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JJ Barnes The Table Read

Written by JJ Barnes

I interviewed author Arthur Swan about his career, what inspires him, and the writing of his new book, The Encanto.

Tell me a bit about who you are.

Although I’ve lived in Los Angeles for most of my adult life, I still say I’m from North Carolina. I’ve contributed to films ranging from ‘A Beautiful Mind’ to ‘How to Train Your Dragon’. My first novel, Before the Sun Hits, won the Reader Views Reader’s Choice Award.

Arthur Swan, author of The Encanto, interview on The Table Read
Arthur Swan, author of The Encanto

When did you first WANT to write a book?

While in college, I enjoyed writing poetry, and even fantasied about pursuing it as a way of life until a wise professor asked me how I planned to eat. I never considered writing a book until I was in my mid-thirties, driving home from on the 101 freeway, listening to The Poet, by Michael Connelly. The traffic melted away, and all-the-sudden I was home, sitting in the garage, still listening. When I finally got out of car, I realized—this is what I should be doing.

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When did you take a step to start writing?

In fifth grade, “volunteers” were called upon to read our writing assignments aloud to the class. I was deathly terrified and nearly passed out the first time I had to stand up there in front of the whole class, everyone staring at me as I tried to discern the slop I passed off as handwriting. After I stuttering through the first paragraph, a miracle happened—some of the kids laughed at my joke. And hearing their laughter, the ones who weren’t paying attention suddenly perked up. It was a transformative experience. Now the whole class was suddenly ready to hear what came next. Not only ready to be entertained but they yearned for it. And I wanted to give it to them.

After that, the writing assignments became my highest priority piece of homework. I learned to type them up, so I could read them more easily, which I’m sure my teacher appreciated, as well.

How long did it take you to complete your first book from the first idea to release?

Before the Sun Hits took a little over two years.

How long did it take you to complete your latest book from the first idea to release?

LA FOG has been a much longer journey. When I started out in 2015, it seemed like such a simple idea, and I anticipated spending less time on it than my first novel. A year at the most. But then it gobbled up all the time I could find for it; it then grew into this massive project comprising four novels, the first of which is The Encanto. I’m so glad I can finally share with you.

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Focusing on your latest release. What made you want to write The Encanto?

I kept thinking about all the people in LA who lead socially isolated lives because they are so focused on their careers, and, often, moved to LA from somewhere else, with no family or friends or local support network. I started thinking about how some of their lives could go totally off the rails and no one else would ever know about it. Even events that get reported on usually get boiled down to a headline and a blurb which can lead people to the wrong conclusion. Often the truth is even more unbelievable than what we hear.

What were your biggest challenges with writing The Encanto?

Developing heavily flawed characters who are still likable.

Arthur Swan, author of The Encanto, interview on The Table Read
The Encanto

Who or what inspired you when creating your Protagonist?

I have three protagonists:

I invented Saul to explore the difference between believing in something versus knowing it’s true. And the difference between people who are willing to believe without knowing and those who can’t.

Gray represents many of the artists I’ve met in LA who struggle to find a balance between pursuing their passion and looking after those who depend on them, including themselves.

Ashley is not only isolated by her wealth, but by spending so much time focused on her career.

Who or what inspired you when creating your Antagonist?

I wanted to create someone, at least somewhat sympathetic, but yet so different from everyone else that ordinary desires disgust them. Someone who truly believes that in order to live they must kill.

What is the inciting incident of The Encanto?

An elderly Latina gives Gray an ancient Mayan artifact and begs him to destroy it.

What is the main conflict of The Encanto?

Saul and Hernandez arrest one murderer after another, all who claim to be Wayob, which is, of course, impossible. But the things Wayob knows about Saul are impossible to dismiss. And Saul is determined to stop the killing, to stop Wayob, but how?

Did you plot The Encanto in advance, or fly by the seat of your pants and write freely?

I started with an outline but failed to fully develop my characters before diving into the story. Once I learned who the characters were, I realized there was just no way they would follow the outline I had laid for them.

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Did you get support with editing, and how much editing did The Encanto need?

It required an endless amount of editing, mostly by me. Even now it’s hard for me to read it without opening up the text to tool around. At some point I realized it was time for a professional, and I hired Marissa Vu, an amazing editor. Definitely, The Encanto is a better story thanks to her help.

What is the first piece of writing advice you would give to anyone inspired to write a story?

Don’t be afraid. Just write for the joy of writing. Keep doing it and eventually you’ll write something you’re proud of.

Can you give me a hint about any further books you’re planning to write?

The next book in the pipeline is the sequel to The Encanto, Wayob’s Revenge. It comes out next year. You definitely don’t want to miss out on Wayob’s Revenge.

And, finally, are you proud of your accomplishment? Was it worth the effort?

Definitely. I learned a lot writing it. And I hope you’ll enjoy the read.

Pop all your book, website and social media links here so the readers can find you:

@ArthurSwanAuth        —    Instagram, Facebook, Twitter.   —  Sign up for my email list.

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