Author Interview: J. R. Rainville

Tell us a little about yourself & your background

I’ve always loved books and stories, from the time I was very young. When I was in grade school, we would have the “Young Author” unit, where we’d learn about writing a story, doing the artwork, and then binding it and displaying it for Young Authors’ Night. It was always a highlight of the school year for me! I always had a notebook with me, working on snippets of stories or jotting down ideas and inspiration. I did my bachelor’s degree in English Language and Literature, but it wasn’t until 2007 that I decided to pursue writing more intentionally, and entered a Master of Fine Arts degree where I wrote a novel as my thesis. I learned a lot from that process, and though it took me another 14 years after graduating with my degree, I’ve finally written my first novel: Sneakthief.

What are your ambitions for your writing career?

Right now I want to publish the next three books in the Ungifted series, and I have other story ideas percolating as well. I’ve recently been accepted into a MS in Project Management, so I also want to work on developing the use of project management methodology to self-publishing. I’m fortunate that I really love my day job, so for now, writing is a side… business? hustle? Hobby. I love writing too much to have to rely on it to pay the bills right now, and I don’t want to end up resenting it. A lot of words to basically say, I’m happy knowing what I know and writing what I’m writing, and if it goes further, I’m open to the potential options!

When did you first know you wanted to be a writer?

I’ve wanted to be a writer for so long that I can’t recall a time that I didn’t!

Can you tell us a little about Sneakthief?

Sneakthief is set in a world where nearly everyone is born with an aptitude for magic, but those that aren’t, the Ungifted, are shunned and condemned to serve the church of the One Above. Those that refuse to serve are considered heretics, and must be executed. Theodore Tolliver is ungifted and is conscripted by a group of heretic bandits where he becomes their Sneakthief. It’s better than serving the church, even if it is only an illusion of freedom. On the flip side, Nicholas Alcyon is the talented scion of the oldest, wealthiest family in the land of Eldingar. He should be fine with the status quo and would be, except he watched the church take one of his best friends into custody when it was clear she was ungifted. Against his father’s wishes, Nicholas is studying the law in the hopes he can put a stop to these practices. When Theodore is sent to rob the church itself, it should be the heist of a lifetime, but instead, it sets in motion events that can help both he and Nicholas achieve their goals. If they can work together… and if they can survive.

Can you introduce us to your main character?

Theodore/Theo Tolliver, the Sneakthief, is the youngest son of a provincial governor, but even that isn’t enough to spare him from church service when he comes of age and clearly shows no magical aptitude. When he’s conscripted by The Outfit it’s a chance at freedom, even if that’s just an illusion. He’s caught between wanting to do the right thing, and wanting to protect himself, and spends a lot of the novel wrestling with his cowardice and what it will mean for him to break away from everything. His relationship with Dagger, one of The Outfit’s assassins, oscillates between being a high point for him, and a low one. But when he meets Nicholas Alcyon, he starts to realize change is possible, and that maybe he is capable of doing what needs to be done, no matter how difficult it seems.

Do you have a favourite quote or scene from your book?

From Sneakthief: He was the Sneakthief, and he knew how to escape. He was Theodore Tolliver, and he knew how to survive.

Where did you find inspiration for Sneakthief?

I’m also a gamer, and one of my all time favorites is Skyrim. I was playing a sneaky archer (as one does) and went to pickpocket a guard. When he caught me he said, “Hands to yourself, sneakthief.” And it was like a key unlocking everything in my brain.

Are you more of a plotter or a panster?

I’d love to say plotter, but I think I’m more of a pantser. I do get a lot of thoughts and plots percolating in my head on a regular basis, but in terms of plotting things out neatly in an outline, I just can’t do it. I keep trying through.

What is your writing routine like? How often do you write?

Much like plotting and outlining, I wish I had a routine too! Mostly right now I write when I can. I start work late one day a week, so I’ll drop the Smol Human off at school and then go get coffee and work on writing then, and I’ll try to get a little in every day as well.

How much research did you have to do to complete [book or series title]?

One of the things I did was play a lot of stealth-based video games to get an idea of how to move, what environments were like, and the way shadows and such worked… outrunning guards and watchmen, breaking into buildings quietly, that sort of thing. I played through Dishonored multiple times, including getting a 100% Ghost/Clean Hands run. I also played Assassin’s Creed: Unity and spent a lot of time skulking around 18th century Paris (Ungifted has a lot of 18th century vibe to it) and breaking into Notre Dame.

What was the hardest thing about writing this book?

Not giving up! There were a few times I just thought I should throw in the towel for any number of reasons. It was taking too long; it was derivative; it didn’t make sense; no one’s going to want to read it, I’m not a real writer… lots of self-doubt and fear.

Why did you choose self publishing?

I think I wanted to have control over the process. I’d put so much work into the writing itself, that I wanted to have a say in things like the cover, the dedication, etc. When I was in grad school there was a lot of stress on traditional publishing, so I’d had that as a focus for a long time. However, self-publishing has come a long way since then (2007-9) and there are many more tools for it. Much like my characters in my book, I wanted to do my thing on my terms!

What has the publishing process been like for you?

I’ve had a lot of great mentors in the self and indie publishing realm, and I’ve done a lot of research because I wanted to do it right. One thing I’ve noticed though is there’s a lot of WHAT to do, but not a lot about a methodology behind how to do it, what order, etc. I’m also training for a Lean Black Belt and had started my project management coursework during the novel writing/publishing process, so I’ve been seeing a lot of ways in which PM methods could be useful, so that will be my focus for getting out the next book (and for my 2nd master’s research!)

What are you currently reading right now?

I’m about halfway through Priory of the Orange Tree on Audible, but not really digging it. It’s pretty slow and the characters aren’t really grabbing me. I like fascinating characters driving the story. Priory has great worldbuilding and such, but the storylines are kind of meandering. I could handle that if the characters were more compelling. Before that I’d listened to Red Seas Under Red Skies, by Scott Lynch, and loved it. It had the worldbuilding, but also great characters and clever writing. I listen to audiobooks a lot these days because it’s easier to hold my attention span. Between ADHD and a Smol Human with a lot of energy, I like that I can just pop on Audible when I get in the car and get some reading done during a time I wouldn’t normally do anything else!

Who are your biggest idols?

I love J. R. R. Tolkien for his worldbuilding and scholarship; Neil Gaiman for his ability to weave a story, and make even the old seem new and reimagined; David Mitchell, for his fearlessness when it comes to playing with story structure and convention; and Cat Hellisen for their ability to write ethereal, twisty pseudo-realties navigated by broken characters.

Do you get writer’s block? How do you deal with it?

Yes and no; I think I sometimes get myself into a twist that I don’t know how to get out of, so it’s a lot of spending time thinking about it. When that happens I’ll play games, read, listen to music, basically just other things that make my brain work and I’ll hopefully get through it, or I’ll just skip and come back! Other times it’s not so much writer’s block as burnout. I was super burnt out on writing after I finished grad school. I didn’t write anything creative for nearly two years. And then I stumbled upon Dragon Age, got hooked on the characters, lore, and story, and had a desperate need to write fanfiction for it. It got me writing without the same pressure I’d had in grad school, and to this day, fanfiction gets me writing without the same pressure as working on the Ungifted series and beyond.

If you couldn’t be a writer what would you want to be?

I love my current work! I’m an academic advisor for college students, and love helping people realize that they can achieve their goals and dreams.

What do you get up to when you’re not writing?

People like to joke that I’m always going, and ask how I can manage it all. In a sense I modeled my character Ignatius (Nate) after that part of my personality. In addition to always having been driven, I also have ADHD and have learned that if I don’t keep my schedule full, I’m more apt to drift into doing nothing. SO I have lots of things to focus on! I’m working on my Lean Black Belt (a project management thing, not martial arts!), taking classes in project management for another degree, teaching classes for the college I work at as an advisor, offering writing workshops in my local area, that sort of thing. I do adult gymnastics class, and I study classical voice. Also I read and play video games, and and spend loads of time with my husband and Smol Human. Mostly I like to keep my brain engaged!

Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?

Don’t quit! Don’t be afraid of the cruddy first draft, either. Don’t be afraid that your work is too derivative. Basically, if you want to write, just write! Revision is a huge part of the process (I have SIX drafts of Sneakthief in five years!) so you can always revise and rework your stuff. You can’t revise or rewrite or rework what’s not there. The first draft isn’t supposed to be perfect. It just needs to be done.

Finally, what’s the most exciting thing about the rest of the series? What can we expect?

Book 2, Turncoat, really cranks up the heat in terms of Nick and Theo’s relationship and all that’s going on in their world. In a lot of cases the heist is the goal, but for them, it was really just the beginning of everything else that’s about to happen. Secession? Potential civil war? Slow burn? Betrayal? Stay tuned!

You can get your own copy of J. R. Rainville’s fantastic book below & follow her on socials!

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