K.J. Backer is the author of Nav’Aria: The Marked Heir – a relatable, coming-of-age and family driven series with themes juxtaposed within a fantastical land where the fate of all in the realm is under threat by the ominous presence of one sadistic tyrant and the war he has wrought.
Meet K.J. Backer
1) AMA: Hello, Katie! Thank you for taking the time to discuss your history and books. Tell us a little about your writing journey. What made you decide to become a writer?
KJB: Hi, Amelia! Thank you for the opportunity to share about Nav’Aria and my writing journey.
I’ve always LOVED stories—growing up I was an avid reader and especially gravitated toward Fantasy and Historical Fiction. As a history teacher, though I loved working with my students, I can now see that it was the STORIES that drew me to the profession. I’m not interested in memorizing facts, or attending staff meetings, what I was passionate about was reading and sharing real people’s experiences, resilience, culture, loss—all of it. During that time, I always liked to write but it was “just a hobby” that I secretly worked on. It was my escape from grading, unruly students, and the stresses of general life. I’d spend holiday and summer vacations writing.
I started Nav’Aria while substitute teaching in 2011 and worked on it on and off for 8 years. It wasn’t until we adopted our daughter in 2017—and I decided to step away from teaching—that I really realized it COULD be a book. I wrote the entire second half of the book in a two-week span. That’s when I knew, I wanted to be a writer, and not only that, but that I WAS a writer. By January 2019, Nav’Aria: The Marked Heir published, and I’ve now released the sequel.
Where It All Started
2) AMA: You began writing Nav’Aria while sitting in a classroom. What inspired you to write the series initially? Was it an idea that had been floating around in your head for some time?
KJB: Honestly, the story began as random scribbling. As a substitute you aren’t really allowed to teach, just supervise. That day the students were taking an English test that lasted the full hour. I had finished reading my novel and needed something to help me get through the rest of the day, so I grabbed a notebook from my purse and just started writing.
My grandpa left me a unicorn painting when he passed away. I’ve always loved it. It features a gritty unicorn, not pristine and sparkling as we often see unicorns portrayed. It always made me wonder, what had caused that majestic creature to look so downtrodden? Beyond that, having been in school and observing teens, the character of Darion was born… I took a troubled teen, the painting, and my history background and meshed it all together to create a war-torn world where the stakes are too high for anyone to sit out of a fight, including unicorns.
3) AMA: Where do you usually get your inspiration for a story? How do you run with your story ideas?
KJB: I love Fantasy! I like to spend time considering what tropes/elements/creatures I enjoy, and/or haven’t seen before. With Nav’Aria, I’ve always LOVED unicorns, but I wanted to see them as something more. So often they seem to be passive, background, or cartoon characters. I wanted to see them at the forefront of an adult story, and so I wrote them as such.
I’m a “pantser” more than a plotter… I like to be organic with my writing and ideas to see where they lead me. Sometimes its fun and worth pursuing, such as Nav’Aria, and other story ideas are just hanging out in my “book idea” folder. We’ll see if any of them come to light! (I have a fun one planned next, but I’m not ready to tell you all quite yet!)
4) AMA: Have you always written fantasy books? Are there other genres that interest you?
KJB: My actual FIRST attempt at writing a book was Historical Fiction (also started while substitute teaching). While I’m obsessed with Fantasy, I also love Historical Fiction and Non-Fiction. I don’t have any plans to finish that particular historical piece, at least not in the near future, but I do believe I’ll venture into writing and publishing other genres.
5) AMA: How many of your characters represent parts of you? Do all or any of your characters take on your own personality traits?
KJB: I think a few of my characters share my traits. I connect with them all in different ways.
I love Darion and Triumph and can relate to some of their attitudes/traits. Though they can be impatient and a bit stubborn, they are fiercely loyal to their families and want to fulfill their life purpose. They want to achieve and help others… that resonates with me.
Lyrianna has experienced tough times, but she doesn’t let that break her spirit. I like to believe my inner strength at overcoming my own bouts of adversity are written into her character. She is not weak or broken, despite everything she’s had to overcome. And her maternal connection with her child, is something that I didn’t realize I’d relate to (since I started the book before I adopted my own child) but now see that I relate to her on that level as well.
Reading for Inspiration
6) AMA: Who is your favorite author? What are you currently reading?
KJB: ROBERT JORDAN and BRANDON SANDERSON are my all-time favorite authors. The Wheel of Time series is my absolute favorite, and after Robert Jordan passed away, Brandon Sanderson concluded the series. I’m currently re-reading the books now before the Amazon TV show releases! SOOOOO GOOD!
7) AMA: What is the most inspiring book or author you have read?
KJB: There are SO many inspiring books, specifically memoirs that I’ve read, I can’t narrow it down to just one.
The most motivating book though I think is Girl, Stop Apologizing by Rachel Hollis. It’s really lit my heart on fire for pursuing my goals with tactical tips and helped me prioritize my time this year. I wrote the sequel, Nav’Aria: The Pyre of Tarsin, after reading the book and taking the author’s advice to “go all in” on one goal at a time.
8) AMA: What made you decide to self-publish your books?
KJB: I spent a few months querying Literary Agents with Nav’Aria. What I found though was that my novel didn’t quite match the “Manuscript Wish lists” I kept seeing from agents. There was a lot of demand for certain fantasy tropes, characters, and tales, or YA reads, but no one was saying, “hey, give me your EPIC adult unicorn story.” I didn’t want to write YA, and I still don’t necessarily. I don’t read the genre much (nothing against it, its just not my go to). I wanted to be able to share a fantasy series with unicorns at the forefront, with a crazy sadistic tyrant, and family themes, with a moody teenager, centaurs, dragons, and magical portals to boot. It sounds a little crazy, but once you dive in you see how it all plays out.
I could have spent more time querying if desired, but again, around that time I read Rachel Hollis’ books and just thought, “you know, why should I let them dictate what to include in my novel? This is WHY I wrote it, because I wanted to see something different.” SO, I went for it. I indie-published. I found an editor, proofreader, beta readers, cover artists, a formatter, marketing team, and have now published two books.
9) AMA: What advice would you give to other aspiring authors?
KJB: GO FOR IT!
Speaking from my own experience here… I spent way too much time looking up “how to write a book”, “how to plot”, “how to world build”, blah, blah, blah. Ultimately, you just have to write it. Don’t get hung up on a lot of worries and steps that will come later. The first step is literally writing the words.
AND something I didn’t know or understand then, is there is sooooo much more reward and power from writing and continuing to write without looking back. I spent 8 years, writing a portion, then going back and editing, then beating myself up over something in the plot or phrasing, then taking a break, then sharing those sections with family, then writing again, then editing.
Hopefully you see my point. It was staggered. With book two, I decided to mix it up. I wrote the entire book (100,000+ words) in 3 months. I only went back a few paragraphs to refresh before continuing to write from there, saving the revising and editing for the next stage. Also, I didn’t let anyone read it or give me input until I had at least pumped out the first two drafts… unlike with book one when I’d send my messy, frenetic writings to my dad or husband.
This time, I didn’t need their approval or affirmation because I had decided that I was writing this for ME. I was a writer. And capable. And the feedback, revisions—all of it—could come later. Best decision—and writing—thus far in my journey.
10) AMA: What has been your greatest accomplishment as a writer, thus far?
KJB: Having READERS! It’s so amazing and mind-blowing. I love my books and characters, but to have others enjoy them too is such a gift. I’m beyond grateful for the readers and the positive response Nav’Aria has received thus far.
I am also darn proud of the fact that I published two books in 2019, having written and published the sequel all this year.
11) AMA: What is your current dream? What is your goal as an author?
KJB: I’m always dreaming! My current dream is to write and publish book three, concluding this series.
My goal as an author is to inspire readers and writers with my stories. I hope to write, speak, and share more with a wider audience each year.
12) AMA: If you could ask your readers anything, what would it be?
KJB: Why me? What made you decide to give Nav’Aria a chance?
I’m a choosy reader so the fact that people are choosing my world is not lost on me. It is truly special… and appreciated!
Thank you so much, Amelia. Readers can learn more about Nav’Aria (and myself) at kjbacker.com or https://www.amazon.com/K-J-Backer/e/B07MRJKBXG.
Connect with me on social to discover more about these books, see a lot of pet pictures, and find out where my next events are! (I’m on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Goodreads).
Be sure to check out the sequel to Nav’Aria: The Pyre of Tarsin – Now available on Amazon.
For more on Nav’Aria, read my book review.
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Thank you, Susan! I appreciate that you read it 🙂
Great interview, and inspiring,too. I like the idea of writing and continuing to write without looking back.
Thanks, Priscilla! I like the idea, too. If we’re writers, we should write, regardless of what is in front of us.