INTERVIEW: AMY JOY Talks About ‘The Academie’

Special guest joining me today is Amy Joy, author of Dystopian Juvenile Fiction novel, The Academie


Feel free to pop off some questions of your own if you’ve read The Academie or are interested in picking it up.  Allie Thompson was a bit of a difficult person to archetype.  She seemed very shy and withdrawn, but very non-judgmental and friendly at the same time.  What kind of influences did you have for her?
Quite frankly, Allie is about 98% me at age 19. While still working on the first draft, I became addicted to Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Shortly afterward, Allie learned to fence (something I’d never before dreamed of doing)
Incidentally, Bryan’s mom, Anna, is basically me now, so in the book you have young Amy Joy/Allie, and older Amy Joy/Anna. Depending on how you look at it, it may seem a bit creepy, but it’s often true that girls fall in love with men like their father and boys fall in love with women like their mother, so the pairing made sense.

The romantic aspect of this book was very unique in the sense that it was very slow-paced and ‘innocent’ as I like to term it.  To the point that I really wouldn’t call it a romantic YA so much as just a good story.  Is this a new trend in YA fiction you’re looking to start?
I’m a really fussy reader— it’s difficult for me to find books that sustain my attention, so I write the kind of stories I like to read. To me, strong relationships and sweet moments are more important than intense love scenes. Intense romance can be exciting, but it’s also fleeting. When the feeling wears off—both in real life and in story, we are left wanting. But real relationships are multifaceted and so much more interesting, so I try to focus on those.
Also, stories inspire by helping us imagine possibilities we might not have otherwise. There are so many stories where couples get together only to fight, lie, or cheat. Read this enough, and you might start to believe that’s all relationships are and all they can be. Many people settle for that. I haven’t settled. I adore my husband. We truly are best friends. We listen to one another, play together, work together, dream together, are silly together, and watch meteor showers together. I hope to inspire others to find a relationship they are just as happy in and to settle for nothing less.

The characterization was great, but there was this HUGE gap in parental units.  Whereas Bryan’s parents were very opinionated, yet understanding and wholesome, Allie’s parents sometimes seemed more brainwashed than her brother.  Was there any particular statement you were trying to make with this?
There are two things I wanted to address by showing the vast differences in Allie and Bryan’s parents. First, I wanted to deal with the feeling of isolation that comes when you reach the point in maturity where your line of thinking begins to diverge from that of your parents. This happens differently for differently people. In Allie’s case, it was extreme. Second, I wanted to address the fact that too often people—including those we love—blindly follow policies, cultural norms, etc, without questioning them like they should. They buy into the rhetoric, internalize, and repeat it as though they were their own ideas. This is unfortunate. Allie’s parents only ever acted in what they believed was the best interest of their children. Two of the major themes of the book are the questions “What is truth?” and “Can you ever really define good and evil? Is anything ever all good or all bad?” The two sets of parents help play on these themes.

I don’t want to give too much away to those potential readers, but how important was it to keep the Academie’s ‘big secret’ as mysterious as possible until the end?  Was it intended so that readers would pick up on it before Allie herself put the pieces together?
I’m pretty good at guessing the end of stories, and I hate that. My favorite is when there’s a twist I just didn’t see coming—it sends chills up my arms and makes me giddy to the point I’ll be talking about it for days. It was only natural for me to try to create this experience for readers, and it makes me very happy every time someone tells me it happened for them.

A lot of writers will have an audience in mind while they write.  Was there a particular person you were writing this for?

You know, I have been really surprised and delighted at the number of teenage boys and men who have read and enjoyed The Academie because I remember telling my husband repeatedly as I wrote the story that I was writing it for young women and really didn’t think it would appeal to men. Even when he read and enjoyed it and then my brother and brother-in-law did the same, I figured they only enjoyed it because it was the first book they read by someone they knew. It wasn’t until I started hearing rave reviews from men I didn’t know that I started to realize that I had done something I didn’t believe I was capable of: written a story that spoke to men—and more importantly (because it’s considered one of the hardest groups to write for) created a story enjoyed by teenage boys.

You had a LOT of really interesting hobbies – such as wholesome diets, meditation, etc.  These were also all very accurate (don’t ask how I know that please) What was the motivation for research and adding these in?

I have this sick obsession with wanting to know about everything. Seriously. in my final month of high school, the choir I was in had a goodbye program where they showed embarrassing pictures of us and asked us what we were going to do next, and I told everyone that I planned to go to college and major in everything. Well, I’m not done yet, but with two bachelor’s degrees, two master’s degrees, and list of list of hobbies too long to mention, I’m certainly working on it. In all honesty, I didn’t have to do that much research to write The Academie. They were already things I’d studied for fun.

The Academie was adopted as a really good idea in theory, but just didn’t work due to an encroachment on free will.  What were your inspirations/motivations towards this type of environment?
I wanted to address the fact that our culture (and perhaps others as well, but I can only speak from my experience) seems to keep pushing off the age at which we accept people as full, responsible adults. When we are in high school, we are told that everything we do is super-serious now because we are practically adults and it all counts on our permanent record that shapes our future. Meanwhile, they treat us like children. When we turn eighteen and graduate, we are told that now we’re really adults. But what I think many of us find out quickly is that most people—parents, teachers, and even colleges—still pretty much think we are kids. Personally, I craved the responsibility that came with adulthood. I was ready to be on my own—sink or swim—to see how I’d do. I was ready to be handed challenges that I’d have to struggle through because others were counting on me, and I needed to prove to them and to myself that I could do it. But I had trouble finding these opportunities when I was young, and I imagine I wasn’t the only one. I suppose I struggled longer than some because I’m small (I can blend in well with a pack of six graders—in fact, in my twenties, when I chaperoned my youngest brother’s six grade campout, I was mistaken for a sixth grader) and for years I looked much younger than I am (at 37, I’m now getting carded when I buy cooking Sherry). But because I looked so young for so long, I remember very well how teenagers are treated—and mistreated—all too often.  Many people are wary of teens and young adults, most don’t seem to want to accept them as fully responsible, capable adults, and I learned from my experience as the good kid who never really considered doing wrong, that it doesn’t matter. For whatever reason, plenty of people will still think you are dangerous and unpredictable, and they feel the need to try to limit and control your actions as a result. That was the impetus for The Academie.

I loved how you left the book with many questions unanswered, but still comfortably wrapped up at the end.  Any chance you can divulge a bit of tidbits of what readers can look forward to in the next installment?
It’s difficult to say much without giving too much away, but I can say that you will hear more about Shara as well as General Schoolcraft and how The Academie came to be.

My next questions are more about you as a writer.

When did you decide that you wanted to be a writer?

I wrote my first poem for fun at age five, began my first chapter book in third grade, and I always planned to write books, both fiction and nonfiction. However, because I’m interested in so many things, I guess you can say that I became distracted for a while. It wasn’t until my husband began writing his first novel and he encouraged me to write my own that I became focused on fiction in adulthood. I don’t think I’ll ever forget the evening I first sat down to write fiction again, about three years ago now. My reaction was utter glee. I’ve since filled a file over an inch thick with ideas for future stories.

You’re an indie writer.  What factors encouraged you to take this route of publishing?

By the time I finished writing The Academie, in the summer of 2011, I had just been through a very rough couple of years. I had been diagnosed the prior fall with Graves’ Disease (an autoimmune thyroid disorder), went through radiation and countless numbers of doctor visits, and mounted some pretty large medical bills. Even so, I finished The Academie—a feat I’m quite proud of given how sick I was—and fully intended to send it off to agents for traditional publishing. However, when I began researching the route to publication, I discovered that a new publishing paradigm had emerged. While with traditional publishing agents were taking on few clients, writers had to do their own advertising, publishing royalties were low, and titles that didn’t sell were pulled from the shelf shortly after publication,  self-publishing had found a new life in print-on-demand and digital publishing (something few traditional publishers had yet to get on board with, but I was eager to—I love digital toys), royalties were high—65-85%, and books could be listed in the big name bookstores of Amazon and Barnes and Noble for as long as you’d like them to stay there, so they had time to find and build an audience.  After the struggle I’d been through with my health, I wasn’t about to watch The Academie sit for years while I found an agent, they found a publisher, and then it was prepped for publication for months more, nor was I willing to give up creative control or take on tiny royalties when I’d poured everything I had at that point in time into that story and I needed the money to recover from the medical bills. I read of the struggles of self-publishing, but I knew I had the skills and the drive to do it and be successful. I’ve never regretted it.

In January of this year, you founded the Indie Writer’s Network.  Would you care to divulge a bit more information about this venture?

I started the network about six months after I published The Academie. I’ve always been a firm believer in the idea that there’s no reason we should all have to make the same mistakes. If someone (like me) has already learned the hard way, why should everyone else have to suffer through the same lesson? There’s a lot to learn about the craft of writing and publishing, and there are a whole lot of marketing skills you need to gain to become a successful author—indie or traditionally published.  While I found a lot of great writers to follow on Twitter who were writing fantastic articles about writing and publishing on their blogs, I craved a community where we could become friends and support one another on this journey. Hence the Indie Writer’s Network (IWN) was born. Now five months later, IWN is a fully functional social network hosting almost 200 members, free and open to all indie and aspiring writers, with plenty of opportunities to make friends, share the joys and struggles of writing and publishing, learn tips of the trade, and discover great new indie books. In addition, members can create a networked blog (or import an existing one) so members can easily find great articles and updates by their writer friends.

Thank you so much for your time.  I know that myself and your other readers are excited to see what you come out with next.  Any closing words you’d like to share with readers current and potential before we close?
Thanks so much for taking the time to hear my story, and thank you to Matthew for this opportunity and for asking some great questions, which made this a lot of fun for me. For those who’d like to learn more or keep updated on the series, you can visit the series website: http://theacademieseries.com or my author website: http://amysjoy.com. Also, I hope anyone interested in writing and publishing will join us on the Indie Writer’s Network: http://indiewritenet.com.
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