I'm so happy to be featuring Joanna Hathaway on today's blog!
Born in Montréal, Joanna is an avid storyteller who was inspired to write after reading her great-grandfather’s memoirs of the First World War. A lifelong history buff, she now has shelves filled with biographies and historical accounts, and perhaps one too many books about pilots. She can often be found reading, traveling, or riding horses.
Her debut novel, DARK OF THE WEST is the first in a WWII-infused fantasy series of forbidden love and deadly revenge.
A pilot raised in revolution. A princess raised in a palace. A world on the brink of war.
Aurelia Isendare is a princess of a small kingdom in the North, raised in privilege but shielded from politics as her brother prepares to step up to the throne. Halfway around the world, Athan Dakar, the youngest son of a ruthless general, is a fighter pilot longing for a life away from the front lines. When Athan’s mother is shot and killed, his father is convinced it’s the work of his old rival, the Queen of Etania―Aurelia’s mother. Determined to avenge his wife’s murder, he devises a plot to overthrow the Queen, a plot which sends Athan undercover to Etania to gain intel from her children.
Athan’s mission becomes complicated when he finds himself falling for the girl he’s been tasked with spying upon. Aurelia feels the same attraction, all the while desperately seeking to stop the war threatening to break between the Southern territory and the old Northern kingdoms that control it―a war in which Athan’s father is determined to play a role. As diplomatic ties manage to just barely hold, the two teens struggle to remain loyal to their families and each other as they learn that war is not as black and white as they’ve been raised to believe.
And now, here's my chat with Joanna!
Hi, Joanna! Welcome and congrats on the release of Dark of the West. Can you share a little about the story and what inspired it?
Thank you so much! Dark of the West is actually my first novel, a story I began writing back in my university days. It was inspired mostly by a youth spent devouring history books from as many different perspectives as I could get my hands on, and somewhere along the way, I began building this fantasy world that felt like our own yet was distinctly unique. I wanted to explore the timeless themes of our history — from war to revolution — but see it all through the eyes of two youthful and idealistic narrators who still believe in the best. Thus, we have Athan, a fighter pilot, and Aurelia, a princess, who are from families on opposite sides of a brewing conflict, and their meeting sparks newfound love along with a lot of tough questions about loyalty to family, nation, and self.
Your two main characters, Aurelia and Athan, are very much two parts of the same whole. What challenges did you face writing dual POV?
For most of the novel, Aurelia and Athan are in different parts of the world, exploring two sides of the same larger conflict, so one of the most challenging aspects of writing dual POV (for me) has been deciding which character will narrate a particular scene when they’re together again. Who gets to be the “voice” for these encounters? They each bring their own biases and perspectives, and I have to think not only about which POV will be the most intriguing for the reader (i.e. which character has the most to lose in this moment?) but also which POV will properly illuminate the broader conflict for the reader, and also the various subplots. I’ve written many scenes from both POVs before deciding who to go with!
As a self-proclaimed history buff, what’s your best advice for incorporating history into a novel? Is it a balancing act between fact and fiction?
It is definitely a balancing act between fact and fiction, but more than that, it involves a keen awareness of how you’re approaching history and the ways you’re using it in your novel. I don’t recommend that writers begin pulling ideas from history without a deep understanding of the context of various events and a willingness to read from many perspectives. I’m always conscious of the fact that I’m dealing with very sensitive issues from history (war, occupation, revolution, nationalism) that have affected many people around the world—and still do today. It requires a complete openness to critique and feedback, even if the world itself is fictional. I’m constantly thinking about that, even with my foundation of being a ‘natural’ history buff. There’s so much to learn!
What stage of the writing process do you find most difficult? How do you tackle it?
I would say the second draft is the most difficult for me. The first draft is this wild, reckless experience, throwing down ideas and words, flying along to simply finish a dozen ideas at once. You feel pretty good when it’s done. Then you get the first round of feedback and for most of us, that’s a brutal awakening, ha! So many dangling subplots and poorly developed character arcs. I love critique though, and revision is my favourite part of the process. I usually gather my feedback into various sections (characters, plot, pacing, etc.) and tackle whichever feels most inspiring for the day.
I'm a firm believer in the idea that every story teaches the writer something new, so what did writing Dark of the West teach you?
Yes, this is so true! I started writing Dark of the West a decade ago, and I like to say that I “grew up” as a writer with this one book. I kept editing it and revising it (in some very large ways) until it finally emerged as the story it needed to be. Essentially, I would say this book taught me everything. I tried first person and third person, present tense and past tense, single POV and dual POV. I went through a stage where I killed off all of my adverbs (thanks Stephen King), then another stage where I put them all back in again. I kept listening to my fellow writers about the various ‘rules’, and getting tough love from my incredible CPs, and eventually I began to see what worked and what didn’t for my personal storytelling style. But we’re always learning, as you said. I love seeing what the next draft will teach me!
What are you reading, watching, or otherwise currently infatuated with?
I started watching Big Dreams, Small Spaces during my recent revisions and it’s honestly the most wholesome, lovely thing to enjoy while writing about war and terrible choices. I adore Monty Don and he needs to come help me make a tiny garden! 😊
And finally, what’s the most important lesson you’ve learned so far in your publishing career?
Don’t be afraid to advocate for yourself. Speak up and say what you’re thinking, whether that’s with the story you’re trying to tell (staying true to the heart) or with any of the more business-related aspects of being published. And make sure you have an agent who will take your side in these things and support your goals. A brilliant, encouraging agent is absolutely worth their weight in gold. (Mine certainly is!)
Many thanks go out to Joanna for taking the time to tell us more about DARK OF THE WEST, balancing history and fiction, and the importance of advocating for yourself. Be to sure to add Joanna's thrilling YA fantasy to your Goodreads list, or (better yet!) order your copy (WRITE) NOW from retail sites like Amazon, and Barnes & Noble, or request it at your library, or local independent bookstore!
For more information, follow Joanna on Twitter, and visit her beautiful author website at joannachathaway.com.
And, as always,