About the Author
Find out more about J.A. at http://paradoxuganda.blogspot.com.
I have always loved words. All my life I have devoured books and felt an urge to describe and process the world through writing. For many years, this was limited to letters, journals, and blogs. My friends and family would often say, “You should write a book.” My children, however, finally inspired me to become an author. When they were ages 7 to 12, I wanted to write them a story as a Christmas present. In the books we read together, their world was noticeably absent. We lived on the Uganda-Congo border, and I wanted them to have a story with African characters and texture. So I wrote them one, and they loved it so much I continued for four years writing a young adult novel to be opened on Christmas Eve as a present. We would start the story reading aloud under the tree, and continue for the week of Christmas.
I believe story is the primary way God has communicated truth to us, and the best way to explore that truth with others.
2. How many books have you written and in what genres?
I have written 4 novels in the magical-realism genre of A Chameleon, A Boy, and A Quest, all loosely connected by characters and all dealing with particularly relevant themes for our area of the world: orphans, child soldiers, deforestation, rebel groups, wildlife preservation, ebola, corruption, evil. However, all have a strong undercurrent of redemption.
I followed those with a lighter, more fantasy-allegory short novel, and I have a draft of a somewhat autobiographical book about our work in Uganda.
3. What writing projects are you currently working on? What can you tell us about these projects?
This year I want to get back to the book I drafted on a short sabbatical a few years ago, Clouded Mercy, to explore themes of evil and suffering and how we can respond. This is the auto-biographical work I referred to above. In the meantime, I blog about current life.
4. What does your writing process look like?
I think through my fingers, so I prefer to type on a computer. My ideal is a quiet space, so for most of my life that’s been early morning or late at night. I generally do not lack for words, so I just try to get things out and down, then edit later.
5. Where is your favorite place to write?
We are on a one-year sabbatical again from Africa, after 22 years in Uganda and Kenya. So at the moment I have a lovely place to write, in a hundred-year-old farmhouse in West Virginia that I inherited from my parents. Up until now most of my writing was done on my porch, my kitchen table, my bed, my lap, anywhere I could prop up a Macbook.
6. How important are the names in your novels? How do you choose names for your characters? Do you have any name resources you would suggest?
The names in my stories have meaning in the local language where we worked. In the first book, the main character knows his name as “Mu” which he later finds out is short for something important that reveals his purpose. The other names are common names from our area, and remind me of some of the kids we know. The animal names also derive from local words for that animal.
7. What authors/novels that you enjoy would you recommend?
My absolute favorites are Tolkien and Lewis, for putting truth into gripping, well-written tales. I call my preferred movie and book genre “dark and redemptive,” which means stories that deal with the reality that this world is broken but that the story has an ending we can only glimpse. In the young-adult world, my recent favorites are the Grisha Trilogy by Leigh Bardugo and The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins. The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo is a family favorite as well. And the Madeline L’Engle books.
For general adult reading, my favorites this year have been: All the Light We Cannot See (Doerr), Lila (Robinson), The Orphan Master’s Son (Johnson), Americanah (Adichie), and The Sparrow and Children of God (Russell) (this last one is a two-book series, and old, but I just found it). I found The Bone Clocks (Mitchell) intriguing, and intense.
Historically, I’m a fan of great old sprawling Russian and French novels (Les Miserables, The Brothers Karamazov), as well as Graham Greene.
I would like to have read more articulate and true African voices, but some that stand out are Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Chinua Achebe, and Elspeth Huxley’s Red Strangers.
8. Where is your favorite place to read and why?
Anywhere. The car, standing in line, lying in bed, sitting on the porch. . . I used to climb a tree and read as a kid. Right now, I’d say the front porch in an old rocker, but much of my reading is in bed as I go to sleep.
9. What period of history interests you the most?
The so-called Dark Ages, the time of plague and war and art and resilience in Europe. I think that books written about that time period deal with clashes of culture and religion in the face of overwhelming suffering, and that resonates with what we have experienced in two decades in Africa.
10. If you could choose someone famous to star in one of your books made to a movie, who would you choose and for which character?
I honestly have no idea. I think my books would not lend themselves to the kind of famous actors I can think of, so we would need to find new stars! One of my absolute favorite movies is Blood Diamond with Djimon Hounsou as the dad and Kagiso Kuypers as the kid, but he would be too old now.
11. What inspired the idea for A Chameleon, a Boy, and a Quest?
We often had chameleons as “pets.” Our kids would find them or their friends might point them out. They were considered dangerous and untouchable because people believed they had spiritual indwelling. Sometimes the kids would walk around with a chameleon on their shoulder or ear, which gave me the idea of a chameleon as a guide. The setting of rebels, conscripting vulnerable children, the traditional religious practices, the mountains, the animals all came from our surroundings and life.
12. What other hobbies do you enjoy when you are not writing?
I love to hike, run, bike, anything that gets me out in the woods and wilderness. I love watching my kids play sports, cooking big meals and having a large eclectic group around the table. We built our own pizza oven in Uganda, and again in Kenya, for fellowship and food!
A CHAMELEON, A BOY, AND A QUEST