Featured Author Week: exclusive interview with Jill Williamson, author of Captives

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Jill WilliamsonAuthor Jill Williamson joins us for a look at life as author and at her newest book, Captives. There might be mild spoilers for the book, but we’ll be sure to keep them to a minimum.

Welcome, Jill! As a new author to the site, can you tell us a bit about how writing works for you? Do stories start through images, characters, news articles, etc.? And following that, how do you go about setting up the plot for a new story?

I usually get a crumb of an idea, which can come from anywhere, then I explore it to see if it’s unique enough and think about what kinds of characters might best fit the premise. Once I’m happy with that I outline my plot. I do this using my own version of the famous Blake Snyder’s Beat Sheet that I’ve adapted for my novels. Then I storyboard the book, lay out all my cards to see where I might have holes, then fill them in. Once I’ve completed my storyboard, I sit down and write the first draft as fast as I can, using my cards to keep me on track.

You lived in Alaska for a while. Has that experience helped in being able to describe long journeys/different terrain/aloneness/independence/anything like that?

Sure. I grew up without electricity and running water, so that not only helped me experience day-to-day living in a different way, it forced me to use my imagination.

There is a place in one of your books, From Darkness Won, I think, where someone shoots a bird, stands on its wings and pulls its legs to basically skin it. Since this actually does work on grouse at least, do you just know a lot of details like that, do you research it, or do you just run across it randomly and decide to include it?

Ha ha. That was To Darkness Fled, actually. I didn’t know that from living in Alaska. I learned it from a hunter friend of mine. I had written the skinning the bird scene and wasn’t sure that I really knew what I was talking about. So I asked my friend Greg, and he walked me through the whole leg pulling thing. I was fascinated. Later, Greg took me grouse hunting and we did it in real life.

All of your books seem completely different from each other. I’m curious about the journey from writing a high fantasy book like By Darkness Hid to a dystopian novel like Captives. Were you just following the ideas or did you set out to write in many different genres?

Captives-FB-HeaderI write what I find interesting. But also, the publishers have a say. They want to publish what is selling. And Captives sold that way. I liked the idea for that book, but it was second in line for me under an urban fantasy idea about fairies. But the dystopian story was the one the publisher bought, so that’s the one I wrote. I miss fantasy, though. Next time. *crosses fingers*

While the Safe Lands are reminiscent of the Capitol in The Hunger Games, your characters spend a great deal more time interacting with the culture, and, as a result, the reader gets to see a lot more of the decadence and the reality behind the façades. What went into crafting a culture both alien and familiar to readers?

Part of making any fantasy storyworld believable is to spend a lot of time brainstorming the past. I always write a history for my storyworlds. In Captives, I actually wrote half of the apocalyptic novel that came before Captives—that novel almost got published first. So I knew what had happened to set off this strange future. I also wrote an eighty-year timeline that showed how everything developed over time. That made it easier to write the Safe Lands culture, since I knew how it came to be.

All of your “Natural” characters end up taking sides, but both Mason and Shaylinn seem to form a group somewhere in the middle of the two camps. While they recognize that the Safe Lands are out of control, they seem more or less open to the idea of forming an alliance. Is this something that will change, or are you deliberately setting out to make it a struggle between three factions instead of two?

I’m simply letting those characters be who they are. In life, there are all types of people. Some are legalistic, some tolerant, and then there are those that fall in the middle.  Mason and Shaylinn are in between two opposing sides. It’s not always easy when such opposing views try to play tug-o-war with you. So Mason and Shaylinn will do their best to act in a way they think is right while still loving their friends and family.

Ciddah is one of most complex, mysterious, and fascinating characters I’ve met recently. Was she always so central to the story or did she grow into that role?

This story started out as a thwarted love story between Levi and Jemma. They were about to be married when the Enforcers came and took Jemma to the city. Levi was going to be my Bruce Willis-Die Hard hero who bashed his way into the Safe Lands to rescue everyone. But as I wrote my first draft, I found Mason and Ciddah’s story much more intriguing, and those two took over the plot.

And finally for fun given some of the news this last week, you’re a self-proclaimed Whovian, who was your first Doctor?

I started watching Doctor Who in season one of the revived series, so my first Doctor was Christopher Eccleston. I cried when he regenerated, and I didn’t like the new doctor at all … at first. But David Tennant quickly grew on me and is now my favorite Doctor.

Where can readers find you online?

I’m everywhere, but you can usually find me on Facebook, Twitter, or on my website.

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