MY INTERVIEW WITH AUTHOR L. JAGI LAMPLIGHTER!!!
What’s your name and what genre would you consider your books to be?
Hello, I am L. Jagi Lamplighter, and I write stories of magic and wonder.
Tell me about your book. How did you come up with that (story, angle, idea)?
I am currently writing the Books of Unexpected Enlightenment, a story of magic and wonder. 😉
Rachel Griffin is a thirteen-year-old British girl with a perfect memory who attends Roanoke Academy for the Sorcerous Arts, situated in New York’s Hudson Highlands. Her best friends are crazy orphan boy Sigfried Smith who has a pet talking dragon named Lucky and the Princess of Magical Australia. Together, they undertake to discover the things that are hiding from the magical world in the same way that the magical world hides from mundane humans.
These books began as a roleplaying game that my friend Mark Whipple ran. At first, I was quite reluctant to get involved; as an author and a mother, I did not have much free time. But then, my character met a mysterious, possibly-less-than-reputable boy in a corridor, and I was hooked.
As the story played on, my husband and I fell in love with the concept of it. There was one scene in particular—which took place at the end of the universe—where something so amazing happened that we looked at each other and exclaimed, “This HAS to be a book.”
So I put aside my other projects and began writing it.
This was harder than it sounds! The original game was set at Hogwarts. It had 18 year old Dr. Doom running Slytherin, and my character’s roommate was a girl named Lucy Pevensie whose familiar was a tiny lion named Aslan. Basically, Mark threw in every character he liked from all his favorite books and movies.
So, I not only had to invent a background—a new magic school, a new magic world that were interesting and unique —but I had to invent additional new worlds for each character who came from another place (since many of the character in the original game came from other worlds.)
This has proved both daunting and great fun.
How did you get interested in writing this particular genre (historical novels, mysteries, sci-fi, children’s books, etc.)?
I have always loved magic and wonder since I was very small. I thing that magic in stories is a wonderful metaphor for the wonder and miracles of real life, reminding us that more is possible than we tend to assume in our daily lives.
What kind of research did you do for this book?
All kinds. Lol Most recently, I spent a couple of weeks using Google maps and the internet to research Dartmoor in England. (I even reread Hound of the Baskervilles.)
Another time, I read Legends and Lore of Sleepy Hollow and the Hudson Valley by Jonathan Kruk. Not only was this an excellent resource on the supernatural beings and creatures of the Hudson Highlands, where my story takes place, but it was also written by a childhood friend—who is now the person who, every Halloween, performs the Legend of Sleepy Hallow at the church in Sleepy Hallow where the story takes place. The book takes all the supernatural elements mentioned in Washington Irving’s classic, and explores them, telling us about the White Ladies of Raven Rock, Major Andre and, of course, the Heer of Dunderberg, the storm goblin who rules the Hudson River.
A brief aside: It was from this book that I learned that Washington Irving was the first superstar author from America. We don’t hear a lot about him today, but in his time, he was the first American author to become a world-wide success.
This might explain why when Irving, as a joke, claimed that, in the time of Columbus, people thought the world was flat, and Columbus proved otherwise—something he would have known his audience would recognize as humor—the concept spread so widely that, nowadays, we all believe this was the case. It was not. That idea—that those around Columbus did not know the world was round—comes from Washington Irving’s humorous take on history.But my research can be about nearly anything—plants, cloth, locations—whatever will help lend the feeling of reality to the magical world. I think of it as “creative research,” which I define as when you do research where the particular facts often don’t matter as much as copying fact patterns or details that help make an imaginary thing seem real.
Can you tell me about your Series?
The Books of Unexpected Enlightenment are…very hard to describe. Lol
They are about magic and wonder and romance and action and fear and hope. The world is like ours, except there is no God, no Christianity, no Jews, no Muslims. People—both mundane and magical—still worship the pagan gods, Greek, Egyptian, etc.
Only, on the first day of school…
Ahead, a single large sunbeam fell upon the face of a statue that stood otherwise in shadow. Rachel flew closer. A strange sensation overcame her, as if her heart was suddenly too large for her chest. The statue was of a woman with her head bowed. She wore robes that demurely draped over her. From her back sprouted wings, like the wings of a dove.
Flying on a broom was the most wonderful thing Rachel knew of, but…
As if in a dream, Rachel landed her broom and walked forward. Coming to stand directly before the statue of mossy stone, she reached up and touched its cheek. It felt cold and smooth beneath her hand.
“What is it?” she whispered. “It’s not an elf—it can fly. It’s not a fairy—no butterfly wings. It’s not a pixie—too big. And pixie wings look more like a dragonfly’s. What could it be?”
The air was still, but the bough above her head bobbed in the silence. Rachel stood before the statue and traced the moss that streamed like tears down its cheek. A hush had fallen over the glade, a feeling of expectation. She felt as if she had forgotten how to breathe. For the second time that morning, a tremendous sense of foreboding came over her, but what it foretold, whether good fortune or ill, she knew not.
In the same way that the Wise—the magical world—hide their existence from the Unwary—the mundane folk, there is a deeper world that has hidden itself from the Wise. And someone in this world has used magic to remove all traces of God, angels, demons, etc. from history.
But Rachel Griffin can see things that other people cannot see, including things that are supposed to be hidden. Slowly, she begins to unravel mystery of what has been taken away. But some of the things hidden behind the Veil of forgetfulness are not good things, as the truth comes out, so do the demons.
Do you have a favorite book out of this series?
No. I think the later books are a bit better than the first one, but this is more because the story builds and grows more interesting as it develops than because of any flaw in the first book.
Was it always meant to become a series?
Yes. To tell the story will probably take 20 to 24 books. 😉
What’s a typical working day like for you? When and where do you write? Do you set a daily writing goal?
I wish I could answer this question. I have been homeschooling the last two years and my schedule has suffered dramatically. In general, though…
Once, I had an office. It is now my daughter’s bedroom. I write in the livingroom, at a desk in one corner. This was not so bad when my husband worked in an office and my kids were at school. But last year, he was telecommuting and three of the kids were home all day (for various reasons.)
So I tend to write late at night—between ten and two or even four. It makes for a disjointed and tired day, but it is the one time I can get work done.
Do you have a new book in the making and if so, what’s the name of your upcoming book?
The fifth Book of Unexpected Enlightenment is currently called The Unbearable Heaviness of Remembering. It is the sequel to The Awful Truth About Forgetting. (Book Four proved too long, I had to split it in two.)
In it, Rachel Griffin faces something that would be a huge spoiler to anyone who hasn’t read the fourth book, but basically, her personal stakes are higher. Oh, and she gets to go to her first dance, The Year of the Dragon Ball.
How important are character names to you in your books? Is there a special meaning to any of the names?
I love names. In this case, though, a great deal of the names were made up by other people—the original moderator and players.
Other names were very difficult, as I was taking characters the original game moderator borrowed from other works and giving them a new origin. I had to find names that were unique but felt like they fit the already-established character.
The family name of Griffin is an example of the kind of thing I mean. I had read a romance series where a family named Griffin could trace their ancestors to ancient Rome. I thought this was hilarious, that they knew their lineage back so far. So, I asked if my character’s last name could be Griffin.
Mark replied that he already had a Griffin family in the game. My character could be a member of, but I would have to be part Korean, because the mother was half Korean. I agreed, and thus Rachel Griffin gained her wonderful yet troubling family.
What is the hardest part of writing for you?
The actual writing, especially getting started on something new. I love editing. I love rearranging the pieces I have to make them shine. But getting those pieces on the page is often daunting.
What do you think of book trailers? Do you have a trailer or do you intend to create one for your own book?
I don’t really know if they help or not, but…I have several, actually.
One I did. One done by Superversive Press, in which a lovely young friend (who incidentally usually sings in Korean) volunteered to sing the song another friend wrote about the series. It’s charming.
This is my original version:
This is the Superversive Press version – the video and the words are by Ben Zwycky, with the lovely singing by Sarah Koolbeck:
There’s even a version done by a gentleman who took some drone footage for me…and played each instrument for the music himself! I don’t know this person at all. He wasn’t even a fan. He just did it for the fun of it.
What’s the best thing about being an author?
Whether it is the wonder of the story, the wonder of the writing process, or the wonder and delight of the reader…that is what makes it all worth it.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
In a bigger house where I don’t have to write in the living room?
More seriously, had you asked me ten years ago, I could have given you a definite answer, but the publishing business is in such flux now, it is hard to tell where it is going to land.
But, God willing, I will still be writing and, hopefully, full time. Ideally, I would like to finish this series and get onto some of the other projects I would like to do, but… We’ll see.
Have you always liked to write?
What writing advice do you have for aspiring authors?
1) Readers care when the character cares. Give your character a goal they care about really early on. It doesn’t have to be their main goal, though it might lead to the main goal. Just something to make the reader feel “this is worth it.”
2) Be careful of outlines. Outlines are wonderful for those who can use them. But I have seen a number of aspiring writers defeated by the outline. Why? Because once they wrote down their ideas, they felt as if the story was told. The creative fires that had been motivating them stopped burning. (This happened to me, too, when I started.)
If this happens, tear up your outline and remake things up. Once your imagination is free to roam again, you will find the desire to write will return.
Do you read reviews of your book(s)? Do you respond to them, good or bad? How do you deal with the bad?
I try not to read them. If I do, and they are good, I might say thank you. I have learned the hard way not to respond to negative reviews. Readers have a right to their opinions.
What is your least favourite part of the writing / publishing process?
A few years ago, I would have said getting started. Now? I’d have to say marketing. It has nothing to do with writing at all, a totally different skill set. But in this modern world, writers suddenly need to be marketers, too.
I am hoping and praying that this changes, and a way to have people good at marketing market books, rather than writers—as it was until about five years ago—develops.
Can you give us a few tasty morsels from your work-in-progress?
Here is the opening of The Unbearable Heaviness of Remembering, the fifth Book of Unexpected Enlightenment.
Rachel Griffin stood with her forehead pressed against the cold window of her dorm room, waiting for the first star of evening.
Outside, the rain-drenched paper birches were so wet that their normally-pale bark glowed a pearlescent pink. All day, the storm goblin, the Heer of Dunderberg, had raged, and the heavens had poured down upon the campus of Roanoke Academy for the Sorcerous Arts, As evening fell, however, the clouds parted, revealing a patch of pale sky. Rachel longed to be out there, flying—at one with that pale twilight sky that was so close and yet so out of reach.
If the clouds would only stay parted, she might catch sight of the first star and make a wish. She needed a wish very badly. Of late, so many things had gone terribly wrong—many of them matters that she could discuss with no one. A glance at the almanac from the mental library in her perfect memory showed that it should be dark enough to see the stars in approximately three minutes.
She waited breathlessly.
And this is from a bit later:
“Sigfried?” she called.
“Griffin, back up!” Sigfried’s voice came from near the footprints. “They’ve got magic music!”
Rachel shouted. “That’s inspiration enchantment. It can make you dance or fight or laugh and such.”
Then she clapped her hands over her mouth. If she shouted too loudly, it would draw the attention of the proctors, which might not be as bad as ending life as dye for a redcap’s hat, but it could be a close second.
“Ya think?” Siggy’s footsteps spun in a circle to the music.
Three trumpets notes sounded, sending a blast of silvery sparks out from the position of Sigfried’s footprints. By the time he finished playing the spell, however, he had spun farther. Instead of sweeping the redcaps off their feet, his wind blast just swept snow off the ground to the left of his position.
Rachel, too, found herself attempting to dance to the lively tune, which was dangerous in mid-air. Her perfect memory made her immune to entrancement, but this was inspiration. She was no more immune than Sigfried and Lucky. She quickly landed and jumped away from her bristleless, so that she twirled about on the open snow, as far from her broom, and from the nearest birch trunk, as she could.
Sigfried blew another blast. Again he twirled as he blew. This time, the wind picked Rachel and threw her head over heels until she rolled into a drift of soft, fresh snow. Somewhere, outside the cold, cold, whiteness, she heard the growly voice of Lucky the Dragon.
“Better not breath flame, Lucks, since you’re dancing, too. Don’t want to accidentally crisp the blood-sister,” came Sigfried’s voice. “Or me.”
“Yeah, there are probably rules about not eating relations, even if they are crispy,” agreed Lucky with great seriousness.
Wonderful, Rachel thought, her face icy cold, I’m going to die frozen in a snow bank, while invisible. Do elixirs wear off if you die? Or do they stick, and you stay that way forever?
The trumpet blared again. The violin music suddenly halted.
“Ha! Take that Red Hats! I knew I’d get you if I could time it right!”
Do you have any favorite authors or favorite books?
My favorite authors are: Tolstoy, Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, Roger Zelazny, and Lloyd Alexander. There are quite a few others that I love, too, but those are probably the top ones. The ones I have reread the most.
I should probably add Anne McCaffrey and Gone With the Wind, too.
Of all the characters you have created, which is your favourite and why?
Can you pick favorites among your children? Yikes! Lol
I love them all.
Do you try more to be original or to deliver to readers what they want?
My goal is to listen to the Divine Muse, to be transparent to whatever ideas the Muse may send, so that I can get them onto the paper with as little of myself in the way as possible.
I don’t care about originality per se, but I do care about the story. I put the story, as it comes to me, over any current market trends. I have been in this business long enough that nearly any trend I might have chased as changed.
What other authors are you friends with, and how do they help you become a better writer?
I am friends with many, many authors, but the one who affects my life the most is my husband, author John C. Wright.
It is great fun being married to another writer. We both support each other’s writing and understand what each other is going through. We also both help the other person improve. I recommend marrying a writer. 😉
If you were writing a book about your life, what would the title be?
Where can your fans find you and follow??
My website: http://www.ljagilamplighter.com
Roanoke Academy for the Sorcerous Arts Facebook Group ( this group is run by the character, Rachel Griffin): https://www.facebook.com/groups/RoanokeAcademy/
Roanoke Academy for the Sorcerous Arts webpage: http://lampwright.wixsite.com/roanoke-academy
I write for Superversive SF:
I also maintain two websites for Superversive Press:
Fantastic Schools and Where to Find Them – a fun labor of love a number of writers maintain
Superversive Inklings – articles on the writings of Tolkien, Lewis, Christian fantasy, and other related topics.