MY INTERVIEW WITH AUTHOR J.A. CUMMINGS
What’s your name and what genre would you consider your books to be?
My name is J. A. Cummings, and the book is definitely fantasy.
Tell me about your book. How did you come up with that (story, angle, idea)?
The book is called Arthur Rex: In Principio, and it’s the first volume in a 12-book series retelling the legend of King Arthur. I’ve been fascinated by Arthurian tales since I was very young, and this was my opportunity to add to the canon.
How did you get interested in writing this particular genre (historical novels, mysteries, sci-fi, children’s books, etc.)?
I’ve been a fantasy fan for my entire life. It started with fairy tales, which are pure fantasies, and then I was introduced to King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table. I read a lot of different books, but the ones that always stood out to me the most were the ones with fantastic new worlds I could explore.
What kind of research did you do for this book?
I spent three years researching before I committed a single word to paper. I read novels, watched movies, read scholarly papers and treatises, and basically devoured everything I could get my hands on about Arthur and his place and time.
Can you tell me about your Series?
The series starts when Arthur is only 12 years old, right about the time he ventures out of his foster father’s home for the first time, and it will follow him all the way up until the end of his life.
Do you have a favorite book out of this series?
I think my favorite book thus far is the third one, Arthur Rex: Dux Bellorum. It’s got a lot of action scenes that I’m very proud of, and there are some places where I wept while I wrote it, so it’s very emotional, as well.
Where did you get the inspiration/idea for your series?
I actually decided to go ahead and write my own version of the legend when I was reading Mallory’s Le Morte D’Arthur as well as the original Lancelot-Grail Prose Cycle. There is a surprisingly large amount of homoeroticism in those original versions, and it seemed like an angle that nobody had really considered in recent years. It’s always about Lancelot and Guinevere betraying Arthur, but the picture I gained from these sources as well as some of the older chansons pointed to something somewhat different.
What kind of research did you do for this book?
I studied about Roman Britain, Celtic culture and religion, the Arthurian legends as they’ve been written in the primary sources, and the history of who Arthur may or may not have been
Was it always meant to become a series?
It was initially intended to be an entirely different sort of series. Book one was going to be Arthur’s story from birth to death. Book two would be the same events from Lancelot’s point of view, and then book three would be from Guinevere’s angle. Then there would be a book about Sir Tristan and another about Sir Gawain. When I started outlining everything I wanted to include, it became painfully clear that this was going to a much longer series than I had first anticipated.
What’s a typical working day like for you? When and where do you write? Do you set a daily writing goal?
I work full time at a day job, so my typical working day is ten to eleven hours there, then I come home and try to write for a few hours in the evening. I don’t get much done on weekdays, unfortunately, but when I’m able to dedicate my weekends to my work, I can get a lot done. I try to set daily writing goals based upon the deadlines that I’m under, but I also try to be forgiving when I don’t quite measure up.
Do you have a new book in the making and if so, what’s the name of your upcoming book?
I have a lot of books in the works all the time. I’m currently ghost writing, which is part of where I make the money I need to survive, and I can’t disclose the title of that piece. The second book and third books in the Arthur Rex series have already been written – book two is called Ex Lapis and book three is called Dux Bellorum – but I’m working on book four, Unitatis. I also have a lot of other books that I’m writing at the same time, whenever I can. I really need to work on my self-discipline!
How important are character names to you in your books? Is there a special meaning to any of the names?
The names in my book were all taken from Arthurian legend, Celtic mythology and Welsh history. It’s important that the names are correct for the time and place that’s being written about. You can’t have a heroine from Roman Britain named Kaylee. That’s ridiculous and will throw the reader out of the book. Names are important.
Where do your ideas come from?
They can come from anywhere. I’ll hear an interesting phrase on the news, or read something that makes me start to think, or sometimes I’m inspired by how a song makes me feel. There’s no telling where the next idea will arise. It’s like lightning striking.
Is there a genre that you’ve been wanting to experiment with?
I’m curious to try cozy mysteries. I have a few ideas that I think would be fun to write, but I need to get a handle on the genre’s tropes and the readers’ expectations before I wade in.
What is the hardest part of writing for you?
Finding the time to do it. I work a demanding job with a lot of hours, and sometimes I’m working six days a week before I ever get to write a word for myself. Then I have friends who want to see me, household chores that need to be done, and it’s increasingly difficult to carve out the sort of time that I need to be able to write effectively.
What do you think of book trailers? Do you have a trailer or do you intend to create one for your own book?
I think book trailers are pretty cool. A good friend made a book trailer for my novel Nightchild, and it’s on YouTube and on my readers’ group on Facebook. I’d love to have a trailer for Arthur Rex, but there isn’t one yet, and I am skilled in exactly zero visual media.
What do you consider to be your best accomplishment?
My best accomplishment has been to survive. Just to survive.
What’s the best thing about being an author?
I’m never lonely. I always have a cast of thousands riding around inside my head that I can “talk to” whenever I feel the need.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
I’d like to say that I see myself supporting myself on my writing and leaving the world of the SDJ (Stupid Day Job) behind, but I don’t know. I just want to still be alive!
Have you always liked to write?
I have. I’ve been writing since I was four years old, and I’ve always loved it. I can’t stop writing – it would be like trying to stop breathing.
What writing advice do you have for aspiring authors?
Don’t quit. Even when you’re discouraged, even when you feel like nobody supports you or your work, don’t quit. Write for yourself if you must, but keep writing.
If you didn’t like writing books, or weren’t any good at it, what would you like to do for a living?
I used to want to be an archaeologist, and I studied it in school. I’d still love to do that, if there were jobs there.
Do you read reviews of your book(s)? Do you respond to them, good or bad? How do you deal with the bad?
I read reviews. I think everybody does. I get excited when the reviews are good, and if they’re bad, I try to see the reviewers’ points. If there’s something constructive to be gained, I try to accept it. I’ve never received a really hateful bad review (knock wood), but I can imagine I’d be pretty stung if it happened. Then I’d give myself a pep talk and get back in the saddle. It might require chocolate to ease the pain.
What is your least favourite part of the writing / publishing process?
I hate marketing. I mean, I hate it. I’m bad at it, and I hate repeating myself. Marketing is all about saying the same thing about the same book twenty times in the space of a day or so, then hoping against hope that what you’ve said resonated with a reader enough that they’ll pick up your book. It’s frustrating and I have yet to really figure out that side of it.
Can you give us a few tasty morsels from your work-in-progress?
I can tell you that Ex Lapis deals with the pulling of the sword from the stone, one of the most famous aspects of the Arthurian legend, and its immediate fallout. There are also some surprising interpersonal things that happen, and a few characters who get up to some very bad behavior.
Why did you choose to write in your genre? If you write in more than one, how do you balance them?
I write what I want to read, and usually, when I’m not burdened with an oppressive deadline, I write what feels good at the moment. I try to alternate books so that all of the genres I write get serviced, but that’s sometimes hard.
Where did your love of books come from?
My mom was a voracious reader, and she encouraged my sister and me to do the same. We had weekly trips to the local library, and my house was filled with books from the moment I was born. I have never been without books, and I hope I never am.
Do you have any favorite authors or favorite books?
The first writer I really loved was Shakespeare, but I got the most world-building inspiration from Frank Herbert and his Dune books. Then there’s the work that Tolkien put into creating his worlds. Awesome and deep. More recently, I was deeply impressed by the late Joe Dever, who wrote a set of sort of choose-you-own-adventure games called Lone Wolf. His knowledge of his world was absolutely encyclopedic and he could tell you in detail about any aspect of the world you asked about. He was also unfailingly gracious to his fans, and I really admired him for that. He wished me a happy birthday on Facebook once, and I was so thrilled!
Of all the characters you have created, which is your favourite and why?
In Arthur Rex, my favorite character is Arthur, of course, and Merlin, but most of all I love Sir Ector, Arthur’s foster father. He’s just a solid, good-hearted, strong man with the kind of character you just don’t see often enough. He’s the epitome of what a good man should be.
Does writing energize or exhaust you?
It sort of does both… it depends on the day. If the writing is going well and it’s really churning along, I can be exhilarated but wiped out at the same time.
What is your writing Kryptonite?
Television and movies. If I go to see a movie that’s too flashy or too much like the genre that I’m writing at the time, I can be completely derailed. Television does the same thing. There are a lot of series that I’d love to watch, but I can’t dedicate that kind of brain space to someone else’s world when I have my own that still needs to be written.
Do you try more to be original or to deliver to readers what they want?
It’s a balancing act. I try to write for myself, but I’m always conscious that there are readers who will be reacting to the words as well. I’m also painfully aware that there’s a certain amount of “writing to market” that has to be done, which is providing people with the tropes they want to read instead of truly being original. It’s a little cynical, but it’s the way the business is done. You just try to keep the customer satisfied, but you have to remember that one of the customers is you.
What other authors are you friends with, and how do they help you become a better writer?
I have been very fortunate to have fallen in with some talented and generous writers who have given me advice and who are helping me navigate this monster called self-publishing. Scarlett Snow and Zoe Perdita have been invaluable in my journey toward understanding the indie publishing world.
If you were writing a book about your life, what would the title be?
I’d probably call it Still Standing. I’ve taken some hard knocks over the years, and sometimes I wonder how I survived. But I’m still here.
What question have you always wanted to be asked in an interview? How would you answer that question?
I’ve got no idea! I never expected to be interviewed in the first place, so I never made up any questions!
Where can your fans find you and follow??
I have a website at www.authorjacummings.com, as well as a reader’s group on Facebook called Cummings’ Crickets. (Group link: https://www.facebook.com/groups/224474201619690/)
My facebook link is : https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000272403310
I just opened a Facebook group specifically to talk about Arthur Rex and the legend in general, and that’s at https://www.facebook.com/groups/2244633952452398/.
Thank you for taking your time to do this interview ❤️
Thank you for asking me. It’s an honor.