Emerging Author Interview: A. J. Larrieu

Welcome, A.J. Larrieu, to LitStack. Today we’re thrilled to feature this dynamic author in our ajEmerging Author series. A.J. Larrieu grew up in small-town Louisiana, where she spent her summers working in her family’s bakery, exploring the swamps around her home and reading science fiction and fantasy novels under the covers. She attended Louisiana State University, where she majored in biochemistry and wrote bad poetry on the side. Despite pursuing a Ph.D. in biology, she couldn’t kick the writing habit, and by the time she graduated, she had an
addiction to writing sexy urban fantasy and paranormal romance. Her second manuscript, Twisted Miracles, was a finalist in RWA’s Golden Heart® competition in 2012. The book kicks off her dark, romantic urban fantasy series, The Shadowminds, which follows a group of humans with psychic powers through New Orleans’ supernatural underworld. A.J. is currently a working biophysicist in San Francisco, where she lives with her family and too many books.

LS: How did your southern roots inform your writing?

AJ: There are particular places in the South that have more weight in my imagination because they’ve played a big part in my life, and those places tend to show up in my stories. I also try to show a side of the South visitors might not see—the neighborhoods in New Orleans that aren’t on the tours, the grittier parts of small towns, the less-traveled waterways around the cities. I’m fascinated by the places that go unnoticed in plain sight.

LS: What made you decide to set Twisted Miracles in New Orleans?

AJ: As I was writing this book, I thought of it as my love song to the South. I wanted to tap in, at least a little, to the strong connections some southerners can feel for their roots. Folks in my family are fond of saying that “the South calls you home,” and on one level, I think Twisted Miracles is a story about that impulse.

LS: How important is setting to your stories?

AJ: What interests me most about setting is how it influences character. People are shaped by their homes, whether they love them or hate them, whether they have deep roots or shallow ones. Those connections with the land, with the community, even with the weather—they can have profound impacts on a person. It can be subtle, of course, but some of my favorite stories are those in which the setting plays a big role. For example, I think Delaney Diamond uses Atlanta beautifully in The Wrong Man—I love the way she weaves the culture of the city into her characters’ development. And Cherie Priest is a master of atmospheric settings. Whether her books are set in the swamps of Florida (Fathom) or the streets of Seattle (Bloodshot), she makes the geography sing in every line. In my own stories, I think of setting and character as very closely linked. I often find myself exploring how a person’s relationship with their roots influences their actions.

LS: Your professional background is in science. How does a biophysicist end up writing fantasy and not sci-fi?

AJ: Ha! Good question! I didn’t get to pick this genre. It picked me, and once it did, I couldn’t turn off the tap. Maybe there’s a sci-fi story in me somewhere, but it hasn’t poked its head out of my brain yet.

LS: If you could only read one writer for the rest of your life, who would it be and why?

AJ: Jane Austen. Her books are full of romance, which I love, and her stories are so packed with subtext and brilliant language, I don’t think I’d ever get bored.

LS: What is your opinion on the changes impacting the publishing industry (the ease and convenience in self-publishing and the e-reader) and what advice do you have for emerging authors?

AJ: Authors have so many ways to get our work in front of readers now, and I think that’s a great thing for authors AND readers. There are pros and cons to all of the paths, though, so it’s more important than ever for authors to research all the options and be careful and critical about our goals and decisions.

I don’t know if I can give advice, but I can offer my perspective: Every project has to take its own path, and there’s no one path that’s right for every project, much less for every author. Do your research and figure out which path is best for you and your work. Things are changing fast, so keep yourself informed, and be flexible with your goals.

Now that I think about, that’s the one piece of author advice I can feel comfortable giving: Be flexible with your goals. What you want (and what your work needs) is probably going to change, and that’s okay.

LS: What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever received?

AJ: “Don’t give up.” This came from basically everyone I met through Romance Writers of America, and it’s great advice. Grow, learn, definitely take breaks when you need them—but if you want to write, keep writing. Never surrender.

LS:  What’s the worst?

AJ: There’s a lot of writing advice out there that’s not so much bad as it is too specific. People will claim you must write a thousand words a day, or only when you’re inspired, or whether you’re inspired or not, or that you must start with an outline, or that outlines will destroy your story… You get the idea. All of this can be great advice, but only if it works for your process. One of the biggest challenges in writing, I think, is figuring out what your process is and owning it. I figured out I’m a pantser (no outline!) who works in 15 to 120 minutes chunks, and there are days when I simply should not be putting words on the page. I have friends who write eight hours a day, every day, and start with detailed outlines. And they turn out beautiful books. Most pieces of writing advice are going to be terrible for somebody.

LS: What sparked the idea for the shadowminds and how different from that original idea miraclesis the book?

AJ: I’ve always been fascinated by the idea of telekinesis—I was hooked on Anne McCaffrey’s books as a kid—still am—and one day, this telekinetic heroine popped into my head. It wasn’t so much the world as Cass and her abilities. Once I figured her out, the universe around her fell into place somewhat logically. It expanded a bit from the original idea—I found people with different flavors of powers—but the core of it is very much the same. Somewhat surprisingly!

LS: What’s your idea of career fulfillment?

AJ: Finding readers who connect with my stories. Whether that’s ten people or ten thousand, the greatest possible thrill as a writer is finding someone my stories speak to. It’s the most amazing thing! It stuns me every time.

Thanks for chatting with us, A.J.!

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