As I try to expand what all happens on my website, one of the things I am going to start doing is interview various authors from around the world. I would like to welcome my first guest, J.T. O’Connell who recently released a book called The Remaking. Let’s jump right in, shall we?
J.T.O: I was born and raised in Cincinnati, Ohio, the fourth of six children in our family. Having so many siblings, it was rare the TV was ever tuned to anything that interested me, so my interests were fulfilled in books. Reading has been a priceless hobby. I wouldn’t give it up for anything in the world! I now live in a little township northeast of Cincinnati with two dogs and a cat, all three spoiled.
AJ: You released The Remaking back in March. Why don’t you give us the elevator pitch for the book?
J.T.O: The Remaking is a story about life in a dystopian society. Sela is nineteen, but already out on her own, avoiding notice of the government. Her greatest fear is that she may be caught and then used as a hostage to control her father who sent her into hiding. She buries her old identity and clothes herself in a new one, hoping one day to be able to see her parents once again. When she stumbles upon a group seeking to undermine the authority of the Remaking, Sela decides to help change society for the better. But she must walk a fine line, helping this secretive organization, while keeping her true identity concealed.
AJ: What inspired you to write The Remaking?
J.T.O: Young Adult literature is remarkably consistent in some of its themes these days. That is, of course, due to publishers following down paths that are tried and true. One tone that nearly shouts from many novels is the young rebel who fights against the whole construction of society, not just parental control. This is a theme most teenagers will appreciate handily. Hunger Games, Divergent, and others make a central premise out of fighting back against state tyranny. Interestingly, this has been an issue in American life since the mid-18th century (perhaps earlier even), and remains so in contemporary discourse.
I must confess a great burden of inspiration from George Orwell in my writing of The Remaking, though I do not want to pretend any qualitative similarity to that literary legend. That is for the reader to decide. However, my approach to society in general is more direct than mainstream publishers would generally allow. It is important for Katniss or Trix or Sela to fight against tyranny, but it is just as important that they fight on behalf of a better way. I think that is partly why Mockingjay splits the Hunger Games fan base. The end of the book proffers no valid alternative to dictatorship. Combine that with the personal strife Katniss faced, and the final image is one void of any shred of hope. That is why the epilogue strikes many people as strange, myself included. From utter hopelessness and irreparable despair to a happy and pleasant family, but without any thorough explanation of how one can find joy.
The Remaking comes at this differently. The book is upfront about many of these ideas, instead of skirting around them, pretending that Sela’s personal life dictates everything she does. If that were true, then how could there really be any problem with the government? Some people see Katniss from The Hunger Games as self-centered in the extreme, because all of her actions on the world stage come purely from an emotional cage she built for herself. There is a fair criticism in that, though I think it lacks nuance. In The Remaking, Sela’s personal life is deeply involved and drives the story, but she also sees the value in altruistic efforts to change the system. It may be rhetorically safer to avoid having a character wrestle with differing ideological concepts, but I believe that struggle what made 1984 a classic of literature, giving it endurance that transcends the Atlantic Ocean and nearly seven decades.
AJ: Your previous books have followed around male protagonists, but in The Remaking your protagonist is a 19 year old girl. Was this a difficult transition to your writing?
J.T.O: Writing Sela grew easier over time, actually. Initially, it was a daunting prospect, putting together this person who needs to become intimately acquainted to the reader. Yet, she somehow came into her own as the writing progressed, and I’m still not completely sure how that happened. Male main characters can be challenging as well, even though I am more familiar with the perspective. A good main character is vulnerable but not weak, sensible but not genius, reserved but relatable, kind in the right place and fierce on occasion. In some ways, Sela fits into that mold more naturally than Denver from the Sunlost books. I enjoyed writing Sela’s character, and was happy and relieved after a few female friends expressed approval of her femininity.
AJ: Can readers expect a sequel to The Remaking?
J.T.O: There are at least two more books to come after The Remaking. It’s interesting, actually. I didn’t want to write The Remaking. I wanted to write the third book, and I still do. That story is going to be a whopper, but it requires so much back story, there were at least two full books that simply must come before. And the particulars of the dystopian world are good enough that I didn’t want to shortchange it by trying to sum up all these events in a handful of early chapters. The Remaking is a great book, and could even be a standalone, but there will be two more books coming. Maybe more!
AJ: What’s your perfect writing scenario? Outside on a nice sunny day with a laptop? Or inside in a dark room, listening to music?
J.T.O: I’m far too sensitive a writer. Which is not to say that my writing is melodramatic; it certainly is not. I mean that my environment and mindset can drastically affect how well I write. And annoyingly, it is not all that consistent. What’s the perfect situation to be writing? The one that works! I sometimes write outside on a laptop, sometimes on paper, sometimes on a couch, sometimes at my desk, sometimes with music, sometimes without. I once hand wrote a few chapters while on an evening visit to the campus of MIT. I once wrote on a laptop while taking a break hiking way up in the Rocky Mountains with my dog, Moose. I’m finicky, I suppose. It can be frustrating, but so long as I manage to produce, I’ll just go with it.
AJ: Hobbies outside of writing?
J.T.O: I really enjoy hiking these days. I’m a romantic for the western wilderness. The Rocky Mountains as earlier mentioned, Painted Desert, Natural Bridge, Meteor Crater, White Sands, Grand Canyon, Black Hills and Thunder Basin, Petrified Forest, Wilson Lake. I don’t cross the Mississippi nearly as often as I’d like. Besides that, I play guitar and read. I’m always trying to blaze my way though my “to read” list. There’s not really a light at the end of that tunnel, though, and I make no secret that I like it this way.
AJ: Right now, what’s your favorite book?
J.T.O: Oh wow. Favorite book. Just one? That makes it tough, so I think I’ll cheat. For my non-fiction pick, I’ll say Modern Times by British historian and journalist Paul Johnson. It’s a history of the world from 1900 to 1990. You would think it would unoriginal and blasé. Quite the opposite, Johnson draws many conclusions and relationships out, inspiring a great deal of reconsideration.
I simply cannot pick a favorite work of fiction, so I will destroy brevity and select the whole Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan (and Brandon Sanderson for the last three books). I’m not through the whole story yet (fourteen books, 11,000 pages, one story!), but what I’ve read so far has blown me away. They are fantastic books! So well constructed!
AJ: What are you currently working on? Will it be out soon?
J.T.O: I just finished editing a novella called Littledon! It is an allegory of sorts, and I hope to launch that very soon so that I can focus all my energies on following up The Remaking.
Thanks for the interview, J.T.
You can find more information about J.T. below.