christian perspective?
This is honestly one of the most difficult parts of writing Christian fiction. As an author, I think you first have to decide on how explicitly Christian your story will be: is it allegory? Does it explicitly mention God, Jesus, and the Bible? Does it reflect Christian themes or focus on a particular aspect of the Gospel? Deciding on your target audience, I think, will influence what kind of book you write. For me, I wanted to write books that could be read by both Christians and non-Christians—books that were deep but not preachy.
All of my books reflect my Christian faith in different ways. My first series is basically portal fantasy, so it was necessary in the story to reference Christianity directly (though in the book, I refer to it by its first-century name, “The Way”). My second series is much more allegorical, in the tradition of C. S. Lewis’ Narnia. And my third series is also allegorical, but the parallels are much deeper and, I think, more complex. So while the Christian elements are always clear across all of my work, it’s sometimes more obvious or more subtle, depending on what the story calls for.
FF: What’s your favorite part of the writing process?
There’s this incredible part in the last quarter or so of finishing a book, where there’s no writer’s block or plot issues… just amazing flow. I turn into some kind of nutty professor who forgets to drink water and take normal meals. I know how the story will end but I’m also writing it just to see what happens. That’s definitely my favorite part.
FF: How does it feel to finish writing the characters you have poured yourself into?
Honestly, I miss them almost as soon as I type “The End”. But it also feels as if once they’re on the page, they become alive—a bit like imaginary friends. I know that sounds weird, but they do feel like real people. Hence why I always cry when one of them dies 😉
FF: What do you envision your characters doing now?
Look, considering what trauma I usually put them through, they’re probably having a well-deserved cup of tea and plotting revolt.
FF: What are you currently working on?
Since finishing my first novel in 2018 (which took 12.5 years all up!), I’ve become a tad prolific. I’m currently working on my sixth novel, the middle installment of a fantasy series called The Nightingale Trilogy. It’s set in a post-apocalyptic world where nostalgic memories are bought and sold as currency and people pay a price to selectively forget their past. I’m absolutely loving it so far and hope to share it with the world either in 2021 or 2022.
FF: What are some of your writing “must haves”? (Drinks, snacks, supplies, etc.)
Ooh, good question. I tend to eat rather mindlessly, so I try not to snack while I’m writing. But peppermint tea is a winner… actually, every tea is kind of a winner for me. Do you have T2 in America? It’s absolutely amazing. Other than that, my list of essentials is pretty short—just my trusty laptop and keeping my phone on silent so I don’t get distracted and start doom scrolling on Facebook 😉
FF: What is your favorite time period to write about? Or read about?
This is a bit strange coming from a fantasy writer, but I absolutely love to read historical fiction—Tamera Alexander and Joanna Davidson Politano are some of my all-time favorite authors. I love stories set in the American frontier or Regency England or pre-Industrial Revolution England… pirates and treasure are an all-time favorite (you can thank my childhood love of Enid Blyton for that). I also adore medieval fantasy. Honestly, probably the only thing I don’t enjoy so much is contemporary fiction—but I can probably be swayed on that point too 😉
As for what I want to write—it’s basically just fantasy, fantasy, fantasy. That being said, I’d love to write a romantic comedy one day, and I’m working on a couple of children’s books at the moment.
FF: What Christian authors or fantasy writers have influenced your writing?
Fantasy wise, my favorite authors include the greats—C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien—and a rather wide variety of other authors: Robin McKinley, Kristin Cashore (I adored Fire and Graceling), Suzanne Collins (The Hunger Games), Neil Gaiman (Stardust), John White (The Archives of Anthropos series) and William Goldman (The Princess Bride). It’s not fantasy exactly, but I also love Markus Zusak (The Book Thief).
As for Christian authors, I adore the Mark of the Lion Trilogy by Francine Rivers—it’s historical fiction, but it was and still is one of the best Christian fiction books I’ve ever read. And, of course, Christy by Catherine Marshall. Both these authors have shaped my writing in such incredible ways.
FF: What inspiration do you use to create your characters and world?
I’ll probably get in trouble if I admit that I use the real world and people around me as inspiration… but in all honesty, I do draw a lot from my own life, particularly my battles with chronic illness, anxiety, grief, and depression. My heroes and heroines usually have a lot of me in them, but in different ways. There are also traces of my loved ones in all my stories—it might be as subtle as a reworking of their name on a map (who doesn’t want to have an imaginary lake named after them??) or weaving some of their personality traits into a character.
Of course, if I’m going to use real people, I always try to make sure the comparison is complimentary 😉
FF: How has becoming an author changed and formed you as a person?
It’s definitely helped me to mature and process my own life. Writing is phenomenal therapy (I can say that because I’m a trained psychologist 😉). It allows me to explore alternate points-of-view and to develop empathy with people whose shoes I wouldn’t normally inhabit. It’s really a tremendous way to grow as a person.
I must admit, however, that I’m a little worried at times at how much I enjoy writing villains 😉
FF: If you could spend a day with one fictional character, who would you pick and what would you do?
Look, I’m a big fan of Maximus from Tangled, but you probably mean a human character, right? Or humanoid? In that case, I’m moderately obsessed with Korg the rock monster from Thor 3. So I’d buy him lunch and ask him all about the revolution that failed because he didn’t print enough pamphlets and only his Mum and her boyfriend turned up (whom he hates).
FF: What would you like readers to take away from your books?
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 readers in some way. 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 colors 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 speaks into a significant 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 honor it. FF
For hundreds of years, strange things have been washing up on the shores of Darcentaria. But when a young foreign woman named El is found unconscious on the beach amidst the burning wreckage of a strange metal craft, the villagers of Odessa are immediately suspicious—is she an agent of the Dalriadan Empire, their cruel oppressors for as long as they can remember? Or does she come from the Outside, the vast and legendary lands beyond their borders from which no man or woman alive has ever returned?
Torsten Eiselher, a talented young swordsman, has spent the last nine years of his life wrongfully imprisoned by his uncle, the Empire’s ruler. Betrayed and deceived at every turn, Torsten has survived by keeping a firm grip on his sword—and by staying well away from anything to do with the Outside. But when his young sister is murdered, Torsten finds himself irrevocably drawn to El despite her Outsider heritage—and he begins to question everything he has been told about her world.
Intrigued by the existence of a powerful and dangerously advanced world within his reach, the Empire’s ruler, Jurien Arminius, launches a hunt for El and the two Outsiders that arrived with her—the ones who could help him win his war against Torsten and the rebellion that threatens to topple his Empire.
Suddenly, Torsten is forced to choose between defeating his long-term enemy or saving the woman he has come to love . . .
The Sword in His Hand
The Darcentaria Duology # 1
J. J. Fischer
(Emerald House Group)
Genres: Historical Fantasy
Release Date: February 8, 2021
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