Monday, August 29, 2011

The Same Six Questions - Jacques Antoine

Welcome back to The Same Six Questions. Today's guest is author Jacques Antoine. Welcome, Jacques!

Thanks, Andy! I instruct at a tiny liberal arts college in the southwest, where I teach classes across the entire curriculum. I grew up in the New York area and went to college at a "great books" school. One thing I learned in college, and re-learn alongside my students all the time, is that writing is not specific to a particular subject or specialty. Writing is about making public what originally seems private, the contents of our consciousness. This is true whether you're writing a poem, or a mathematical proof. The ironic thing about this process is that you only learn what it is you really think when you try to explain it to others.

My daughter (12) loves karate, violin and astronomy. We spend many nights in the backyard with a telescope. The heroine of my latest book is a high school girl who loves karate, so naturally my daughter thinks it's about her. But, in truth, she is more of a story consultant than a direct inspiration.

Thanks, Jacques! And now for The Same Six Questions.

1. Have you published a book yet?

I just published my first book, Go No Sen (also available for Nook and other platforms). It's a martial arts/espionage thriller, and maybe even a coming-of-age tale. Here's what it might sound like in a capsule:

Emily Kane, 17, high school student, martial artist--when her family is shattered by covert operatives who attack their home, they go into hiding, but she refuses. She insists on staying behind, staying in school, confronting the people who attacked her family. She will do what it takes to wrest control of her life from the people seeking to destroy her.

The original idea came to me while watching my daughter in her karate class. I noticed that most girls don't really like sparring very much. It's not that they're afraid of mixing it up in a fight, but that the boys in a typical dojo tend not to have as much control and this annoys the girls. I tried to imagine the girl who wouldn't care about the boys' lack of control, and what her life might be like. The rest of the story just grew around that idea.

As you might expect, there are lots of fight scenes, some intense violence, as well as profound camaraderie. But instead of merely describing the action from the outside, I have tried to present a fight as it would be experienced by the people in the fight. This is a theme implied by the title, Go No Sen, which refers to the way a fight is determined by whoever can seize the initiative.

With my daughter's help, the story grew into a three part series. The sequel, Sen No Sen, will be available in September (we've been working on it all summer!). The third book, Sensei/Sempai, exists only as a rough draft. It will come out by Thanksgiving. We'll put our heads together over Christmas to decide if there is more to Emily Kane's story we want to tell.

2. When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

I come from a writing family. My grandfather was a very successful children's book author. He even won a couple of Caldicott awards. My father was a professor of neurology, and wrote many medical articles. He taught me how to write directly and clearly by his own constant example. My brother is a journalist and one sister has also published a children's book. My wife, who was a professor of English literature, and a fine literary stylist in her own right, showed me how elegance and forcefulness go together. As you can imagine, writing has always been a part of our family conversations.

As an academic, I have published several scholarly works, and even though this might seem like a far cry from creative fiction, it shares the need to be able to present ideas with sufficient clarity. But I have always tinkered with little creative projects throughout my career. Mostly these have been children's stories, none of which have I taken the trouble to publish. But I'm beginning to reconsider that.

3. What was your first lengthy piece of fiction (say, >1000 words)? What was it about? When did you write it? Do you still have it?

A manuscript for a children's book, entitled The Cat in My Back Yard. I wrote it about fifteen years ago. I still have it in a notebook on my bookshelf. It's about a little girl stuck at home looking out the window at the wildlife in her backyard. It's an exploration of a child's powers of imagination.

4. When was your first indication, "I can do this (write)"?

I've always known that I can tell a tale. Though I didn't realize I could sustain a narrative for a couple hundred pages until Go No Sen. For me, the hardest things have always been to write "life-like" dialogue and to imagine a complete narrative arc. But the way through each of these problems is to imagine your characters as fully as possible. I ask myself what this or that character would do or say. It begins with a single event or conversation.

Each scene implies a few more. The more scenes under your belt, the further along the narrative arc you can see. When I finished the first book, I found that I was already able to see the entire arc for the sequel.

5. If you could meet one of your characters in real life, which would it be?

Because my method grows out of my ability to imagine my characters, I am in a way fascinated by them. I'd love to meet Emily Kane, since I'm currently fascinated by her. Writing is really fun for me because it lets me spend time with the characters. The few hours a day I spend writing are often the happiest part of my day, because I want to find out what happens to them next. That doesn't mean I can't kill them off, of course. Sometimes death is a tribute to a character.


6. It's a dark and stormy night...you're alone in the house...there's a knock at the door...you open it, look out, and proceed to scream like a little girl. What's on the doorstep?

My mother...aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah!

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Thanks so much for sharing with us, Jacques! For more of Jacques' writing, be sure to check out his blog, his Your Book Authors page, of follow him on Twitter.

Be sure to stop by on Thursday to meet author Tallulah Grace!