Jay Veloso Batista
Today in the Writer's Corner we meet Jay Veloso Batista.
Amanda: Hi, Jay. Welcome to the Writer’s Corner, where we talk all things writing in our corner of the world!
Jay: Hi Amanda. I appreciate this opportunity to talk about books and my writing.
Amanda: So tell us a little bit about yourself. Where are you in this big wide world?
Jay: I am lucky to live on the Delaware shore, a few miles from the Atlantic Ocean and less than 2 hours drive from Washington DC, Baltimore, Maryland and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It is a land of ocean side boardwalks, craft breweries and lots of bluefin crabs from the Chesapeake Bay.
Amanda: You’ve released ThornFinn and the Witch’s Curse, tell us anything and everything.
Jay: “Thorfinn” is the first book in a historical fantasy series set in Danelaw Britain, in the year 877. The date was chosen to place the Agneson clan in a turbulent time, immediately before the critical battle when Alfred, the king of Wessex defeated the “Great Heathen Army” and began the push to expel the Vikings from the land and unify the kingdoms into what we know as England. The story follows the lives of the Agneson clan, introducing the readers to the family, the typical life of these homesteaders and the Nordic myths and beliefs of the time. It is all based on real history, but in no way is it a dry, boring story: Readers learn of family blood feuds, Viking uncles traveling the North Sea, Were-bears and witches and prophecies, and the family curse which is accidentally triggered by the three Agneson boys. Thanks to the Marvel movies, most of us know about “Asgard” where Odin and Thor dwell, and “Midgard” our “Middle Earth” as Tolkien called it, and this first book in my series extends the reader’s understanding of the mythology and legends. The Scandinavian peoples believed that a person’s body and soul could be separated, and that all magic occurred in the space between the realms of the gods, elves, dwarves and hell. Through an entanglement with the ghost of a witch that cursed his grandfather, the youngest boy Thorfinn is separated, soul from body, and becomes a “forerunner,” a ghost of a living person that proceeds the body into public areas. These “Vardogers” were considered bad luck by the Nordic people, and this first work is a coming of age story, giving us insight into how young Finn becomes the forerunner and how he finds his courage. The novel is told from different points of view, first of all to explore how different characters have different and often incorrect views of events, and most important to introduce a number of characters that the series follows in later books. I am hard at work on the second novel in the series, following the characters as they get separated by a call to war, the continuing blood feud, Viking cruises, and encounters with trolls, dark elves and the hidden folk, all based on Nordic mythology and the history of 878.
Amanda: And you decided to be a writer? Why’s that?
Jay: Like many writers, I started young, with my first writing attempts when I was a teenager, although all that work has been, gratefully, lost in time! I first published (and was paid!) some poetry, and then wrote a series of free-lance games for TSR, Inc. the company that owned the license to Dungeons & Dragons during the 1980 and early 1990s. I contributed to Monster Manuals, the Dungeon Magazine and a boxed set on Oriental lands with maps, and artwork and books of adventures and “histories.” Since that time, I have published a continuing list of technical articles, book contributions and blogs for hardware and software companies in the media and entertainment industry.
Amanda: Was there a defining moment in your life where you knew you had to be a writer?
Jay: Actually, the Forerunner Series has been percolating in my mind for the past 15 years, ever since I read a short newspaper article about strange “ghosts” that had listed the vardoger as a “real belief.” At first I thought I might turn it into a RPG and I mapped out a big Viking adventure, yet it seemed to be more of a story…A great neighbor and fellow author had written his first novel and was hard at work on his second, and, over a glass of bourbon asked me if a novel was “on my bucket list?” When I told him yes, he asked if I was going to wait “until I kicked the bucket?” which turned out to be just the impetus I needed to get started! I worked to publish the first book in 2019, with a plan to release a second and possibly the third in the series during 2020.
Amanda: What are you working on right now?
Jay: The second book of the Forerunner Series is tentatively called “The Vardoger Boy,” and it picks up the adventures immediately after the end of The Witch’s Curse. This novel is less about setting and more about the continuing and rapidly accelerating adventures that the Agneson clan, Cub, Finn, Raga, Kara, Uncle Karl and Aunt Yeru are thrust into during the year 878.
Amanda: Describe your writing space? What makes it uniquely you?
Jay: Our home sits on a canal fed lake of approximately 7 acres, stocked full of fish and the ultimate siren call to all the migrating birds that pass along the Delaware shore on their annual trek to the south for winter and north for summer. My second floor office, over the garage, has three windows that encompass the entire wall facing the lake, so I can watch the herons, osprey, snow geese and bald eagles over the lake—today I can see Canadian geese, laughing gulls, wood ducks, mallards, and anhingas, a type of North American cormorant with their heads poking out of the water like snakes. The bald eagle just flew over my roof! It is a wonderfully inspiring location.
Amanda: But you’re not just a writer, you’re also an artist. How does your art practice help shape you as a writer?
Jay: In 1996 I took a painting class and found that it was great stress relief from a very stressful work environment—when one is creating, one loses all sense of time. Like many things in life, the more you work at your craft, the better you get—I learned this long before that non-fiction book extolled the virtues of studying for “10,000 hours.” I primarily work as a collage artist and I have a process that I follow that layers the canvas with papers and colors until a deep, rich background is achieved, sometimes as many as 30 layers in a single work. These backgrounds are interesting and unique and become the basis for “negative space” painting, which is the process of painting around an object to show its silhouette. What art has taught me is that you need to follow a process, it takes commitment and dedication and “editing” is key to success.
Another great and important lesson I learned from the art world is that genuine artists are collaborative, supportive and helpful because it is not really a competition as everyone’s work is unique—I have found that the writing community is exactly the same, supportive comrades abound. You can see my artwork on my Instagram feed and on my web site.
Amanda: Have you ever based a character on someone you know? Did you ever tell them?
Jay: No one has ever asked me this question—Yes, of course characters are based on people I have met, but no, I never mention to people that I have used their personality traits in a particular work. For the record, I try to keep myself and any recognizable individuals out of my writing. If you met me in person, you would not “recognize” me from my books.
Amanda: What kind of research do you do? And how long do you spend researching before you write a book?
Jay: My current series is a work of historical fiction, and it is painstakingly researched. Because I worked on this story for a long time, I often found an article or a bit of history and added it to a file folder for future use. I read any book I could find on the Danelaw period, both fiction by great authors such as Bernard Cornwall and nonfiction works. It is hard to estimate the amount of time I spent on collecting the materials, especially to get the big final wedding scene correct in all its details, but I would estimate approximately 200 hours over a period of years.
Amanda: Have you edited something out a book? And why?
Jay: All the time—sections of the story don’t work right, or go off on an unnecessary tangent, or simply change the pace from my intention for a particular chapter. This is an important part of editing the first pass. Thorfinn and the Witch’s Curse was edited three times before I felt it was ready for other people to “beta” read it.
Amanda: Have you ever hidden a secret inside a book? Can you give us clues how to find it?
Jay: As a Dungeon Master crafting games to provide months of fun and really hold players’ attention, I learned that you must always add seemingly minor details that provide foreshadowing and later contribute to plot. That way your players can say, “Oh yeah, I have that thing we picked up, maybe it will do something here,” or “That wizard, we met them before, and he is holding a grudge….” There are two important “mentions” in The Witch’s Curse that are very important to the plot of book two, the first one about the blood feud and the second about a particular superstition, as well as one very important “find” that Thorfinn and Raga make that plays a huge role in book three of the series. All I want to reveal is that the series is a fantasy and while I am working hard to make the story new and unique, one can expect to cover all the typical tropes and characters of a fantasy based on Norse legends, especially the “hidden folk” of Scandinavian lore.
Amanda: What was your hardest scene to write?
Jay: Chapter nine, the wedding scene—this chapter is the culmination of all the action, and it had to provide real historically valid information important in later books of the series while maintaining a particular story telling pace and building the tension. I wanted to have a grand party, with the beauty, poetry and recitations of a Viking wedding, as well as the dancing and drinking and carousing. As readers, you know that the witch has been “invited” to the Agneson stockade while Thorfinn does not, and you know what Finn himself has learned, that the Magnusons intend to murder his uncle Karl on the night of the wedding, but the characters have chosen to ignore the 10 year old boy. The final scene where a drunken Uncle Karl finds his sword “hanging” in the air before he faces his adversaries was the passage I always envisioned for the climax of Thorfinn’s story, and of course it fulfils the prophecy that Karl’s nephew would save his life. The forerunner ghost boy saves his uncle’s life for the first of three times—how cool is that?
Amanda: What is the most difficult part of your writing process?
Jay: Finding time to write—I work a full-time job and travel frequently for business and it is very difficult to find uninterrupted time to write.
Amanda: Do you have a writing kryptonite?
Jay: (Laughs) Social time with my family and friends! Everyone is supportive and wants me to write, but at the same time they would like for me to join them in social activities. I need to foster my inner introvert to hide away and keep writing!
Amanda: Is there a taboo topic you’ve ever wanted to explore?
Jay: This series is not YA, but it is written to be read by ages 12 to 99. I am trying to steer clear of taboo subjects in this series. One of my fans read the book to her 11-year-old son and found it wonderful and perfect for his age group, despite the historical references and words—the series will have violence because it was a violent time period in history, but I carefully only implied sex or joked with inuendo that will be difficult for an unexperienced youth to understand. I have ideas for other works of fiction that would be more graphic and cover taboo subjects, but that will be another series.
Amanda: Are you a plotter or pantser?
Jay: Definitely a “plotter”—primarily, there is a lot of research that proceeds the initial start of the new book, so I gather that and add it to my “plans.” As each chapter ends on a miniature “cliff hanger,” I use an excel spreadsheet to organize the major plot points by point of view characters and rearrange them to fit a plan for each chapter. Then I separate each chapter and write a simple 3 or four bullet point draft of each chapter as a guide. These guides are outlines of the main points to cover in each section—then I turn the to job of writing each chapter. Because each chapter is written over a period of time, the first pass edit of the completed work is to harmonize the writing chapter to chapter, and to add in historical details or modify the pace of the sections. This process definitely places me in the “plotter” category.
Amanda: Are you a world builder or character creator?
Jay: Character. The world is an attempt at historical accuracy, even the 9 realms and the Norse mythology fantasy is all based on real scholarship. The story is all about the characters that exist in the time period and have certain beliefs that shape their worldview.
Amanda: What are you reading right now?
Jay: On a business flight last week I completed “Always Darkest” by Jess and Keith Flaherty and I am starting the second Farshore novel by Justin Fike, both excellent works of Fantasy and well worth anyone’s time.
Amanda: Do you believe in writer’s block? If so, have you ever had to deal with it? And how did you overcome it?
Jay: I do suffer from the usual procrastination problems that are the writers’ chief compliant summarized as “writer’s block.” I try a change of scenery, or I simply force myself to write anything about the current work, and then edit out the crap…
Amanda: What about reader’s block? Is that even a thing?
Jay: Well, there is what writers refer to as the DNF pile as opposed to the TBR pile: “Did not Finish” versus “To be Read.” I have set aside books that I simply could not finish—bad grammar or diction is a major “block” for me—storytelling is an artform but the written word requires basic grammatical mastery, and while I can skip over a few problems or wrong word selections, if it interrupts the flow of the work too often, it gets tossed into the DNF pile….
Amanda: If you could tell your younger writer self some advice, what would it be?
Jay: You should have started sooner! Get to work! :-)
Amanda: Any advice for writers?
Jay: It is a process and a craft, so practice, practice, practice. Read the classics as much as possible, you can really learn from Hemingway, Tolstoy, Hardy, Shakespeare, etc.
Amanda: Any advice for readers?
Jay: I believe that people may not read my novel because they don’t want to be “taught” about history. My work is entertaining first and foremost, so if you are looking for a grand adventure, give it a try!
Amanda: The next book - when can we read it? And what can we expect?
Jay: I am writing book two of the Forerunner Series currently and my cover artist, the infinitely talented Jake Caleb, has an opening to complete a cover in April 2020. Watch for the cover reveal by summer. I hope to release the second work by the third quarter of this year, with the third book as soon as possible thereafter.
Amanda: That’s awesome. Thank you so much for coming along today. It’s been great to chat.
Jay: Great talking with you as well. Here’s wishing you all the best!
Amanda: Can you please tell everyone how to find you.
Jay Veloso Batista
Author of the Forerunner Series, available at Amazon here
Amazon Author link: Http://www.amazon.com/author/jayvelosobatista
FaceBook Author page: http://www.facebook.com/jayvelosobatista/