Has it really been four months since my last interview? Doesn’t time just fly by! Despite the time, I was really excited about getting the chance to talk to and question Aubry Kae Andersen, who is an American author who goes under the pen name of A. Ka (Aubry Kae Andersen – get it.) I read and reviewed her debut, Isaac the Fortunate: The Winter quite recently, and fell in love with her elaborate descriptions of fifteen century Spain, as well as feeling hooked by her central character’s plight.
Aubry is gearing up for the release of the sequel to The Winter, aptly named The Spring, and so I thought it would be a great chance to get to know Aubry, as I feel she will be one author who will undoubtedly be sticking around. Her novels may not be super-sized, but definitely entrancing for a number of reasons. She is quite open, yet remains somewhat as a mystery.
Aubry Kae Andersen, also known as A. Ka (yes, she knows and embraces the absurdity of that pseudonym), currently lives in Seattle, WA. She’s an artist, an illustrator, and an aspiring writer. To make ends meet, she also pimps out her web design services.
As an illustrator, Aubry collaborates with Zachary Bonelli by providing cover and chapter illustrations for his Voyage series.
When Aubry isn’t writing and drawing, she’s probably thinking about writing and drawing. Or else she’s designing a website, hanging out at coffee shops, or reading Wikipedia. At some point she also sleeps.
- Your debut novel, Isaac the Fortunate: The Winter was, in my opinion, a successful blend of history and fantasy. Tell us a little about the book and how you came up with the idea.
I’ve always been obsessed with trivia. If you check the dedication on “The Winter,” it thanks Wikipedia. “The Winter” itself came from a dream I had over a decade ago. My boyfriend in college lost his only sibling, his little brother, in a sudden car accident, and I had a dream that I was able to go back and stop that from happening. But other problems happened after that.
In the usual fashion of dreams, I couldn’t remember the details of that dream, just the emotions and vague ideas. But the concept kept brewing in my mind, until I decided to write a short story with the same themes. The original story was very rough and naively vague, a fairy tale set in an unnamed land. It wasn’t until I began writing the rest of the seasons that I decided to ground the story in a specific era of history.
After crawling Wikipedia for a while, I settled on the Renaissance, because very little fantasy explores that era. We have plenty of dark age fantasies and urban fantasies, but so many people overlook the amazing richness of the Early Modern Period. I was so dazzled by things like the Age of Exploration, the Sack of Rome, the Expulsion of the Jews, the Ottoman Empire, and so on, I pretty much let the setting make itself. Thus I call “Isaac the Fortunate” the book that Wikipedia wrote.
- I thought that the character of Beltran was emotionally told and completely believable. How do you get yourself in the role of a character to tell their story so authentically?
It’s taken years of writing practice, character studies, and psychological research for me to “get into the head” of characters like Beltran. Each part of “Isaac the Fortunate” very strictly focuses on a different character, except for “The New Year” (the sixth and final part) where I allow switching POV between characters. After a prologue from Isaac, the titular character, all of “The Winter” is Beltran’s story, and I stick with Beltran’s story, even when switching to another POV would’ve been convenient to move the plot along or avoid confusion. I do this to add authenticity, because everyone is stuck in their own head, like it or not. I want people to follow the characters through the problems I throw at them, from beginning to end, because that’s what life is–a series of problems to overcome.
As for Beltran himself, I created him to be a very stereotypical protagonist–a young man, somewhat unremarkable but clever when he wants to be, idealistic and good-hearted. He wants that storybook ending we all learn to expect when we’re younger. A simple, easy life. A perfect spouse, a loving family. But Beltran’s situation and the storyline are not the stereotypical journey of such a protagonist. This is the crux of his relationship with his wife, Amaranta. Without spoiling too much, Beltran comes off as an endearing and honest character, but he’s also kind of delusional, especially when it comes to love. I think most of us are like–wanting something we can’t really have, and often persisting to the point of obsession.
- The second novel in the series, Isaac the Fortunate: The Spring is just around the corner. How does this differ from the first and what can we expect to uncover?
“The Spring” tells the origin story of Isaac’s wife, Eostre, the unnamed traveller who gave Beltran the potion that sent him back in time. “Isaac the Fortunate” isn’t told in chronological order, you see, since it involves the repetition of time and paradoxical knowledge of future events. So “The Spring” takes a step back in time–or maybe a step forward. Eostre learns about how to stop the Delirium, the plague of insanity, even though she has yet to meet Beltran or her future husband, Isaac. The surprise of “The Spring” is really how she acquires this knowledge.
Oh, and the setting is different, too. Lucerne, Switzerland, instead of Spain. And it’s in a convent, because Eostre’s studying to be a nun. (She’s not happy about that.)
- Your entire Isaac series is split into six parts, scheduled for release over the course of a year and a half. Why did you decide to split it up into smaller novellas rather than a full length book?
Isaac the Fortunate is 200,000 words, the size of two average-sized novels. That’s not too big by fantasy standards, but it is huge for a debut novel. It’s very difficult to get people to commit to a book that long when you don’t have an established name. I originally wrote the entire thing in six novella-sized parts, so I decided to split it up that way. It is a bit of a marketing ploy, to entice people to read a greater series by having them start with a pocket-sized book. But I do really love how I get to design a separate cover for each part.
After the sixth part is released, I’ll release a full version of the entire thing and stop printing the smaller novellas. So people better buy the small ones as collector items!
- You do your own illustrations for the books, don’t you? Do you feel that artwork has been lost somewhere along the way, as this is quite an unusual practice nowadays? Do you think the artwork add anything to the story, and if so, what?
Yes, I designed the cover and added the drawings inside. My writing and art feed each other. Drawing the characters helps me come up with their personality and all the little details, like how they carry themselves, their mannerisms, their clothing.
It doesn’t seem typical for a writer to illustrate their own work, but it’s more common than people think. Tolkien made his own illustrators for the Lord of the Ring series. Kurt Vonnegut loved to doodle his thoughts. Nobel Prize winner Gunter Grass made his over covers. William Blake, T. S. Eliot, Rudyard Kipling, Lewis Carroll… really the list goes on.
Most these illustrations didn’t make it to the final published books. Either the publishers decided it was too expensive to add illustrations, or they wanted to hire a different illustrator. That’s a big reason I chose to publish independently with Fuzzy Hedgehog Press. My publisher loves the illustrations and gives me free reign. And with current printing technology, producing illustrated books is cheaper than it ever was.
Does it add anything to the story? I think so. A picture is worth a thousand words.
- One of the aspects of The Winter that won me over in an instance, was how you create atmosphere so vividly and seemingly effortlessly. As it is set in 16th Century Spain, did you have to do much research for the book?
Oooohhhhh yes. I’ve already mentioned my book’s dedication to Wikipedia. I really believe an author has to do their homework. Luckily, I love reading nonfiction. I’ve read a lot of translations of popular books from the Renaissance, really seminal ones like “The Prince” by Machiavelli or “The Song of El Cid.” I’ve also read nonfiction books on really obscure topics, like the lives of Jews in the Ottoman Empire (the titular character Isaac is Jewish) and some extremely dry accounts about rural Spain. I even read textbooks meant for college history classes, stuff that would put most people to sleep.
- Is Spanish history a particular interest of yours, or is it history in general?
I earned a minor in Spanish during college. Though I can’t speak it very well anymore, I do have a fondness for Spanish literature, like Isabel Allende and Mario Vargas Llosa. If you’re familiar with Spanish magical realism, you can see those influences in my work. The “magic” of “Isaac the Fortunate” isn’t so much about casting spells, or fighting dragons, or cavorting with fairies; it’s more about mythical elements and presenting a version of reality where the laws of nature aren’t quite right.
- In The Winter, Beltran drinks the Golden Bridle to be sent back in time to relive the winter over and over in an attempt to save his wife, and his fellow villagers, from a nasty plague. If you could drink the Golden Bridle, when would you go back to and what would you do over?
You know, I’d like to say I have no regrets, because that’s a major theme of “Isaac the Fortunate”–the futility of regret. If I went back and changed what I didn’t like, I’m not confident I’d be in a better place because of it. I could repeat time out of sheer curiosity, because I’d just like to use the extra time to explore the world. But then what would happen to the friends I made recently? My achievements? All the good things I would need to strive for again? I’d be so anxious about erasing anything, good or bad.
- What is your favourite genre to read and what genre is your guilty pleasure?
I love reading nonfiction, especially books about psychology, science, and history. I’m actually very bad about reading fiction lately, and I feel guilty about that, seeing as I’m a fiction writer. But if we’re talking about the “guilty pleasure” where I love reading something awful, that would probably be Cracked.com articles. I must learn random trivia from whatever I read, and I love irreverent humor.
- I’ve noticed that nearly all of the Isaac series is named after a particular season. What is your favourite season and why?
Yes, the first four are the season, then I ran out of seasons and “invented” two more to end the book. My favourite season in the book is the fifth one, “The Rain,” because it’s about Isaac, my favourite character. “The Rain” is a facetious season, because in Seattle (where I live) we only have two seasons–constant rain or constant sunshine. Isaac comes from Venice, which has similar weather. I originally come from Salt Lake City, Utah, which has harsher seasons, so for me Beltran’s winter is the REAL winter–cold, snowy, and dark. But for Isaac, who is… well, “fortunate,” his winter is just rainy. And I love the rain of Seattle’s winters.
- After reading about you, I’ve discovered your love of all things art. What books and what paintings/illustrations did you grow up with that inspired you to develop both forms into one medium?
Illustration is my favourite form of art. I’ve been inspired most by Yoshitaka Amano, who illustrated the Final Fantasy video game series. I used to have the Nintendo Power strategy guides for the Final Fantasy games and would use them more for art reference than playing the games. Many of the earlier RPG games had excellent writing, too, like FFVI. I also love artists from the 19th century, like Arthur Rackham, who illustrated books like “Grimms’ Fairy Tales” and “Alice in Wonderland.” Particularly memorable are his illustrations of Norse myths for Wagner’s “The Ring.”
The fine art world is actually very disparaging of illustrators, even though lot of art from the past is illustrative. (The Vatican is pretty much an elaborate illustration of the Bible.) It wasn’t until the Twentieth Century that art and literature critics decided the two disciplines should be exclusive, that art shouldn’t have a story and only children’s books should have pictures. That attitude has been changing a lot in the past decade, with illustrations being shown in art galleries and graphic novels getting a lot of attention for great storytelling. So I don’t think what I’m doing is too unusual anymore!
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