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Act of Will: Interview & Giveaway

Friday, February 28, 2014
I'm delighted to interview author A.J. Hartley here on the blog today.

Act of Will
by A.J. Hartley

Genre: Historical, Fantasy
Paperback: 372 Pages
Publication: Janary 2, 2014
by Dystel & Goderich Literary Management

Act of Will is a boisterous fantasy adventure that introduces us to Will Hawthorne, a medieval actor and playwright who flees the authorities only to find himself inextricably bound to a group of high-minded adventurers on a deadly mission. Will travels with them to a distant land where they are charged with the investigation and defeat of a ruthless army of mystical horsemen, who appear out of the mist leaving death and devastation in their wake.

In the course of Will’s uneasy alliance with his new protectors, he has to get his pragmatic mind to accept selfless heroism (which he thinks is absurd) and magic (which he doesn’t believe in). Will must eventually decide where his loyalties really lie and how much he is prepared to do--and believe--to stand up for them.

Author Interview

Tell us a little about yourself and how you got into writing.
I've written all my life, and wrote my first novel when I was 19. It was a hobby for me at first and I didn't pursue publication all that seriously, which is partly why it took me 20 years to get published, having written 8 complete novels! I've been publishing ever since, 10 novels to date. I'm also a Shakespeare professor at UNC Charlotte. My doctorate is in English, but as a scholar I'm primarily a performance theorist and historian.

What inspired the writing of Act of Will?
Lots of things, I suspect. Partly it was playing Dungeons and Dragon type role playing games (I was and remain an uber nerd :) ) but also it was a desire to write a version of high fantasy that centered on ordinary people, rather than beautiful, noble heroes. My protagonist is Will Hawthorne, who is 18. He is smart and inventive when cornered (he's an actor, after all), but he's also a skeptic who doesn't believe in magic and is more interested in saving his own skin than saving the world. I hadn't read those kinds of stories and wanted to perform a kind of intervention in fantasy fiction (which isn't to say they didn't exist) and wanted to see what what would happen if you had a fantasy world and story, but characters from modern, realist fiction. Oh, and I wanted it not to take itself too seriously, so it is--I hope--funny too :)

After first publishing Act of Will through a traditional publisher, you have reworked the story and gone the indie route. What inspired you to do this and how did you go about doing this? Has the writing process changed between the versions?
This is becoming increasingly common as an approach. When a book goes out of print the rights revert to the author. Some authors will then seek out another traditional press, but most major presses only want new material unless they think it already has built a sizable following. In my case, in opting to go the independent route I wanted to control the cover art, which authors with traditional publishers generally don't. I like the original cover of the Tor edition of Act of Will, but I don't think readers realized what kind of book it was. This time around I wanted to make clear that this was a fantasy adventure with a teenaged hero.

I'm fortunate that the literary management company who represent me (Dystel and Goderich) have a special division for handling exactly this kind of situation and working with good cover artists. As far as the text itself is concerned, I only changed a couple of sentences. It is effectively the same book, reformatted for the new edition.

Will is a pragmatic character who is suddenly faced with concepts of heroism and magic. What challenges did you face developing Will's character?
I guess the challenge was making sure he stayed true to character and didn't turn into an Aragorn type :) But I also had to make sure the story kept moving and stayed exciting, which meant Will couldn't just run every time danger threatened. So there always had to be reasons that would make sense to Will to keep him from just quitting. Some of those reasons are practical and external, but some of them--slowly, gradually, privately--come from those bits of Will's personality he doesn't usually listen to.

How has your Shakesperean academic background influenced your writing?
Lots of ways, I suspect. Will is an actor in a vaguely medieval or Renaissance theatre, so I use some details from my sense of how Shakespeare's theatre worked, but that's a minor part of the book. I'd like to think that what I really aspire after is Shakespeare's gift for producing beautiful, rich and complex writing while telling sensational, popular stories.

What are three things that are essential to your writing process?
Time. Silence. Something to Write on.

What do you believe is most important in a well-executed book?
Levels. I want a story that grabs me and keeps me turning the pages but rewards reflection with ideas and feelings.

What are you working on right now?
I have two new YA projects in the works, one a scifi story about a crashed spaceship, and a YA fantasy set in a vaguely Victorian, industrial Africa! And an academic book on staging Shakespeare at university, but I doubt you care about that!

About the Author

A.J. Hartley is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of books in a variety of genres. AJ’s stories are driven by mystery and danger but also reflect his abiding interest in archaeology, history, and foreign travel. As an English major at Manchester University, he took extra classes in Egyptology and got a job working on a Bronze Age site just outside Jerusalem. Since then, life has taken him to many places around the world, and his fascination with the past continues unabated. He has an M.A. and Ph.D. in English literature from Boston University, and he is the Russell Robinson Professor of Shakespeare Studies at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte, and works as a scholar, screenwriter, dramaturg and theatre director.

Connect with A.J.
Website | Goodreads Facebook | Twitter


A.J. Hartley has offered an e-copy of Act of Will for a giveaway.

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2 comments on "Act of Will: Interview & Giveaway"
  1. Historical & Fantasy - does not get any better.

  2. I love reading fantasy. I can read anything if it is fantasy......well almost anything.


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